Amazon’s Impressive Growth
Amazon.com officially debuted in 1995, founded by Jeff Bezos in Bellevue, WA, as a bookseller whose focus was on long-term growth. Within two months, sales reached $20,000, and in May 1997, the company went public at $18 a share.
Today, Amazon is an extremely profitable company; it’s the third most valuable corporation after Apple and Microsoft. Amazon has managed to dominate not only every sector of online retail in large parts of the world, but has also built a cloud computing business, established itself as a huge player in video streaming and music sales and built cylindrical voice-controlled computing devices. These devices play music, respond to questions, report on weather, news, or sports scores and more.
This year, Amazon reportedly beat estimates for profits and matched estimates for revenue in its first-quarter earnings results. According to Macrotrends:
- Amazon revenue for the 12 months ending March 31, 2019 was $241.545B, a 25.03-percent increase year-over-year.
- Current and historical gross margin, operating margin and net profit margin for Amazon (AMZN) as of March 31, 2019 is 4.97 percent.
- Amazon total assets for the quarter ending March 31, 2019 were $178.102B, a 40.95-percent increase year-over-year.
- The latest closing stock price for Amazon as of June 07, 2019 is 1804.03.
Here’s a chart to visualize annual net revenue of Amazon from 2004 to 2018 in billion U.S. dollars:
If you’re an e-commerce website that also sell products on Amazon, then you want your products to be found by customers on the first pages of Amazon search results, just as you would want your website to show up on the first page of Google results. Earning good ranking positions in Amazon for your target keywords means more traffic, more sales and more revenue for your business.
It’s vital to understand that Amazon’s search algorithm works differently than Google’s algorithms in ranking results. Amazon has far fewer ranking factors than Google, which may make you think it would be a lot easier to optimize for Amazon search and jump onto the first page as a result of that, but this is not true.
One of the main differences between Google and Amazon’s search engines is the search intent: purchase-only intent for customers on Amazon, and mostly research-based intent on Google.
Understanding the Amazon Algorithm (A9)
“A9” is the name of the Amazon algorithm that runs under the Amazon search engine’s advertising technology. It decides what product recommendations to make when users start typing in keywords related to the products they’re looking to purchase.
As Google’s algorithms have been developing to deliver the best possible results for search queries, A9 has continued to grow and become smarter and more complex over time.
A9 works by analyzing data and looking into past traffic patterns; it then indexes the text describing every product in the catalog before shoppers have even started their search. As soon as the first keystroke is typed in, A9 is ready to give customers instant suggestions and a comprehensive set of search results.
In general, there are three things you need to optimize for when dealing with A9:
You need to make sure your products are more visible than your competitors’ so Amazon shoppers can find you, click and purchase your products more often. According to Amazon’s Seller University:
“Optimize listings for Search and Browse. Customers must be able to find your products before they can buy your products. Search is the primary way that customers use to locate products on Amazon. Customers search by entering keywords, which are matched against the information (title, description, etc.) you provide for a product.
Factors such as degree of text match, price, availability, selection, and sales history help determine where your product appears in a customer’s search results. By providing relevant and complete information for your product, you can increase your product’s visibility and sales.”
There are a handful of reasons why Amazon visibility is important:
- It lets customers find your products faster and easier.
- Unique visitors, or new daily visitors, are customers supporting your business.
- It helps to win the Buy Box and earn brand reputation.
Brand reputation helps you stand out from your competition.
What’s the Amazon Buy Box?
According to Amazon, the “Buy Box” is the box on a product detail page where customers begin the purchase process by adding items to their shopping carts. Amazon uses performance-based criteria to determine the seller’s Buy Box eligibility and placement status.
A key feature of the Amazon platform is that the same product can have multiple sellers. If more than one seller offers the same product in “New” condition, they may compete for the Buy Box for that product. In this case, when costumers hit “Add to Cart,” the seller who has won the Buy Box will be getting that sale.
If the competitiveness between two or more sellers is identical, the Buy Box will rotate between the sellers, meaning that the first seller gets the first sale, the second one gets the next sale and so on. This keeps going until one seller outranks the other(s) and become the only Buy Box–eligible seller for that specific product.
There are many factors involved when it comes to Buy Box eligibility, such as:
- Having a healthy seller account
- Fulfillment method
- Product condition
- Shipping time
- Late shipment rate
- On-time delivery rate
- Feedback rate
- Customer response time
- Inventory level
- Cancellation and refund rate
Relevance is one of the main A9 ranking factors that focuses on search queries and the intent behind those words. Knowing that Amazon is a buying and selling platform, its biggest focus is on delivering relevant results to its users to increase the chances of selling products and making more money. By addressing SEO on Amazon, you’re letting Amazon’s algorithm know that your product page is relevant to particular search queries that shoppers have typed into Amazon’s internal search box, therefore increasing the chance that your listing will show up at the top of the SERP. As a result of that, people will likely click and visit your page, meaning more traffic that leads to more sales.
