Algorithm Marketing for Authors
Ask many modern indie authors to identify the biggest challenge in their work and a huge portion will claim it’s marketing. Writing faster often comes a close second. Primarily, though, they wish they could get their ads to achieve a positive ROI and scale their spend enough to earn a fortune. They can imagine how it would all work and know that cracking the code would ease the pressure on their shoulders. Yet, every month, they struggle to maintain the cashflow needed to actualise their vision. It’s like the system is working against them. Little do they know there’s a way to publish and sell books on easy mode. The method?
If you’re unfamiliar with the terms involved, Britannica defines an algorithm as “a specific procedure for solving a well-defined computational problem.” Meanwhile, marketing means “promoting and selling products or services.” All kinds of websites run on algorithms, and most businesses use marketing. Combine the two concepts and you get algorithm marketing: a way to sell products by stimulating algorithms. It’s simple to understand but tricky to execute. Stick with it, though, and the algorithms will eventually work in your favour. They’ll do much of the heavy lifting, raising your sales baseline and enhancing any future marketing efforts.
Each website comes with a unique set of algorithms, all of which require testing to master. Hence, exceling at algorithm marketing requires significant trial and error that starts fresh with each website. That said, the struggle is worth it. Whether your chosen battlefield is social media, search engines, or retailer sites, getting a website’s algorithms onside can significantly improve the prospects of your author business. Today’s blog post will explore five key areas of the internet you could focus on to benefit from algorithm marketing. Exploring each one, you’ll learn a few tips you can use to get started, enhance your publishing process and compound your rewards.
Emails don’t have anything to do with website algorithms. At least, that’s a misconception many authors believe. After all, a lack of algorithms is the whole point of building an email list, right? It means you don’t have to worry about social media sites cutting off your contact with readers. In part, that’s true. Emails do give you more guaranteed exposure. However, they still have a relationship with algorithms that can limit their exposure. Only it isn’t website algorithms that pose a threat; it’s email service providers (ESPs). Every year, they deem content spam and cause millions of readers to miss book launch newsletters. Taming them won’t help you extend your reach to new readers, but it will help you maximise your exposure to existing ones.
Optimising for deliverability is key. This means training ESP algorithms to recognise your emails as high-quality content instead of pitches destined for spam folders. Look at your newsletter subject lines. Do they include “sale,” “free” or similar spammy words? Do all your emails contain HTML or are some plain text? Do you remove inactive subscribers to maintain proper list hygiene? Do you encourage readers to reply to your onboarding sequences to simulate conversations? Together these tactics can convince ESP algorithms that readers want to read your emails. Train them to trust your emails and they will deliver exponential results as your lists grow.
There’s never been a better time to be a writer, partly because of the abundance of online courses that teach authors how to maximise their reach and build their businesses with slick advertising campaigns. Paid ads, however, aren’t the only way you can use social media platforms to make a living with your writing. While more traditional sites like Facebook and Instagram now require paid advertising to gain significant traction, newer ones like TikTok offer more attractive organic prospects. Pandering to their algorithms, some authors attract enough eyeballs to build a huge reading audience without spending any cash at all.
Social media platform algorithms work by gathering millions of data points from users to match content with appropriate audiences. If you want a general overview, though, there are four main data points they analyse:
Users give the first three willingly and intelligent platforms typically take the fourth without them realising, profiling user behaviour patterns to learn how to keep their attention. The knack to harnessing such algorithms is to work out which interactions each platform values — clicks, views, likes, shares, retweets and shelves, for example — and to post the type of content that will maximise exposure in that particular environment.
Due to less competition and simpler algorithms, it’s sometimes easier to attract readers on wide retailers like Apple Books or Kobo than it is on Amazon. Indeed, enriching books with excellent metadata, even without advertising, is enough to help some authors rake in consistent sales at those alternative retailers. Yes, paid ads can help boost the figures; those who do extremely well often combine algorithm marketing techniques with paid ads. But research suggests that including relevant keywords in a book’s title and subtitle at wide stores is often enough to generate organic exposure and sales.
Say, for example, you’ve written a book like The Hobbit but it’s a sci-fi set in the year 3000. On Amazon, unless a subtitle is printed on the cover, you can’t include it in the metadata. So, your title might look like this:
Borg of the Rings
A study by the team at the author services marketplace Reedsy, however, suggests that wide authors can see success by adding specific, relevant subtitles, like this:
Borg of the Rings: An Epic Cyberpunk Adventure
Amazon dissuades this strategy, believing authors who use it are gaming their system. Many wide retailers, however, happily allow authors to use keywords to help them inform their algorithms. The royalties they generate for authors typically only make up a small portion their total income but adapting your metadata for wide retailers in this way can help you diversify your business revenue streams with minimal extra effort.
The publishing community often talks about Amazon’s algorithms in the same way fishermen talk about monster fish they’ve spotted. Many book trade professionals believe they’ve seen them in action at some point but few are able to reel in a feast, and none can do so every time they visit the water. Whenever an author thinks they’ve tamed the algorithms, they change. What makes the job even harder is that there isn’t one Amazon algorithm. There are many, each with unique qualities and influences. And you have to factor in that they work in unison.
Experts consider there to be around six major algorithms, all of which are important. Therefore, mastering Amazon takes a multi-pronged approach. Unlike on wide retailers, it’s not enough to create a great book and complement it with a fantastic cover and metadata. You must also train Amazon’s algorithms to view your book as a product that converts better than similar titles, and present it as a well-suited option for fans of other authors. Do this at scale and you will appear in their also-boughts.
You can achieve this outcome working internally on the site by running strategically-targeted Amazon ads. Or you can use external factors like Facebook or newsletter swaps to drive traffic and sales. Showing the algorithms the saleability of your books and demonstrating who would enjoy them often requires considerable time and attention. That said, few algorithms reward authors to the same extent as the Amazon ones. Some individuals achieve four-figure royalty sums from organic sales every month before they even begin using paid ads.
It’s easy to overlook your website when considering algorithm marketing, especially if you’re a new author. After all, retailers have a lot of readers and few are likely to visit an unknown author’s website, so it makes more sense to focus your efforts where readers hang out. Once you have an established reader base, though, the lure of control and stability often overcomes the desire to continue rapid growth. Selling direct on your author website offers a solution, enabling authors to manipulate the shopping experience and reader contact information. As a result, you should consider it a prime place to benefit from algorithm marketing.
Optimising a website for search engines works much like optimising a book for retailer websites. The process involves both visual and meta aspects. Are you using content marketing? Will the content please your ideal readers? Does each webpage have a meta title and description? These features appear on Google search result previews so are vital for optimising listings and clicks. Equally important, have you guest posted on other websites to engineer backlinks? Is your website smartphone friendly? Individually, these changes only have a small impact, but address them all and you’ll dramatically improve your website’s exposure on search engines. Every author with an online presence uses algorithm marketing to some degree. It’s just that many get algorithms to push their books by accident, making good choices by coincidence rather than strategy. Actively bake the best practices of algorithm marketing into your production and launch process, however, and you’ll remove a lot of luck from the equation. For a small upfront time investment, you’ll increase your likelihood of getting regular, passive sales and strengthen your author business against industry changes over the long term.
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