When you think of search engine optimization (SEO), you mostly think of Google. But even those who want to sell successfully at Amazon have to deal with the functionality and optimization of a search and ranking algorithm. The algorithm called A9 decides which product is displayed on which rank in the search results due to a specific search query. This placement, in turn, depends on how well a product sells on Amazon. In this guide, we’ll explain how the Amazon algorithm works and how you can manipulate it to drive sales.
1. Importance of Amazon Marketing
If you want to be successful at Amazon, you have to understand that the mail-order company is much more than a mundane online shop. Amazon is dominating the lucrative markets enormously. In the United States, the market share is almost 50 percent.
That means that if you want to order something on the Internet in this country, you can hardly get around Amazon. Of course, this also attracts sellers who use the Amazon Marketplace, which is open to everyone, for their own business. Amazon now has more than 2.1 million retailers worldwide with at least one product on sale. There are even six million registered! As a result, there is hardly anything left that does not exist on Amazon. This affects not only the products but also the brands.
Amazon is the google for products
As a result, Amazon has become the very first point of contact for consumers when they are looking for a product. Regardless of whether this is based on a purchase decision or whether you only want to collect information first. According to a study by the research institute Ibi Research, on average, 34 percent of consumers start their product research on Amazon. Google, on the other hand, comes in third place with only 15 percent after the stationary trade (19 percent).
Amazon SEO is, therefore, not only so crucial for your success on the trading platform because Amazon is the largest online shop and most lucrative marketplace in the world(which brings with it a corresponding competition), but also because of the search behavior for products has changed. Away from Google to Amazon. Amazon is already the No. 1 product search engine today.
2. Similarities and differences between Google SEO and Amazon SEO
There are numerous parallels between search engine optimization for Google and Amazon, which will become clear again and again in the further course of this article. The most crucial thing in common is that both pursue the same main goal: to satisfy your customers as much as possible.
In this case, Amazon refers to customers as not the marketplace retailers, but rather the end consumers who purchase the products.
Why do both care so much about their customers’ satisfaction? Only satisfied customers help Google and Amazon to retain and even expand their market share. Only if both succeed in convincing customers of their performance will they continue to come to them. After all, this is the basic requirement for the main economic goal of every company: to generate as much profit as possible.
Only those who are at the top are clicked
If you keep this principle in mind like a mantra, you understand why Google and Amazon act the way they do. He can imagine which websites or products are listed high up in the search results and which criteria must theoretically be used. Those who know the goal can find their way there with logical thinking. And for those who have understood that search engine optimization is no longer rocket science. Neither for Google nor Amazon.
It is common to both that the highest positioned search results get the most clicks. To arrive at a ranking, i.e., the relevance-oriented sorting of search results, both use an algorithm, which in turn uses a variety of different ranking factors to determine the relevance and thus the rank.
Google SEO and Amazon SEO have many parallels
As with Google, Amazon has OnPage factors that sellers have a direct impact on. OnPage, especially the keywords, play an important role. In a nutshell, Amazon SEO worked in this area like Google SEO ten years ago. What the user signals are at Google is the performance of a product at Amazon. And what the backlinks are with Google are the reviews with Amazon.
While it is becoming increasingly difficult for Google to get websites to the fore, Amazon SEO is still in its infancy. Many retailers still don’t care about optimization measures. Those who deal with it and tackle search engine optimization can improve their ranking and increase sales with relatively simple means, not least by complying with Amazon guidelines.
3. How does the Amazon algorithm A9 work?
Before we get down to business, let’s take a closer look at A9. The Amazon algorithm is at the heart of the product search engine. Incidentally, the vast majority of Amazon customers use the search slot in the header and not the (relatively hidden) navigation with the category tree. Since the click behavior is similar to that of Google, the one at the top also wins at Amazon. If you understand the algorithm, you can better optimize your product listings for it.
Step 1: Find suitable products
According to the latest reliable figures, 229+ million different products are listed on Amazon. The first step of the algorithm is to filter out the articles that match the customer’s search query from this overall offer.
To do this, the algorithm checks every single word of the search query to determine whether it is contained anywhere in the product listing. Only if that is the case, will the product appear in the search results? Exception: Products without a main picture do not appear in the search results.
