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SPS-417: Automating Amazon Ads with Merch Jar – with Cameron Scott

What could made to order tee shirts have anything to do with publishing? Well they may be closer than you think… Cameron Scott is an amazon seller with years of experience optimizing his own sales on the platform. Today he joins us to present his tool to assist sellers of all kinds with their keywords.

Show Notes

  • Amazon ads and why they are important.
  • Keywords for Amazon sellers.
  • The difference between a keyword and a search term.
  • The Merch Jar tool and it’s uses.

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Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Alright, Cameron Scott, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. We're going to be talking Amazon ads and automation of Amazon ads and so on.

Why don't you start by introducing yourself a little bit?

Cameron Scott: Oh sure. My name's Cameron Scott. I'm an Amazon seller and I've started selling on Amazon about five years ago, early 2018 with Amazon's print on demand platform now called Merch on Demand. But it's pretty similar to KDP and except for T-shirts instead of books that you sell. So I started there in 2018 and with T on demand, you're very limited in the levers you can pull to drive sales to your products. You're stuck with the thumbnail that they give you. There's no a plus content, no backend keywords, you can't pick your categories, you're just kind of stuck with the listing. So you're pretty limited in what you can do to rank your product drive sales. So early on I had a chance to get access to Amazon ads. They didn't have it for everybody. For Merch on Demand, you had to apply to it. And I knew, just from my understanding of the ranking algorithm and some other friends that sold on Amazon through other platforms like FBA and FBM, knowing where Amazon was going, they were pushing everybody towards Amazon ads, which it makes sense if you think about Amazon, they get a huge cut of the sale itself and then they get a cut of the Amazon ads as well.

So their priority is to do what's best for them. So it kind of made sense if I saw where it was going. So I jumped into Amazon ads really heavily early on when in the merch on demand platform it was very sceptical. People almost had a pride around selling their products organically. I don't need to use ads, it's a waste of money. And I saw a different route. So I invested heavily in Amazon ads and since that time I've sold about $4 million of my own products on Amazon, about $400,000 of my own money on Amazon ads. And also during that time I was the COO of a company called Fan Print by seven Figure Print on Demand Company. They specialise in the licence apparel space. So that would be, we had licences for the Dallas Cowboys and Major League baseball players, all the US colleges.

So that gave me a broader perspective of managing ads on a larger scale for hundreds of thousands of products. And the Amazon tools that they give you to manage ads are just super frustrating. I ran into that really early on. They just don't give you the tools to manage a large number of campaigns. It took hours. And with those frustrations, I just kind of, there's got to be a better way. And my co-founder, Tom, my now co-founder Tom and I started developing Merc Jar, which is software to help manage your ads and automate all the tedious things with the goal of on ads so you can focus on all the other aspects of your business. So that's now where my main focus is. And we launched a couple years ago, about two and a half years ago, and we've now managed over $20 million in ads through the platform and the sellers that's resulted in over a hundred million dollars in sales for our users.

And about a quarter of our users are KDP users actually. So we've seen a big opportunity there with similar frustrations, probably even more than other platforms because a DP sellers don't even have the tools that all the other sellers have through ads. So it's probably even more frustrating. So while it's maybe not at the same scale as merch on demand with that tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of products, it's a different frustration with Amazon ads. And that's where I spend my time now, still sell my own products, but my focus now is on making tools to make Amazon ads easier.

James Blatch: So I'm assuming you ended up when you were manually running your ads campaigns making basically the same decisions over and over again depending on adjusting the bid rate, and that's where you saw an opportunity to automate this.

