Amazon is unquestionably the biggest sales platform in the North American market, and its marketplace alone commanded nearly a third of total online sales in the U.S. in 2018. But there’s also a lot of competition—more than 5 million brands compete for the same customers, with thousands more joining every day.
It can be easy to be lost in the shuffle, but there are some concrete things brands selling on Amazon can do to stand out.
Finding the SEO Sweet Spot
The metrics Google uses for SEO are well defined, and most marketers are at least somewhat well versed in how to optimize for Google SEO. Amazon’s SEO metrics are less publicized, but with more consumers flocking to Amazon, it’s important to understand the nuances of Amazon SEO, the similarities and differences between platforms.
In the case of both Google and Amazon, getting on the first page of search results is crucial. On Google, 94% of people never go to the second page of search results, while 70% of shoppers never look at the second page of Amazon results. Amazon’s listings can make or break a company—the first three listings on any given search account for 65% of all clicks, and 35% of people click on the first item.
Both Google and Amazon have evolved in the digital age, too. In earlier years, keywords were, well, the key to landing high on the results page. Keywords carry significantly less weight today—while still important, the algorithms for both giants also weigh customer engagement, conversion, and detail page views.
Despite the mammoth reach both have and the similarities in the search components, Google and Amazon are fundamentally different in terms of the purpose of their searches and how they’re catering to their searchers. Google provides information, which might include Amazon listings, whereas Amazon seeks to pair customers with the right product. That being said, people tend to use both sites similarly, with 75% of shoppers using the search bar. Think of it this way: on Google, people search for recipes; on Amazon, they search for ingredients.
No More Shortcuts
Winning the race for listings has always been a high priority for brands selling on Amazon, and as such, it’s also been rife with people trying to game the system. Although it’s unlikely Amazon will ever be able to close off every loophole, it has been increasingly vigilant in shutting those shortcuts down—and, in some cases, penalizing the brands who take them.
Gone are the days of click-farming, adding items in carts but not purchasing them, and adding items to baby or wedding registries as ways to boost a product’s rankings. Conversion gaming tactics and bot farming advantages have been removed, and while black-hat tactics are still influencing searches, Amazon is actively working to remove them.
Another tactic now banned is incentivized reviews, or the practice of giving a product to a person for free in exchange for a review. Amazon has been taking a firmer stance lately towards fake or incentivized reviews in general—a necessary step as the problem has become big enough to jeopardize the legitimacy of all reviews in the eyes of some consumers.
Amazon’s latest update in their list of prohibited seller activities and actions includes misuse of sales rank—or a seller’s attempt to manipulate sales rank by offering or accepting fake or fraudulent orders, giving compensation or claim codes for people to buy a product, or claim a product is a bestseller in the product’s detail page—and search and browse—an umbrella term for any kind of artificial simulation of customer traffic, as well as any misleading catalog information or adding hidden keyword attributes to a description.
While these restrictions and closed back doors seem detrimental to some sellers and private brands, what they actually do is level the playing field and make everyone play by the same rules—a boon for brands who have been playing by the rules and aren’t willing to leverage grey or black hat tactics.
Getting it right
The shortcuts may be closed off, but some reliable steps remain. First, and most importantly, research and know the landscape. Brands need to know the competition by each keyword in which they’re trying to compete and identify niches.
For example, if a brand wants to market a probiotic organically, they’ll need to know that advertising bids change dynamically and at any given moment search term bids could increase or decrease. Hypothetical example: we’ve seen situations where the search term “probiotic” has costs anywhere from $4 to $10 per click. Besides the cost, the first page of organic listings are products that have been on Amazon for years and have thousands of glowing reviews. At the same moment, the keyword bids for longer-tail keyword such as “probiotic for women 50+” could have a much lower CPC with extreme examples of downwards of $0.38 per click that are much easier to win.
Amazon listings have limited space—some spots have a limit of just 250 characters—but using that space wisely can help optimize a listing for search terms and drive consumer conversion. Update titles, bullet points, descriptions, and brand details. Include keywords with title images, and utilize hidden keywords and A+ or EBC Backend keywords. After that, ensure a product is indexed for a keyword with the Amazon Standard Identification Number, or ASIN: “keyword” to see if the ASIN shows up on that specific keyword search.
Of course, content only goes so far. Perfect SEO might get a product indexed, but it by itself cannot make a product rank highly in organic searches. Amazon’s search algorithm is focused on driving the best possible consumer experience, and two big parts of that are conversion and traffic. Sustainable conversion and traffic are simply unfeasible if the product itself isn’t doing what consumers need it to do; with all the things that have changed in retail, the biggest and most enduring truth is the need for a high-quality product.
Amazon Marketplace is a busy place, and the competition will always be high. But having a good product, and presenting it well, will always help give brands an edge against the competition.
Garrett Bluhm is vice president of ecommerce and marketplace strategy at Pattern