Step 2: Sort products by the likelihood of purchase
Once the Amazon algorithm has found the right products, the second step is to bring order to this product pool. The algorithm must, therefore, determine a specific order. Not just for the sake of clarity, but above all to boost sales. After all, Amazon earns with the commissions on every product sold.
It is now about Amazon to display the most relevant products as high as possible for the searcher since these products have a significantly higher probability of purchase than others. Only an optimally procured product ranking achieves the highest possible number of sales.
Amazon also wants to use the ranking to aim for the shortest possible purchase process. Because the more steps are necessary to find a product and complete an order, the higher the risk that the customer will exit the purchase process at any point. Ideally, there are only three steps: search, click, buy.
The products are sorted according to the probability of purchase. To find out how likely it is that a product will be sold, relevance and performance factors are analyzed.
As with product search, the keywords are the focus of relevance factors. The relevance is where the keywords are and the order in which they are located.
When creating a new product in Amazon Seller Central, various information fields are available to fill out. All important product information can be stored here. Some of these fields are public; others are not visible to the customer. First of all, so much: each information field is weighted differently for the ranking. Some are more important, others less important.
The weighting of the information fields in descending order:
- product Title
- Product attributes (bullet points)
- Saved keywords
- More product specifications
- Product description
In addition to where a keyword appears, the relevance rating determines how high the match rate with the search term is. Ideally, the search term can also be found one to one as a keyword. So all words of the search term are in the same order. If the keywords are spread across different fields, the relevance decreases. In addition, the relevance for the particularly important information fields of titles and bullet points increases with the brevity of their content.
If a customer is looking for a “black leather belt with metal buckle,” and the product title says “black leather belt with metal buckle” in this order, the relevance is greatest. On the other hand, if the entire title reads “Black leather belt with metal buckle, real calf leather, 95 cm, in gift packaging”, the relevance decreases due to the title length. If it says “Leather belt in black made of genuine calf leather with a metal buckle,” all the words in the search term are included, but not in the same order, which reduces their relevance. If the title only says “Belt with metal buckle” and other keywords such as “leather belt” are only found in other fields, the relevance drops further.
In terms of relevance, it is therefore not only crucial to select the right keywords but also where and in what order they are placed in the information fields.
The Amazon algorithm takes the click rate and the conversion rate into account as performance factors. What exactly means both are explained in the section on indirect ranking factors.
It is important to know that there is an interaction between the two performance factors. If the clickthrough rate is good, the conversion rate can usually also be seen. Provided the customer’s expectations are met.
The clickthrough rate and the conversion rate do not match, because a product is frequently called up but only rarely bought, it does not seem to convince. The ranking is worse. Viewing both values in context is more meaningful than viewing only one key figure.
Finally, it is important to know that relevance and performance factors do not influence the ranking in isolation, but also influence each other. Sometimes they go in the same direction; sometimes, they are counterproductive to each other.
Since searchers tend to click on a product that contains the search term they choose, cleverly chosen keywords increase not only the relevance of a product but also the click rate. On the other hand, from a keyword perspective, it could make sense to include as many keywords as possible in the product title and the bullet points. Too long and confusing titles tend to be less frequently clicked by users, which affects performance.
4. Ranking factors for Amazon Marketing
After getting to know some of the ranking factors briefly, we now want to take a closer look at what needs to be optimized and how to increase ranking and sales success. The ranking factors can be divided into direct, indirect, and performance-oriented factors.
4.1 Direct ranking factors for Amazon SEO (OnPage)
The most important ranking factor at Amazon has always been the product title. It has to be optimized both for the algorithm and for the customers. After all, the title decides whether a customer clicks on the product to display more information.
Since the title is both relevance and a performance factor, not only the most important keywords have to be placed in a meaningful order, but also the sales-promoting product features. A maximum of 200 characters is available for this. The further ahead a keyword is, the more important.
The ideal title formulation and design is a science in itself and requires a lot of experience. The challenge is to satisfy all the claimants about the title. Many consumers only read the product title and only decide based on whether they order an article or not. In any case, the brand, the product name, and distinguishing features and, if applicable, the number belongs in it. By the way, special characters are prohibited.