Cameron Scott: Yeah, exactly. So I did exactly that, find myself running the same filters, downloading the same reports, making the same optimizations, and it just took hours with Amazon's own tools where, and some of your audience may not even know this, but with other seller platforms, you have access to what's called bulk operations. You can download a report of all of your entire accounts, campaigns, keywords, targets, and analyse everything all at once, make changes all at once. So even having access to that, it was still frustrating because at times it would take hours to download Amazon's own software isn't super fast to use and it's still frustrating, especially if you don't really love spreadsheets. I'm okay with spreadsheets. I still don't love fiddling around with them, especially with thousands of different keywords and targets to adjust. So yeah, finding, doing the same thing over and over, plus everything else I needed to focus on just in all the different aspects of a business. Developing new products was a primary component, probably similar to writers and authors too, is your time's probably best spent creating new products, writing new books, not spending hours every single week fiddling with bids, dialling into each campaign and adjusting the bids here and there. Or you end up not doing it and you end up wasting a tonne of money. And

James Blatch: Merja does go into that level of detail because obviously there's a couple of tools out there that adjust the campaign's overall settings, the bid on automatic rules if it dips below or sales roas, whatever you want to use as a measure. But if you're going to use it, I always think if you're going to use a robot, you may as well have the robot can do things that you simply couldn't do. Literally, if you've got a thousand keywords in two or three campaigns, it could work at keyword level and eventually rub out the keywords that simply aren't working for you and focus the money on the keywords that are,

Cameron Scott: Well even further than just keywords. But it's really goes down to the most granular, which is the search term level. So there's a lot of talk about keywords, adjusting keywords. It's not so much about the keywords, it's about the search terms. Keywords are just a way of telling Amazon, Hey, put my ads on these search terms, what the customers are actually typing into Amazon or the product pages that your ads do appear on. So part of it is managing the bids on those, your ACOs or roas, whatever you end up using as your metric is too high, I'm going to slowly dial the bid down or it's low, so I want to get more reach, I'm going to adjust the bid. Pretty simple to do. And our software does automate that for you, but it goes a step further with the search terms. So it's going to evaluate your search terms and the ones that are getting a lot of clicks and no orders or KDNP reads for KDP, if it's not performing, it's going to negate those. And the other big aspect of Amazon is finding the search terms that are working. So I run a lot of automatic campaigns, they work great and it's kind of letting Amazon do the work for you. They have all this data, so they're going to put your ad all kinds of places and then when stuff starts selling from that, we're going to pull that out and put it into a manual campaign so I can have a little more focus on that, a little more control over the bids.

And that's really tedious to do if you go through your search term reports. I'm not even sure what the best way to do that with KDP, I guess you have to go into each ag group on your account and go to the search term. It's like, okay, this one's selling. So I mean that would take, you can do all these things manually. It would just take, it's about the time component. Our software is really about saving time. I don't know that there's anything you couldn't do manually with the software, but it just makes things a lot easier. So for things like the search terms, Amazon only gives you 65 days. It's a pretty limited amount of time, especially if you don't have a lot of order volume on your products, you may need more clicks to be able to make a good decision and you're not getting that volume of clicks within 65 days.

We store your data up to the life of your account so you can go back even further. I can look at search terms that we're selling, especially this time of year, really relevant, what search terms were working last holiday season that I need to put some focus on the search terms that work during Q4 for my own products perform much differently than the rest of the year. Something like stocking stuffer for men is a search term I target that doesn't get any traffic the rest of the year, but I can go back and look at it and you can do that. What works. That

James Blatch: Search term stacking what?

Cameron Scott: Stocking stuffer for men.

James Blatch: Stocking. Stocking, yeah. Perfect. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well funnily enough, I think authors find it the other way because we spend all year advertising our books and then suddenly get crowded out in November and everyone's, the cost per click goes up and everyone's sales efficiency of their ad campaign goes down, that's Facebook as well.

Cameron Scott: I think that makes sense. And I think that's probably the case for the majority of my products too. I have one bestseller, it makes up the majority of my revenue throughout the year, but it's a shirt for dad, so it, it's a very giftable shirt. So I end up doing really well this time of year and if it didn't do as well as it did and convert as well as it did, I wouldn't be able to advertise either paying a dollar $52, two 50 per click. You have to have a really high conversion rate to make that work. So for most of my products it just doesn't, but there's still cases, you can still get reach with lower impressions, which does happen as well. Yeah,

James Blatch: So that's one of the main questions that will be people's minds now is your product is being built around other forms of merch,

but the book ecosystem does feel quite particular. How well does it lend itself to our world?

