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
Relevancy + Conversion = High Rankings
There are two critical factors for ranking on Amazon: conversions and relevancy. This first factor demands that your ranking is actually deemed ‘relevant’ to Amazon. If you’re selling slow cookers on Amazon, Amazon first needs to determine that your item is a relevant product for that search term. If you’re not relevant then you can’t rank.
The second factor is obviously ranking well for that item. Once your item is deemed relevant, the big key to ranking well is essentially creating a high converting listing. All other things equal, a higher converting listing for a particular keyword will more often than not rank better than a lower converting listing.
This last paragraph is supported through leaked internal Amazon ranking reports. We can see from these reports Amazon is explicitly tracking for each keyword what percentage of the time a customer clicks that listing, went on to Add the Item to Cart and what percentage actually purchased the item.
By understanding the differences between relevancy and conversion rates, the question becomes two-fold:
- How can our listings be considered relevant by Amazon for a particular keyword?
- How do we make our listings higher converting?
Making Relevant Listings and “The Hall Pass”
Amazon, through the Advertising API (which is a treasure trove of useful information) actually defines relevancy in black and white English:
How items are ranked
Items [are] ranked according to the following criteria: how often the keyword appears in the description, where the keyword appears (the ranking is higher when keywords are found in titles and—if there are multiple keywords—how closely they occur in descriptions), and how often customers purchased the products they found using the keyword.
Amazon is telling us, unambiguously, that keywords in the title matter most and in the description keyword density (not just presence) is also important.
But let’s not kid ourselves about relevancy. This last part in the relevancy definition about “how often customers purchased the product” is THE MOST important thing.
The single biggest thing you can do to make your listings deemed relevant for a particular keyword(s) is to somehow have a lot of people purchasing your item after searching for a particular keyword. We can see from the leaked search report above that 15.03% of the time when a customer searches for Tactical Flashlight they click the PeakPlus listing. 5% of the time when they search for tactical flashlight they go on to purchase the item (an almost identical amount simply add the item to their cart – i.e. the cart abandonment rate for this listing is very low).
But if you have a new listing, there is no conversion data behind your item. So how can Amazon ever rank a new product? There is strong evidence to suggest that when an item is first listed on Amazon, they grant it a bit of a hall pass (some people also refer to this as the 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 hall pass period lasts about a month.
With your new listing’s hall pass, it is very easy to rank your item for certain keywords. Simply use your favorite SEO tactics circa 2002 and keyword stuff your titles, bullet points, descriptions, and backend keyword data like crazy. The general consensus is that in terms of keyword weighting it looks something like this: Title>Bullet Points>Description>Backend Keywords. It’s important to take advantage of this hall-pass though and make sure your item is actually converting for these keywords. Unless your item starts SELLING after customers search for these keywords you’ll lose your rankings.
This free hall pass you get is also why it’s very important to launch your products with an immediate bang. Do not simply create MVP (minimal viable product) listings, i.e. with bad photography, poor bullet points, etc. Do not launch your product until the listing is perfect. Also, utilize Amazon’s Start Selling Date (an option when adding a product) that will start your hall pass from that date.
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 buddy Traian Turco’s Volumetrics. (Update January 2019: The Amazon Advertising API backdoor is now closed and real keyword volume is no longer available)
Aside from the hall pass 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. Most smart retailers know that lower costs is a sustainable competitive advantage but lower prices is not so simply being cheaper normally isn’t a wise long term play. However, in the beginning, pricing your item 20% or so cheaper than average to get some conversion data during the hall pass period is probably a wise play, even if it means selling items at break-even or worse.
Price is difficult to
manipulate control. Reviews, on the other hand, are much easier to manipulate control. 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.
To see the conversion rate of your items overall from within Seller Central go to Reports->Business Reports->Detail Page Sales and Traffic and look at Unit Session Percentage. Unfortunately, this is probably of little use as Amazon appears to care more about your conversion rate per specific keyword than your conversion rate overall. Unfortunately, aside from purchasing an employee leaked ASIN report for your product, there’s no way to see your conversion rate per keyword.
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.
This isn’t to say that you should not use Enhanced Brand Content. You should. After all, it’s free. Just do not expect massive conversion rate changes after implementing EBC.
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.
You should include keywords in your title insomuch that they communicate to the searcher what your item is about and are likely to induce them to click through (and buy) your product.
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 they likely are 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’.
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.