How to Rank Your Ebook #1 On Amazon

How to Rank Your Ebook #1 On Amazon

Dustin Lien
August 10, 2014

I recently launched my first ebook, It’s Time to Start.

Results: My Kindle ebook ranking was #1 in the Small Business category for free books, 3 of the 5 days during the giveaway period, as well as hitting #4 in Business and Money, and #6 in Entrepreneurship. It was downloaded about 700 times during the 5 days. 39 came from a small segment of my newsletter list, the rest were through the methods I’m about to share. It doesn’t take as much as you would expected to grab a #1 spot if you put in a little effort. I expected it to take thousands of downloads, but that wasn’t the case.

image of downloads trend


image of my book at the #1 spot

I had quite a bit of debate with myself whether to launch via Amazon, or just my website, but eventually I agreed with myself to go the Amazon route. My blog is still semi-new, so to quickly establish myself as more of an authority in my niche, I wanted the book in as many hands initially as possible to “get myself out there” as people say. Amazon is familiar to people, so it’s easy to say, “Hey, go download my free ebook on Amazon.”

Amazon has a program called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), that allows you to run 5 days worth of giveaways during a 90-day period. Some people like to try break up the giveaways and spread them across the 90 days, but I used them all at once because I have no intention of giving the book away for free again in the future, and having consecutive days allows for momentum to do it’s thing.

The point of ranking #1 in a category for a free book is to increase downloads and reviews, so when your book goes into the paid section after the giveaway period, it has some juice behind it to help with paid rankings—to get more sales, to put it simply.

Ok, let’s dive in.

First off, I need to give credit where it’s due: When searching for Amazon ranking hacks, I got a lot of the nitty gritty ideas from Scott Britton, so check out his blog sometime—it’s great.

1. Optimize Your Book for Amazon’s Search Engine

Amazon ranks the popularity of books based on these factors (not necessarily in order of importance):

• Number of Downloads (Seemed to be weighed the most)

• Number of quality reviews

• Recency

• Revenue

Since I was running a free promotion for 5 days, obviously revenue would be $0, but that’s ok because I was focusing on ranking #1 in Top Free Books for a particular category, so nobody else would have revenue either.

Before you finalize the name of your book, or at least the subtitle, do some research on which category and keyword you want to try rank with. Amazon is one of the most used search engines in the world, so just like with Google, you want to rank.

Remember to be as relevant as possible when choosing a category and keywords to go after. You want to find that sweet spot of relevancy and a winnable category. My book is about entrepreneurship and starting a business, so the main categories I looked into were Business & Money and Self-Help. I dug deeper than that though because there are a lot of subcategories and sub-subcategories to consider when trying to find the best route of attack—those are the ones to go after. You want to narrow it down as far as you can so you can size up the competition of those deep categories. Once you rank for those, your likelihood of ranking for broader categories increases.


How do you decide what to go after? Where do you find the data?

For categories, you want to look at what book is currently ranking #1 in each relevant free category or subcategory, and find which one will be the easiest to go after. You can tell this by comparing each book’s rank out of all Kindle ebooks, found on each book sale page at the bottom. Go to the Kindle ebooks section of Amazon, and in the center of the page near the top, you’ll see “Best Sellers” – click that and select Top 100 Free, and find your relevant categories.

image of categories

When you click into a subcategory, click on the #1 book, and scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll see an overall ranking. Use that to determine which relevant subcategory to optimize for. Ideally, something at least in the 5 figures somewhere would be nice, but work with what you have to stay relevant. You’re sizing up your competition here.

image of bestseller rank

I went after “Starting a Business” which I ranked well for, but you also get to choose 3 categories to submit into later, so I ended up ranking #1 for Small Business, #4 for Business & Money, and #6 for Entrepreneurship. The more you rank top 10 in the better, because when people search those categories, you come up on the page and get more downloads.

146 image

It’s also important to note that Amazon is the largest shopping search engine in the world, so you want to try rank for a keyword or phrase just like you would on Google.

When you publish your book, include the keyword or phrase in your subtitle and your book description. I went after “starting a business”. I included that phrase in both my book title and description, and it helped me rank #9 at one point for that category.

To decide what keyword or phrase to go after, you’ll want to know how many people are searching for different relevant keywords to get an idea of what will be worth going after

To do this, I used MerchantWords. It costs $30/month, so take it with a grain of salt, but I found it very useful.


