Amazon is deservedly a world leader in bringing Ecommerce to millions of people across the world. The figures are staggering, but there is tremendous variation in the results that individual sellers achieve. Some have to be content with a trickle of sales from a few regular customers. Others attract new customers daily and post ever-increasing revenues. The reason for this huge variation comes down to the wide-ranging ability of sellers to optimise their listings. It is not an exaggeration to say that optimising Amazon is one of the most vital secrets of Ecommerce success.
The first thing to remember is that it’s not just about the quality of the product. Many sellers focus on this, and this results in listings that are certainly informative but not necessarily what the customer is looking for. The key to unlocking high-volume sales is to understand Amazon’s search engine. Understanding the way its algorithm works will open the door for sellers to devise optimisation strategies and vary their tactics as they build their brand and expand their customer base. Optimisation is what makes the difference between low volume sales and major commercial success using Amazon.
Understanding Amazon’s Search Engine
Amazon’s buying and selling platform is unimaginably huge, but at the same time very simple. It connects potential buyers with Amazon sellers by ranking products in order of relevance for the customer. Now the interesting part of this process is the way the algorithm selects products. Relevance is defined first of all by what the customer types into the search box. Sellers often miss out on chances to maximise their chances of appearing top of the customer’s list. The reason for this is that they retain a seller’s mindset and fail to consider the way the search algorithm relies on the customer’s behaviour. Thinking like a customer will help a seller to anticipate the best terms to use for product descriptions. Keeping it simple is the best strategy.
- What does the customer want? How do they plan to use it?
- What price expectations might the customer have?
- Is there anything vital that they need to know before buying?
For some products, size is critical, but price is not. For others, a key feature, such as the fabric of a garment for example, will be a deciding factor, while price is less sensitive. Knowing how a customer approaches the search is crucial to identifying the search queries that are most likely.
Partly in response to consumer inputting behaviour, Amazon’s A9 search algorithm has undergone considerable evolution over the past few years, using data from millions upon millions of searches. The core remains a process of matching up keywords that the seller has identified, with the search terms that are fed in by customers. At the simplest level, the customer types in the word “wok”, for example, and a list of different Chinese frying pans appears. This is quick and convenient for the customer, and everybody benefits from the speed of the matching software.
For the seller, however, this is where the real challenge begins. There are over 1,000 different varieties of wok available on Amazon. The wok seller needs to know how to make their particular brand of wok appear at or near the top of the list. Competition between sellers has increased, and Amazon constantly adapts and changes its algorithm so that up to date SEO expertise has become an essential tool in Ecommerce today. Identifying which key words to use, and how to use them, has thus become a fundamental skill for sellers today.
Visible and backend search terms
Most sellers assume that the way a product is described in its Amazon listing is the main data that is used by the algorithm when it searches for products that match the customer’s search terms. The seller can optimise the visible part of the listing by choosing descriptive words that are likely to be typed in by a customer. In our wok example, the description might feature words that describe its colour, such as black or grey, and features such as a wooden handle, a lid, or non-stick properties. In the early days of Ecommerce, sellers used to stuff their product descriptions full of such terms, in the hope of triggering selection by the algorithm. This no longer works, however, because the algorithm has evolved to penalise such blatant exploitation strategies. The visible text, therefore, should be concise and clear, with several relevant and descriptive terms and no extraneous terms that might confuse the customer and trigger an adverse response from the search algorithm.
A much better strategy is the smart and extended use of backend search terms. These are not seen by the customer, but they are used by the algorithm to make matches, and they have risen in importance recently. This feature is crucial to maximising ranking position. The best terms are identified by studying competitor listings and drawing up a list of the most popular terms in the visible part of these listings. These might include abbreviations, alternate names for items and concepts related to the way the item is used. In our wok example, keywords like wok Chinese Vietnamese stir-fry hob steel would be good. Making a list of terms used by major competitors makes a good first draft of a backend search term selection.
There is no need to use punctuation between the keywords, or to repeat individual terms, or to use both singular and plural terms. The algorithm adjusts for these features, as well as for mis-spellings. It can be useful to use variants of the same word, however, such as finish and coating. The order of backend search terms is important too. The most important terms should be listed first, and then the others in descending order of importance. There is not much point in trying to trick the algorithm with clever one-letter variants of the core terms. A good strategy is to read customer reviews of similar products and focus on the features that they rate positively.
Optimising titles to improve search ranking
A listing’s title is the quickest and best way of drawing attention to a seller’s product. It is like a shop window, and there is nothing less appealing than a dusty, out-of-date display that has been seen a million times before. Amazon provides good guidelines on how to phrase a listing title. Ideally, it should contain seven key elements: brand name, product line, material or key feature, product type, colour, size and packaging/quantity. Usually, it makes sense to have the brand and product line first in the title, because the customer needs to know exactly what is being sold. Variation in the number and order of other elements can create added interest in the listing.
