Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers, like some literary version of Tinder. But the exact role they play is commonly misunderstood, because Also Boughts are much more important for what they represent.
Which means you shouldn’t worry so much if they aren’t currently displaying on your book’s page — or even if they go away forever — because Amazon’s giant recommendation engine will be blissfully unaffected.
That statement may spark some vehement disagreement, so let me show you exactly what I mean.
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Amazon’s Recommendation Engine
Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms. Some are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed.
Let me give you an example.
During the research process for the forthcoming second edition of Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of experiments, which were quite revealing.
Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen directly afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick, and as soon as you complete the purchase, a confirmation screen appears, recommending several more books of course.
Amazon is split-testing things all the time, of course, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.
(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)
If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.
(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)
This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommendation engines quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day. They do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing either.
If you are on my mailing list, you would have seen me dive into the interesting history of this topic last week. That research process for Amazon Decoded 2 unearthed some fascinating information about recommender systems generally and the associated data-crunching and machine learning and AI and algorithms – that big system for pairing readers with books they will love.
I spoke about how Amazon’s recommendation engine was the first to really map out connections between products, rather than people, and how this was a great leap forward in the efficacy of recommender systems generally – to the extent that it is still studied by academics almost twenty years later, as well as companies like Netflix, building their own engines.
Well, it’s interesting to me! But here’s the pertinent bit for you: this process I described above of what I call “checkout recommendations” is completely unaffected by whether Also Boughts are at the top of your book’s product page in prime position, or if they are shunted down to the bottom of the page where most readers won’t see them, or if they are gone temporarily, or even if they are axed permanently.
The status of Also Boughts on your book’s page does not affect the underlying recommendation engine one bit. And this recommendation engine is what drives so many of our sales on Amazon — probably making up most of the sales we aren’t directly responsible for ourselves with our own marketing.
This is why any marketing push seems to go further on Amazon, versus other retailers, and why marketing campaigns tend to have a much longer “halo effect” on Amazon — even accounting for relative size. And this is why it’s often far easier for newer authors to bootstrap their way to success in the Kindle Store than anywhere else.
Also Bought Myths & Benefits
A common misconception is that it is the Also Boughts themselves – the strip of books on your product page – driving those sales and recommendations. However, it’s the underlying system, those connections mapped out between books, which is what triggers Amazon to recommend Debbie Macomber to a reader after she purchases Nora Roberts.
This process doesn’t stop just because Also Boughts go away, the whole recommendation engine making millions of suggestions to readers every single day doesn’t come to a shuddering halt because Amazon wants to tinker with that slot on our pages, so I suggest that authors stop fretting about the status of Also Boughts.
Of course, it would be better if Amazon would stop messing with Also Boughts altogether — I’m certainly not claiming otherwise.
The “experimentation” with this piece of real estate has been relentless, and increasing. I can think of a dozen different things Amazon has tried to shoehorn onto our book’s pages in the place of Also Boughts. Although I should also point out that these experiments have been going on for as long as I can remember – this is not a recent phenomenon, there is just more awareness among writers about Also Boughts these days.
And, yes, I will also grant that there is probably a moderate amount of on-page discovery. I’m sure some readers spot your book in someone else’s Also Boughts and purchase it instead, but also remember that cuts both ways.
Much more importantly, if we look at the typical CTR of an Amazon ad (there’s a wide range here but even a successful ad might be as low as 0.1%), this would seem to strongly indicate that the amount of on-page discovery that happens via Also Boughts has been massively overstated.
Personal vs. Contextual
As I said up top, Amazon recommends books to readers in many different ways. Some of those are very generalized, hand-picked recommendations like the Kindle Daily Deals. Others are larger selections of curated deals, which are then sorted algorithmically (like Kindle Monthly Deals, which tend to be sorted by Popularity).
Further types of recommendations are completely contextual – like those recommendations which pop up on screen after a purchase. More again are 100% personalized – the books you see recommended to you on the homepage of Amazon being an obvious example.
Let’s be clear. This entire system of recommendations is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing.
Amazon makes even more types of recommendations to readers – predominantly in the form of millions of targeted emails. Some of these emails are hyper-personalized in the sense that they are strictly based on your own purchasing habits, or your own browsing habits.
