We've told you about sites devoted to tracking Amazon.com sales ranks before, but here's a new one: Ranktracer.com. Tracking only books that have been added by users, the service offers several appealing features, including slick flash graphics, estimates of Amazon's highly guarded sales numbers, and tracking of ranks on international Amazon sites.
Ranktracer also offers promotions on its own site and Amazon's, which you may or may not find useful. Size it up with the other Amazon tracking sites and let us know which one you find most functional. (Ranktracer does charge a small fee, which is, hint, waiveable if you have a blog.)
Ranktracer tells visitors all about Amazon sales ranks and what can be done with them on the front page of its site, and—while much of the information is eerily familiar—it brings up a good point: The rank, although visible to any Joe Schmoe lurking the web, can be a powerful market research tool. The ranks of your niche competitors are available at any time to help feel out what's happening in your genre. It's a good idea to request that a rank-tracking site add competitors to its database early; none of the sites can retrieve data from before tracking on that item was initiated.
Also, if you don't have access to BookScan, but want an idea of whether that promotion did anything at all, check for drops in your rank after marketing or publicity activity. Not incredibly accurate, but it might help you gauge what works and what doesn't.
Alternatively, you could distribute defamatory pamphlets about a close competitor and check their graph for spikes. Either way, comprehensive sales rank data can be very helpful.
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Amazon.com is the hands-down leader in the online bookselling marketplace. And---although it's notoriously difficult to speak with a living, breathing human being---Amazon prides itself on meeting its customers' needs. What's the easiest way to drive sales for your book on Amazon? Easy: maximize the content on your product page and optimize your chances of coming up in search results via Amazon's internal search engine.
You've heard of optimizing your website, optimizing your web presence, optimizing your blog, etc. The point of this optimization is to increase your visibility through various online search mechanisms. While self-contained, Amazon is a powerhouse search engine in its own right. Despite being a retail site, it should be treated as a search engine from an online marketing standpoint. Think about it: what's the first site you go to when searching for information on a book?
Amazon, of course. Remember that on top of its own strong brand, Amazon powers the virtual marketplace of Target.com, AOL's Shop@AOL service, and, for a short while longer, Borders.com and Waldenbooks.com---just to name a few.
To leverage Amazon's search power, a major component of your online marketing strategy should involve making your Amazon product page as informative, search-optimized, and consumer-friendly as possible. It has been our experience at Greenleaf Book Group in optimizing Amazon pages that the product's rank improves as it collects additional content. Whether search suggestions, tags, inclusion in Listmania lists, and so on have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear; it's more likely that books with more detailed pages and links to the title information from outside pages simply attract more buyers. Regardless, ensure that your product page does a good job of representing your product with no detail spared.
Amazon offers many features to enhance your title listing that, when properly implemented, can increase page views and potential sales for your title. Understanding and executing these programs has been historically time-consuming work, but since Amazon is a content-driven site, the benefits are clear. The more visits you get to your book detail page, the more popular your book will become in the eyes of the Amazon internal search results algorithm. The Amazon algorithm favors the most popular items, so if two different products match a user's criteria, the more user-popular item will show up first. Our Amazon optimization work has uncovered some powerful tools for influencing Amazon search results, as outlined in very basic terms below:
A tag is most easily described as a keyword or category label that a user places on a particular product. Tags appear on book detail pages and will help users find book on Amazon within a certain category or genre. Each link increases your exposure on Amazon.
Listmania! lists are different groups of products that a person finds interesting. Each list can cover any type of category and helps other Amazon users discover your favorite products. These lists are rotated on various search result pages and on individual book pages. A popular list will appear on the product pages of all the books it mentions. The more popular the list is, the more exposure the products within your list will receive. Take the time to carefully research the other books on your list so you are more likely to appear before your target reader.
So You'd Like to . . . Guides
So You'd Like to . . . Guides are a way for you to help other customers find all the items and information they might need to discover something new about an interest or hobby. The guide includes a short, informative article targeting consumers interested in your genre and is connected to your book's detail page and to other similar bestselling books. These guides are more detailed and informative than the Listmania! lists.
Reach out to your friends and family to write reader reviews for your title. Reviews boost the exposure of your book detail page because the Amazon algorithm examines the number of reviews and the review ratings when determining exposure levels. Greenleaf Book Group makes a listing of the top-rated Amazon reviewers available to its clients. Reviews by this elite group are weighted more heavily in the system. Ask your distributor if such a list is available to you so that you can solicit these powerful tastemakers' reviews for your title.
