The indie author community is often abuzz with rumors about the most recent algorithm changes, or the latest advertising hacks that will squeeze a few more books sales out.
But much of what is discussed is based on anecdotal data, the experience of individual authors. So author Michael Alvear commissioned a data study about buying habits and reveals his findings below.
How can you use this data to help sell more books?
As an author and book marketing consultant, I love data. So, for my latest book, I commissioned a research lab to conduct an eye tracking study on Amazon's book pages.
When the results came in I was as excited as a dog trying to get out of a car. And when that door opened I was not disappointed, for the results helped me craft many new powerful strategies, which I’d like to share with you.
How The Lab Conducted The Study
The research company invited a slew of people into their laboratory where they sat in front of computers lined with small cameras that capture pupil activity. They record where people look, what direction they take and how long they rest in one area.
Respondents were asked to operate out of the following mindset: “You're in the mood to buy a mystery thriller. You search, click on an appealing cover and land on a page describing the book. How do you determine if you want to buy it?”
By the way, respondents were given the book page for Blake Pierce's novel, A Trace of Death. I have no connection to Blake nor have I read his book. I chose the book randomly.
As respondents looked at Blake's page, the cameras silently produced a gaze plot, which tells you what part of the page is most attractive, where something caught their eye, what direction their eyes travel, and how long they stay focused on each point.
Researchers then combined the data from all test subjects and produced a heat map indicating fixation points. The most popular areas are colored red, with orange, yellow and blue showing decreasingly viewed areas.
Space limitations prevent me from analyzing every aspect so let’s focus on some of the more surprising results.
1. Shoppers Pay A Lot of Attention To Titles
As you can see from the heat map above, titles matter a lot. Shoppers fixate on them.
I’ve often changed the titles of my own books and saw dramatic shifts in sales. Same for my clients. One in particular stood out. Author Gerry O'Sullivan's book Servants Of The Empire went face first into the gazpacho when he launched it. I mean, it was deader than Elvis. We relaunched it as Gangsters Of Shangai.
We had to measure the sales increases in commas. Within three months of the re-launch Sony Television optioned his book. I never touched his manuscript. There are many examples of books that took off when the authors changed the titles; if your book isn’t doing well you should seriously consider doing the same.
2. Shoppers Fixate More on “Books in Series” Than “Customers Who Bought…”
The heat map indicates that shoppers pay more attention to Books In This Series than Customers Who Bought. This is a POWERFUL argument for writing series books OR I would argue, grouping loosely related books into a series.
For example, along with some mega bestselling authors, my sister Vicky Alvear Schecter co-writes books about antiquity. The four books they’ve written are not a series in the traditional sense of the word, but if you look at the subject matter and the covers you wouldn’t know it.
If they called it a “series” there’s a very good chance Amazon would create a Books In This Series section for them and then their book page would turn into the kind of stunning sales engine that novelist Catherine Buybee created for herself:
Look at that image! Her book page looks like Amazon doesn’t sell anything but her novels!
If you have loosely associated books you should seriously consider packaging them as a series. Here’s how to make sure Amazon creates a “Books In This Series bar in your book page.
3. Book Buyers Fixate on Amazon Ads
Nothing in my eye tracking study surprised me more than seeing the above image, which shows that shoppers pay a fair amount of attention to competing book ads.
Writers should seriously consider using Amazon’s advertising arm, AMS, though I would STRONGLY advise you to go in armed with a well-thought-out plan. Advertising, in general, doesn’t seem to work very well for authors as early returns on my advertising effectiveness for authors survey shows.
At the very least, take a look at these principles for advertising success in Amazon AMS, Facebook and Google. And if you’re really serious I recommend reading either Mastering Amazon Ads by Brian D. Meeks or AMS Ads For Authors by ML Humphrey.
[From Joanna: You can also check out podcast interviews on Amazon advertising with Brian Meeks, and Advertising for Authors with Mark Dawson.]
4. Shoppers Pay Attention to the “Look Inside” Section
It doesn’t take a genius to understand the “Look Inside” is probably your last chance to close the sale.
Thus, it is imperative that you stage front matter for maximum sales conversion. Never, EVER use a table of contents unless you're sure it's going to help merchandise the book. If you want to see What Not To Do, then there's no better example than Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn's new book:
Look at that empty, meaningless sales-destroying atrocity–from a major publisher no less! This is a classic example of online friction–rubbing, grating and chafing a customer who's interested in buying your product.
True, mega-best seller Gillian Flynn can get away with this kind of friction. She could sell a space heater to Satan, but you and I can't. So don't.
If you can't make a compelling table of contents then skip it. Know how to tell if your “Look Inside” sample will help or hurt the sale or risk an ugly performance report.
The results of one heat map study should not be taken as a dictum for all authors and all books. Eye tracking studies show us where people focus but not necessarily what they see.
For example, if you spend a lot of time looking at a particular point on an author's page is it because you're interested or because you're confused? When you move from one element to another is it because those items are interesting or because you're hopping from one element to another in search of something you can't find?
These qualifiers aside, eye tracking studies have a great track record for optimizing sales. See the full heat map and if you want a fuller explanation along with other strategies I haven’t covered here check out my new book, Make A Killing On Kindle 2018 EDITION.
Are you surprised by the results of this eye-tracking study? How will this affect you book page strategy on Amazon? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Michael Alvear is a book marketing consultant and ad veteran of 20 years, once winning Adweek’s prestigious Media Plan Of The Year. He is a hybrid author represented by the Handspun Literary Agency and has also self-published fifteen books.
Freddy G. Cabrera says
Hey Joanna and Michael!
What an interesting and super helpful insight!
These “heat maps” really help. I recently learned about such tool. It’s amazing how technology could be tremendously helpful for the marketers.
This tells me a lot now.
Thank you so much for sharing this!
Best regards! 😀
Amy Shojai, CABC says
The “look inside” feature is pulled from the beginning of the book, and typically, indie authors (especially those in KU) are thumped vigorously if the TOC is anywhere but at the beginning of the book. Not sure…but a bookmark to “start” after this may work.
Alessandro Tinchini says
No pun intended, but this is definitely eye-opening.
At least, it is to me. I am studying book marketing strategies, as well as online content SEO and this post is a vital addition to the subject matter.
Thank you so much for sharing!
Hannah Ross says
One of the most informative and useful articles I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been thinking about Amazon SEO for a long time now, and this comes at just the right moment.
Interesting and very helpful! As a series writer/publisher, I loved seeing this!
What I especially noticed is what was *not* mentioned (in your summary, at least) – – the relative ranking in terms of “eye-interest” of the cover, and the blurb!
I guess we can assume that there is eye-tracking data (somewhere) on reader choices of one or more covers among a bunch, eg, in the same genre.
But the absence of the (in)famous blurb among the top four? That’s important stuff!
Steve Jones says
Fascinating study and thanks for sharing. As an as-yet-unpublished but veracious Amazon ebook purchaser, I’d say your observation regarding table of contents applies well to fiction, but wouldn’t work for me as a non-fiction purchaser. I often ‘look inside’ at the contents only to see what the non-fiction book covers – I’ll often buy (or not) based on whether the contents appears to cover what I need. The opening text doesn’t usually do that and I don’t often read this text. So, for non-fiction, I’d suggest having an (informative!) ToC.