It’s worth mentioning that Amazon’s algorithm describes relevancy as “what customers buy after performing a search,” meaning that its main focus is on purchase behavior, whereas Google relevancy is based on what users click on to answer their query after performing a search, or engagement behavior.
3. Conversion Rate
Let’s say you’re able to bring enough traffic to your product page on Amazon; now, does your product listing have a high conversion rate for its targeted keyword and does it generate enough sales? Conversion rate has a direct relation with keyword relevancy, meaning well-written body content with a strong call-to-action can increase it.
Product Listing Optimization on Amazon
Below are some general guidelines on how to do SEO on Amazon to improve your product rankings and visibility so that your product appears in the top position on Amazon search result pages, which will bring you more traffic and sales.
1. Optimize Amazon Product Title
According to Amazon guidelines and best practices, the product title is one of the key fields used by Amazon to measure the relevancy of a detail page as it relates to a customer search. Titles that are constructed according to the style guide for a category perform better in product searches. A customer is more likely to click on quality product titles in search results since they contain information that will help them make a preliminary purchasing decision.
Knowing that in A9, each individual word in the product title is searchable on its own, it’s imperative to make sure your product title includes all keywords that shoppers may use to find that specific product without sounding keyword-stuffed, as that will actually harm your product’s ranking and will get you penalized by the Amazon algorithm.
Here’s a list of elements your product’s title should contain:
- Brand name
- Product category name
- Material and key feature
- Product type
- Size and/or quantity
- Color (if applicable)
We have provided a few examples below to show how best-sellers of a shampoo product (from the hair-care category) and baby gates (from the baby product industry) have chosen their product title tag that has helped them win the Buy Box and rank higher in Amazon’s search results.
Searched Query: Hair Shampoo
Full Title: WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo & Hair Conditioner Set – (2 x 16.9 Fl Oz / 500mL) – Increase Gloss, Hydration, Shine – Reduce Itchy Scalp, Dandruff & Frizz – No Parabens or Sulfates – All Hair Types
Searched Query: Baby Gates
Full Title: Regalo Easy Step 38.5-Inch Extra Wide Walk Thru Baby Gate, Includes 6-Inch Extension Kit, 4 Pack Pressure Mount Kit, 4 Pack Wall Cups and Mounting Kit
Before choosing your product title, depending on what line and industry you are selling your product from, you need to do keyword research. Put yourself in the place of users. Come up with the list of keywords that buyers may type in to find your products. You can always visit the Amazon Best Seller page to get an idea of how the top sellers are formatting their titles. The goal is to emulate these successful merchants, see what’s currently working for your competitors and replicate them so you can be a better seller yourself.
On the best seller page, Amazon provides you with the list of most popular products based on sales. It gives you a list of the top hundred ranking products for each category and subcategory. This list is updated hourly. Examine the keywords found in those titles and compare how frequently they’re found in your searches. Then, compile a list of keywords with high search volumes and pick out the most common keywords to include in your product titles.
2. Optimize Back-end Search Terms
Earlier, we briefly mentioned avoiding keyword stuffing your title tag, however Amazon has provided blank spots for you (five spaces on the back-end – 250 bytes of data) where you can actually write all the remaining equivalent keywords from your keyword research list that you weren’t able to capture in the product title, body copy and product description. This keyword list is not visible to the users, but it’s still used to provide a better sense of how you’d like your product to be described and ranked by the Amazon algorithm.
Back-end search terms are a great place to type any long-tail keywords that you think your customers might use when searching for what they want to buy. You could also add Spanish keywords, benefit-related keywords and/or problem-and-solution keywords.
Amazon limits the length of these search terms to less than 250 bytes. If your search terms exceed this limit, you will see a warning message beside the search terms field on the “Keywords” tab in Seller Central. The search terms limit applies to newly-registered as well as existing ASINs.
Here’s some of Amazon’s tips/rules for optimizing your search terms:
- Stay under length limit.
- Include synonyms.
- Include spelling variations, no need for misspellings.
- Include abbreviations and alternate names.
- You can use all lower case.
- You don’t need punctuation, such as: “;”, “:”, “-“.
- Separate words with spaces.
- Don’t repeat words within the Search Terms field.
- Don’t include your brand or other brand names in Search Terms.
- Don’t include ASINs in Search Terms.
- No need for stop words such as “a,” “an,” “and,” “by,” “for,” “of,” “the,” “with,” and so on.
- Use singular or plural, no need for both.
- No temporary statements such as “new,” or “on sale now.”
