When I asked author Palessa for a guest post on using Google Ads (AdWords) detailing her experience with it, I had no idea she would send me the most comprehensive guide I have ever read on the subject! Palessa suggested we break it up in 3 parts, but I decided to post it as a single 4-part post in order to help you bookmark it for future reference, without having to go back and forth. I apologize for the post’s length, but I’m sure you’ll find it an excellent resource.
Author on AdWords, Part 1
A Top View of My Data
I was a Facebook advertiser for a couple of years off and on. I swore by them, especially since I also have an e-commerce business I’m building and saw the returns when I had advertised my marquee product. On the author side, I decided to go more for brand awareness than book sales, because if I’ve learned anything in this whole independent author journey, it’s that obscurity is the force we are all fighting against.
However, my outlook on Facebook advertising changed in October 2016 when, after running an evergreen post ad, my account was disabled. It was a shock to have the door suddenly slammed in my face but I had to do something since I was getting nowhere with their support system. Honestly, I would have had better luck seeing dead people than getting any sort of response, let alone acknowledgement.
I decided to try Bing and Google. Bing didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, but I was advertising with AdWords almost immediately. While I was setting things up, I was kicking myself for now using Google before because I thought it was too expensive. You heard people advertising with hundreds of dollars a month and I didn’t have that. What I saw was that even if I only had 10¢ a day, I could use AdWords just fine.
I learned what I needed to get started in late October and, so far, it’s been a learning experience. One I’m sharing here.
My 90 Days Advertising With Google
I’m going to share with you some raw, top-level results from the first 90 days (roughly) of being with AdWords. But first, some caveats:
- I have a very low budget. Read that as I’m lucky if I have a couple of nickels to rub together. I know people are used to dropping $5, $10 $20 a day on advertising but I’m not there yet. I’m working with $1 a day or less.
- Yes, I know that’s a low budget but believe me when I say that Google AdWords is sophisticated enough that you can start with 25¢ a day and still get results.
- During this time, I wasn’t really doing any other advertising or promotion. No takeovers, no hops, no blog radio, maybe one or two quick discounts. When I do run some other promo, I’m going to have to find a way to separate those sales BUT the AdWords data would be fine.
- These results do not include Amazon sales. I’ll tell you this up front: I have all of my book traffic go to specific landing pages on my site where I have links to all the platforms I am on. All of my back matter and ads point to my book and series landing pages on the WordPress blog. I made that decision a while back because it’s easier for me to make changes on my site than in my books so I’m sticking to that plan.
- Advertising with Google, I saw no appreciable increase in Amazon sales compared to when I had Facebook ads going BUT I did see increased sales on my other platforms.
- This time includes the holiday season. Sales results during this time tend to be naturally hyperbolic. I have some idea of how things went but I won’t really have an idea until I can compare Christmas 2016 with that of 2017. As a result, take my data findings as new and raw.
- While interactions and clicks are different things, for the sake of this conversation, the terms are interchangeable.
Having said all of this, here we go:
My PermaFree Rollback
I became a fully independent author in January 2016 when my publisher, Beau Coup, decided to close. Around that time, I had a pretty good idea of the steps I needed to take. I have three book series: the Baxter Family Saga (BFS), Sacked and Tackled (SNT), and Growing Wild (GW). One of my strategies involved making Unchained Hearts (UH), my first book in my main Baxter Family Saga (BFS) series, permafree on all platforms. I didn’t like the idea but it was what was happening and I had heard great stories about that. During this time, I was also using Draft2Digital and had book 1 in my Sacked and Tackled (SNT) series in KDP select.
Above is a graph of my BFS sales. As I mentioned, I initially had the idea of making Unchained Hearts (UH) permafree, which is the typical strategy that’s supposed to woo people to the other books in the series. Most of the UH sales above are free but I wasn’t seeing a move to book 2, Portrait of Gray (PoG) – or at least as much as I would have liked. Moves to Book 3, Story of Us (SoU) were even fewer. With that in mind as well as other points that came up, I decided to forego the permafree and stick to perma99. I have my reasons for that and I stand by that strategy.
Also, I did put PoG for 99 cents as a lure but very rarely. Still, my SoU sales lagged a bit. So, my read through percentage (RTP) was about 20%. Basically, 1 in 5 readers who read book 1 moved to book 2 and 3. Not bad.
Now about my SNT series
Because I was suffering from some form of undiagnosed Post Traumatic Publisher Syndrome-Disorder-Idiocy, I kept Tobey Fine (TF), Book 1 in SNT, in KDP select but put book 2, Devereaux Cox (DC) on other platforms. This was a mistake on my part because, while DC can be read as a stand alone, it’s harder to sell it to readers when they can’t get their hands on book 1. People don’t read series backwards; they start where they start and continue onwards.
My error, I own it.
In any case, BFS in my marquee series so most of my sales would be from it until I was able to get a handle on the other two series.
From late October until January 31, 2017, I had close to 10,000 interactions. Firstly, interactions means clicks and views. I did have an ad for a slide show I created and the resulting interactions were both in clicks and views.
