Using Google Adwords to sell more books

David Craig explains how Google Adwords can help sales and publicity.

With so many books being published and with so few having a decent PR budget, it can be a struggle keeping sales of your books going after they’ve disappeared off the shelves of Waterstones and WH Smith. Of course, the best way to push up sales is to appear on TV and radio, write articles and give talks. These can both increase book sales and even earn you a bit of money. But once these promotional opportunities have dried up, you need other ways of reminding potential book-buyers of your books. One way is to use Google Adwords.

Google Adwords are the small sponsored ads people see on the right hand side of their screen when they do a Google search. They consist of three parts - a headline (25 characters); body text (70 characters) and a link. For example the ad for my latest book is: They wasted £3trillion: How we’ve been fleeced by politicians, bureaucrats and bankers. The link can either be to your website or directly to your book on Amazon. I personally prefer to route people through to my website where they can see my books and then click through to buy whatever interests them on Amazon.

The strength of Google Adwords compared to any other form of advertising is that it’s targeted only at people who have an interest in the subject you write about. Google Adwords are based on Pay Per Click (PPC) - you only pay money to Google when someone clicks on your ad to find out more about you or your books. So you should have a much higher chance of selling something to the people who click through on your ad than you would from a normal ad.

Key to your ad’s success is getting a position high on the first page when someone does a Google search that is related to your book. Ideally your ad should be in the first five or six on the first page to attract searchers’ attention. If you’re on the second or third page, you’re probably wasting your time. Google Adwords has a lot of easy-to-use tools to help you choose what search words or phrases you should use for displaying your ads. These tools will give you suggestions about choosing key words, tell you how many people search for those words each month, show you how much competition there is for each keyword and indicate how much you might have to pay each time someone clicks on your ad. I have about 400 keywords and phrases for each of my ads.

Setting up your Adwords account and getting your ads running is fairly simple. The difficulty is making money from your Adwords clicks. Writers have a problem compared to other advertisers as we may be getting less than £1 from our publishers each time a book is sold. Typically you can expect about one in every fifty people clicking through to buy a book, though conversion rates of one in a hundred are not unusual. This means that you can only afford to pay about one to three pence per click. Any more than that and you’re probably losing money. There are a couple of solutions. Firstly, if you link your website to Amazon Associates, then every time someone clicks from your website through to Amazon to buy a book, then you get 5% of the sale price. This can be almost as much as you get from your publisher. Also, sometimes people buy other things like TVs and DVDs from Amazon. Provided they’ve come through your website, you’ll get your cut of the purchase price. I’ve had people buy power tools and Ipods after going through my site. I subsidise my Adwords spending by having two self-published books in addition to the four done by my publishers. On the self-published books I make about £2.50 a book, so I only need to sell about fifteen a month to pay for the £40 a month I spend with Adwords to get about 1,000 visitors a month.

The ideal solution for making Adwords pay is to get your publisher to share the costs. You could, for example, monitor your sales on Amazon for a few days – if your book is at about 20,000 you’ve sold one copy that day, 8,000 is around two copies a day, 4,000 is three copies that day and so on. Then you could launch your Adwords ads and see how many sales they generate compared to the period before you started your ads. If your ads increase sales on Amazon, then you have a good business case for going to your publisher and asking them to chip in with some money. Provided you can prove your Adwords ads are generating sales, your publisher should be open to the idea of paying something towards your advertising as your Adwords ads can help them reduce any remaining stock of your book.

If you’re an unpublished writer and are convinced that your book should see the light of day, you could publish it with a Print On Demand (POD) company like which costs you very little as they only print a copy when somebody buys one. Then you could use Google Adwords to try to generate sales. When I wanted to break into writing, I couldn’t sell my first book to a publisher. So I did a self-publish and sold over 8,000 copies – though this was mainly through bookshops with only a few hundred going through Adwords. That then gave me some credibility when Andrew Lownie started showing my second book to mainstream publishers.

Adwords will probably never sell large quantities for you, but they can be a useful and inexpensive way of increasing your sales and extending them for a longer period.