I ended up being able to use a key phrase that was also a category title, which was helpful for ranking I would think, but it doesn’t have to work exactly like that for you. If your book was about fitness, you might try find that trying to rank for “men’s fitness routines” is easier to go after than “fitness”. Just because a phrase gets searched more each month, doesn’t necessarily mean you should choose it. The more searched-for phrases are typically harder competition because they’re more popular phrases that thousands of others are trying to rank for. You can establish your book quicker and get more downloads if you go after a niche that still gets a decent amount of searches. Also note that other similar phrases get searched a lot more, but I went with “starting a business” because it gets a solid amount of searches and is also a category in the Kindle Store.


So my book title, with the added optimized subtitle became, It’s Time to Start: Conquer the Common Fears of Starting a Business and Master the Mind Tools for Success.


2. Use a Well-Designed Cover

Even though we’re told growing up not to judge a book by its cover, we all do it. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-designed cover to intrigue people to see what’s inside. On Amazon, your book is represented by a tiny picture when it’s in lists. That’s it—so make it count. Use Fiverr or Elance if you’re on a tight budget or don’t know much about graphic design, and you’ll get something pretty decent for not much money. It’s an investment that will pay off in time. I was a graphic designer for a long time, so I designed i myself, and I took enough time to make it look nice.

It's Time to Start book cover image

3. Make it Easy to Download

Getting a free ebook isn’t as exciting as it used to be, because there are a ton of them available, so you have to treat your free giveaway with the same attention as if you were selling it. I had close friends not even download my book after confirming in person and sending them instructions with a 1-click download. Not everyone is going to download just because it’s free, but you can increase the likelihood by making it so easy a 5 year old could do it. Every email, text, and post included a one-click way to get to the download page or to the review page.


4. Use Friends and Family

A lot of people forget that even if your friends and family aren’t really interested in your content, they’ll still support you, and this is a numbers game (and it’s free).

The people I’m really close with, I sent personal emails or text messagesto asking them to download the book and leave a review if they liked it.


He did, too.

These people will be your ambassadors, which is vital if you don’t have a large online following yet. They’ll share your social posts, and a lot of my friends even posted their own. It’s a great way to leverage other people’s audiences. If you get 10 friends, each with 500 Facebook friends, to post something about your book, that’s potentially another 5000 people your book reaches.


5. Throw a Party

People love an excuse to party. I just moved to Los Angeles a year ago, so my amount of friends that live near me isn’t huge, but I was able to get 10 or so people to join me in celebration of the book launch and download the book at the party. If I did it over again though, instead of having the party on launch day, I’d have it a couple days later and ask the invited guests to download the book and then have them leave a review at the party.

6. Leverage Social Media

Use your social reach intelligently. Use relevant hashtags on platforms that utilize them. I mainly used Facebook and Twitter due to time constraints, but on Twitter I mapped out tweets ahead of time to make sure I found and used a good amount of relevant hashtags.


There are tons of Twitter accounts dedicated to free giveaways, free ebook giveaways, and free Kindle giveaways. Find as many as you can to tweet at. Same goes for hashtags.

7. Post on Relevant Forums and Giveaway Sites

I posted on a few subreddits that were relevant, and they crushed it. I got a lot of downloads that way. Any forums or Facebook/Google + groups you are active on, post your book giveaway. Don’t be a spammer—people don’t like that, but some forums and groups openly welcome free giveaway posts. Target giveaway forums, topic-relevant forums, and giveaway sites.


8. Respond to Comments

Any comments on my forum or social posts, I commented immediately. This builds trust with skeptical downloaders, and also makes your post rank higher on the forum. Most forums want to encourage discussion, so they bump up the most discussed posts to the top of the page, so the more comments the better.



9. Thank People and Post Updates

People love to bandwagon. When someone tells you they downloaded the book, or you see they left a review, publicly thank them on Facebook. Others will see and and feel motivated to help you out to get in the exclusive group of “good friends”. When you thank them, let everyone know how things are going to make other people want to feel included in the event.



10. Encourage Reviews

When you send out your emails and posts, subtly ask for reviews if they like the book. I think next time I’ll be a little more aggressive with asking close friends and family members (they’ll forgive me). Reviews are super important in ranking your book on Amazon. You could also offer exclusive content or a secret webinar or something for everyone who reviews within the first few days. I’ll definitely do something like that next time to get more reviews quickly.


11. Front load Efforts

With only 5 days to capitalize on the free period, I think it’s important to front load your efforts to use the momentum of attention to increase total downloads. The first day, I did 90% of the work, and used the other 4 days to respond to comments and requests for help, as well as a few extra tweets and status updates. I did, however, spread out Reddit posts to not get banned. I did 1 per day in different subreddits.

Closing Thoughts

One more thing that would have been great to do is try to get other bloggers of a similar size with similar content to let their newsletter lists know about the free book. Anytime you can leverage the audiences of other people, you can greatly improve your reach.

Use these marketing techniques and think of new ones to implement when you launch your book, and you can get similar or better results!