(Indeed, Amazon cycles between the two depending on whether the system thinks your purchase intent is strong, or if you are more at the discovery state of your buyer journey, and it does that by looking at your browsing patterns in quite a sophisticated way.)
Some of those emails will be contextual rather than personalized too – for example Amazon will often recommend you that #1 Also Bought again, around two weeks after your purchase of that original book.
Note that while Amazon does track what you are reading right now on your Kindle, and the pace you are reading it at, it doesn’t yet seem to filter that information into the recommendation engine.
The system isn’t that smart… yet.
Instead, you get a cruder form of recommendation, which seems to be mostly based on the time elapsed since your purchase, and is unaffected by something like whether you have finished the original book or not. It just seems to be time-based, rather than personalized or contextual.
Again, the really important thing I’m going to keep stressing: this part of the recommendation engine is completely unaffected by whether Also Boughts are currently appearing on your book’s page. Indeed, the entire recommendation engine is utterly unaffected by Amazon’s tinkering with these Also Boughts.
The mistake people are making is thinking that the importance lies with the Also Boughts themselves, but these are just a visual representation of the system on your page. They are not the system itself.
Also Boughts are just a symbol, if you like.
Having Also Boughts on your book’s page is nice. They look good – much better than the hodge-podge of Amazon Ads, that’s for sure; they give a nice dollop of social proof too; they also propel a moderate amount of on-page discovery, as we said earlier; and they can help you claw back more of that crucial on-page real estate for you and your books, away from potential distractions like competitors and their Amazon Ads, or anything else that could tempt a reader away from your Buy button.
Also Boughts are desirable in other ways too. For example, glancing at them on your book’s page is a quick-and-dirty diagnostic tool for your marketing. If they are scrambled, this is often a sign that Amazon has a poor sense of who your reader is, usually because your targeting is wonky and you are sending too many of the wrong people to your book’s page. Which is something you want to avoid.
I get all this. I’m not saying that stuff isn’t important. What I am saying that Also Boughts disappearing is not the crisis it is regularly depicted as. The recommendation engine is completely, totally, and utterly unaffected. And that, I respectfully suggest, is the most important thing here. By far.
There’s plenty to worry about in the world right now. I hope this post takes at least one thing off your plate.
If you want to dive into this topic further, check out the notes below for further reading on Also Boughts specifically, as well as my forthcoming book Amazon Decoded which will break down Amazon’s entire recommendation engine in much more detail and show you how to build giant marketing campaigns to take advantage of all that knowledge.
But the message today is simple: you can stop worrying about Also Boughts. It’s fine, promise!
I’ve written about Also Boughts several times, although those posts are getting a little old now. This post — Amazon and the Also Bought Apocalypse — is the best entry point as it links to all the others.
I’ve also written about Amazon’s recommendation engine more times than I could possibly remember. Rather than suggest any particular post to you, I recommend that you sign up to my mailing list. Not only will you get a free copy of Following — as well as access to the Email Archive which has lots of posts on this kind of thing, particularly as it directly applies to marketing —you will also get an email the moment Amazon Decoded is published, and the ability to purchase it at an exclusive — and hefty! — discount.
Amazon Decoded will break down the secret workings of the Kindle Store in a way that has never been done before, examining each aspect of the recommendation engine, and showing you how to get Amazon to recommend your book more to readers.
Not only that, it will teach you how to construct marketing campaigns which will trigger recommendations to readers, how to make your book stickier in the charts, and how to launch books in a way that convinces Amazon takes over and does the selling for you.
Sign up today to access a growing list of benefits that I regularly dole out to subscribers like some kind of sozzled Santa.
Finally, before I go, this podcast I did recently might be of interest. It’s a great kind of roundtable discussion between myself (a self-publisher), Mindy Mindy McGinnis (a trad author) and Kate Karyus Quinn (a hybrid author). We discuss the writer’s life from different perspectives, how you can take control of your career, the importance of newsletters in both fan engagement but also future-proofing your author business, and how the current crisis will affect publishing… and some parts more than others. It was a great talk, listen to it right here.