Amazon Ads for Indie Authors

by | May 3, 2017

By Frances Caballo

One of the benefits of belonging to a local chapter of the Independent Publishers Associations (IBPA) is the information you glean from your colleagues’ experience.

That’s what happened to me two months ago when I attended the Bay Area chapter of IBPA and heard two members share their thoughts on Amazon ads and their experience. Then a month later, a speaker shed additional light on the subject.

So I decided to try a few ads. Let me share with you what I’ve learned so far.

Amazon Product Display Ads

If you’re interested in purchasing an ad, don’t bother with the product display ads. I tried one, and it failed miserably. These ads show up beneath the “Buy with 1-Click,” “Give as a Gift,” and “Add to List,” buttons on the right column of the page.

Once someone has decided to purchase a book, if they’re anything like me, they go straight to the cart and then the purchase. I never realized there were suggestions in that space before I learned about them. That’s what tunnel vision I can have at times.

On the one product display ad that I purchased, I received 9,466 impressions, 19 clicks, no purchases, and spent $4.30. So I spent the price of a latte for a failed experiment.

Amazon Sponsored Products

If you want to buy advertising for your books on Amazon, purchase sponsored product ads.

The one I purchased has so far received 43,575 impressions and 32 clicks. I’ve spent $5.26 and received $25.98 in sales. For that ad, I used 87 keywords of my own. (You can also just use the keywords that Amazon suggests.)

Just yesterday I started a new sponsored product ad for the same book but instead used 125 keywords. It’s too soon to tell what will happen with that ad.

Keywords for Your Ads

My 125 keywords for my second sponsored product ad may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. Amazon allows advertisers to use up to 1,000 keywords. By that standard, my 125 keywords seem paltry, don’t they? They were at least a good start for a novice.

At first I set my budget in the higher range ($10/day), but then I reduced it to at most $2/day. What I discovered is that even when I established my budget at $10/day, I didn’t spend that much. I wouldn’t allocate less than $2/day

How to Find Keywords for You Amazon Ads

An easy way to find keywords is to review the ones that Amazon suggests and use the ones that make sense to you. But don’t stop there because Amazon’s suggestions tend to be too general and not specific enough.

Look at your book description to find more keywords. Then, use some of your keywords in Amazon’s search bar to find books similar to yours. For example, for my book Social Media Just for Writers, I searched using the terms social media for authors and Facebook for authors, etc.

If you write fiction, you could use some of the following keywords:

  • romance
  • Navy Seal romance
  • thrillers
  • historical fiction
  • historical fiction romance
  • science fiction
  • military thrillers, etc.

Then look for keywords in your book’s description.

Using your keywords in the Amazon search bar, look for which books come up and which are recommended. Also look at the books in the sponsored ad area beneath the “also bought” line.

Then search the descriptions for those books for additional keywords. When you finish, search for other keywords on Amazon. When you exhaust your efforts, conduct similar searches on Goodreads. Remember that keywords are terms a reader would type in a browser to find a book like yours. Keywords can be multi-word, such as “social media authors.”

Aside from keywords, you can also use the names of authors who write in your genre, especially the names of bestselling writers.

You can also look for keywords using and even Google Adwords. Yasiv created a map and a list on the right-hand side of the map.

Amazon Ad Requirements

Amazon doesn’t allow all books into its advertising program. This page describes fully what it allows and won’t accept into its program.

Amazon doesn’t allow:

  • Images of human or animal abuse or mistreatment
  • Book covers or titles that glorify or promote illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Obscene, defamatory or libelous images or titles
  • Images or titles that are threatening, abusive, or discriminate against a protected group

The headline and text for your advertising:

  • Needs to be relevant to your book
  • Can’t contain any pricing information
  • Can’t contain depressing messages
  • Customer reviews aren’t allowed
  • Shouldn’t refer to your Amazon rating score
  • Can’t refer to “forceful phrases” such as “Don’t miss out!” or “Hurry – Save Now.”
  • Can’t contain special offers, promotions, or contests

Amazon Bans These Books

If you write any of the following genres, you can’t purchase advertising on Amazon:

  • Erotica or books containing pornography
  • Books that glorify the use of illicit drugs
  • Books with content that is obscene, defamatory or illegal
  • Books with content that it threatening, abuse, or harassing

Please share your experience using Amazon advertising.

Photo: . Amazon link contains affiliate code.

