Advanced Amazon SEO Strategies & Tactics for 2021 [Amazon A9 Alrogithm]February 15, 2020 in Amazon, Blog
Alright. You’re an Amazon seller and you understand the basics of how SEO for Amazon works.
You know that Amazon ultimately cares about sales and therefore rewards conversion rates. You can even name drop A9 as Googlers used to drop a reference to Matt. But how do you really rank your products, especially amongst high-volume sophisticated sellers?
In this article, I’m going to share with you a bunch of advanced SEO tactics for Amazon. Strategies even the “courses” won’t teach you.
Related Listening: Podcast Episode 189 – Advanced Amazon A9 SEO Strategies
- Search Find Buy is Most of the Amazon SEO Equation<
- How to Increase Click-Through-Rate & Conversion-Rate on Amazon
- The “Honeymoon Period”
- Creating High Converting Listings = Price + Reviews
- Write Product Titles for Readability and Click-Throughs – Not for Keywords
- The Importance of Sales Velocity
- What Does It Mean to Rank on Page 1?
Search Find Buy is Most of the Amazon SEO Equation
Amazon’s algorithm for ranking products is actually very easy and far easier than Google’s.
How does Amazon rank your product? The more people that buy your product after searching for a particular search phrase, the more highly you will rank.
So basically, if you want to rank #1 for the search phrase fishing rod you need your item to be the number one most purchased item after someone searches for fishing rod on Amazon.
Ex-Amazon employees have even stolen internal search reports from Amazon to show how Amazon tracks each and every search query along with the probability a customer purchases a particular product after performing that search.
It’s that simple. Advanced sellers know this trick so well that they’ve even given it a cool acronym – Search Find Buy or SFB. And being such a critical ranking factor, many sellers take advantage of this.
Search Find Buy is So Powerful in Manipulating the Algorithm that Amazon Forbids it Completely
Search Find Buy is so powerful in ranking a product that Amazon forbids it completely. In 2021 they made an announcement that said: “It is a violation of the Amazon Seller Code of Conduct to manipulate search rank through ‘search-find-buy’, ‘treasure hunts’ and other misleading behavior”.
How do people manipulate with Search Find Buy? Here’s how: A seller asks a customer to search for a particular search phrase and find their listing (normally giving them a picture of the item to look for) and in return the seller gives the customer a big discount (often 90% to 100%) via PayPal or other means afterwards.
You shouldn’t do the above to manipulate the algorithm. However, now you understand how the algorithm works and we can use it to rank our items fairly and legally.
How to Increase Click-Through-Rate & Conversion-Rate on Amazon
So we know, unequivocally, that we need people to buy OUR item after searching for a targeted search phrase in order to rank for it.
So we need to do two things:
- Increase the probability that people click our item in search results (if they don’t click through to our listing they can’t buy it)
- Increase the probability that people buy our item once on our Product Detail Page.
How to Increase Your Click-Through-Rate on Amazon
When someone finds your item on a search results page you need to make sure they click YOUR item and not your competitor’s item. Easy peezy.
There’s only a few things that show up on a search results page and can therefore influence your click-through-rate:
- Brand name
- Main Gallery Image
- Prime Eligible & Delivery Times
- Badges & Coupons
I’m going to ignore Brand Name all together as whether or not you have a strong brand goes beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say, if you’re Nike, you’re probably going to have a naturally better CTR than DaveBryant running shoes. However, I’ll give you some really actionable things to increase the likelihood people click through to your listing for the other things:
- Item Price: This is, unfortunately, the most important thing impacting Click-Through-Rate. Our research shows the top three items are, on average, 20% cheaper than other listings. You need to be competitive on price.
- Item Title. Write these for readability, ideally 100 to 120 characters. Our research shows that the top three ranked items have an average title length of 106 characters, significantly shorter than lower ranked items. Helium10 and other tools suggest 150 characters or more. We disagree. Keyword-stuff during the Honeymoon period (see below) but focus on readable titles after.
- Prime Eligible & Delivery Times: You need to be FBA (duh). However, FBA delivery times can vary depending on location. Test your product’s delivery time from various zip codes. If there’s discrepancies, your inventory may not be adequately distributed across FCs within the country. Ship well in advance to allow intra-FC transfers and don’t manipulate ship-to locations (yes, it’s possible to).
- Main Gallery Image: If you’re a me-too product, make your item look different. Bundle your item with other items and show these accessories. Show your item from different angles. Heavily photoshop your item to make it look WOW. Make sure every item has dropshadows. Push the boundaries with what’s ‘allowed’ by Amazon (i.e. text, badges, etc.) but make sure your item doesn’t get supressed.
