Show of hands: who has an Amazon Prime account? Based on this survey, nearly a third of the entire U.S. population. And whether you love or hate what Amazon is doing on a personal level, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the world’s largest e-commerce platform, claiming roughly half of e-commerce market share in the U.S. And it’s not just shopping that people are doing on Amazon; they’re also discovering.
When they hit the web to do online shopping or price comparisons, more than two-thirds of shoppers now start their product search on Amazon. Even when people opt for search engines like Google instead, Amazon’s site authority is so high that their listings often appear at the top of the SERPS for product searches.
What we’re getting at is that visibility on Amazon is increasingly important. So much so that businesses are allocating ad spend towards the platform on the order of $4.61 billion in 2019.
But what about the organic side of Amazon visibility? What levers can we pull as SEOs that will help our products in front of more potential customers?
Let’s find out.
What is Amazon’s A9 Algorithm?
The machine that powers Amazon search is commonly known as the A9 algorithm, named after the company that built it. While the name “A9” sounds like a top-secret government agency, it’s really just Amazon’s own in-house search engine company. A9 was founded by Amazon in 2003 as an independent company and is now a subsidiary responsible for Amazon’s search, ad tech, and augmented reality products.
The original A9 algorithm was developed by well-known computer scientist Udi Manber and his team back in the early 2000s (2002-3) when Manber was Vice President and “Chief Algorithms Expert” at the company.
Today, there’s no single algorithm that’s officially called the “A9 Algorithm.” Rather, this is a blanket term for the numerous search products the company develops for the Amazon shopping platform.
Amazon’s A9 Algorithm vs. Google, Bing, and Other Search Engines
To better understand how the A9 algorithm works, it’s helpful to compare it to other search engines with which we’re a little more familiar: Google, Bing et al. Let’s start with the idea of search intent.
Amazon Search Intent
When doing a search on an engine like Google, there are several different types of possible intent: the intent to buy, the intent to know information, the intent to reach a certain website, the intent to find a physical location, and so on. Search engines, with their supermassive data sets and machine learning capabilities, are always improving at guessing what searchers want to accomplish.
Amazon doesn’t have to worry about intent. Why? Because people go on Amazon for one reason: to buy. You don’t go to Amazon when you want to find the nearest gas station, read about the Cold War, look up new recipes, or laugh at memes. You go to discover, compare, and ultimately buy products.
So one major difference between search engines like Google and the A9 algorithm is that the A9 algorithm is less sophisticated. It doesn’t have to figure out your search intent. It knows you want to buy and can focus on serving that need.
Amazon SEO vs Traditional SEO
As we’ll get into more as we go along, there are also tactics that work well on Amazon that are now passé in much of mainstream SEO, such as liberal use of keywords (without stuffing) and very sales-y product titles and copy.
The Importance of Backend Operations to Your Amazon SEO Strategy
There are endless ways to make money on the internet without having an inventory of some sort, but having an Amazon store isn’t one of them. In order to make money on Amazon, you need a store. Your store may be entirely digital, but you’re still delivering a product to customers.
With this in mind, it’s important to have the logistics of your store as buttoned-up as possible before thinking about any on-page optimization. This is important for a couple of reasons: you’ll sell more products and your customers will be happier. And because of that, you’ll have an opportunity to show up in more searches.
One quick look at the Amazon Seller Forums will clue you into how many offline logistical challenges face Amazon sellers. Business analytics, order management, packaging, shipping, returns, and customer service are just a few of the responsibilities of the Amazon Seller. Yet if you want to succeed, you’ll need to find a way to make sure that the product and experience you provide are well above average for both the customer and Amazon.
Because Amazon takes a cut of each sale, their goal is always to increase sales. That’s great because it means their goal aligns with yours. Where your goals start to misalign is when a competitor store offers customers the same products you do but with a better experience and/or price.