- Don’t use subjective claims, such as “best,” “cheapest,” “amazing,” and so on.
- Don’t add abusive or offensive terms.
3. Optimize Product Bullet Points
Product bullet points are other key fields used by the Amazon algorithm to measure the relevancy of a product detail page to a search query. Customers are more likely to buy products with quality descriptions and bullet points. Product bullets offer another opportunity to boost rankings and increase conversion rates.
In general, bullet points are used to make content easier to read rather than offering it in a block of text. By using bullet points, you will be able to better clarify product features and clearly convince the customer to add your product to their shopping cart.
Any keywords from your master keyword list that you weren’t able to include in the title should be captured in the bullets.
It’s recommended that each bullet start with a key benefit in all capitals, which makes your list easy to scan and read by shoppers. Also, if you have a product warranty, you can include these details in the last bullet.
Here’s a set of bullet point examples on an iPhone case best-seller:
4. Optimize Product Descriptions
Although customers are less likely to scroll to the bottom of the product page, the product description is still another important on-page element to be optimized since it’ll be indexed by A9 and will have a direct impact on visibility.
Product descriptions are great areas of opportunity to tell your story and provide more information about your brand and product (especially for complex products), while embedding some valuable keywords you want to be indexed. Make sure to include a strong call-to-action in your product description, as well.
Also, to avoid cannibalization when uploading your products to Amazon, make sure you use unique descriptions rather than the same exact content from external platforms. Keep in mind, once a keyword has been included in the title, bullet points, product description or back-end search terms, you don’t need to repeat it anywhere else on your product detail page (one mention is sufficient).
5. Optimize Product Images
According to Amazon, the presence of a quality image is an important element that helps customers choose one search result over another. Images help customers visually evaluate and compare key features and suitability of products. Multiple images enable the customer to see all angles of the product, further enriching their purchasing experience.
While including high-resolution photos (at least 1000 pixels square) of your products on the product detail page is a great way of increasing your conversion rates, you can also provide additional high-quality image content that gives customers a better understanding of what you’re selling and what they’re buying.
Keep in mind that your primary Amazon product image must be on a white background and include only the product for sale with no additional verbiage. Then, on the secondary images, you can use image-based content to turn your product image into sales tools to convince your customer why they should hit the “Add to Cart” button that will eventually boost your conversion rates (e.g. emphasize your product’s key benefits within a photo).
The last tip we have for product images is to put keywords in your image file names, since these will also be indexed by the Amazon algorithm.
6. Encourage Product Reviews and Ratings
Customer reviews are very important, as 90 percent of potential buyers read products reviews before placing their orders. They’re good to have, but not necessary as there’s no proof that the number of reviews has a direct impact on where your product listing ranks in Amazon search. We have seen products that rank in the top-five results on Amazon that have very few reviews. However, there’s a correlation between a larger number of reviews and higher conversation rates. Higher conversion rates can lead to more sales which eventually leads to higher rankings.
Having said that, you need to get as many honest reviews as possible. One of the easiest ways to encourage your customers to write reviews for your products on Amazon is to simply ask them. The first thing you need to have is email auto-responder software that automates the review acquisition process. This software allows you to write custom email responses to shoppers that help develop customer relationships and ask for unbiased insights and reviews.
Here are a few tips and white-hat methods to help you get early reviews:
- Send an email post-purchase.
- Receiving them from the Amazon Early Reviewer Program.
- Include inserts front-and-center as part of the mailer for your product packaging.
- Respond to and dispute negative reviews.
- Offer product discounts and giveaways.
- Ask for reviews and ratings from customers on your other channels, including email, Facebook and Twitter.
No matter what method you use to obtain product reviews and ratings, you need to make sure that method complies with Amazon’s terms of service, otherwise you will be at risk of losing rankings and your Buy Box. Eventually, even your seller account may be suspended.
7. Maintain a High Sales Rank
Sales history is one of the most important ranking factors that will dramatically impact a product’s search ranking position on Amazon’s SERPs. Sales rank is also a measure of conversion that can move the Amazon search ranking needle the most. Here’s an example that shows where to find the Amazon Best Sellers Rank (BSR) on a product detail page:
Now, that you’ve already optimized your product detail page by including your target keywords in the title, back-end search terms, product bullets and description, as well as adding high-resolution product images and getting reviews from customers, it’s time for you to start generating sales.
Knowing there’s a deep connection and collaboration between Amazon’s paid and organic activity, driving internal and external traffic to your Amazon product listing would be the first white-hat step to generating more sales.
There are multiple types of paid advertising on Amazon, including Headline Search Ads, Product Display Ads and Sponsored Products.