- Reviews: These are the second most important purchase decision after price (according to this Amazon consumer behavior report). You ideally need to be 4.5 stars or above and at least 4 stars. If you’re below 4 stars you need to relaunch. Triple digit ratings (100+) give you the most impact (above this and it doesn’t make a measurable difference).
- Badges and Coupons: Badges make your item stand out. Use coupons instead of ‘percentage off promotions” as these are the only promotional item that gets a badge on search result pages. Read this entire article and get that Best Seller badge!
How to Increase Conversion Rate on Amazon
Once you’ve optimized your product for click-through-rates, you can optimize for Conversion Rate.
Your conversion rate is going to be dependent on many of the same factors that Click-Through-Rate is dependent on such as price, reviews, and Prime-eligibility. There’s a few other factors that will now come into play though:
- More images.
- Full-text customer reviews.
- Questions and answers.
Let’s take a look at these things.
Once on your product detail page, images will determine your conversion rate more than almost any other thing. People rarely read your bullet points, they almost never thumb down to your product description, and even EBC is normally not looked at. However, they will look at most or all of your product images.
For your images, there are two important parts: the photographs of your product and the graphics design done to those photographs.
Your photographs need to be excellent. Get them done in a studio like ProductPhoto.com. Once you have amazing product photography you need to apply some graphics design to them.
For our brands, we have six types of images we include with other product, which are (links open to a new article):
- Product Specification Image
- Lifestyle Photo
- Lifestyle Image Hack
- Product with the Packaging
- Before and After Photo
In addition to your product images you also have one spot for a product video. Product video makes a small but measurable difference in your conversion rate. To compete in a competitive category you need to include a product video. Even if you are not a professional videographer, it is possible to create a reasonable product video from a montage of your product images using a tool such as animoto.com.
Full-text Customer Reviews
In addition to the overall product rating that follows your product from search results pages and product detail pages, customers can now view the full-text of the customer reviews. And customers do read these. If you have an especially negative 1 or 2 star review showing up at the front of your reviews it can be very problematic. If you sell multiple variations of the product, consider separating that variation with the negative review on its own and/or discontinuing that variation. If it’s a standalone product, it can be trickier without discontinuing the entire product and relaunching. Sometimes it’s necessary though.
Customer Questions & Answers
Customers also will view customer questions and answers, especially for a technical product like an auto part. Be active and respond to your customer questions and comments. If your product is new and you already know the most common questions, i.e. “does this fit a 2019 Ford F150?” some sellers will plant these questions themselves from a friend’s Amazon account (as far as I know, there’s nothing against TOS for planting ‘fake’ customer questions).
The “Honeymoon Period” on Amazon
There is strong evidence to suggest that when an item is first listed on Amazon, they grant it a bit of a honeymoon period. When a listing is first created, Amazon will analyze your listing for keywords and other data to try and guess whether people will buy your item or not. Once that period passes, it will rely more heavily on conversion data primarily to rank that item. Most people agree this honeymoon period lasts about 30 days.
During the first 30 days of your product listing creation, keyword stuffing your titles/bullet points/descriptions will help your ranking. However, after 30 days Amazon relies more and more upon sales data and consumer search behavior. What happens if after the honeymoon period you don’t have many sales? Your search rankings will tank and it will be difficult to recover.
The Importance of Product Categories
In the past, many sellers would deliberately select incorrect product categories that are less competitive to improve their category sales rank. This is no longer effective and can actually harm your SEO big time.
Previously you could have many product categories for an item. However, Browse Nodes (product categories) are now assigned based on item_type_keyword and you can only have one item type keyword per product. This significantly matters because certain product categories you can not rank specific keywords for. For example, if you sell a garlic press with a carrying bag in the category Garlic Peelers, you rank all day long for garlic presses and peelers but you will never rank for “carrying bag”.
I’ve run into this issue multiple times in the past several months. In one case I was selling a type of tent. I had it in the wrong category and literally, overnight I went from selling $300 worth of this product per month to over $6000 per month. If you cannot seem to rank for a particular keyword (especially a fairly low competition keyword), one of the first places to look to change is your product category.
Keyword Research for Amazon
Amazon has given us all an enormous gift by allowing us to see the exact monthly keyword volume thanks to a bit of a backdoor in its advertising API. There’s a number of tools out there that will do this for you but my favorite is Helium 10’s Magnet 2 keyword research tool.
Aside from the honeymoon period, optimizing for keywords has limited value after you’ve developed and launched a product. Amazon doesn’t care if you SEO your garlic press listing to death for the keyword stainless steel garlic press – if no one is buying based on that search term, they’re not going to rank you well in the long run.
It’s my big belief that the most effective use of keyword research should be done before you start developing products. Doing keyword research at this point gives you an opportunity to develop ‘long tail keyword products’. For example, you can see from the keyword research above that stainless steel garlic press could be a profitable product to source that has a fair amount of keyword volume behind it.