Amazon will be more likely to show the competitor store in search results ahead of yours because their sales velocity is higher. If those customers are happy with their product and leave lots of positive reviews, then they may begin to show up even more. This is why both gains and losses are often exponential when it comes to Amazon SEO.
Now that we’ve hammered home the importance of having a good offline infrastructure set up, let’s get back to what you probably came for: on-page Amazon SEO.
On Amazon, Keywords are King (kind of)
A worn-out saying in the world of digital marketing is “content is king.” And while content such as the product description and bullet points are critical for Amazon SEO, the keywords themselves play an outsized role in a product’s searchability compared to traditional SEO.
Keywords help the A9 algorithm quickly filter out irrelevant products. Therefore, a good keyword targeting strategy is considered table stakes for even being eligible to rank in the first place. Only after determining whether or not your product listing is relevant to the search query will the algorithm begin the process of sorting, i.e. ranking product listings.
Some of the other factors that A9 considers to make this decision include:
- Conversion rate
- Sales (Amazon collects a commission, of course)
Of course, these factors are likely weighed on a keyword by keyword basis because different keywords will have different performance benchmarks.
The Relationship between Amazon SEO and CRO
On Amazon, CRO is SEO. If you want to outperform your competitors on Amazon’s search landscape, odds are you’ll need to also outperform them when it comes to conversion rate optimization.
The reason for this is that, as we’ve discussed, the likelihood of making a sale is a major ranking factor in Amazon search. And this should come as no surprise to anyone since more sales mean more commission revenue for Amazon.
On Amazon, Success Begets Success
Amazon SEO is a perfect example of a positive feedback loop. If a searcher finds a listing that clearly meets their needs better than the others, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase. As more of their fellow users begin to do the same, Amazon will take notice of the increase in sales velocity and push that store’s product higher up in the search results. As the product’s search performance improves, its sales velocity goes even higher, pushing it further up the rankings, and so on.
Because of this positive feedback loop, it’s extremely important to make whatever initial optimizations you can to your on-page Amazon SEO when first getting started. As we’ll cover later, paid search can also help kick-start this process.
On-Page Amazon SEO
The Anatomy of an Amazon Product Page
We’re going to break down and dissect an Amazon product page into its individual parts and take a closer look at how each part contributes to Amazon search performance.
Product Listing Title
This could be the most important piece of on-page content when it comes to Amazon search, so you’ll want to get this one right. Don’t make the common mistake of optimizing like you would for Google or other search engines; Amazon is a different beast.
Here’s how to optimize your Amazon product listing titles for SEO:
- An optimized Amazon page title will often be longer than the recommended Google limit of ~60 characters. However, the Amazon Style Guides recommend keeping them under 200 characters.
- You’ll want product titles to be highly descriptive and contain multiple keywords.
- Example – traditional e-commerce title: “Nike Men’s Shoes | Store XYZ”
- Amazon title: “Black Nike Men’s Athletic Shoes for Running | Walking | Basketball, All Sizes”
- Use descriptors of the product: size, product line, color, etc.
- You don’t want to keyword stuff, but you absolutely do want to use relevant keywords in your title.
- As in traditional SEO, we want to place important keywords early in the title (without sacrificing readability).
- Use special characters and separators when needed to break up the text.
- Test different title variations to see which iteration works best.
Bullet points provide an opportunity to outline the key features and benefits of the product. Bullets are more about driving a conversion than showing up in searches because at this point, the user has found your product listing. Now they need to know whether or not this is the right product and the right vendor for them.
Here are a couple of tips for optimizing bullet points:
- Provide examples of how the product can be used in different situations. If a potential customer is on the fence, a bullet point reassuring them that your product fits their use case can dissolve apprehension and lead to a sale.
- Place more important benefits near the top of your bullet point list, as the lower bullets may be cut off for mobile users.
Product Description and Enhanced Brand Content
If your brand is registered on Amazon, then you’re eligible for enhanced brand content. If not, this real estate will be where your regular product description goes.
