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Part 3: How to Optimize Your Amazon Listings and Launch a Product

This is part of a 3 part series:

In Part 1 of this series I discussed how to setup your Amazon account and in Part 2, I discussed how the Amazon Search Algorithm works.  In this part, I am finally going to discuss how to Optimize your listings to rank better on Amazon and in turn sell more products.

Recapping Amazon’s Algorithm

Just to recap what we discussed in Part 2 of this series, Amazon’s search algorithm rewards those products that result in the most purchases for a particular search query. In many ways, this makes it difficult to “game” the system. It will be next to impossible to have your garlic press rank high for the the search term “mountain bike”. Why? Because very few people searching for mountain bikes are going to suddenly be persuaded to buy a garlic press.

Essentially your goal is to convince the searcher that your product is right for them.

amazon listing optimization infographic

First Things First: Make Sure You’re Using FBA and Winning the Buy Box

There’s two easy things you need to do to optimize your listings which are going to be as effective as all of the other things listed in this article combined: make sure your product is fulfilled by Amazon and that you’re winning the Buy Box. As I mentioned in the previous two parts, don’t assume you’re winning the Buy Box just because you’re the only seller for a product.  It’s possible to lose the Buy Box (normally temporarily) even if you’re the only seller for a product. This typically happens if your Performance Metrics are suffering, you’re a new seller, or you’ve increased/decreased your prices more than 25% within 30 days.

Product Reviews and How to Get Your Initial 1-2 Reviews

After pricing, and in a close tie with being Prime eligible, reviews are probably the most important thing you can do to increase the conversion rates of your products (and in turn your search rankings).

Amazon prior to October 3, 2016 had a dirty little secret: many (very many) reviews were “incentivized reviews”. Sellers were essentially giving their products away in Review Clubs in return for positive reviews. Amazon finally changed this policy on October 3 and removed incentivized reviews. Amazon also forbids requesting positive reviews after a purchase in even the most subtle ways.

You don’t need dozens of reviews. You just need to get 1 or 2 initial reviews.

So how do you get these first couple of  positive reviews? There’s a few things you can do.

Price Your Products 10-25% Lower Than the Competition in the Beginning

Pricing is the most important thing you  can do to affect your sales. And the more sales you have, the more likely you are to get reviews. During your product launch, you should price your product significantly lower than the top 5 competitors, ideally 10-25% lower.

Two things will happen: 1) you’ll get more sales and in turn more reviews, 2) people will think they are getting great value due to the lower price and be more inclined to leave a positive review.

You may be pricing your products to the point that you’re unprofitable, but you need to do this initially. It’s the cost of launching a product. Once you get your first 1 or 2 reviews, you can increase the price of your product back to your target. Be careful raising your price though: often raising your price by 25% or more will result in you losing the Buy Box for 30 days. Play with the pricing to make sure you don’t lose the Buy Box.

Launch to an Existing List/Group (Ideally at a Lower Price)

If you have an existing email list, Facebook Group, or other list/group, announce your product launch to this group and also mention something along the lines of “For a limited time XYZ Product is 25% off (no coupon needed)”.  My company did this to a lot of success. The chances are good that people who are in your list/group are going to be people who like you and your products and will be more inclined to leave a review.

Of course, most of you probably don’t have a list or group you can announce your product to (start building your email list NOW!). If this is the case, you can employ the slightly grey hat method of announcing the product to your friends/family. There’s nothing in Amazon’s TOS that forbids people who know you from buying your products and there’s nothing forbidding them from leaving reviews. However, you can’t incentivize them to leave a review, i.e. by giving them $20 cash to buy your $19.99 garlic press (I know none of you would ever do that even though the chances of Amazon ever knowing this are next to nil). Keep in mind, Amazon is very good at uncovering connections between people. If your friend has ever shipped something to the same address as you, Amazon will likely know and make the review ‘unverified’. If Amazon sees a ‘tit for tat’ system going on, i.e. you review someone else’s product and they review yours, they’ll likely also notice this. And finally, if you’ve ever logged into the same Wireless Network as your friend, there’s been reports of Amazon noticing this as well. So if you do have friends review your products, make sure ties between you and your friends is as faint as possible.

You can also announce your product in a related forum/message board or Facebook group letting them know that you’re launching a product at a reduced price in order to build some initial feedback. You could also offer to include a freebie with the person’s purchase if they message you their order number after purchase. You’re approaching border line grey hat techniques with the latter, but as long as the freebie is included with no requirement of a review to be left, it should be fine. This technique is quite effective if you’re selling a product in a very tight niche with communities built around it, i.e. fishing products.

ALWAYS Send Post Purchase Followup Emails

You should ALWAYS followup with customers after a purchase and ask them to leave a review.