A longer title can accommodate more keywords and sales arguments, but the length also decreases the keyword relevance. Also, titles that are too long are a deterrent to many prospective customers and therefore have a lower click rate. But titles that are too short are also clicked less frequently. Amazon itself now recommends a title length of up to 80 characters also because mobile users may not be able to see the entire title.
Rule of thumb:
The more complex and expensive a product, the more likely it is that the potential customer is willing to take a closer look at the product properties or the more information he expects. The title for a wool hat should, therefore, be shorter than that for a robotic lawnmower.
Product attributes (bullet points)
The bullet points are the second most important source of information after the title. Again, this applies to algorithms and prospective buyers alike. Because the attributes placed right next to the product image often determine whether a product is bought or not. Hardly any Amazon user reads the product description hidden below, which we will talk about in a moment.
The keywords here are also heavily weighted. Whether a keyword is in the first or last bullet point does not matter for relevance. It is also irrelevant whether the keyword appears at the beginning or end of a bullet point. This means that nothing stands in the way of formulating sales-promoting bullet points that appeal to customers.
The attributes should contain the most important product characteristics, in particular, the unique selling points. Also, the bullet points should answer common customer questions about the article, so that the interested party feels informed enough to be able to buy the product after reading it.
A maximum of 200 characters are available per bullet point. Special characters are possible and quite common but are not welcome by Amazon. Even if they attract attention, they should be used sparingly.
“In the title belong the keywords that you think are the most entered!”
The “General Keywords” field in Amazon Seller Central allows you to ensure broad keyword coverage. All keywords can and should be accommodated here that have not previously been found in the title or in the bullet points. We remember: A product is only listed in the search results if the Amazon algorithm finds all the words in the search term for a product.
The keywords given here serve only as feed for the algorithm and are not displayed on the website. A maximum of 249 bytes may be used. This limit should be observed in any case, since one byte more means that Amazon ignores the entire field. Typically a character is considered a byte, but special characters consume two or even three bytes.
Important: Repetitions of keywords do not increase the relevance – no matter in which information field. By entering keywords twice, only valuable space is wasted. The available length of the general keywords should be used as much as possible in order to rank for as many search queries as possible. The following tips will help you get the most out of the field:
- Common variants of singular and plural are automatically assigned by Amazon so that a single word is sufficient.
- Omitting filler words is ignored by Amazon anyway.
- Just separate keywords with spaces. Commas or other separators are ignored.
- The hyphen saves a lot of space for compound keywords because it automatically covers different spellings of the keyword. The keyword “iPhone case” covers five variants: “iPhone”, “Case”, “iPhone Case”, “iPhone Case” and “iPhone Case”.
- Avoid irrelevant keywords like “cheap” or “big”.
The “Platinum Keywords” field under the “General Keywords” field is not evaluated by the algorithm, by the way, so you can safely save yourself the work of filling it out.
For some products, it is worth including misspellings, colloquialisms, and numerical forms in the general keywords. In this way, you serve a small niche with little competition.
The product description plays a minor role in the ranking. It can be used to accommodate keywords that have nowhere to be found anywhere else. Since there is enough space for the description with up to 2,000 characters, keywords can also be repeated here. However, it does not increase the relevance.
However, the product description is interesting for the ranking on Google and thus for the acquisition of external traffic. In order for the product detail page to be included in the index, the product description should be unique. So please do not simply copy the text from the online shop or even from the manufacturer.
Few users look at the product description, but those who do have a serious interest in the item. This is usually the last chance to convince those interested again of the purchase. This can be done by detailing the bullet points here and by emotionalizing them.
Images have a big impact on performance factors. A product that has no picture is hardly clicked, let alone bought. If only because it does not appear in the search results, but only in the category. In particular, cheap standard products – in the supermarket, one would speak of take-away items – are sometimes only sold through the image. Most Internet users are lazy to read.
Because you cannot touch products on the Internet, the product images have to do what the visit to the store normally does. The article should, therefore, be photographed from as many angles as possible, and the pictures should show many details. Visualized application examples also work very well.
Professional product photos are the be-all and end-all. The products must be properly exposed and isolated, i.e., against a white background. If, for example, poor light reproduces a color incorrectly, this can increase the return rate—an indirect ranking factor.
