Author: <span class="vcard">AJ Kelley</span>

Amazon’s market share was a whopping 68% among leading mass merchant e-retailers in the United States during 2015. Walmart took second place, with a mere 10%, according to Statista. To put Amazon’s enormity into perspective, the retail giant’s warehouses have more square footage than 700 Madison Square Gardens and could hold more water than 10,000 Olympic Pools!

Amazon e-retailers statistic

We all know that Amazon is the online marketplace. Yet, most people ignore a simple yet critical fact: similar to Google, Amazon is a search engine.

Even Google recognizes Amazon as a force to be reckoned with. Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google, commented, “Our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as a search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon…” Amazon gets three times more product searches than Google. Think about it: when you’re searching for a product, whether it be a phone charger or an HDTV, where do you typically end up? Amazon.

Once we interpret Amazon as a massive search engine, we can start to understand the importance of Amazon SEO. Learning how to rank on Amazon can put you in front of the millions of ready-to-buy shoppers on Amazon…far more than you’d ever find on Google!

An Introduction to Amazon’s Search Algorithm

Amazon’s product search algorithm is produced by an Amazon subsidiary known as A9. According to the A9 website, calculating search results starts well before a customer even touches the keyboard. A9 analyzes data, observes past traffic patterns, and indexes the text describing every product before a shopper ever runs a search. “As soon as we see the first keystroke, we’re ready with instant suggestions and a comprehensive set of search results.”

A9’s goal is to make it seem like the search is reading the shopper’s mind. Broken down, the process is quite simple:

  1. Determine relevant search results for a customer’s query.
  2. Score those results to present the most relevant results to the user.

In the past, A9 drove keyword ranking for a product largely through the keyword which that sale was driven through. Back then, there would be little attribution for any other keyword associated with the product. For example, if a customer searched “travel pillow,” clicked, and then bought the product, Amazon would attribute the sale to that keyword and give a boost for “travel pillow,” but not necessarily for “neck pillow” or “u-shaped pillow.”

A9 is continually making changes based upon human judgments, programmatic analysis, key business metrics, and performance metrics. This past spring, Amazon implemented a pretty major update to A9, making it so that EVERY keyword in your product’s title at the time of sale is fair game to receive a boost in keyword ranking! See data proving this hypothesis in our previous blog post on the topic.

If all words in your listing, especially those in your title, are taken into consideration during a sale, it’s more important than ever to have an optimized listing!

Optimizing Your Listing to Rank in Amazon’s Search Engine

When it comes down to it, every aspect of your listing should be impeccable. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve launched over 13,000 products and have crafted hundreds of listings, whose combined sales surpass $100 million in sales annually. With each listing we promote, we track multiple keywords, which provides us with a huge amount of data and insight! So, what makes a listing stand out in the eyes of both shoppers and Amazon’s algorithm? A listing that includes a title, bullet points, and a product description that are all keyword-optimized, informative, and concise.

Keyword Optimized

When achieving keyword ranking, sales are king. But, you must properly integrate important keywords to achieve sales, especially in your title. Ranking for keywords is largely dependent on a product’s title. It’s crucial to place as many high-volume, relevant keywords in your title as possible. You’ll see far greater ranking attribution with keywords in the title versus anywhere else in the listing, as Amazon’s algorithm allows you to rank much easier for these keywords. Under normal conditions, it is even likely to outrank top sellers for an important keyword if you’ve included that word in your title and they are missing it!

You also must make sure that you’re indexed for as many keywords as possible, even more obscure ones, if you have the room. We’ve seen where a seller will run a launch for a specific target keyword that they are not indexed for, and then they don’t even show up as a search result.

A simple way to check if you’re indexed for a specific keyword is to search “ASIN keyword,” for example, “B006416DVC travel mug.” If the listing shows up, then it’s indexed. If not, then you need to add that keyword somewhere within your listing. You don’t want to miss out on sales simply due to a lack of keyword research! For example, if the word “women” was not present in your listing, your listing may not show as a result when a shopper searches for “sunglasses for women.”

Unlike Google, Amazon does not provide a keyword tool to help sellers determine valuable keywords for a specific product. Amazon also does not share keyword data with its merchants, making optimization difficult. In order to find relevant keywords for your listing, use a combination of keyword research tools and check out similar products on Amazon and Jet.com. Take a look at the top sellers, and use what is working well as a guide. Spend time doing research and take this step seriously! Without a keyword-optimized listing, your product will be buried in the algorithm. And sadly in that case, you might as well kiss your investment goodbye.

