Good morning and happy Wednesday authors! It's another #writerwednesday where we talk shop, industry, and more. Today, let's touch on a topic where so many authors, both indie and traditional, feel the burn. That's right, the old Amazon algorithm. Not only can I not spell the word 'algorithm' without several auto corrects, but I have mixed feelings and thoughts on the infamous Amazon Algorithm and how it became such a standard of measurement for success. Not only has this become the go to marketing necessity for so many authors, whether their books are released wide or only on Amazon, but garnering reviews to crack into the algorithm is...a challenge.
The Uphill Battle of the Amazon Algorithm
But First, The Algorithm, Explained
An 'algorithm' describes a set of instructions used by a system to process data. Amazon's algorithm applies to its search system and is meant to provide customers with a list of relevant products as quickly as possible. With literally millions of books on Amazon, the need to master the algorithm feels critical.
While the algorithm weeds out titles to fit the tastes of the consumer, your books are still competing with hundreds of thousands of titles within a genre and getting to the front of the line means a series of benchmarks. A big benchmark system for authors is the number of ratings and reviews their book has, where each benchmark increases their visibility and moves their title up the queue in the almighty algorithm. Other factors include everything from impressions to click through rate, seller authority and off site sales. It is a lot to wade through and understand and depending on what part of the scale you fall on for publishing, there are certain factors out of your hands. But reviews are something authors can actively encourage. With drawbacks.
After 20-25 reviews, Amazon includes the author's book in "also boughts" and "you might like" lists. This increases its visibility on the site and helps boost sales.
After 50-70 reviews, Amazon highlights the book for spotlight positions and its newsletter.
Reviews? I Don't Know Them
Chasing those numbers can feel impossible for many authors. It often feels like they are shouting into the void when it comes to asking readers to leave them a review on Amazon. They may even see a fantastic uptick in reviews on sites like Goodreads while Amazon reviews tick by at a crawl. Well there are several reasons for the review gap between sites.
A big one are Amazon's policies and their terms of service. A fairly recent change in Amazon's policies is that anyone leaving a review must have spent at least $50 on the Amazon account they use to leave reviews.
When it comes to Terms of Service, or TOS, Amazon may choose to block or delete reviews if they feel the review is spam, fake, or if the reviewer has a personal connection to the seller. Many of these systems are automated, and if the review doesn't come from a 'verified purchase', that increases the chances of a review triggering an automated block.
Reviews can also take longer than usual to process, with some going up immediately while others sit in limbo for days or fail to process altogether.
Are they ways to make accumulating reviews easier? Well, unfortunately no. Amazon can crack down pretty hard on paid reviews though there are many services out there they seem to give a pass to. Figuring out which ones are safe and which will land the banhammer is a bit of a mine field and there is really no tried and true path to follow. Marketing strategies do exist but if you find yourself frustrated with the slow crawl, remember that you are not alone and everyone else is trying to figure it out too.