By Olivia McCoy
Anyone working in publishing will back me up when I say that Amazon is its own universe. Beginning as a garage business, it’s grown into the #1 place to buy books and since consumer reviews have proven to be one of the biggest influencers in a title’s sales, it is CRITICAL for authors to collect as many reviews as possible on their Amazon book page. Below are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years for navigating Amazon reviews.
Verified and Unverified Reviews
On Amazon, consumers can leave verified or unverified reviews. Verified reviews mean that the reviewer purchased the book through an Amazon account. These are believed to be more heavily weighted in their algorithms eyes and Amazon does note in their customer service pages that product star ratings do take into account how recent a rating and/or review is as well as the review’s status as verified and unverified.
Consumers that meet Amazon’s qualifications can still leave unverified reviews without buying the book through Amazon. Most reviews from review sites like NetGalley and Goodreads will come through as unverified purely because they’ve already received a complimentary copy and have no need to purchase another. Amazon’s customer service confirms that unverified ratings will not count towards a product’s overall star rating unless the consumer also reviews in the form of text, image, or video. So really encourage those readers to leave lengthy, honest reviews as opposed to just rating!
Review Quantity Goals
A couple years ago, I spoke with an Amazon representative on a specific advertising campaign and they recommended 15 reviews of 3-stars or higher as a good goal for publication month. From there, a good stretch goal is 5 new reviews of 3-stars or higher a month. This is something achievable that authors can work towards every month by promoting the book to their network, giving away review copies, and sharing through advertising and other marketing channels.
Something to keep in mind is that often, authors overestimate how their network will come through for them. Publishing professional and Founder/CEO of Weaving Influence Becky Robinson mentioned during a podcast interview with me that we can reliably expect about 25% of the outreach to an author’s network will result in reviews. Average is anywhere between a 10-40% return. So, however many reviews you’re looking to achieve, send out 4x as many books.
Timing for Reviews
Unfortunately for us and our authors, Amazon does not allow reviews to be posted prior to publication. Luckily for us, Goodreads does! Goodreads is a reader review social media platform owned and operated by Amazon where readers from all over the world keep track of their to-be-read piles and past reads. They’re able to share reviews, enter giveaways, and update their friends and followers on what they’re currently reading.
Even though Goodreads falls under the Amazon umbrella, the reviews do not cross-populate. They are working on incorporating a book’s overall star-rating on Goodreads into a book’s Amazon page, but the reviews still won’t be featured anywhere but on the platform they were originally published on. With that in mind, continue to encourage early readers to share reviews on Goodreads prior to publication, then on publication day reach back out and ask them to repost on Amazon. Following publication, you should encourage readers to share honest feedback on Amazon, Goodreads, and anywhere they share reviews.
Amazon’s A10 Algorithm
Amazon’s algorithm is strongly influenced by sales conversions, which means that those verified reviews are feeding into those sales numbers as well. It’s got a good feedback loop too: Books with higher algorithmic rankings are promoted more for increased traffic and visibility in the hopes it leads to more sales which, in turn, increases the ranking. To quantify a product’s performance, Amazon looks more closely at sales, conversation rates or clicks and impressions compared to sales, click through rates, stock availability, reviews, and advertising. There are a few more indirect factors like images, A+ detail content, and such that play into increasing those impressions and that conversation rate as well.
Their most recent A10 algorithm is favoring experience over profitability according to an Amazon Brand Strategist on the Seller Labs Managed Services team, so seller rating and account metrics are now weighted the highest as opposed to competitive prices. Off-Amazon traffic also highly influences a book’s relevancy, so including that Amazon link to follow-ups to reviewers is a must!
Reviews, verified and unverified, are still one of the most decisive ranking factors so the more the merrier, especially if it’s 4-5 stars on average.
Amazon continues to be a huge player in the publishing industry and is constantly updating their algorithm and best practices. Ideally we’ll see it grow to make its backend for publishers as easy to navigate as its front-facing pages for customers. Until then, stay strong and remember: Amazon is confusing for everyone and we’re here for you, in spirit and as a resource.
Olivia McCoy is a book publicist, marketing associate, and host of Smith Publicity’s All Things Book Marketing podcast. She has two BAs in English Poetics and French from the University of Georgia, a Master’s Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver Publishing Institute, and an MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises from Northwestern University. Olivia’s professional background is in book marketing and independent publishing and her in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry allows her to educate and consult with authors from all genres including business, lifestyle, memoir, and fiction throughout their book launches. Consultation topics have included Amazon optimization and bestseller strategy, social media design and posting, author branding, book distribution, website creation and development, newsletter setup, advertising strategy, and building pre-publication buzz among others. Her publicity clients have received national media placements in outlets such as The New York Times, Fast Company, Built In, Newsweek, HuffPost, and HOLA!. When she’s not at work, Olivia is at home in Philadelphia with her dog, Rudy.