Creating High Converting Listings = Price + Reviews
So now that you understand how creating a relevant listing works, the more exciting question is: how do you create high converting listings?
Thankfully, the science behind creating high converting listings is super easy. Price + Reviews = High Conversion. One of the great things about playing in Amazon’s sandbox instead of our own website is we don’t need to worry about things like trust signals, user-friendly checkout pages, etc. Amazon does all of this for us.
From EcomCrew’s own research, we know that the top three listings on Amazon are normally 20% cheaper than average. All other things equal, most people prefer a less expensive widget.
When I’m first doing product research, I like to see what the average price of my competitor’s items are for a particular keyword. To do this, I use Excel and the SEO Tools app.
Reviews are the other important factor for your conversion rate. I’m not going to discuss how to get reviews on Amazon in a white hat way as we cover it extensively in another article. Of course, manipulating reviews is a really bad idea (and it is one of the ways to get PERMANENTLY banned from selling on Amazon) but it’s important to understand that having some positive reviews is a critical factor in your item converting well.
We know that from Amazon consumer research reports, the most important factors affecting someone’s likelihood to purchase are (in this order): price, Prime availability, and reviews. Without some reviews, it’s very difficult to get someone to click the Buy button.
Want to see your item’s overall conversion rate? From within Seller Central go to Reports->Business Reports->Detail Page Sales and Traffic and look at Unit Session Percentage. There is currently no way within Seller Central to see your conversion rate on an individual search term level.
What type of conversion rate should you be aiming for? In our experience at EcomCrew, if you’re selling an item below $70 in price, typically if you’re below a 10% conversion rate this is poor, 10-20% is average but there’s room for improvement, and above 20% is very good.
The Impact of Price on Conversion Rate
We give a general rule of thumb to aim for a 10-20% conversion rate, but this number is highly dependent on the selling price of your item.
We looked at the conversion rates of over 180 products across multiple brands and discovered, unsurprisingly, that conversion rates go down the more expensive an item is. In fact, not a single product priced over $70 had a conversion rate higher than 8%.
If you sell an item priced higher than $70, a 3-5% conversion rate is average and higher than 5% is very good.
Photos & Videos: The NEXT Most Important Conversion Factor
Price and reviews are kings when it comes to conversions, but Photos/Videos are queens. Photos and videos are also one of the most easily controllable elements of a high converting listing and also one of the elements sellers screw up the most. There are four types of photography that you need in your Amazon listing at a minimum:
- Product photo(s), white background
- Lifestyle photograph
- Product specifications picture
We have an article that goes into a lot more detail on how to create excellent product photography. The most amateur conversion mistake made by sellers is to use bullet points and product descriptions to illustrate key points of their product instead of text in photos. See the photograph below as an excellent example of text used effectively in a photography.
Video is also an extremely powerful conversion and is now available to all those who are Brand Registered. Unfortunately, if you are not Brand Registered (and as of this writing that requires having a registered trademark) you cannot use videos in your listings.
Enhanced Brand Content
Amazon claims that the use of Enhanced Brand Content can increase conversions by 10%. On the surface, it would seem that having some creative additional design elements on your listings would help conversions immensely. In my A/B testing of listings before and after Enhanced Brand Content there was no significant difference in conversions before and after implementing EBC. I’ve had similar results with multiple brands over multiple years. How do you explain these results? Likely simply because people do not often scroll below the fold.
Why You Should Write Product Titles for Readability and Click-Throughs—Not for Keywords
Look at any competitive product category on Amazon and you will see products that have keyword stuffed titles. Given the debatable value of keyword optimization on Amazon, I am a firm believer that product titles should be written to be readable and encourage click-throughs and product titles should NOT be written for keyword ranking purposes. This supports our research as well that found that the top ranked items on Amazon tend to have shorter titles than lower ranked items.
The Importance of Sales Velocity
This graph demonstrates what happens when you run out of stock on Amazon – your sales velocity essentially starts back from 0.
At this juncture, it’s important to mention a third important factor for rankings: sales velocity. Sales velocity is a bit like a black hole: we can tell it’s there and most definitely know it impacts rankings but we don’t quite know how it influences them. There seems to be an overall consensus though that the more of an upward trend the trajectory of your sales is the higher and quicker you’ll gain in the rankings. This is why when you run out of stock of a product, it can sometimes take a long time to regain your sales volume as your velocity is essentially starting back from 0.
When launching a product, in our experience, it’s most effective to have a steady stream of sales over 30 days opposed to one massive swing on 1 or 2 days. This applies mostly when you’re sending a controllable source of external traffic to a listing such as through an email list (we’ll cover external traffic below). So if you’re sending an email blast to your email list about a new product launch, it’s best to break this up into at least 4 segments over a month opposed to one massive blast.
