Dave Rekuc spends a lot of time thinking about Amazon. His primary mission as marketing director of Ripen eCommerce is to turn successful offline retailers into solid online retailers. Amazon, naturally, serves as a primary conduit in that transfer. Yet he’s often amazed at how many veteran online sellers remain clueless about some of the ways Amazon works, and how much retail blogger advice seems pulled from the flighty realm of common sense instead of from the real world of cause and effect on Amazon.
“Every piece of advice I’ve read about how to write product lines on Amazon says to stuff as many keywords into them as you can. But I asked myself, what is this advice based on? Is it actually true?” asks Rekuc (left).
So he did his own study to get real answers. (The answer to the last question above, which is detailed below, is “No.”) He found an Amazon API through which he was able to add a script that allowed him to emulate searches on the Amazon site at scale. Rekuc examined 746,500 search results for 344,936 products to draw the following conclusions.
Being in the wrong category can kill you. Amazon’s search engine functions are based on strict indices that will produce results “blended” from several categories. If you don’t place your product in one of those select categories, a site visitor punching a search topic into the “All” box might never get to your product. When Rekuc searched “refrigerator,” Amazon called up items from the Appliances and Kitchen & Dining categories. Neither of those is supported in the blended searches, so if the searcher picks one of the items from the kitchen category, and marketer has listed his brand’s fridge under appliances, it won’t be found on the kitchen page. “In this case optimization is over,” Rekuc says. “You’ve lost the game before it even began.”
The more you sell…the more you sell. The higher your sales rank on Amazon, the higher your search engine ranking position (SERP) will be across a range of keywords. This rule equates into a nearly pyramidical graph (below). Products in the first sales rank percentile appeared for searches of only 1.2 keywords on average, while those in the 99th percentile were summoned up by 8.7 different keywords. A big-selling crib mattress pad in Rekuc’s study ranked for 50 keywords.
It’s better to be an Amazon vendor. Rekuc found that a merchant’s fulfillment relationship has the biggest effect on its search rankings. Those having vendor relationships with Amazon sell to the e-com like they do to Walmart—at wholesale prices with Amazon determining the retail price. More than 60% of products in the top sales rank percentile on the site are vendors. Next best is FBA status (fulfillment by Amazon). These sellers determine their prices and move through Amazon warehouses, but have a better shot at Amazon Prime status than pure third-party sellers. That’s a big deal, because a seller’s SERP is directly correlative to inclusion in the Prime program. “All the top sellers are sold by Amazon.com,” Rekuc says.
Brevity is the soul of sales. Here’s the skinny on what Rekuc discovered about long, keyword-crammed product descriptions. The leading 1% of products for search responsiveness, the ones that appeared in response to an average of 15 different keywords, were only 77 characters long. Furthermore, 84% of product titles came in under 110 characters. But here’s the hardest truth for web sellers to own up to: They didn’t need Rekuc ‘s in-depth, statistic-laden analysis to figure this out. “If you look at listings on the Amazon site, you’ll see that Amazon cuts product titles off at about 110 characters. And they cut them off at about 74 characters on mobile,” says our intrepid Amazonian explorer.
Rekuc says the key takeaway from his study should be obvious to astute marketers. “It’s a lesson we’ve learned time and time again dealing with Google. If you try to go against the grain with them, you might see some short term gains, but they’re going to hit you with a penalty of some kind and eventually the tables are going to turn on you,” he says. “It’s the same with Amazon. It’s their game and going against them is usually a losing battle.”