Informative and Concise

An informative, concise listing drives conversions. And once your product is ranking, it’s all about conversions. Your content should be written in a way that convinces potential customers that your product is exactly what they are looking for.

Informative copy paints a picture with words, accurately describing the product’s features and uses. You want to use this space to showcase the benefits of your product. What special features does your product have? What are the benefits to owning your product? What sets your product apart from similar ones? You should have a good understanding of your target customer, so use this as an opportunity to address any initial concerns they may have.

Concise copy helps a shopper quickly understand why your product is a perfect fit. Many shoppers don’t want to spend too much time reading, so it’s important that you get right to the point. While you want to make sure to thoroughly explain your product, you want to make the reading of the content as effortless as possible. And, although you want to use as many keywords as possible, you don’t want to come off as incredibly redundant. It can be a turnoff to buyers.

As our CEO, Casey, puts it, “Truly great listings are able to synergistically marry keywords with sales-inducing language.” And that’s the key, folks: an incredible blend that is sure to take your listing to the next level.

Leave it to the Experts.

“Quality is the best business plan.” John Lasseter

You can read all of the blog posts, listen to all of the podcasts, travel to all of the conferences, and follow all of the gurus, and you might come out with an okay listing. But, you won’t have hundreds and hundreds of listings, backed up by millions and millions of data points under your belt.

After running thousands and thousands of product launches and building listings that drive over a combined $100 million in annual sales, Viral Launch is able to build the best Amazon product listings in the market. Our copywriters craft each aspect of a listing to optimize rankings in organic search, and these listing-experts use beautiful sales-inducing language to showcase your product, help it stand out from the competition, and convert on-page visitors into buyers. Our optimized listings contain the perfect balance: an unbeatable combination of keywords in a concise and compelling way that makes your product shine!

A Viral Launch Listing Optimization includes a brand analysis, thorough keyword research, ~2,000 characters of backend search terms, and a beautiful, fully-optimized title, about the product, and product details.

Take it from a happy customer: “It’s an excellent value. We could spend weeks doing that and not do it as well. It allows us to delegate and narrow our focus. Excellent service, and we look forward to future business.”

Let our experts optimize your listing, helping you skyrocket your sales to unseen levels! Get started with our Amazon Product Listing Optimization Service.

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Now more than ever, it is extremely important to have every single aspect of your listing in prime condition: stunning photos, optimized copy, beautiful product labeling, competitive reviews, etc. But there is one simple thing that some sellers are overlooking that has cost some sellers serious amounts of money in lost sales. It’s extremely important and a fairly quick fix: Product Category.

I know, that shiny Best Seller Badge is highly sought after, and it is relatively easy to come by with some obscure, irrelevant sub-categories. If you’re selling Vitamin C Serum and place it into the a smaller unrelated category, you won’t have to sell nearly as many units to get a Best Seller Badge as you would if you categorized it correctly into Skin Care. Loophole right? Unfortunately for sellers, no.

The Importance of Product Category

It’s crucial that you set your category correctly, and I’ll explain why. When searching “vitamin c serum” on Amazon, even when searching under “All Departments”, you’ll notice that just under the search bar, Amazon forces the search into a specific category. In this instance, I’m seeing just over 5300 results for: Beauty & Personal Care : Skin Care : “vitamin c serum”

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-2-25-36-pmAmazon positions itself in a way that is going to best benefit a shopper. If I’m a shopper searching for a “vitamin c serum,” Amazon shows me only what is relevant to the product that I’m searching for. Through Amazon’s algorithm, this means that only results categorized down to the subcategory “Skin Care” are going to be shown. And this makes total sense. Why would I be looking for anything outside of a Skin Care with a search for “vitamin c serum?”

As a shopper, I do have the option to choose “Show results instead in ‘All Departments,’” but I cannot imagine that many shoppers are doing so. As an Amazon seller, you know your product, your keywords, your listing, and your competition inside and out. Buyers, on the other hand, are trusting that Amazon is showing the best products for what they’re looking for. Having said that, it’s unlikely that a shopper would click “All Departments,” especially if they’re able to find what they’re looking for on page one. (Note: Mobile Amazon automatically shows results for All Departments)

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These forced search results make it extremely important that your product is categorized correctly. Yes, you may have a Best Seller Badge through mis-categorizing your product. But that doesn’t matter if your product isn’t even showing up when a shopper searches for the biggest keyword associated with your product! If you put your product in some obscure category hoping to trick shoppers into thinking that you’re a top seller for your category, Amazon is onto you, and they aren’t having it. Shoppers will be searching for what you’re selling, but your product will be hidden by Amazon’s algorithms.

