Finding Help With Amazon Ads

If you’ve mentioned on social media that you’re an author (or emailed about it, or whispered it within earshot of Siri, Alexa, or Cortana), you’ve seen the ads on your feed: companies promising to spend your money and turn it into book sales. 

Some of these companies are outright scams. Some are solid, honest professionals who can sell the right books to the right people. Some mean well, but are in over their heads. Most fall somewhere in the Venn diagram those three circles create. 

A venn diagram showing the intersection of scammers, competent professionals, and well-intentioned amateurs
A venn diagram showing the intersection of scammers, competent professionals, and well-intentioned amateurs

One of the deep unfairnesses of writing for a living in the modern world is that being able to write in no way guarantees being good at all the other things needed to make a go of this profession. Things like…oh, I don’t know…successfully vetting Amazon ad agencies. 

We’ll be honest. Getting the right ad agency takes time, knowledge, and sometimes trial and error. This article exists to help you avoid that error part as much as possible. 

Amazon Ads aren’t for everybody, but those who use them successfully can end up doing very well. By the end of this post, you should know enough to find out if you’re potentially one of those people. 

First Things First

Before you spend a dime on advertising, make certain your book is great, your cover is great, and your description is great. If you’re not using Amazon, you also have to make sure your website, checkout, and delivery are flawless.

The worst thing any business can do is to spend a lot of money on advertising and publicity to show a lot of people a mediocre product or poor business experience. All that does is convince lots of folks that you’re not ready to earn their business. 

By that token, having at least 20 positive reviews on Amazon (50 is better) can also be a good benchmark. Numbers lower than that have notably lower turnover.

If you aren't sure if your book is ready to advertise, check out the full training #495 on what what to do before running your first ad.

Okay, About These Agencies

Amazon ad agencies learn all about ads on Amazon’s platform: what works best, how to schedule and budget, what good vs. bad performance looks like, and how things are changing…so you don’t have to. They will ask you for access to your Amazon ads account, and for a credit card to bill the ads to, and go to work. 

Amazon ad agencies do what other ad agencies do — if you’ve watched Mad Men, you have an idea. They use their expertise to help sell your books. They build your ad, manage the placement and spending, and (usually) analyze the results for later fine-tuning. 

They get paid for this in one of two ways. Most will charge a flat fee every month (or other period). Some others charge a percentage of your advertising spend each month. Generally speaking, the flat fee model is better. Although advertising agencies have been paid a percentage of spend for decades, we feel it presents a conflict of interest. 

Twenty Questions

There are many Amazon advertising agencies in the world: far too many to just give you a list of the good ones. Instead, here are some of the most important questions you should ask any agency you’re considering. You’ll find some of these answers on their website or social media feeds. The rest you’ll need to ask directly. 

  1. Do you get paid a flat fee, or a percentage of the ad spend?

As mentioned earlier, this will tell you right away what motivates the agency, and lets you know what your cash flow will be like while doing business with them. There's also a third option, which is rarer, where you will pay a percentage your sales, whether that's for each sale or for the increase that they are able to bring about for you.

  1. Do you provide your services in packages, or a la carte?

This will tell you both how much you’re likely to spend, and if you’ll be paying for more than you need. Package deals can be good however — just make sure you’ll use everything you buy. 

  1. How do you manage PPC metrics on a day-to-day basis?

Some companies just use the tools within Amazon, which you’ll have access to as the account owner. Larger operations have in-house software, sometimes proprietary, with features the basic Amazon interface doesn’t have. If it’s the latter, that’s often good, but find out how you can access those reports.

  1. Can you put me in touch with a client who has had a lot of success with your services?

This is asking for a referral, which is smart in any business…including yours. 

  1. Can you put me in touch with a client who stopped doing business with you?

You always want to hear from the dissatisfied clients. Find out what went wrong, and decide for yourself if that’s likely to be a problem in your case. 

  1. Do you work solely with books on Amazon, or do you advertise other items as well?

Generally speaking, you either want an agency that works solely with books, or which has a separate department that handles books alone. 

  1. Which exact services do you manage in-house, and what do you outsource?

A lot of agencies spend their time and energy on advertising, then hire off-shore freelancers to manage the work at a fraction of what they charge. Agencies that outsource aren’t always worse, but you should ask about who they hire and how they’re managed. 

  1. What is the exact process, start to finish?

Get a step-by-step list, from signup, to first ad completion, to first campaign, to analysis and calibration, to next iterations. This way you know what you’re getting, and you can be fully prepared to help them help you each step of the way.

  1. Can I approve promotional materials? If so, is there a limit to the number of revisions?

The correct answer for this is “Yes”, and “No.” That first yes is absolutely essential — it’s a red flag if any advertiser wants to move forward without your approval. The second answer should usually be “no”, but occasionally a very difficult customer forces an agency to set a limit. Even in that case, the limit should be no less than five. 

  1. What are your payment terms? 

Find out how the agency expects to get paid. Do they want you to pay month-to-month, several cycles in advance, or to invoice you periodically? Do they expect a long-term contract? Are there processing fees? Make certain you understand this exactly so you have no financial surprises. If they’re reticent to answer this question, that’s a potential red flag. 

  1. How often do you train your staff?

Amazon changes the game regularly, and AI is disrupting everything all the time. If the answer is less frequently than every quarter, you may be dealing with an agency that’s hopelessly behind the times. 

  1. Will I have a personal account manager?

“Yes” is the only acceptable answer here. You should have a person to contact, who is up to date on your situation and accountable to you. 

  1. What kind of turnover do you have with your staff?

If the answer to #12 is “Yes”, but they have turnover every few weeks, that personal account manager does you little good. Every company has turnover, but good agencies don’t play musical chairs with their staff.

  1. How do you measure performance for ads?

To be honest, not many of us will understand 100% of the answer for this. That’s okay. What you’re looking for is how comfortable they seem while talking about it. This is their bread and butter, and they should be very confident, and able to answer any questions you have. 

  1. How frequently do you check performance and make adjustments?

There should be two answers to this, if the agency knows what they’re doing. The first should be more or less consistently. The second should be a caveat that each ad will require some time to gain traction before they start with performance analyses. 

  1. What will you do to make sure you understand my books and audience?

Listen for the tone of the answer. The bad agencies will be a little surprised that you asked. The others will already have something they do for most clients. 

  1. What is your average time between beginning ads and generating reliable sales volume?

They will hedge on this, because no agency guarantees results and this number might sound like guaranteeing results. Whatever their answer, ask how they arrived at that figure and watch for confidence (or lack thereof).

  1. What are your KPIs for a book you advertise?

A Key Performance Indicator is exactly what it sounds like: the two to four numbers they consider most important when measuring results. Whatever they answer, get them to define the numbers for you clearly, and how they (and you!) can check on them. 

  1. What are your KPIs for the advertising team?

The important thing here is to see how closely this list matches the list for #18. If they don’t, then the people running your ads are incentivized to do things other than sell your books. 

  1. What should we change about my book page on Amazon?

Like I said at the beginning, you only want to advertise when the ads will lead to something that’s sales-ready. Their answers to this will help make that happen.

It’s Not Over Yet

The best relationship with anybody you hire isn’t a fire-and-forget situation. Especially in the beginning, there will be a period of testing ideas, missed communications and miscommunications, calibration, analysis, and adjustment. 

That’s true both of Amazon ad campaigns, and of your relationship with any Amazon ad agency. But that’s a complex topic for another post.