Cameron Scott: So we have developed some things with KDP. I think that just first off, there's a lot more we can do. So we met at the 20 Books Vegas conference, and the reason I even went to that was because we noticed about a quarter of our users are using KDP and I wanted to learn more about how we could support them. We already bring in metrics like KENP, the estimated royalties that can be used within our different automation functions. So there is that, but I think there's more we could do definitely. And we've had a tonne of ideas just since the last few weeks takes time to develop those. Of course, I think some of the biggest issues is with attribution. I think that's a really big issue, especially with the page reads. So that's a very unique issue with KDP. Maybe it's not an issue feature where no other product really has that.

And the other part of it is the sell-through rate with series. So you have a book one X percentage of people go on to book 2, 3, 4. That's not very typical with normal product sales. Most people aren't buying this shirt, so I'm going to buy all these other shirts or whatever product and FBA Argos to support any kind of seller. And now we're definitely looking at KDP and how we can better support that. And I don't know that we've solved, we've quite answered the question, what is the best way, maybe we can talk about that a little bit. What would KDP sellers to see with that? We have a few ideas when it comes to that Sell-through rate.

James Blatch: Yeah, I think the fact

Cameron Scott: Being able to turn

James Blatch: The value of a sale, being able to put that in manually to say, I know that a sale of book one of my series is worth x, and then that helps you at a glance see the efficiency of the sale. I mean, there aren't many, you're right, there aren't many people I can think of. We look at an Amazon ads dashboard and see a loss and know that that campaign is actually making a profit for them. It's just not in the campaign's metrics, but in your stuff that sits on top. If we could have some manual control over those figures, it would show that

Cameron Scott: That's I think going to be our first step is, I don't want to say it's simple. My co-founder, he's the tech guy, he'd probably be screaming at me. I always think it's easy to come up with ideas and then actually developing 'em a whole other side of things. But I think that's our first step is giving manual control to almost have a multiplier on, hey, every order is actually worth X amount through sell through rate. You can get that data from, I know there's other tools that sort of provide that data. And similar with the read through being able to have a value on each page, read within that 14 day window. We know there's a lot of page reads that happen after the fact. Not everybody's going to finish that book or maybe even start that book within that 14 day timeframe. So being able to place a value on what some sort of multiplier on those page reads like this is a dollar value. And then combining that with your actual orders too, and then be able to optimise based on those or pull search terms out that are getting, hitting this revenue figure or whatever your metrics are. And I'm sure it's different from, I learned a lot at 20 books and it sounds like every genre is a little bit different with that, but it seems like authors are pretty well versed in that too. There's specific genres, sort of the trends with that.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'll tell you, I did have a question about search terms versus keywords, which you answered recently in the interview, although it's 10 minutes ago now.

But I want you to describe to people who aren't as familiar with Amazon ads, what the differences between a keyword and a search term.

Cameron Scott: So a lot of people conflate these or use 'em interchangeably, and they're different and it's important to understand the difference with it. So a search term is what a customer actually types into a search bar. It's how most of us search for products. The other portion of search terms that you'll see if you go into your search term reports, as you'll find ASINs, the product identifiers for Amazon, that means your A'S showing up on a product page. But the search terms are where your ad appears and the search results. So someone types in whatever search romance novels for dogs, if you're targeting that search term, your ad is going to appear in the results of that or on a product page for products listed on that, a keyword. You're telling Amazon what search terms you want your ad to appear for. That's simply all keywords are.

You're not necessarily, and there's different match types for those. So that's telling you how broad of search terms you want to have your ad placed on or how exact, so if you're using exact match, you're only going to show on that search term. And then a couple variations of it with plurals and a couple other words that they strip out where if you're with a phrase, that keyword has to be in the search term somewhere that someone types in and so forth. And then you have automatic, that's just going to target a little bit of everything. But there's different targeting groups within automatic that sort of operate as keywords too. But that would be the difference. Is that clear?

James Blatch: Yeah. Yeah, it does. And I think it's always worth reiterating that when we talk about Amazon ads. Okay.

So going back to Merch Jar, the tool, how does it operate? Do you have a subscription? Do you pay per budget, percentage of budget? How does that work?