However, seller behaviour can change, and the algorithm will adapt to any changes, meaning that there can be fluctuations in the popularity, and therefore in the optimal placement of elements in a listing title. Sellers should experiment with different variants and consider using tools such as Keyword Inspector to analyse the success of different key words. Here too, frequent analysis of the listing’s performance, and adjustment of search terms will bear fruit in the long run. Nothing stands still at Amazon, and an iterative process of adjustment, monitoring, review and re-adjustment is the best way to keep ahead of the competition.
Capitalising on boosts from Amazon PPC and Facebook or Google AdWords
Ranking operates using a number of other metrics known only to Amazon. It is possible, however, to track the impact of interventions, and this is a good way of maximising success. Advertising campaigns are usually implemented with the goal of boosting sales in the short term, and they do work for a limited period of time. It is relatively straightforward to identify spikes caused by a Google AdWords or Facebook campaign, for example, and these systems offer valuable analytics tools that can add significant value. A well-timed use of Amazon PPC, for example, will draw traffic to a certain listing.
What sellers often forget, however, is that increased sales will also cause the algorithm to push the item higher up in the search ranking. This, too, is temporary and so smart sellers will capitalise on temporary boosts by multiplying their interventions at the same time, so that the effect is cumulative. This lasts longer, and produces curves rather than spikes, all of which builds longer-term ranking advantage. The best possible results happen when sellers coordinate their internal traffic using Amazon PPC with these external advertising campaigns via social networks.
Quality images and multiple images make a difference
It has long been established that listings without images are not likely to do well on Amazon. As customers use an increasing variety of devices to shop, they also take advantage of tablet functions such as zoom and scroll to view product listings. Keeping up with the march of technology means, then, providing good quality images, multiple images, and a zoom function that lets customers explore details of the product’s visual appearance. Judicious use of colour, context, and connotation can be very effective. In our wok example, a mix of plain images of the wok and decorative images with food and fine dining surroundings will add value to the listing for the customer. This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to turn features into benefits, and thus improve conversion rates.
Viral marketing is the Holy Grail
Social media has quite literally changed everything in Ecommerce, and some strategies that worked in the early days are no longer quite as successful as they used to be. Amazon uses its review function to fine-tune the search algorithm. As ever, once this search engine innovation became known, everyone started to pad their listings with fake reviews. This action was followed by a typical clamping down reaction from Amazon, but the fact remains that achieving genuine and positive reviews remains a critical success factor for sellers today.
Fortunately, there are some good tools, such as Feedback Genius and Sales Backer, that can help sellers to establish a relationship with their customers. These specialist services help sellers to walk the line between obtaining great reviews and remaining within Amazon’s increasingly strict terms of service. Reviews are one of the best ways of building interaction with a community of customers.
Hidden factors that raise ranking position
Some factors that raise ranking position, like most of those mentioned above are obvious, and openly published by Amazon. Others, however, are hidden and can only be deduced by considering the implication of some popular Amazon services. Delivery options, for example, greatly influence customer choices. This goes beyond the usual marketing-related features such as free returns and/or delivery, and different charging options with fast or slow delivery speed. The “Amazon’s Choice” feature, for example, identifies a small number of products that are guaranteed to be “highly rated, well-priced products available to dispatch immediately”. The sub-text here is that these top products are fulfilled by Amazon and available to Amazon Prime customers. The implication here is that products should ideally fit these criteria and this gives sellers a clear goal to aim for, with implications for the choice of delivery mode.
There may be other hidden factors that impact upon search ranking, and they may change from time to time. The implication of this that it makes sense to fill out all of the optional entries on the edit product page. That way, if a certain element rises in importance, there will be data there that can be picked up immediately. Once again, however, regular reviewing of these entries is essential, so that emerging trends in the market place can be translated into the details that are entered there.
Keeping up to date with SEO developments
SEO is one of these fields where innovation is king. The strategies outlined above are quite labour-intensive in nature. It pays, therefore, to take on board expert advice from those who are on the front line of SEO theory and practice. Purchasing new analytical tools from time to time is one way of keeping abreast of developments in the field. A good example is Helium 10 – Magnet, which takes a large set of, say, 1000 keywords and creates a shortlist of those which have the most potential for generating sales, and then ranks them in popularity. This saves hours of time and experimentation and can lead to dramatic revenue increases almost overnight. Another example is Keywords Everywhere which searches multiple platforms, including Amazon, Google, eBay, YouTube, Etsy and many more. It provides metrics on any list of keywords across a huge volume of listings. It lets sellers see at a glance which words are most effective, and track differences across different sites.
Not only do these amazing tools provide sellers with a good understanding of their own data, but they also help provide some insight into the trending areas of advancement. This can guide sellers to the latest training videos and coaching tools. In a field as fast-moving and varied as SEO, keeping ahead of the training curve is one of the most essential strategies of all.