About four to six pictures per listing should be on average. The resolution should be at least 1,000 x 1,000 pixels for the zoom function to be activated. From 1,500 x 1,500 pixels, Amazon, in turn, scales the images, which can affect the image quality. Depending on the category, Amazon places special demands on the product images, which can be found in the guidelines.
“If you really want to make money, you need professional pictures of your products.”
4.2 Indirect ranking factors for Amazon SEO
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
The clickthrough rate indicates how often a product was clicked when it was displayed in the search results. Amazon interprets a high click rate just like Google as a sign that a product is relevant for the searcher. A product with a low click rate does not seem to be attractive for whatever reason.
Amazon determines the click rate based on the keyword as well as on the ranking. Logically, an umbrella with the search term “umbrella” has a higher click rate than with the keyword “camping tent.” And a product in the first place of the search results has a higher clickthrough rate than in place 28. To be able to achieve a presentable click rate, good basic work must have been done with the direct ranking factors.
As already described above, the click rate is mainly influenced by the quality of the product title and product photos. But of course, the price is also a decisive factor.
Time on site
Amazon can determine how interesting a product is for those who clicked on the detail page based on the length of stay. Similar to Google applies here: The longer a prospect stays on the page, the better it is obvious.
At Google, the importance of the length of stay is controversial because a visitor who leaves the website quickly can easily find what he was looking for, which would, of course, speak for the site. Amazon, on the other hand, receives a final success signal through the purchase, which is why the room for interpretation in the shop is less.
Nevertheless, there are, of course, also Amazon users who compare different products without ordering immediately. And then the pure length of stay also has meaningfulness about the quality of the product presentation, for which the dealer is often (but not always) responsible.
As good as the clickthrough rate and length of stay may be: Only when a product is bought is Amazon interested in raising it to a top position in the search results.
The conversion rate indicates how many people who clicked on a product and looked at the product details page then bought it. The conversion rate marks the successful end of the customer journey. Like the clickthrough rate, the conversion rate varies depending on the keyword.
The level of conversion is the result of Amazon Marketing. The higher, the better was optimized. Ultimately, each ranking factor listed here has an impact on the conversion rate. Last but not least, it also plays a role in whether the dealer was able to fill the buy box since most of the purchases are made via it.
4.3 Performance factors for Amazon SEO
No question: the price is one of the most important factors because it receives the highest level of attention from the customer. It is therefore not unlikely that the price plays a greater role in the ranking. By the way, you don’t have to exaggerate the price. After all, just being cheaper than the competition is enough to get the most out of this factor. Everything else is wasted money.
Amazon customers, in particular, are used to receiving their orders in record time. Fast delivery is one of the reasons why Amazon grew so big. Only items that are also available can be sold and satisfy customers. Dealers should always make sure they have sufficient inventory. Hardly a buyer waits until an item is available again. After all, there are enough choices and alternatives in the largest online shop in the world.
Amazon has also spoiled its customers when it comes to shipping costs. Books have always been free of charge; the rest were delivered free of charge from 20 euros, today from 29 euros. With Prime, the value of the shopping cart for shipping does not matter. As a result, customers pay close attention to whether a marketplace retailer charges delivery costs and, if so, how high they are. The algorithm, therefore, prefers products with little or no shipping costs.
Dealers must also satisfy customers personally. For example, if a prospect has further questions about a product and is turning to the retailer, Amazon expects a quick and precise answer. The guidelines for dealers require a response to customer inquiries within 24 hours. This also applies on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays!
There are plenty of guidelines, such as those for answering customer inquiries, at Amazon. They are all in the Amazon guidelines and can differ from category to category. The top priority for every marketplace seller is to adhere to all of these guidelines. On the one hand, this is a prerequisite for a good ranking, but it also ensures survival. Amazon is not squeamish about violations and quickly blocks seller accounts. Having them unlocked again is a complex process that involves a lot of red tapes.
No dealer can avoid the guidelines. There’s no point getting upset, no matter how meticulous Amazon sometimes can be. Successful sellers see the requirements as an opportunity to improve their processes and structures and to benefit from them in the long term. Ideally, this means that the expectations of Amazon and customers are not only met, but even exceeded.