Aside from Amazon PPC, the best way to boost your Amazon rankings is by leveraging your email list of current customers. Expand your email list by sending out group giveaways, offering discounts and encouraging your customers to find your product by using for a specific keyword you want to rank for and place orders.
8. Use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) seems to be another ranking actor that the Amazon algorithm pays attention to. In general, there are three different methods of shipping your products to the customer:
- Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM)
- Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
- Fulfillment by a Shipping Company
Knowing that many customers filter for only ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ results before they even start shopping, products that are fulfilled by Amazon always have a better chance of ranking higher and winning the Buy Box. If you’re going to use the FBA shipping method, then you’ll need to follow Amazon Warehouse rules and use their internal tracking systems.
Inside Seller Central, Amazon has provided a fulfillment revenue calculator tool that helps you find out the real-time cost comparisons between FBM and FBA so you know exactly how much you could save or lose by using the FBA method.
Go to the FBA Revenue Calculator tool. In the search box, type in your product name, UPC, ISBN or ASIN, then hit “Search.” To help Amazon calculate your fulfillment cost, you’ll be asked to fill out a form that includes some information about your product, such as item price. Type in your product price, hit the calculate button and you’ll see how much your total fulfillment cost would be. Here’s an example:
Additional Amazon Ranking Factors
Along with the ranking factors discussed above, there are some other factors that help determine in what position your product listing could rank on Amazon SERPs. These items might not be direct ranking factors, but they still matter since they determine your Buy Box eligibility.
The pricing of your products strongly influences conversion rates and sales. If you’re selling your products at a much higher price when compared to your competitors, then you might lose the competition. Before picking the right price for your product, you need to know what the price history has been. Look at a few of your competitors to get a sense of what the sale price for your product should be.
You can use online Amazon price tracking tools such as CamelCamelCamel, which gives you metrics like price history and sale rank for every single product sold on Amazon. It also notifies buyers when prices drop to help decide the best time to purchase products.
When comparing your prices to your competitors, you may see Amazon as a competitor, as well. It’s good to compete with Amazon, because if you can tie Amazon, the sales will rotate between you and Amazon. After a while, Amazon will step out and just let you sell that product. This will help you win the Buy Box. This might seem strange, but this is how their business model works.
We highly recommend lowering your prices if you’re just launching a brand-new product with no customer reviews and ratings. As soon as you win the Buy Box, you can optimize your price to be more in line with your competitors.
2. Inventory and Stock History
If you’re selling products on Amazon and want to outrank your competitors, you need to pay close attention to your inventory, as that is another ranking factor for Amazon’s search engine. Keep an eye on your inventory levels and be mindful of peak periods and seasonality.
3. Amazon Prime Eligibility
This is not a direct ranking factor, but it can impact sales, as customers are more likely to make purchases from sellers who work with Amazon Prime to leverage free two-day shipping and offer fast, reliable order fulfillment.
4. “Compare to Similar Items” Feature
This isn’t a direct ranking factor, but a more complete product list leads you to higher conversion rates and sales, and those are direct ranking factors. Although the “Compare to Similar Items” feature can’t be added and controlled by sellers since it’s programmatically generated by Amazon based on search results and customer interaction with products, there’s a form of Enhanced Brand Content (EBC) that you can submit that’s slightly similar to “Compare to Similar Items.” This is only available if you are the brand owner (private label).
5. Private Label Products
This basically means you hire a manufacturer to make a product for you. It doesn’t have to be a new product; all you need to do is design your own packaging (logo, label and box). When you’re the only entity selling your product, you’ll definitely win the Buy Box, as there’ll be no competition from other sellers.
Here are three steps to build your private label:
- Identify your product. This requires brainstorming and performing market research. Before choosing your product, you need to know everything about it. A good way of doing this is to go to your competitors’ pages and read their reviews and their Q&A pages on Amazon to see what flaws current products have and what your competitors are missing.
- Source/manufacture your product.
- Create your listing and market it.
Summary of Amazon Search Engine Optimization
Now that you’re more familiar with A9 and have a strong knowledge of how Amazon’s algorithm ranks one product listing over another, you’re ready to get started with Amazon SEO.
You need to understand that it takes time and effort to improve your Amazon search visibility and appear in the top results, so being patient is the first key.
One thing to keep in mind when working with Amazon is that Amazon always puts customers first. If your product listing has been created and optimized based on the Amazon SEO best practices described in this article, and if your listing helps customers find what they’re looking for faster and easier and has provided enough information about that specific product to make buyers hit the “Add to Cart” button confidently, then you can easily sit back and watch your listings gain visibility and your sales increase.
Although optimizing your product listings is the first step and gets you 80 percent of the way there, ongoing analysis, keeping an eye on the Seller Central Amazon sales ranking report and keeping up with trends and A9 algorithm updates are required to maintain momentum and move the needle continually.