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  1. Ted Schredd

    I have three books that are banned from advertising because of the title. Grandma Knows the F Word – A Philosophy on Fun for Adults / SmartAss Buddha – Get inspired and Pass It On. I have a third book that is banned because there are nude people on the cover. Even though they are portrayed without seeing anything that shouldn’t be seen. They will advertise books like Tantric Sex with a picture of two people doing it on the cover or books like or a brief history of Oral sex with naked people on the cover. Very frustrating. They will not budge.

  2. Thomas Herold

    Hello Frances,

    One of the problems you have with amazon ads is the marketing stats you get. If you ever advertised with Google Adwords you know what I am mean. The table data you get is accumulated and without downloading the campaign stats every day you are out of luck figuring out how to improve your ad performance and get a better ACoS.

    I started to make screenshots to compare two days and get my daily stats. After that, I decided to brush up my programming skills and created some nice charts. This helped me to improve my ads, finally turn a profit, and I am happy to announce that this tool is now available for other authors as well.


    Thomas Herold

  3. K. Patrick Donoghue

    For an indie author, advertising on Amazon via the AMS program for KDP can be extremely beneficial. It does take time to tinker with the range of advertising options and it does cost some money to experiment with different ad types, bidding and ad creative, but it can make a huge difference in sales. For me, it’s by far the #1 driver of sales for my two fiction books…and the most profitable.

    • Frances Caballo

      K. Patrick: Thanks so much for adding your input. For me, sales have improved but as you say, I’m still tinkering around with it.

  4. Mike Wells

    Rule of thumb in business: an ad should generate 5x its cost in pre-tax revenue (i.e., royalties). You don’t seem to be there yet. Whether an ad seems “cheap” has nothing to do with it–it’s all about ROI.

    • Frances Caballo

      Mike: I agree with you. I’m still spending too much for sales. I keep playing around with the cost of the ad and recently reduced the cost to $1/click. But I need I tinker with it further. I’m wondering what your experience has been.

    • Matt Aird

      Mike: This seems like a bit of a generalization. I don’t know that an advertising campaign or strategy should be considered a failure if it fails to achieve a 5x revenue return.

      Especially when selling ebooks when the marginal cost of each additional unit is essentially zero. This may hold true if you have additional production costs but I fail to see any in selling ebooks.

      Maybe I’m missing something but I think if you’re returning $2 for every $1 you’re investing go for it. I know I’d like to double my money every day.

      Wouldn’t you?

  5. Ro

    Amazon ads are not available to everyone. It’s one of the closed doors of the Amazon platform. Sponsored Products is only open to, “Amazon Advantage book sellers, an eligible KDP author and for select Publishers.” If you’re Joe Schmoe with a book and no KDP account, you’re out of luck. (Unless I’ve missed a secret door somewhere).

  6. David Todd

    If ads are that inexpensive, I guess I don’t know why I haven’t been using them. Other than I have no idea how to put one together, what information goes in it. Is the process of building the ad on Amazon intuitive and menu driven? Where do you go to find where to do this. That’s what I could use a tutorial on: just getting started with an Amazon ad, or an ad on any other platform that seems to have a positive return.

    Said the technophobe.

    • Frances Caballo

      David: To get started, go to The process is intuitive. I’m not really techie and I found the steps easy to follow. If I can do it, so can you. Regarding the price of the ads, some people spend as little as $.75 per click and still find that the ads help to drive sales. Good luck and let us know what happens!

  7. Elegsabiff

    Trying it now but a little alarmed that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to add my own keywords – will that be after review?

    Idle question, really, while I wait!

    • Frances Caballo

      Elegsabiff: it’s the last section you fill out. Amazon will suggest keywords then there’s a tab you can open to add your own.

  8. Frances Caballo

    Michael: Thank you for joining the conversation. While I don’t agree with you, I do respect your opinion.

  9. Michael W. Perry

    Authors should consider another factor. Space on Amazon webpages is a zero-sum game. In practical terms, displaying one book means another is not displayed, a book that might be their own absent any advertising charge.

    In a nutshell, advertising on Amazon is a bad idea. It is a book retailer and the money it makes from each sale should be sufficient to give that book all the visibility it deserves. Linking to books should be based on their relevance to a customer’s rather than an advertising payoff.

    That is why this advertising scheme cheats book customers as well as authors.



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