THE BLOG
11/18/2013 06:44 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Cracking Amazon's Algorithm? The Kindle Gold Rush That Never Happened

I've been working in the business of the Web in one way or another for over 17-years now. During that time, I have seen first-hand the rise of Google and "seo" and the massive gamification of content. It has been a steady cat and mouse game between Google and the optimizers of content for as long as I can remember. For years Google allowed this as it filled their pockets and databases, while at the same time creators of content were provided traffic. Everyone won.

But eventually Google got smart and started to pull back on the reigns of the search experts making it harder and harder to rank your content in their organic listings, driving them more and more into paying for ads. Not to mention, the amount of content being provided to Google exploded to a point where it has become competitive for even the most obscure words and phrases.

Fast forward to the past few years now. Enter Amazon and the new age of self-publishing. Or as some would call it, the Kindle gold rush.

Now anyone can write a book and have it published online in less than 24-hours. This is akin to the creation of blogging as a content delivery mechanism. Because everyone had the means to more easily create and distribute content online, content of course skyrocketed. Both should be considered a good thing.

The first Kindle gold rush prospectors were of course the old-school Internet marketers and seo experts who flocked to Amazon to flood the site with books, hoping to game the Amazon system into showing their books higher than everyone else's books.

Following the first round of prospectors were the non-tech subject-matter experts who happened to write a book about their passion or skills or maybe just a good old fiction horror story. These people knew nothing about keywords or ranking. They just knew a lot about their book subject, or the story they crafted.

But just like the American gold rush history proved out; you can't just show up and find a pot of gold, and there are no secrets or tricks or shortcuts to locating gold in the ground.

So here we are, smack dab right in the middle of what some would call the Kindle gold rush. But wait, there's a problem. Grabbing Kindle gold isn't what they said it was in the papers, and the vast majority of authors are finding out that only a few will actually find gold.

And here's why.

Amazon Isn't Making The Same Mistakes As Google

Amazon learned many lessons from Google and has not made the same mistakes. Here are a few reasons why the Amazon is not the next Google and there will not be a gamification of Amazon's system.

Google's first mistake? Giving a benchmark of ranking pages for anyone to see in what they called page rank. Search experts quickly figured out that the better the page rank, the better your web pages ranked. So they'd make a few changes in a page, or get a few more back links, then wait a few months, and see if their page rank went up or down. If it went up, they had hit gold! Logically, then, if they would continue to make the same changes they would keep increasing their odds of Google gold.

Amazon does not have a page rank, but they do have an author rank and a sales rank. The author rank is pretty much a vanity statistic, ranking how the author fits in the scheme of other authors who sell books. The sales rank is simply a ranking of how well your book ranks in sales out of millions of other books. So there really is nothing to game here, except sales. And that's exactly how Amazon wants it.

You want to rank higher? Sell more books. That's it.

Amazon figured out that the only real metric they needed to measure was sales. They realized that they didn't need to build a search engine primarily based on relevance as Google did. Why? Because Amazon doesn't care about relevance; they care about money. Cold, hard, cash. They care about conversions. Do they really care if one author's book on vampires ranks higher than someone else's book on vampires? Not at all. They care about which book converts better and makes them the most money.

Google's second mistake was allowing everyone to see what people were searching for. This created trillions of poorly made pages of content based upon "highly ranked search terms". Unfortunately for all of us, Google has taken away the ability for all of us to see those organic search terms now, thusly making it even harder for us to know what our customers are searching for, and of course, pushing us further into buying ads from them.

Amazon learned from this by never, ever, letting anyone really know what people were searching for. Sure, you could go to the Amazon search box and look for a drop-down list of suggested keywords. But these suggestions never panned out to be more than just suggestions. No cold-hard facts. So we'll never really know what people search for en masse on Amazon; and that's the way they want it.

Internet Marketers Won't Ruin Amazon Like They Did With Google

There was a time in the past few years that many in the self-publishing business, new and established authors alike, felt that the massive wave of Internet marketers who were flooding the Amazon system with crappy ebooks would destroy the ecosystem.

The evidence against that belief is partly in the reasons given above, but also based upon one big truth. The truth that you will never be able to sustain a top ranked, top-selling book on Amazon without sales. And there's no way to "game" sales except to spend the money and buy more books.

Sure, you could make your book $.99 and then take hundreds of thousands of dollars of your own money and buy your own books in an attempt to boost your sales ranking. But Amazon is smarter than that. They will only count a sale in small increments. For example, you can't go and order 1,000 of your books at once and expect it to jump your sales rank. It will only count as a few sales. This is of course to stop people from doing that exact thing.

Some have tried to get around this buy funneling their seed money to "best-seller" outlets who will, for a fee, take your money and have their network of people around the world buy one or two copies of your book at a time, which can and does work. This is how many NY Times best-sellers are allegedly produced.

However, the real reason the Internet marketers won't be able to sustain a long-term sales rank on Amazon is that they don't understand that you must have a great book to succeed. Unlike the crappy content-filled web pages they created to trick Google years ago, an Amazon book must be good so that it can get more high-quality reviews and be placed onto wishlists and also-bought lists.

A bad book will never get past a litany of one or two-star reviews, therefore making the book a living, breathing failure.

Traditional publishers built an empire on selling paper, not content. Amazon is doing the same thing, except their empire is being built on conversions. The quality of the content is really secondary to them.

Want to be successful selling Kindle books? Write more high-quality books. Write better descriptions for your books and test new covers and find ways to get more people to leave high-quality reviews and then, write some more good books. Over, and over, and over. Oh, and toss in a bit of luck.

Just don't think you're going to game the system. Amazon isn't having any of that.