For a long time now, there is no longer just one sales rank on Amazon, but a bestseller rank for every category and even for subcategories. The better the rank, the better a product sells. No one knows better than Amazon that customers like to buy the products that others have bought. One more reason to position an article higher in the search results. Customers also receive a small icon, which boosts the click and conversion rate.
It is crucial for the sales rank that the product has been assigned to the correct category. Nothing would be worse than assigning it to a wrong (sub) category, in which the product is also subject to strong competition and therefore has a poorer sales rank.
Product ratings are a key selling point for Amazon customers. The little yellow stars attract attention and don’t just affect the clickthrough rate. Well-rated items sell better than those with poor ratings or none at all.
The algorithm takes into account the number, timeliness, and average overall rating. A review becomes particularly valuable when other users consider it helpful and express it by clicking on the corresponding button below. Verified reviews are more credible and increase the conversion rate. That alone does not necessarily make them more valuable than verified reviews.
The best way to get more reviews on Amazon
Getting reviews for your products is difficult. Very few customers give reviews at all. And if so, it’s more because they’re dissatisfied. The more you sell, the greater the likelihood of receiving voluntary reviews. But without ratings, not a good ranking. A vicious circle.
The fact is: Purchased reviews are prohibited and will be deleted by Amazon sooner or later. This also applies if the product is made available free of charge through a discount code or a later refund.
The best way to get good product ratings that are sustainable for ranking is to meet or exceed customer expectations. If this succeeds, many customers are quite willing to give a positive rating.
For example, a small flyer can be placed in the package, which expresses thanks for the order and asks for an evaluation. That is allowed and successful. Especially when a small reward like a gift or a discount for the next order beckons.
While product ratings only refer to the goods themselves, retailer ratings are about the seller’s performance. Were the goods packaged well? Was it shipped quickly? Did the communication run smoothly? All of this is relevant for dealer evaluation. Products can also be rated without a previous purchase from Amazon. Dealer not. Incidentally, the dealer rating is also included in the decision about the buy box.
One hundred million customers worldwide are Prime members. Amazon Prime guarantees fast and free shipping, regardless of when and how much is ordered. The small prime icon is also a booster for the conversion. You don’t necessarily have to use FBA to be able to offer Prime products. FBM sellers are also included in the Prime program if they have a good performance.
In the eyes of Amazon, a return is almost the worst-case scenario. Not only does it incur high direct costs. The indirect costs that arise from the fact that the customer is dissatisfied and disappointed are much more dangerous. Every return increases the return rate and lowers the ranking. To prevent this, it can sometimes be even better to refund the goods to the customer without returning them.
5. The battle for the Amazon Buy Box
Amazon SEO not only aims to improve the ranking of products but also to win the Amazon Buy Box. This is the small box on the top right on the detail page, through which 82 percent of all orders are placed with Amazon. And that’s exactly what makes the Buy Box so lucrative. Because the field with the large “Add to Cart” and “Buy Now” button can only be conquered by one seller.
In particular, sellers who do not offer their products on Amazon, but are resellers, have to deal with the buy box. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is logically offered by various retailers. Because only one listing can be created on Amazon per product, or more precisely per EAN (barcode), all these retailers compete for the buy box.
“The people who are looking at Amazon want to buy at the moment. Unlike Google, they might just want to buy there, or maybe just want to find out more!
The one who creates a product on Amazon for the first time has the only influence on the information fields and thus determines the product listing. All subsequent dealers must cling to this seller. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the price alone that determines whether a trader makes it into the buy box.
Again, the seller’s performance is taken into account by the algorithm. Because Amazon does not want to offer its customers the best price, but the best shopping experience. We remember: Amazon’s goal is to satisfy customers as best as possible. What use is it if a product is particularly cheap, but delivery takes half an eternity. Most customers are willing to pay a little more if the goods are faster with them.
These four criteria have the greatest impact on whether a dealer comes into the buy box:
- Availability – The basic requirement is the availability of a product. If the dealer no longer has inventory, it makes no sense to place it in the buy box.
- Amazon FBA – Retailers who use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) instruct Amazon to ship their goods. You have a higher chance of getting the buy box because Amazon no longer has to rely on the retailer to deliver as quickly as possible, but has the delivery time in their own hands.
