In the digital age, many, if not most, readers begin book searches on the Internet. And while tuned-in bibliophiles know about book-specific sites like Goodreads, many others begin their searches at what is, for all intents and purposes, the central command of Internet discovery: Google.
[Note: this article was originally published in March 2015 and was updated on Dec. 1, 2016.]
Fortunately, Google—like Goodreads and other popular book websites—offers indie authors a means of catching readers at this key moment of discovery. With Google AdWords, the company’s primary advertising platform, self-published authors can publish text ads that will appear on search results pages, targeting those ads to the users who will find them most relevant. And, since Google AdWords works according to a pay-per-click—or PPC—model, users are only charged for each click their ads receive.
Indie author and blogger Rachel Thompson used Google AdWords to advertise all four of her humor books, and notes that the search giant’s audience is much larger than those of author platforms. “AdWords got me on Amazon lists with much higher rankings.”
And while authors of all stripes have made use of AdWords, book marketing veteran Dana Lynn Smith notes individual results will vary, often across genre lines.
"I think Google pay-per-click ads are best suited to how-to books, especially those in specialized niches,” she says. “Because the competition is so high on Google, the pay-per-click rate tends to be pretty high, so it works best for higher priced books or for authors who have other higher priced products to sell, in addition to their books."
Google offers two iterations of its program: the original AdWords platform and an express version. The express option takes you through all the same steps as the original, but in a slightly different order intended to make the process quicker. On both platforms, building an ad is a five-step process.
In the first step, indie authors will specify how much they’d like to spend. Like other advertising services, such as those operated by Goodreads or Facebook, Google asks users to set a daily budget. This number will determine the number of clicks and impressions authors are estimated to receive in a given time period. The AdWords website creates estimates as users enter different figures, which makes it easy to experiment and find the amount that works best for a given campaign. In one example, a $10.00 daily budget generated an estimate of 48 clicks and 4,000 impressions per day -- without specific date range factored in.
Indie authors should keep in mind that most ad campaigns take place over a number of days—with Google Analytics, users set their own start and end date—and that, as the site says, “actual daily spend may vary.” More information on budget-setting is available on Google’s support site.
Mapping Your Audience
The second step in the process asks users to specify the geographical reach of their ads. Users can choose from an array of options—U.S. only, U.S. and Canada, specific cities and/or regions, etc.—and Google will calculate a new estimate for clicks and impressions for each.
If a book is likely to interest readers living in a specific place, it may be worth limiting the reach of an ad to that region, even if it ends up getting fewer clicks and impressions.
The third step in the process asks users to input keywords related to their ads. This step, according to Thompson, is the most important. “Be sure to do your keyword research,” she says. “Otherwise you’re wasting your time.”
Typically, Google will generate some words based on the website the ad will direct users to. Users can take or leave these, and add other keywords as well. Next to each keyword input, users will see a green meter and a number measuring the popularity of each keyword. Test out different versions of terms (e.g., “YA novel” or “Young Adult novel”) to see which works best. Also keep in mind that certain keywords may change the reach of an ad. As before, users will be able to see these changes in real time as they input and delete keywords.
The next step asks users to determine their bid, which is defined as “the most you’re willing to pay for a click on an ad.” Google recommends having AdWords automatically set bids, and, unless users have a solid understanding of e-marketing and analytics, it’s probably sound advice. If users want to learn the basics of manual bidding, Google’s support site offers an overview.
Writing the Ad
The last step—writing the ad—is also important. Each ad is composed of a link, a headline, and two lines of text. When writing the ad, keep in mind the context—in this case, an already text-busy search results page. Concise, informative calls-to-action work best. For tips about writing ad copy for AdWords, check out Google's support site.
Monitoring the Ad
Once users have published their ads, they are able to monitor performance using a dashboard that’s similar to a Google Analytics page for a website. The dashboard shows how many clicks and impressions an ad has received, as well as the average cost-per-click rate.
Thompson was able to garner a large number of clicks and impressions by making a significant financial investment and continuing her campaigns for extended periods of time. She invested around $8,000 in Google AdWords over the course of 18 months, using the service to advertise multiple books (her campaign also included a video component). In the case of one book, Broken Pieces, her campaign generated 19,500 clicks and 602,000 impressions. She says that, as a result of the campaign, the book “significantly improved in sales and rankings.”