Amazon Ranking Factors: how to boost your organic visibility in 2018
Today’s post is dedicated to all the SEO-heads out there. This article explains how you can effectively rank your products on Amazon search engine (A.K.A. A9) and why it matters for your business. Before getting into the core of today’s article, let me set the tone and explain what we mean when we talk about Amazon and SEO.
Introducing Amazon A9
A9 is the name of Amazon’s internal search engine. If you have ever searched for a product on Amazon, then you can consider yourself an A9 user. Cool, huh? Despite being practically unknown to the vast public, A9 is the most popular product search engine in the entire world. Believe it or not, it is even more popular than Google when it comes to transactional searches (i.e. searches expressing a clear buying intention).
Interesting fact: A9 spun-off from Amazon in 2003 and has operated as an independent company ever since (A9.com, Inc), with its own separate website and headquarters in Palo Alto.
Why you can no longer ignore Amazon
As said, Amazon A9 is today’s most popular product search engine. According to a survey recently conducted by Survata, in 2017, 1 consumer out of 2 googled, searched for a brand or a specific product on Amazon. Google, the closest competitor, follows at a formidable distance, with 35% of the product searches share. When almost 50% of your brand reputation and product visibility depends on Amazon, we believe it’s time to act proactively and to manage this marketplace so that it can be an opportunity for your company to grow and prosper.
Different platform, different SEO?
Amazon’s and Google’s search engines, despite being functionally similar from an end-user perspective, are profoundly different in the way they work. If you are familiar with Google SEO, then you probably already know that ranking factors can be divided into two main categories: on-page and off-page. The former category includes all those elements that, if properly optimized, can increase a page visibility on the Google index. Classic on-page factors are titles, sub-titles, meta tags and internal linking. Off-page elements instead are all those attributes, external to a website, on which Google relies to calculate a domain’s authority. To put it more straightforwardly, external, inbound links.
It should be evident that things are pretty different on Amazon. Here, Sellers and Vendors have only limited control over on-page elements (more on this later) and external factors are basically irrelevant on A9.
So, if both search engines are so different from each other, do we need to develop a completely new approach to Amazon SEO? The answer is yes…and no.
The relevance of having an SEO mindset
“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find
and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer
its customers the lowest possible prices.”
Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amazon Ranking Factors
SALES, SALES, SALES!
Bestseller products will systematically get more exposure than lower performing ones. In other words, the end, achieving more sales, is also the means for its achievement. Theoretically, this might look like a perverse logic limiting competition while fostering the emergence of small oligopolies. But in practice, this is not the case. In fact, there are many ways for new Vendors or Sellers to enter into mature markets and compete against the incumbents, regardless of how well-established they are.
Sales are important, no doubt. However, what each seller or vendor should care the most is the Conversion Rate of their products listings. An above average conversion rate is considered, by the A9 algorithm, as a signal of quality. Since Amazon’s mission is to be the place “where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online”, a better Conversion Rate will lead to more visibility and, eventually, drive more sales. For this reason, a proper optimization of Amazon listing pages should always balance SEO needs and persuasive copywriting.
The title is one of the most important elements on-page. A perfect product title is shorter than 200 characters (spaces included), contains only relevant keywords and is user-oriented (read: persuasive). Let’s see what this means in practice.
A persuasive and SEO effective title should clearly communicate the product generic name, the brand name and the product features to the user. Let’s suppose you are in the backpack niche and your brand, “Pragmatic”, is new and emerging. A good strategy would be to give high relevance to your brand by positioning it at the beginning of the title. Then the most relevant keyword should follow, “backpack” in this case. Then you can use the remaining characters to describe the main features and a list of relevant contexts. To give you an idea, here is how we would have optimized our listing title:
This is what we call an SEO-optimized and persuasive title. Notice how we have:
- Ordered keywords strategically from the most relevant to the least;
- Used a symbol, the hyphen, to create a visual flow and facilitate the customers in isolating the main features of the product;
- Capitalized each word except conjunctions (and, or, for) and articles (the, a, an);
- Spelled out all measurements (14 Inches, not 14′);
- Kept the title short and sweet (to prevent truncation at the end “…”)
- Avoided using symbols, such as ~ ! * $ ?
Now, go check your product listing and start by fixing those titles. Double check all your products before clicking publish, since listings with titles longer than 200 characters can be suppressed!
Two birds with one stone?
In some cases, Amazon uses the product title to construct the Description Meta Tag, which Google displays in its search result pages below the URL (the green highlighted area in the image above). However, this behavior is not uniform across Amazon and some categories have different rules for constructing the Description Meta Tag.
Each listing can display up to 5 bullet points. These are usually used to describe the main features of the product. From an SEO perspective, these elements must contain all the keywords potentially connected to your product, but not necessarily the most relevant ones (these should already be in the title).
Since bullet points are very prominent on the product page, make sure to use this space to communicate all the most relevant features of your product. A good strategy consists of using bullet points to anticipate all questions that your potential customers might have so that they don’t have to scroll down in order to find more info about your product. We usually suggest to our clients to study the product reviews and Q&A to understand their customers’ needs and concerns. You too should hunt for recurring questions and popular pain-points as expressed in the products reviews. These are the issues you need to anticipate with effective and SEO-optimized bullet points. Your ranking can only benefit if its helping customers make more informed purchase decisions.