- Amazon Prime – If you ship your goods yourself but are a member of the Prime program, you will also be preferred because you have already established yourself as a particularly qualified seller with excellent performance. Prime without FBA makes sense, for example, when a retailer sells particularly large and heavy products for which Amazon charges handling surcharges, which may make your logistics less expensive.
- Final price – Finally, of course, the price with a high weighting also flows into the buy box decision. The lower the price, including shipping costs, the more likely it will move into the box. However, since it is not the only factor, a good seller performance can achieve higher prices, with which you still end up in the lucrative buy box. Conversely, low performers can almost only win the fight via the price. And this price war is almost impossible in some product areas, considering that Amazon collects up to 20 percent commission depending on the category. The purchase price has to be damn good to have a margin at all. And if there is ultimately nothing left of the sales price, the buy box is of little use.
How much influence the shipping time has on the allocation of the Amazon Buy Box depends on the product. There are time-critical products where the delivery time is more important than others. This includes, for example, perishable food, but also birthday cards, which are usually supposed to be given away.
6. Support from Amazon Tools
Like Google SEO, Amazon SEO does not work according to a standard process for which there is a silver bullet. Instead, not only a large number of ranking factors have to be taken into account, but also their interaction. Amazon Tools help with this.
One of the best-known tools is Analyze, which supports retailers, for example, with keyword research, keyword tracking, and holistic optimization. The tool can also be used to research and analyze lucrative products.
Last but not least, how well optimization has to be done on the competition. Good tools, therefore, offer an extensive competitive analysis that, in addition to keywords and rankings, also provides sales figures for competitors.
7. Selling through Amazon – Pros and Cons of Amazon FBA
Seven advantages of Amazon FBA
- Free shipping for Prime customers, resulting in a higher conversion
- Saving employees, customer service and, above all, time
- As an FBA dealer, you can work anywhere, because you don’t have to set up logistics.
- Amazon takes care of the packaging. It doesn’t matter what type of product you offer. For example, also for articles with a high risk of breakage. If something breaks, Amazon pays a large part of the costs.
- Extremely fast delivery thanks to Amazon Prime integration
- Amazon pays out the earnings weekly.
- Amazon’s reputation will spur your business
7 disadvantages of Amazon FBA
- Attention: Amazon gets a lot of data at hand, and the chance that Amazon sells the product itself increases extremely.
- Customer data remains with Amazon. It is not possible to set up a customer email list via Amazon.
- Massive competition in the same shop. Amazon is the largest department store in the world, and competition is huge in many industries.
- Returns are an important ranking factor. If you are not part of FBA, the return label must be ordered from the dealer.
- Your products are automatically offered on delivery. This increases the probability of being returned.
- You always sell under the Amazon branding. This makes it difficult to build customer relationships.
- Financial backing is required because the goods have to be ordered in large quantities.
Conclusion on FBA
FBA (or Fulfillment by Amazon) offers an extremely straightforward web to build your own online business. It offers the optimal logistics solution and helps in many other areas that would otherwise have to be laboriously built up.
If your product is easily reproducible and blessed with strong margins, you may want to distance yourself from FBA because the likelihood of competition from Amazon increases sharply.
8. Checklist: The most important points for Amazon SEO
Direct ranking factors:
- Precise title with the most important keywords and product features (max. 200 characters)
- Unique selling points and product features in the bullet points (max. 200 characters each)
- Make full use of “General Keywords” in Amazon Seller Central (max. 249 bytes)
- A structured, unique product description that ensures Google listing (max. 2,000 characters)
- 4 – 6 meaningful, isolated product images from different perspectives (at least 1,000 x 1,000 pixels)
Indirect ranking factors:
- Generate a high click rate through good titles and good pictures
- Increase dwell time through emotionalizing bullet points and product description
- Complete the customer journey with sales to increase the conversion rate
- Attractive sales price, ideally just below the competition
- Ensure availability at all times
- Low or no delivery costs
- Answer customer inquiries within 24 hours, including weekends
- Increase sales rank
- Generate product and dealer ratings
- Strive to be included in the Prime program
- Ensure a low return rate