Amazon also has a way for users to help customers find items and to provide tailored information on product pages via Search Suggestions. Like tags, this tool requires some front-end thought and research on your part. Search Suggestions can:
- Associate an item with a search phrase so the item is more likely to be shown whenever anyone searches for that phrase. This is helpful for items that may be associated with a person, genre, or theme that may not appear on its product page
- Explain the relevance of your suggestion to searching customers and have your explanation and your name appear in search results
- Add information to the product page, which is tailored to the customer's search
Amazon.com is constantly evolving. Take advantage of the features outlined above, and be on the watch for new offerings to increase your exposure (or hire an expert in the field to do this work for you). This will increase the number of eyeballs on your product's page and result in additional sales. Amazon has millions of registered users and continues to lead the pack in online books sales. And in Amazon's realm, there's no such thing as too much information.
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The allure of the Amazon.com sales rank is well known to many an author, as is the bewilderment it often brings. How convenient—a number that tells you in hard, empirical terms how your book is doing! But alas, the Amazon sales rank is a fickle mistress. After noticing wild fluctuations in their placement, authors and publishers often fall prey to obsessive rank-checking, waking up at night in cold sweats to boot up the computer and surf to Amazon.com, spending endless hours staring bleary-eyed at the monitor: Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh.
Yet for all this scrutiny, the Amazon sales rank remains cloaked in mystery.
Derived from a complex algorithm that the folks at Amazon are not about to give out, the rankings take into account more than just how many copies of a certain title have been sold. There are varying decay rates, predictive curves, tiers with different refresh rates, historical analysis. Rather than regurgitate the inconclusive findings of studies that try to identify Amazon’s secret formula by buying books and painstakingly analyzing the changes in rankings, let’s first identify what we know for sure about the system.
- The smaller the rank number, the more books you’re selling. Perhaps this is obvious, but to clarify—the number one spot is reserved for the top seller. As your relative sales go down, your rank number goes up.
- Not all books are updated hourly. And in fact, some books are updated more frequently than that, as the seasoned refresh button junkie will tell you. It all depends on the range you fall in. Books between 1 and 10,000 are re-ranked at least hourly. Books between 10,000 and 100,000 are re-ranked once a day. Those beyond 100,000 are re-ranked weekly.
- After you sell one book, you get a rank. There is one slot per book, so no two books have the same ranking. As your book sells more, it moves up the ladder; as other books outsell yours, it moves back down.
- Total historical sales are part of the equation, but not a huge one. For instance, Martha Stewart’s latest book has no problem towering hundreds of slots over, say, Catcher in the Rye at the moment. This is because her book has sold more copies at a faster rate within a recent time span, not because she’s sold more copies overall.
The most important thing to remember about your sales rank is its temporary and relative nature. The Amazon rating is more like a popularity contest than the litmus test for a book’s success. The number you see on the page is merely how you’re selling compared to other titles in a very brief period. Two or three purchases of the same book within an hour can send a title skyrocketing up the rankings. Sure it’s exciting to leave a few thousand of your competitors in the dust, but unless the buying continues at a good pace, you can slip from the higher rankings fairly quickly.
By the same token, don’t feel sick if following your rankings feels like riding a particularly nasty roller coaster. For a more accurate assessment, get an average ranking: check the rank once an hour for twenty-four hours if you’re in the top 10,000, once a day for a week or two if you’re between 10,000 and 100,000, once a week for a couple of months if you’re lower than that. This will give you a much more stable picture of how your book is selling online. Services like titlez.com can show you a graph of a particular book’s historical rankings. Titlez.com is in beta testing and currently does not list all titles, but you can request that a particular book be added. At booksandwriters.com, you can register to receive email reports on your rankings for a small fee.
Remember also to take seasons into account when assessing your sales rank. Students buying for the upcoming semester can clog the top spots with textbooks and paperback classics in the late summer and midwinter seasons. Likewise, books without gift appeal will probably see a significant drop in the holiday months.
But in the end, the sales rank is meant to be, in Amazon.com’s words, merely “interesting.” Don’t sweat it if you can’t figure out why your number is exactly where it is. Instead, focus your energy on making your product page as informative and consumer-friendly as possible. It has been our experience in optimizing Amazon pages that the product’s rank improves as it collects additional content. Whether good reviews and number of hits have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear; it’s more likely that books with more detailed pages simply attract more buyers. Either way, ensure that your product page does a good job of representing your product.
For those of you interested in deducing sales numbers from rank and trying to crack the magical algorithm, read Morris Rosenthal's What Amazon Sales Ranks Mean or this report from MIT's ebusiness center. If you don’t have the time for übercomplicated mathematical gymnastics, just remember that your ranking depends on many variables we’ll probably never fully identify. Enjoy the spikes in your number—you’re selling copies fast—but don’t forget that the Amazon.com sales rank does not make the book.