Cameron Scott: Yeah, there is a subscription. Every account starts with a free 14 day trial. So you can get used to the software, make sure it works for what you're looking for. And then we have different levels of subscription and they're all based on the ad revenue that you generate. So we only make more money if you're successful with ads and you're making more money. And those plans start at $10 per month because we wanted, what we found in all the tools out there is that they're just not accessible for a lot of sellers. So we wanted to have pricing that would support sellers no matter where they're at in their journey with advertising.

James Blatch: I mean, $10 a month sounds really good.

And what happens when you scale it? How is that measured? Because you say, I mean a lot of IKDP sellers using Amazons don't necessarily show a profit on their dashboard even

Cameron Scott: If they're making profit. True. So we came up with this pricing maybe before we started really diving into

James Blatch: PP. So we should take advantage of that before you change it.

Cameron Scott: Yes, I would say it's on the seller's benefit. We have no way to know what you're selling outside of that 14 day attribution window. So that's all we're getting credit for, you could say. So if you're heavy on page reads, yeah, definitely you can very much take advantage of it. Otherwise, it's a small percentage of sales starts at 1.2% of revenue down to 0.8, and it can go even lower with annual. We have an annual subscription where you can save about 33% on that.

James Blatch: Okay.

And do you need a separate account for each domain? So if wanted to uk and DE and so on?

Cameron Scott: Nope, it's unlimited. You get access to all of our features with any subscription. There's a couple difference when it comes to number of syncing and things like that, but all of our tools are available otherwise you can sync unlimited accounts to Mercer account with a single login since it's entirely based on the advertising revenue you generate.

James Blatch: Sounds good. A

nd you say you're up for some feedback from authors. I mean, how would people get in touch with you if they're using the tool? There might be people listening to this who are already using it. If you say 25% of your base is KDP users, do you have a support group, Facebook groups or something like that?

Cameron Scott: Yeah, so of course any of our users can go right through our support. It's me doing most of the support at this point. And then we have a Facebook group. We actually, it's Amazon Ads University if you want to search or if you'll put a link. However this gets delivered, it's a group

James Blatch: With about, we'll put it in the notes. Yeah,

Cameron Scott: It's a group of about 7,500 different advertisers in it. So definitely a great place to ask questions and learn from other advertisers. And then we do have a Facebook group that's dedicated to just Mercer and we have our YouTube channel as well.

James Blatch: Great.

And in terms of the tool itself, we can't, most people actually listen to the show rather than watch it. So even if we did screen flow, but can you sort of describe the levers that are available within it, what you can go in and do, and how often it then implements these rules or whatever?

Cameron Scott: So there's a couple different parts. We have our automation features and then we also have our ad manager feature, which the ad manager feature brings all of your advertising data into one place. So you can see all your keywords in one table, add filters, perform bulk actions across thousands of keywords at the same time if you'd like. So that's a really good place just to explore your data, all your search terms that they don't give you in one place and KDP just doesn't have access to. So that's a great place just to do bulk actions and make what you're doing now much more efficient. And then we have our automation tools and we have a couple of different tools there. We have our tool that's called Recipes, which does a lot of different features. A lot of it's around bid management, but when it comes to the levers, we took a different approach than any other tools out there.

Our goal was to, and what we ran into is there's a thousand different ways to manage ads. Everybody wants to do things a little bit differently, and we didn't want to create a black box algorithm that you just, okay, do whatever you're going to do with my ads and I have no idea what it's going to do and we'll see if it works. We didn't want to take that approach and we didn't want to take an approach where it's a very fixed logic based system where it's like, okay, if the ACOs is this, then do this. So instead we developed our own, it's sort of like a programming language for any of the nerdy programmers out there. It's SQL like, but much simpler to use to where you can sort of have it do whatever you'd like. And one of the major features of it that no other software I've seen does is you can actually query your data, look through all of your data using multiple date ranges at the same time.