How Placing Your Product in The Wrong Category Causes A Loss In Sales

Here at Viral Launch, we want to see you be as successful as possible with your Private Label products. Among other things, it is a must to correctly categorize your product. This is even more important while you’re running a promotion because all of those giveaway sales are being attributed to the given search term in the context of the category the product falls under. If your sales are not being attributed to the proper category, you simply won’t show up when the average customer runs a search.  Make sure that your product is in the right category before running a launch. Switching it afterward means it’s already too late as the sales have already attributed keyword ranking power to the given keyword within the wrong category.

When choosing a keyword to target with a Viral Launch promotion, be sure that the keyword’s search results line up with your product category. If not, change your category, or make sure you’ve chosen a keyword that lines up with your product. You can place your item into a more specific category than the forced search result, just make sure that it’s in the most specific category of search results shown for that keyword search.

Big Takeaway: Categorize your product correctly, and your customers will be able to find and buy your product! If you don’t, no matter how hard you push keyword ranking, you’ll find your product ranking in the wrong category and will see very few sales!

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Hopefully this tip helps you to understand why product category is so important and how it can have a tremendous effect on your visibility. We love to see you succeed as we navigate the Amazon together. Happy selling!

The month of October has been quite the whirlwind for Amazon and its sellers. October 3rd, Amazon released a ToS update that banned incentivized reviews, kickstarting a season full of updates and policy changes.

To recap the latest Amazon updates:

  • August 28: Amazon enacts massive restrictions on certain brands, preventing 3rd party sellers from selling without approval.
  • September 1: Amazon announces in an email to sellers that, effective November 1st, US Seller fulfilled returns will be automatically authorized, and Amazon will provide prepaid return label on the seller’s behalf. Read more here.
  • October 3: The new Terms of Service prohibits providing a free or discounted product in exchange for a review unless it’s through the Vine program. Read more here.
  • October 10: Amazon closes the door to Fulfillment by Amazon for new sellers during the Q4, 2016 period. See here under the orange button at the bottom of the page.
  • October 21: Amazon clarifies Promotional Content in Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers in wake of the new review policy. Read more here.

This past week continued this month’s trend with Amazon’s mass seller email regarding reviews and the introduction to Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program..

 

Amazon’s Incentivized Review Mass Email

Many sellers reported receiving an email on October 24th from Amazon with a strict warning about moving forward with incentivized reviews:

“We recently updated our policies to prohibit incentivize reviews, including those posted in exchange for a free or discounted copy of the product. You are receiving this email because products you sell have received incentivize reviews in the past. If you attempt to acquire incentivize reviews going forward, your Amazon privileges will be suspended or terminated.

We consider a review to be incentivized if you have influenced or can influence the review directly or indirectly, including by monitoring whether a review is written and providing or withholding any benefit based on whether a review is written or the content of the review. Below are a few examples where a review is considered incentivize and is not permitted:

  • You provide a free or discounted product, gift card, rebate, cash payment, or other compensation in exchange for the review.
  • You provide or withhold free or discounted products or other benefits in the future based on whether the customer writes a review.
  • You use a review service where reviewers’ continued membership depends on writing reviews.
  • You use a review service where you can rate customers based on their reviews.
  • You use a review service where customers register their Amazon public profile so that you can monitor their reviews of your products.

Incentivizing customer reviews violates our policies and may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The following actions are generally allowed, provided you comply with the above restrictions:

  • You might offer discounts that are generally available to all Amazon customers, such as Lightning Deals.
  • You may give out free products at tradeshows, conventions, or other similar venues where you are unable to monitor whether the recipients write a review or provide or withhold any benefits based on whether a review is written or the content of the review.

The above changes apply only to product categories other than books. We continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advanced review copies of books.”

The initial seller response was shock and a bit of fear. After all, getting called out by the Giant itself is a bit intimidating. However, through this email, Amazon is really just confirming what our CEO, Casey Gauss, mentioned in our initial blog post about the ToS change and our follow up blog post clarifying the policy. Casey posed two large takeaways on October 14th:

  1. “It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.”
  2. “It is okay for merchants to follow-up with the discounted buyers asking for a review, so long as they abide by all other review policies and stipulations (ex. Don’t ask for only a positive review, do not force the customer to leave a review, do not monitor whether or not they were able to leave a review, etc.)”