Here are some tactics you can use to start optimizing your Amazon descriptions or enhanced brand content:
- Don’t skimp on the product description; you’ll want to include plenty of quality content here that will help people learn more about your product and why it’s right for them.
- Remember: product sales is the sole objective of any Amazon listing. Make your copy reflect that fact.
- Even though the product description should be thorough, convincing, and informative, it should also be readable and concise. Don’t fluff up your copy with unnecessary text for the sake of making it longer.
- As always, bullets or clearly-defined paragraphs improve readability. Make it easy for your customers to read your copy so it’s easy for them to buy your products.
- Include a call to action where appropriate. We all need a little nudge sometimes.
Back-end Search Terms
The backend search terms section is where you’ll want to include all the keywords you haven’t yet included in your listing.
Make no mistake, this is the place to keyword stuff. Of course, only use relevant search terms that will help Amazon filter you into the right searches. You’ll need to do some diligent keyword research on the front end so you know which keywords are worth including here. More on that later.
This one’s fairly straightforward and there’s probably not a ton we can do to optimize here. It will help to do your research and be very familiar with Amazon’s product categories, but you’ll find it’s usually pretty easy to select the right product category unless you have a very niche product.
Imagery is a critical part of CRO, which directly impacts SEO (remember sales velocity). What makes a good Amazon product image?
Here is how to optimize your Amazon product images:
- Images should be crystal clear and have a white background.
- Your selection of images should include both straightforward product images and images of the product in use.
- Make your product images big enough to zoom in on; people are going to want to see details before they hit the buy button.
How to Do Keyword Research for Amazon SEO
With keywords being so important for Amazon SEO, it goes without saying that we want to put in the time and effort needed to produce rock-solid keyword lists for our products. But how do we cut through the noise to find the truly relevant keywords we should be targeting? As with most parts of SEO, there’s no single way you should do keyword research, and the best results often come from using a combination of tactics. Let’s take a look at a few of our options.
Amazon itself: if you start typing a product keyword into Amazon’s search box, you’ll see a long list of auto-suggested products. This can be a rich source of new keyword opportunities. You can also analyze competitors’ pages to see which keywords they appear to be targeting. Successful stores have often already homed in on the most relevant and profitable keywords for that product, so look to them for clues.
SEO keyword tools: while they aren’t based on Amazon’s data, the keyword research tools we already know and love can still inform our keyword targeting decisions on Amazon. After all, just because a shopper is changing platforms doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll change the language they use.
Dedicated Amazon keyword tools: if you need data specific to the Amazon platform, there are also paid tools dedicated to providing search volumes, competitive research, CPCs, and more. We’re tool-agnostic, but there are plenty of options that will provide the information you need for highly-targeted listings. Jungle Scout and Merchant Words are examples of popular paid tools, while Sonar (Sellics) and Keyword Tool offer free or freemium tools.
Amazon PPC and How it Affects Amazon SEO
Last but certainly not least, is paid search. Smart SEOs and paid search professionals alike know that organic and paid search, when executed well, can team up to provide an upward spiral of success. Each channel can help boost the other’s performance, even if indirectly. On the Amazon platform, this positive feedback loop is much more direct.
We’ll make one final callback to the fact that sales velocity is heavily-weighted in Amazon’s list of ranking signals. This can make it difficult to get any sales momentum going if you have a new product, especially if it’s in a competitive niche. Paid search can help you circumnavigate this problem by putting your listing in front of a bigger audience. And, if you’ve put in the work to optimize your listing for CRO (and therefore SEO), you can start getting your first bit of sales traction.
Ready to Start Selling?
At the end of the day, Amazon SEO primarily comes down to relevance and user experience.
Is your product what the customer is looking for?
Does your listing use the same words that customers use?
Does it provide helpful information and have persuasive copy that compels customers to buy your product?
Are the images high-quality?
Is it categorized correctly?
When you can confidently answer “yes” to these questions, your Amazon product listings will be primed to make moves up the Amazon rankings and make you and your business more money.