Sending External Traffic to Your Listings
We also know from leaked internal reports that Amazon is absolutely tracking the source of referral traffic to listings and whether it comes from on Amazon or off of Amazon. There could be any number of reasons why Amazon is doing this but one can infer that Amazon is likely placing some weight and reward on listings that deliver outside sales to Amazon. From a sales velocity perspective, it makes sense as well: Amazon will only allow you to go from 0 to 60 MPH so fast. But with outside traffic, you can go to 60MPH as fast as you want.
In fact, in today’s Amazon world, in my experience, it can be very difficult to have a high ranking item organically on Amazon if you are not sending outside traffic to it. It’s a sad reality that Amazon has now persuaded sellers to pay for advertising to build their customer base.
Some of the most effective ways to send traffic to Amazon are:
- From an internal email list
- From a Facebook Ads campaign to a squeeze page to Amazon (it’s forbidden to send traffic directly from Facebook to an Amazon page)
- From your website product detail page
Sending outside traffic to Amazon listings is an article all in its own and I recommend you check out our Amazon Launch Strategy for more information on this.
Regardless of how you send external traffic to Amazon, there is one major problem with it: it doesn’t help your keyword conversion metrics because there’s no keyword search on Amazon that is resulting in that (potential) sale.
Now, some black hat sellers use Super URLs which basically make Amazon think a keyword search did send the user there. Using these URLs to manipulate Amazon is against TOS and is a very bannable offense. Amazon is getting pretty sophisticated in sniffing out these URLs though time stamps and other clever strategies despite many services claiming to have a completely ‘undetectable URL structure’.
Amazon URL Structuring and External Traffic
When you search for an item on Amazon and click through to a listing, Amazon will store that keyword search in the URL along with some other information. Try it for yourself.
Along with the keyword data, Amazon is including a timestamp (qid) that tells Amazon when the search occured. If you send all of your external traffic to the link above, it will tell Amazon that all of these searches occurred at exactly the same time of day and it will ignore all of these additional ‘searches’.
To get around this, some sellers use one of three things:
- A Super-URL: Using another app, the app will redirect the URL to a unique URL with a unique timestamp.
- A 2-Step URL: You send users to a particular page, such as a store-front page, and require them to manually click through to the listing.
- Search, Locate and Purchase: You require the user to physically search for a keyword and find your product.
Generally speaking, a Super-URL is the most detectable and requiring a customer to search, locate, and purchase is the least detectable.
The Discounted and Free Product Dilemma
One of the most effective ways to drive external traffic to your listings is through couponing and promotions. As many know, Amazon allows you to offer coupons and promotions from within Seller Central.
There’s an old saying that the quickest way to make a million dollars in revenue is to sell $20 bills for $1 each. A similar axiom is true with Amazon: the quickest way to sell a lot of products is to give them away for free or heavily discounted.
Giving away products explicitly in return for product reviews used to be a credible product launch strategy but Amazon banned incentivized reviews in 2016. However, giving free/discounted products is still a totally acceptable strategy as long as it’s not contingent on the customer leaving a product review. There’s a lot of resurrected giveaway services such as Viral Launch providing these services. This accomplishes two things: it gets you sales for your products (increasing your sales velocity) AND more sales mean more opportunity for product reviews.
There are two problems with discounted and free products though. The first problem is that products purchased at a 25-50% discount typically do not get a ‘verified’ product review badge. The importance of this badge can be debated but unverified reviews do seem to have a propensity to be deleted during Amazon review purges.
The second problem is with free/discounted products is that normally you’re sending customers there through external traffic which means you are not getting any keyword conversion credit. There’s also some suspicion that discounted purchases do not get as much credit as full price purchases but so far there’s nothing definitive to support this.
What Does It Mean to Rank on Page 1?
We all know that having a product ranking on page 1 is critical and hopefully after reading this article you have a better chance of getting your products to page 1. However, how many products are displayed on page 1 varies depending on a number of variables including category, keyword, and device.
Typically, the number of items displayed on page 1 varies from 24 to 54 items. This means that having an item ranking #25 for a keyword can sometimes be OK while sometimes it’s terrible. This is one drawback to most keyword position tracking tools: they normally track position, not the page position. It’s worth performing keyword searches manually for your top keywords, ideally on different devices, to see what the search results for your search terms look like.
It would be nice to think that Amazon is so sophisticated as to always rank the best products the best. The truth of it is, Amazon’s search algorithm is still developing and tricks and black hat tactics often still have a positive impact on search rankings. Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into how to rank your items using some of these lesser-known tactics.
What is your experience keyword ranking on Amazon? Are there any tactics I overlooked or simply got wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He’s also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.