The interaction rate of 1.53% is calculated by: (Interactions / Impressions) x 100
This rate is neither good nor bad. I tried to find a general benchmark Interaction rate but none were apparent. For my results, anything that goes above this, is good. Anything below is to be looked at.
Google has built its system across a variety of networks. They have the main search network that we all use. There’s the display network, that includes images and videos on YouTube for example, and partner sites, sites that have AdSense. Any of my ads can be shown on any of the these networks, and while you can control this to an extent, I choose to limit managing that and just concentrate on tweaking and improving.
You start on AdWords by creating Campaigns. Think of them as themed baskets. In my case, my campaigns are the series I have available: BFS, SNT and GW. Palessa Brand Awareness is to highlight my free story on Wattpad, a platform I’m planning to really dive into later this year as I can hopefully grow my readership and brand.
After you create your campaigns, you need to create ad groups (the equivalent of Facebook’s Ad Sets). Since my campaigns are the series, my ad groups are the books.
All of my BFS ad groups showcase my first book, Unchained Hearts (UH). Based on clicks, the WattPad adgroup is doing well because people want free stories online.
Now, inside these ad groups are ads and keywords. I will not mention either of those specifically, as they would differ for your books. Also, I want to keep the integrity of my data and someone specifically searching with one of my keywords to check things out compromises that.
Author on AdWords, Part 2
Even though I started with AdWords on October 18/19, my ads didn’t start showing until October 21. So from Oct 1 to 20, I sold 5 books on Draft2Digital. Not bad considering that’s the time of the year when people tend to buy more books anyway.
From the look of things, 1 in 4 who start with UH go to the next books. That’s 25% RTP, which is a little higher than I’ve been doing before.
In late October, I had a decent Interaction rate of 1.03% and was paying an average of 2 cents per interaction.
The interesting part is that in the last 10 days of the month, when the Google Ads kicked in, I sold more than I had in the first 20. Not to mention, I was starting to see more blog traffic trickling in. It was a very encouraging start. Things were good, until they weren’t.
My performance graph has a nice slope until the very end, when things start to dip. It seems that Google thought that my cover of UH was equivalent to porn and violated their policy. Basically, they disapproved most of my ads despite me being on the phone with them telling them it’s not (yes, they actually called me. That’s support for you) and putting up heavy protest. What I had to do was modify my main series page, which I did.
It took some time to get that back up. In the meantime, the momentum was lost.
Author on AdWords, Part 3
To recap, Facebook slammed the door in my face (thankfully) and I switched to AdWords. In my first 10 days in on it, I sold more books than I did within the first 20 days of the month. But, as with anything in life, the other shoe dropped and so did my ad reach due to my “pornographic” book cover. It took me a while to handle it, but the momentum I had was now gone.
Start Over Dance
The beginning was rocky, as I still had to defend myself with Google, but after a few days we reached some sort of resolution and I could finally focus on trying to get the word out.
I tried a few experiments. I put my book trailer on YouTube and tried to see if I could expand my reach there. I wound up getting impressions but my overall plan was a little naive, I think. YouTube videos have a level of quality I couldn’t quite pull off, or perhaps I was too new to figure out how to work what I had. In any case, I made the decision to revisit video targeting at a later stage. It’s a whole different ball game and I need to get a handle on this search game first.
This was when I discovered the opportunities. Basically, Google finds some keywords it thinks you could use and tells you. I applied a bunch of them, not really thinking about it. So my keyword list blew up.
My click-through rate dropped and it wouldn’t be better until I got a handle on my itchy-clicky finger.
Notice that my CTR for BFS was close to half of what it was in October. Being down by 1 percentage point may not look like much numerically, but analytically, it tells a problematic story.
What I found very interesting is that SoU is my third book in the series and had a strong CTR. Considering that there was a looming U.S. election and the book did have Washington Politics as a theme, it might be down to timing.
Also, my Baxter ad group had the most clicks but my click-through rate and average cost per click ticked up. That’s because, when you add new keywords, some of them may not be as relevant as you think. As a result, you will have a higher cost per click until things normalize and you start cleaning.
I did that. I removed any keywords that had little or any relevance to my book. That, too, can make your cost per click go up temporarily. However, over time, I understood enough about the AdWords system and became a lot more discriminating about those opportunity keywords. I look through the list and just pick what I want.
Now, once you’re on AdWords for a bit, it will start to advise on search terms that are triggering ads. These terms aren’t in your keyword list but they could be added, which could help your overall results. You can also see the keywords you don’t want associated with your books and add those to the negative keyword list, telling the system that you want to disassociate. This is important because every click, whether it’s from a keyword you want or don’t want, is charged against your budget. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make relevance a priority so you don’t waste your money.
In looking at my search terms, I saw that I had terms that were about love/sex/porn stories in arabic, urdu, tamil… it was a daily thing. It would be great if I had sex stories in any of those languages but I don’t. That gave me an idea. Why not focus from all countries to only certain countries like the US, UK, Canada, etc?
I decided to go from “All countries and territories” to selecting my own. I mean those are where my sales should come from right? Why not just go straight for them and bypass those who didn’t necessarily want my book? Sounds logical.