There’s many services out there that will do this for free up until 100 emails or so with Feedback Genius being the most popular service. You should definitely sign up for this.

Amazon Vine

Part of Amazon’s hidden agenda with banning incentivized reviews was to promote their Vine program which is an Amazon sponsored program where a select group of reviewers review your product. The reviewers get the product for free and you have to pay Amazon a hefty fee, well above $1000 per product (I believe in many cases it’s closer to $2500+ but I need someone to verify this). I’ve never known any smaller merchants use the Vine program because of the high upfront costs of using it and the risk in potentially paying a lot of money for negative reviews (Vine reviewers can leave good or bad reviews). Vine reviewers do tend to leave much more elaborate reviews with pictures and sometimes videos, which can be extremely valuable. However, I think  for most sellers, there are a lot more frugal techniques you can use to get initial reviews.

Pricing

Pricing is an often overlooked optimization strategy. Your products need sales velocity in order to rank well. If you’re ranking well, you will get this velocity relatively naturally. In the beginning, without this initial traction, there’s one sure fire way to get sales velocity: undercut the competition.

  • Price your products 10-25% below your top competitors until you get 2 reviews and ideally into the top 10 for your target keywords
  • Aim to be the lowest priced product if possible in the short run

There are certain shoppers who will scroll to the second page of search results and beyond to find a good deal. You want to be that good deal and start to build that velocity. Amazon also appears to weigh pricing fairly highly in their search algorithm.

As you start to build velocity and improve in the search rankings, you can start to increase your prices.  In my experience, you typically need to price yourself low for 3-6 weeks to get sufficient velocity.

Writing Bullet Points

Bullet points are so easy yet so often screwed up by people. Amazon almost certainly looks more heavily at bullet points than your description text when determining the relevancy of your product to a search query. There’s several key things to keep in mind with your bullet points:

  • Use ALL five bullet points
  • List benefits rather than features and specifications
  • Use important keywords in your bullet points as long as it sounds natural

There’s one cardinal sin you can commit when creating your bullet points and that is not using all five bullet points. Use them all. Amazon weighs bullet points much more heavily than your description text so you must use all of your bullet points.

The second cardinal sin is being too techie in your bullet points and listing specifications/features instead of benefits. Take a look at the bullet points below for the two bikes.

bullet point examples

Take a look at the Kent Thruster bike. This is a perfect example of what you shouldn’t do. This bike uses an over-abundance of techie terms with no explanation which simply confuses buyers: MTB Frame, Suspension fork 65mm travel, disc brakes, Shimano 21 speed shifters with Rear Tourney Deraileur.  When you’re researching products on Alibaba and the like, you’re looking at all these techie specifications. That’s fine. You probably spent hours understanding materials, workmanship, part types, etc. Don’t be tempted to show off your knowledge in the bullet points. List specifications that the average person won’t understand in the description, not in the bullet points. If you do list complicated specifications in the bullet points then describe the benefits of them, i.e. “Shimano 21-speed Derailleurs and Shifters for reliable and easy shifting”.

You should also include important keywords in your bullet points. Amazon weighs the text in bullet points more heavily than description text. Also, if the keywords a customer is searching for appear in your bullet points, Amazon will list this bullet point in the search results page as Product Features (see below).

amazon bullet points product features

Other points to remember when writing your bullet points:

  • Use periods consistently. If bullet points are sentences, use periods; if they’re fragments (such as the bullet points above) don’t use periods. Write all of your bullet points as either fragments or complete sentences. Don’t go back and forth.
  • Keep your bullets symmetrical. Don’t go short, long, short, medium, really long. Make each bullet point relatively the same length.

Writing Titles

  • Pick 1 or 2 keyword phrases without keyword stuffing
  • Include 1-2 important specifications as long as they don’t confuse customers
  • Capitalize each word
  • Use numerals instead of spelling out numbers

Amazon gives you anywhere from 100 to 200 characters to use in titles. There’s a temptation to try and use all of these characters and keyword stuff. While it is important to use keywords in your titles, keyword stuffing can make your titles confusing and decrease your click through rate which will in turn decrease your search rankings. You’ll notice often the top results for search terms have only 50-75 characters in their titles. Pick 1 or 2 long tailed phrases that you’re targeting, i.e. Men’s Mountain Bike. Don’t try and target half a dozen long tailed keywords.

You should also include important specifications that users are either explicitly or implicitly searching for, such as (for the case of mountain bikes) 21-Speed, 29 Inch, etc. Don’t list specifications which will confuse the searcher such as Rear Tourney Derailleur.