As for the title, we suggest to pay attention to spacing (make sure that the text flows visually), capitalization (in general, uppercase words should be used strategically) and the length (each bullet point can have a maximum of 500 characters, however we suggest keeping them much shorter, ~120 characters each). Some categories have specific guidelines for bullet points, so make sure to check Amazon’s style guide before releasing any new product.
The Product Description is, unfortunately, one of the most overlooked elements on Amazon’s product pages. This is probably due to its collocation within the listing pages. Buried in the lowest part of the screen and surrounded by visual clutter, it is almost unnoticeable (unless you are taking advantage of A+ Pages. More on this in an upcoming post!).
Despite that, this element should also be carefully optimized. You should always keep your customers in mind and write SEO-friendly (which means, drop a few keywords) and conversion oriented descriptions. You have around 2,000 characters available, use them to describe features not already discussed in your title and bullet points. Referring to our backpack example, we could use the description to talk about the fabric, about secondary uses (for example, as a cabin luggage fitting the maximum size allowed on an IATA flight), and about the packaging size and weight.
Regardless of the content of the description, please avoid the wall-of-text effect. Do that by writing short sentences, splitting them into paragraphs and by using bullet points and visual clues to facilitate the scanning of information.
BACK-END SEARCH TERMS
For experienced SEOs coming from the Google-world, having a keywords field sounds so 2007. Despite that, Amazon still offers sellers the possibility to specify a list of keywords related to the product. These keywords are not visible on-page and are used only by the A9 algorithm to improve the results’ quality.
The keywords field are made up of 5 fields, which can contain up to 250 characters (in total), spaces excluded. The list of words should be spaced, and not comma, separated.
But what should be put into these fields? We suggest using it to indicate all secondary keywords not already mentioned in your title or bullet points. There is no advantage in duplicating keywords already targeted in other parts of the page. Instead, you should use these fields to expand the visibility of your product pages by indicating closely related, second-tier keywords. A good idea is to use this field to indicate common misspellings (if any).
You might be thinking that: “Since keywords are not visible, how about using them to target a competitor’s brand name?”. Nope, this is prohibited by Amazon ToS, as it might be interpreted as a deliberate act aimed at misleading consumers.
Reviews are for Amazon what inbound links are for Google. Not only because they are fundamental for getting visibility on Amazon, but also because there is an active black market for buying and selling positive reviews. Amazon tried to margin the proliferation of this practice in 2016, announcing that:
Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact. […] Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.
As for link building, a mature approach to Amazon should not seek shady shortcuts. That’s why you should develop strategies for systematically generating positive reviews. This might include following up to your customers with after-the-sale email asking for honest feedback (remember, asking expressly for positive reviews is prohibited by Amazon’s guidelines). Another idea is to take advantage of your social network audiences, and of your mailing list subscribers, asking those who have purchased one of your products to leave a review on Amazon. As for inbound links, the more the better!
Have you received some bad reviews? If your customers are not happy but you are confident in the quality of your products, then the issue might be in the way your customers are experiencing your products. It can be a good idea to create informative materials on how to use your products (available on your website/social media profiles) and that all the basic info is clearly stated on the product page.
Try to invest time in responding to Q&A. This will show the brand’s attention towards customer experience. In case of a very bad review (i.e. 1-star review), one strategy would be to answer the critique publicly. Do it at your own risk though, as in some cases it might solve the problem, but in others, it might make it even worse. Instead of opening Pandora’s box by replying to a negative review, you might prefer to issue a refund and definitely close the diatribe. This might impact your short-term profitability, but the effect can be overall positive in the long run.
- Be a professional photograph of the product being sold. Drawings or illustrations of the product are not allowed.
- Not contain gratuitous or confusing additional objects.
- Be in focus, professionally lit and photographed or scanned, with realistic color, and smooth edges.
- Not contain additional text, graphics, or inset images.
- Depict only the product, which must fill 85% or more of the image frame and must be in frame
- Have a pure white background (RGB 255,255,255).
- Not contain pornographic and offensive materials
Should we even mention this? Of course, a product that’s not in stock will not be immediately visible on Amazon. Have I not stressed enough that Amazon’s mission is to become the place “where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online”?. Quite a few times by now, at least. Be sure to maintain steady inventory levels, especially during peak season for products with high seasonality.
That’s all, for now!
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations! You are now ready to optimize your product listings and start getting some additional visibility. As you might imagine, A9 is constantly changing, so is the SEO practices listed above. If you want to keep up with the latest news concerning Amazon and A9, check out our Facebook and Twitter profiles, where we publish a curated collection of Amazon-related news every week.
Lastly, share your questions, thoughts or ideas in the comment box. We’d love to hear how you are planing to implement your Amazon SEO strategy. If you do not have one, then look no further! Our Amazon SEO service is ideal for Vendors and Sellers aiming to boost their visibility and sales.