These statements still hold true, even through this email. Yes, in the past you may have used a review service to receive a review in exchange for a discounted product. But, you weren’t in the wrong. In fact, you were in line with Amazon’s policy at the time. The policy isn’t retroactive, meaning your Amazon privileges should not be suspended or revoked because of those past reviews. *However, we have witnessed that Amazon is retroactively removing thousands of reviews left with a disclaimer.*

This mass email was sent to many sellers who have run promotions in the past, and it serves as a method to make sure that all sellers are well-informed on the new policy. The carefully-worded email instructs sellers on the new do’s and dont’s of offering discounts and receiving reviews, which actually gives some insightful clarification to the update.

So sellers, don’t interpret the email as, “I’m getting kicked off of Amazon, and I’ll never ever be able to sell anything again.” Read it as, “Amazon has notified me that past actions are now against policy. I now have to abide by the new policy, which they’ve just informed me of.” Moving forward, it’s important to abide by these policies. And yes, product promotions are still compliant with these policies. As we mentioned in a blog addressing the review disclaimer a couple of weeks back, “Viral Launch is not giving products in exchange for a review. We are not providing compensation to buyers to leave reviews, nor do our buyers have connections with you as a seller/marketer.” Product giveaways through Viral Launch are still permissible, as we are not providing a product or any compensation for a review, we are not providing products in the future based on whether or not a customer leaves a review, we are not using reviews as a membership requirement on our buyer site, we are not allowing you to rate customers on our buyer site, and we are not registering our buyers’ Amazon public profiles in order to monitor reviews.

All that to say, rest easy, friend. We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that we are in line with the new policy change. This email may have appeared to be intimidating at first, but as long as you continue to move forward within the Terms of Service, you will be in good shape.

 

Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program

Yesterday, on October 27th, Amazon announced the introduction of its new Early Reviewer Program. After banning sellers from incentivizing reviews, Amazon itself will start rewarding and incentivizing reviews. It is believed that the program is currently in beta testing and will likely be enacted at the start of November. Amazon describes the program on its Site Features:

The Early Reviewer Program encourages customers who have already purchased a product to share their authentic experience about that product, regardless of whether it is a 1-star or 5-star review. Amazon shoppers depend on reviews to learn more about products, and this program helps to acquire early reviews on products that have few or no reviews, helping shoppers make smarter buying decisions. Customers who have purchased a product participating in the Early Reviewer Program may be asked to write a review and those customers who submit a review within the offer period will receive a small reward (e.g. a $1-$3 Amazon.com Gift Card) for helping future shoppers.

This new program should (hopefully) help sellers who are bringing a brand new product to market. Doing so over the past month has been a bit like the chicken and the egg scenario; you need reviews to get sales and you need sales to get reviews. Where the heck do you start? One of our main recommendations has been implementing a stellar email follow-up sequence to capitalize on all sales, trying to get as many of those oh-so-important initial reviews from the get-go. But with this move, Amazon may be trying to smother follow-up review sequences. Think about it from a consumer standpoint…if you are bombarded with emails every time you make a purchase on Amazon, you might end up with a bad taste in your mouth about Amazon as a whole. It may seem like a bunch of review hungry sellers who only want you for your review. But, if Amazon can be in control of who reviews, and if they can make email follow-up sequences seem pointless when they’re bringing in higher review rates, Amazon wins and the customer wins. And for Amazon, that’s a win-win.

As we get more information on the Early Reviewer Program, we’ll be sure to share it. For now, we’ll say that it should hopefully be good news for sellers looking for initial reviews on new products. It does seem a little ironic though, doesn’t it? Amazon bans incentivized reviews and then incentivizes reviews…Well, when you live in Amazon’s world, you’ve got to live by Amazon’s rules.

More information from Amazon concerning the Early Reviewer Program can be found here.

 

Conclusion

The latest Amazon updates have caused quite the buzz within the Amazon seller community. While it may seem hard to keep up, we’re here to comb through the changes and guide you through the wonderful, hard, rewarding, and sometimes stressful process of selling on Amazon. We’ve been busier than ever this month, and I’m sure you have been too. But isn’t that part of the fun?

Continue to stay informed and make decisions that are in line with Amazon’s (ever-changing) policies, and you’ll be okay. While selling on Amazon may be confusing and messy at times, it can surely be rewarding. Although it may be a bit tougher to bring a product to market, it definitely isn’t impossible. In fact, we believe that with the right strategy, you can definitely still be incredibly successful as a private-label seller. Amazon makes the rules, and everyone has to live by them. If you can figure out how to do it best, you’ll be in great shape. And as always, Viral Launch will be here to help inform and clarify along the way.

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions on the latest Amazon updates. Feel free to post in the comments below!