Writing Descriptions

  • Use HTML in your descriptions
  • List every imaginable specification
  • Use keywords naturally but don’t keyword stuff

First off, you should use basic HTML in your product descriptions. Amazon used to explicitly forbid these in product descriptions but turned a blind eye to it. They no longer explicitly forbid it. Tags you can use include

  • <p> (paragraph)
  • <br> (break)
  • <b> (bold)
  • <i> (italics)
  • Bullet points, by simply copying this character and pasting it in your listing ->>

Here’s an example of a nicely formatted product description perfectly allowable with Amazon (notice the faux bullet points where they simply used a bullet point character and separated points with a <br> tag).

amazon bullet points in product description

As I mentioned for your bullet points, you should not list “techie” specifications in bullet points; save these for the description. List every imaginable specification you can here in the specifications. You should also have measurements of every imaginable part possible if measurements will ever matter. If a customer knows for sure that your mountain bike is going to fit in the trunk of their car because you listed the full width and height, they’re going to buy your bike over your competition that they don’t know for sure if it’ll fit. Spending a few minutes with a tape measure can significantly increase your sales.

I see people keyword stuffing at the bottom of the descriptions in their listing. After selling millions of dollars worth of products on Amazon, I have never seen such keyword stuffing have any impact on sales. Maybe it does have an impact, but in my opinion, it has very negligible impact, if any.

Amazon Sponsored Products

We keep talking about building sales and initial velocity in order for your products to rank well. Here’s another nearly guaranteed way to build velocity especially if you’re using one of the pricing strategies discussed above: use Amazon Sponsored Products (for those unfamiliar, Amazon Sponsored Products is basically Amazon’s PPC platform to pay to promote your products at the top of search results).

The two most common types of Amazon advertising: Sponsored Products and Headline Ads

The two most common types of Amazon advertising: Sponsored Products and Headline Ads

In fact, almost everyone should be using Amazon Sponsored Products unless you’re in a VERY competitive niche. But when launching a product, you should be even more aggressive in your bidding. I generally aim for a 5-10% ACoS for more Sponsored Products campaigns but when launching a product, I would be completely fine with a 50% ACoS until I get those initial 1-2 reviews. It also appears that Amazon does not discount sales resulting from Sponsored Products clicks.

To create a Sponsored Products campaign simply login to your Seller Central account and go to Advertising -> Campaign Manager.

Conclusion

Launching new products on Amazon is becoming increasingly harder as competition increases. But then, I remember people saying the exact same thing 3 years ago! 5 years from now, people will be reflecting on the good ole’ days of 2017 when selling on Amazon was so easy.

Simply by cleaning up your bullet points, product titles, and descriptions you can get a leg up on the competition. Add in a couple of positive product reviews and you’ll have a successful product launch on Amazon. A product launch can cost a couple of hundred dollars when you factor in the price discounting and Sponsored Product ads, but in the long run, it’s worth it.

Do you have any more tips for optimizing an Amazon listing and launching a product? Share below in the comments if you do.

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Mike
    March 2, 2017 at 12:45 am

    Hi David, I’m looking for a Chinese inspection and prep service to help with my product. Is there one that you would recommend?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 7, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      Asia Inspection definitely my preferred inspection service. You’re looking at about $300 for an inspection. In terms of prep what kind of prep do you need? Typically your Supplier would do this or you would have it done in North America.

  • Reply
    neeraj kumar
    March 7, 2017 at 6:43 am

    Thanks, David worth to read this wonderful article I always love your content.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 7, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    julia humber
    March 7, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Launching new products on Amazon To be harder every day

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 7, 2017 at 11:47 pm

      Yes, absolutely but still very do-able :)

  • Reply
    Hong
    April 19, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Hi David, I have been reading your posts for long. Recently I got an issue about one of my products. It is a Carrot-shaped dog chewing rope, and under the category of Pet Supplies-Dogs-Toys-Ropes. The product title contains keyword “Easter”, and it had a good ranking during the Easter holiday. But when I tried other keywords (rope, chewing toy, etc), it’s very difficult to find my product. It seemed that Amazon put this product into the “Easter category”. Did you have similar issues before?
    Thanks.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      April 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      The pet category is also one of the most competitive categories on Amazon so it may simply be the other competition is outranking you rather than Amazon supressing your results in the pets category because they think you’re an easter product. If they semantically think you’re an easter product, then I’d suggest rewording your description et al – you alluded to the most important part- the fact that you have the word easter in your title. I’d lose that in the title if you can.

  • Reply
    Wayne Ayre
    September 16, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Great blog content…
    In part two you mentioned for new sellers it would be good to add a new product with the lite excel spread sheet first and then update and optimize as a second step…. So would a lot of the optimization discussed in this part three be the added part in step two of the advanced excel product adding sheet?

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      September 23, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Hi,
      Yes, but the full spreadsheet has many fields not discussed here in part 3, and often it is category specific too.

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