Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Can Authors Really Make Money with Google AdWords?

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

Do you want to sell more books?

You've got to get your target audience to notice your books, then convince them to give you their money and time.

Many authors wonder if they can use Google AdWords to get new readers and sell more books.

What Is Google AdWords?

Google AdWords is Google's advertising platform. People pay Google to show ads in response to specific searches, plus they show ads on tens of thousands of websites around the web, on YouTube, and in other places. Advertisers pay Google for each click on their ads. With over 100 billion searches each month, Google gets to show a lot of ads.

What do I know about Google AdWords? A lot, actually. My day job is at an advertising agency where I oversee millions of dollars of ad spend on Google AdWords for clients.

So . . . can you use Google AdWords to sell your books?

Short answer: You can sell books using Google AdWords, but it's very hard to run profitable Google AdWords campaigns for your books.

Google AdWords is a numbers game. You don't have to love numbers to understand the game, but you do need to understand the numbers. Most of these numbers are super important in all of business, so pay attention.

Price Point (Sale Price): How much are you selling your book for? Let's say $12.

Profit Margin (Royalty): How much profit are you making for each book that is sold? If you have a traditional publisher you're probably only making a 10-15% royalty. That's $1.20 to $1.80 for a $12 book. If you're self-publishing you probably have a better margin. Maybe 40%, which would be $4.80.

Lifetime Value: How much money is each reader worth to you over their lifetime? For example, if your average reader will read 10 of your books, and you make $4.80 per book, their lifetime value is $48.

It gets more complicated if you try to estimate how many additional readers the average reader will recommend your book to, and what their lifetime value is, and then the value of their referrals, and so on.

You probably don't even know what a single reader's lifetime value is because you don't have the data you need and you don't know how many books you'll write. That's fine. The important thing to realize is that getting a new reader is worth a lot more than $4.80.

Conversion Rate: How many people who are exposed to your book will buy it? Specifically, how many people who click your Google AdWords ad will buy your book?

The average conversion rate for ecommerce websites is 3%, or 3 people out of every 100. Conversion rates vary significantly for other types of websites and for specific types of ecommerce websites, but based on my experience, a fiction author probably won't see higher than a 1% conversion rate, and may see significantly lower. Nonfiction authors might see somewhat higher conversion rates.

Cost Per Click: How much will you pay each time someone clicks your ad? It's probably a lot higher than you think. For a regular Google Search ad you might pay between $1-$3 per click. If you show ads on other websites, called Google's Display Network, you might get your cost per click down to a few cents, but your conversation rate will be terrible.

So let's do some math.

If you have a 1% conversion rate, 1 out of every 100 people who click your ad will buy your book. If you pay $1.00 per click, you'll pay $100 for every book sale. If you're making $4.80 per book, you'll pay $95.20 to Google for the privilege of selling a book.

Don't get me wrong. Google AdWords is great, and I've made it extremely successful for many businesses.

These are the reasons I don't recommend Google AdWords for most authors, especially fiction authors:

1. Most people don't rely on search engines to decide what to read next, so your search volume is limited.

2. Books have a low price point, so you're not likely to get your ad dollars back with the initial purchase. It's possible you'll make them back as your new reader buys more of your books in the future, but most authors don't have a lot of extra money to risk in this way.

3. Readers usually decide to buy a book after recommendations from friends, reviews they come across, or because they've seen the book promoted via many channels. If you pay for traffic to your website from people who don't have any other context for you or your writing, I don't think you'll get a high conversion rate.

Creative Ways to Make Google AdWords Work

Too much doom and gloom?

I love being proven wrong about Google AdWords, and I've seen Google work in many situations where I didn't think it would be profitable. So take everything I just said with a grain of salt!

There are two basic ways to improve your return on investment from Google AdWords.

1. Pay less for traffic. You might be able to find a niche of search traffic that's relevant to your book but doesn't have a lot of competition. Maybe you can get clicks for $0.50, or $0.25, or even lower. If your clicks cost $0.25 instead of $1.00, your cost per book sold is four times cheaper.

2. Earn a higher conversion rate. In other words, convince a higher percentage of your website visitors to buy your books.

You could increase your conversion rate by:

  • Using outstanding images that make people excited to read your book.
  • Writing incredibly compelling "copy" that makes people want to read your book RIGHT NOW.
  • Show reviews from other people—the more famous the people, the better—to give your book credibility.
Or, you could totally change your conversion rate by changing your call-to-action. Getting someone to plunk $12 down for a book is tough. Getting them to enter their email address in exchange for something free is a LOT easier.

You could offer the first book in your series for free in exchange for an email address. That does two things. First, you get a direct line to an interested reader that you can use multiple times in the future, for free. Second, the reader will get hooked by your amazing story and ravenously devour the rest of your books.

Have you used Google AdWords to advertise your book? Considering it? Let me know your thoughts or questions.

John J. Horn is a Christian author from Texas. Purchase his Men of Grit series from Amazon here and sign up for his newsletter at

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