So instead of just looking at, okay, what's the performance of the last three days? You can also look at the last three days and the last seven and the last 30 and the last 180 because it's not just about what's happening recently. Let's say you're considering pausing keywords that aren't performing and you're looking at the last seven days of data, these keywords come up, Hey, these got a bunch of clicks but no sales. You might pause these, but there's a lot of situations where those keywords maybe just didn't perform recently and they used to go gangbusters for you, or maybe they're seasonal and they only performed during Q4. So it's not always about just what's happening recently or in a specific date range. You often need to look at multiple date ranges and it allows you to do that within our quarry system. And we understand a lot of people don't want to create their own complex quarries. So we have what we call starter recipes available in every account that handle probably 90% of the optimization you need to do anyways, dialling your bids based on their performance, increasing your bids if you're not getting impressions, pausing keywords and targets that aren't performing across various metrics.

James Blatch: Great. Well, you're able to tell people where they can find this and how they get started. So there's a 14 day free period.

Cameron Scott: Yep, absolutely free. There's no credit card required. You just sync your account and go crazy with it and see if it works for you. And if it does, subscribe to a plan based on what you're seeing in revenue. But merc, E-M-E-R-C-H-J-A

James Blatch: If you're watching on YouTube, Cameron is wearing the T-shirt.

Cameron Scott: Yes. Yeah, I sell T-shirts. I figured I got to at least get some shirts made.

James Blatch: Yes. Yeah, there you go. Well, it's interesting. There's a few companies around that I've run into this year on this show Book Vault's, another one, printers up in not too far from here in the UK who are suddenly quite big in the indie space. And there are companies that have just worked out how big and powerful the indie publishing market is and are sort of pivoting themselves towards it. Now. I kind of feel that's going on here. You sort of realising this is an important growing, exponentially growing area,

Cameron Scott: And that's exactly what it is. We knew KDP existed. I have a KD account, which is what we use for testing the APIs and stuff to get working with that. So we could pull in the various KDP metrics. But I've a few longtime users with KKDP with us and one of 'em, I did an interview on my channel not too long ago with Janice Papworth, and she's the one that told me about 20 books Vegas during the interview. She's like, you should go, it's a great event. There's tonnes of people. And that was three weeks before it was actually going on, and I ended up making it happen. And just through talking to all the various authors and how much money some of these were making, I knew that through some of our users making six figures a month through our software. So I knew there was definitely potential, especially compared to merch on demand.

So there are some similarities, there's a lot of crossover. People that sell the merch on demand also do KDP, they're creators and it's print on demand. So there's a lot of that crossover. And I knew how much bigger the ceiling was with KDP than merch because I have one of the bestselling t-shirts across the entire platform on my own. So I've seen what the sales potential is on merch and my sales were dwarfed by a few of our users on KDP, so I know the ceiling was much bigger. And that was kind of the first hint. And then just again, through talking with all the authors, how amazing of a space it is, but not only that, how underserved it seems to be on the software front. So I believe with our experience, mine and my co-founders software experience, we could develop a lot of tools to make advertising much easier and sell more products, make everyone more money.

James Blatch: Yeah, that's name of the game. That sounds great, Cameron. Look, I'll give it a go. I'll give it a go on my books and get used to using the software. And there's, like I say, a few people have come up in this area, but it's crying out really because it's a huge time. We have so many things to do when you're an independent author from writing, being the number one and covers and blurbs and Facebook ads and merch and you name it. But to automate in a way that's going to be successful I think is a bit of a pan air, is that the right word? A golden ticket. I'm

Cameron Scott: Not a writer, so I don't know.

James Blatch: No, well, it's the end of the day. I was a writer at the beginning of the day, but I was sort of brain fled now, so yeah. Sounds good. So yeah, looking forward to it and I'll, yeah, I'll report back.

Cameron Scott: Yeah, happy to help as well. Jump on a demo with you and show you all the ins and outs and yeah, we're really excited to be part of the community. I had a fantastic time in Vegas. I'll be at the Spain convention and London as well. I'm already planning on, so doing the whole circuit.

James Blatch: Superb. Okay, well look how I'll see you in Spain and I'll also see you in London obviously, because our conference. So yeah, looking forward to that. Be great.

Speaker 1: The Self Publishing show, there's never been a better time to be a writer.