Disaster! My campaigns crashed until I slapped some sense into myself. Pride probably would have compelled me to keep going just to get enough data to prove myself right, but common sense trumped that. Social media is global, which makes the world a bit smaller. Someone in India/Pakistan or somewhere else could like my book and that like is shared with friends in Hong Kong or the Philippines, which is them seen by someone else in Japan or Australia and then the US… Any one of these players is a potential reader.
So my experiment ended in narrowing my geographical reach and I saw life return to my advertising efforts.
So after my first full calendar month, here’s some of what I learned:
- Lost momentum can’t be regained. You just have to move on and rebuild stronger than before.
- Be careful and mindful about the opportunities you get from AdWords. Pick and choose highly relevant words and terms despite the number of promised clicks. Not doing this will cost you literally and figuratively.
- Search terms that you exclude are just as valuable as those you add.
- Unless you are required to do so, don’t limit your territorial reach. The world is smaller and your potential reader could live anywhere.
With these numbers, I was hoping that December would bring better results. I mean, it’s DECEMBER!
Author on AdWords, Part 4
By now, I’ve calmed down and curbed my trigger finger as far as the AdWords recommendations. It’s the last month of 2016. I’ve heard from some that December could be a helluva month as authors are doing their best to get into the shopping carts of many with promos, sales, new releases. People are traveling, loading their digital readers to keep them company on long trips or boring visits. With no promo happening, will I sell even one book? Of course. Five, maybe? Break Ten?
Let’s look at the numbers:
This is the strongest interaction rate I’ve had so far. My impressions are fewer but I’m at that penny per interaction average. I spent a bit more this month as I was working on really getting the word out to Kobo and Nook readers specifically in addition to wanting to do well
My clicks rose steadily. I didn’t really have any major drama to speak of this month, at least not as an author.
The Baxter and Palessa brands are doing strong click throughs:
UH has top 4 slots and strong CTR while SoU had the fifth slot. Looking good so far.
Aaaaand there it is.
Unchained Hearts, my first book, was the only one to have sales. I was surprised but not shocked. As an online seller, December was an excellent month for me. As an author, not so much, because people are really busy buying presents. We’re talking electronics, jewelry, all the things that make Christmas commercial. They’re busy spending on those items and aren’t necessarily buying books. They may have already done most of their book buying in November.
This is a modified version of a theory I came up with when I worked in corporate America/retail sector but I can’t fully investigate this for myself until Dec 2017!
New Year Boom or Bust?
December was a whimper but January roared in.
This month saw me move completely out of KDP select about halfway through. I wasn’t going to advertise the series until that happened but I prepped the campaign.
Despite the low CTRs for Growing Wild and SNT campaigns, I’m not very concerned for a very surprising reason: I’m getting more traction on those campaigns from the Display Network. Google made announcements about moving to enhanced ads and I suspect that this is part of the reason I’m seeing more of a pickup on Display Network.
Now, Display Network is a whole other post as it’s a different concept with differing metrics. That means that in DN, click through is actually pretty meaningless as a metric.
Because I’m anticipating a bit of a slowdown, I feel more comfortable on this account to redistribute my budget and alter some schedules. Default schedules are all day every day. With some campaigns, I have enough data to choose to run those particular ads on certain days. That results is some dips but nothing prolonged.
So how are sales?
13 books. Paid. I haven’t had a month like this yet and I look forward to seeing how things pan out in general over the next 90 days.
Those are my results so far. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a top level skim of my raw data. I haven’t even discussed additional tools I’ve used such as callouts, sitelinks or metrics such as Qual Scores or even how my ads are being shown across different devices. During 2017, I hope to do some promotion of books, perhaps some new releases and those will definitely affect my sales graphs. That means I’m going to have to find a way to sort the sales from Promo and new releases from those relating to advertising.
I may also venture into the Amazon advertising program, as Amazon tends to be insular. As I mentioned, it didn’t escape me that when I advertised with Google, my Amazon sales didn’t really budge. Maybe I need to try something different.
But for now, this is what I have. There is a lot of data to explore and interpret.
Please do let me know what you think about this and other potential posts about my AdWords data journey!
Who is Palessa?
Palessa started reading her first romance novel, at the age of 11. Then she got introduced to V.C. Andrews, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anne Rice and many more notable contemporary authors as well as some of the classics. It was during her teenage years that she started writing. First, it was in her diaries, then she started creating characters, stories about romance, the supernatural and much more.
It would take almost 20 years, a radical move from the city she grew up in, Miami, FL back to her Jamaican birthplace, and a chance Facebook meeting with New York Times, USA Today bestselling author Sable Hunter to start the juices flowing again. After some fits and starts, the Baxter Family Saga was born. Unchained Hearts is Palessa’s first published fiction book with Beau Coup Publishing. She is currently an author of Contemporary, Historical, and Sports Fiction series with more to come.
In 2016, she became a full-fledged independent author. Palessa currently lives in the mountains of Jamaica with her crazy, cracker-munching-mutt Ivy, a thieving cat named Kushi, chickens, goats and a farm, primarily managed by her agribusiness partner, also known as Dad.