Amplicon-based marker gene surveys form the basis of most microbiome and other microbial community studies. Such PCR-based methods have multiple steps, each of which is susceptible to error and bias. Variance in results has also arisen through the use of multiple methods of next-generation sequencing (NGS) amplicon library preparation. Here we formally characterized errors and biases by comparing different methods of amplicon-based NGS library preparation. Using mock community standards, we analyzed the amplification process to reveal insights into sources of experimental error and bias in amplicon-based microbial community and microbiome experiments. We present a method that improves on the current best practices and enables the detection of taxonomic groups that often go undetected with existing methods.