Consider Amazon, for example. As one of the world’s largest online marketplaces offering a rapidly expanding list of retail products, digital content, cloud services, and groceries, Amazon needs a way to organize its giant database of products and instantaneously present the most relevant results to users.
In this post, we’ll explain the basics of getting a higher ranking on Amazon’s search results.
A9 – Amazon’s Algorithm
Algorithms, sets of rules that can solve a given problem in a finite set of steps, power search engines. For Google, their PageRank algorithm helps rank pages based on the number and quality of links leading to a particular link. For Amazon, that algorithm is A9.
A9 bases itself on elements on the product page and elsewhere on the web, but there are a few key differences between A9 and other search algorithms. Most importantly, while other search engines focus on traffic, A9 mostly concerns itself with sales conversions.
With that in mind, let’s explore which elements influence a product ranking on Amazon:
The Top Ranking Factors for Amazon’s A9 Algorithm
1. Click Through Rate (CTR) and Click to Sales (CTS)
Of all the ranking factors, Click Through Rate and Click to Sales are the metrics of primary importance and also with the most direct impact. In fact, most other factors only affect these two metrics.
CTR is a popular metric for SEO in general. Unlike other “vanity metrics” such as traffic, CTR is the best way to determine a user’s intent or the success of a page’s copy.
On Amazon, CTR also plays an important role towards SEO, but in Amazon’s case, CTS is a greater ranking factor. CTS measures whether people actually end up purchasing the product after they’ve been shown the listing.
Remember, a product with a high CTS will rank higher than other products, even if it also has a low CTR.
2. Product Page
Similar to most web pages, Amazon’s product pages rely on strong content for greater viewership and engagement. Here are some on-page elements that marketers should prioritize:
The number one thing people notice in a listing is the product’s title- does it match their expectations? Does it convey the right amount of information? Major brands can usually use the product’s model name, whereas lesser known brands may have to include a few features.
For example, in a search for “laptop stand,” the generic Amazon version used this title:
AmazonBasics Ventilated Adjustable Laptop Stand
While the third-party laptop stand (ranked fourth) used this title:
Laptop Stand – JUBOR Adjustable Laptop Stand Portable Foldable Ergonomic Desktop Stand Holder Mount for MacBook Notebook Computer PC iPad Tablet
While the first one is definitely more presentable, the second title holds a lot more keywords that someone may type into the search bar, such as “Notebook Computer” or “Laptop Stand.”
Since Amazon’s title limit is 500 characters, it presents an opportunity for marketers to include more information about the product. However, be careful- the more words included in the title, the less credible the product may seem.
After seeing the title, the next thing a customer scans for is the image. They may ask themselves, “does this match the product that I’m looking for?”
Some marketers like to include some flashy graphics in their images. In the past, we’ve noticed color palettes (to show the various color schemes of a product), warranty seals, or highlighted features. As long as there are high-quality, well-lit images of the product, the additional graphics aren’t necessary.
When done right, good imagery can add a sense of credibility to your product. Check out Acer’s example below:
Descriptions don’t contribute to Amazon SEO as strongly as other factors, but they are still a crucial factor in getting customers to purchase a product. In fact, since descriptions lie well below the fold and are not required by Amazon, marketers can skip this section altogether, at their own peril. Some bigger brands go the extra mile and add an assortment of branded imagery and copy like Acer did for their laptops:
Imagine a remote control that comes with extra batteries, or a speaker that doesn’t need setup- if it’s not in the title, the description is the best place to include that information. A single detail like that could make or break a sale.
Amazon has a unique field for including additional keywords. Unlike traditional SEO, these keywords must not have already been included in the title or description, as Amazon will ignore it.
Consider using this as an opportunity to include relevant keywords, perhaps from other vertical industries. If your product is a brand of coffee, you might want to include “tea” or “energy drinks” just as a way to capture additional traffic.
3. Sales Performance
Recent Sales Volume
In Amazon’s view, overall sales aren’t as important as the number of recent sales. This is good news: it means anybody has a fair shot of reaching the #1 spot, as long as they can consistently sell high volume.
Some marketers like to take advantage of this factor during seasonal holidays, such as Halloween or Christmas when people tend to look for particular products (such as decorations or candy) more frequently.
Using revenue as a metric alone isn’t reliable- Amazon has to factor in all the returns and refunds from unhappy customers.
For example, if a product brings in $10,000 in revenue, but has a refund rate of 10% ($1,000), then total revenue would come out to $9,000. Amazon prefers listings with a lower refund rate, as there is lower overhead, shipping, handling, and processing costs involved to make the sale, and greater assurance of a final sale.
Amazon doesn’t just record the total sales, but also the total units. Items that sell out quickly don’t necessarily indicate a popular product. Instead, the metrics have to be looked at along with the product inventory. Is there enough of that product to meet the demand?
It’s true that having the “Only 10 left” label can sometimes boost demand, but the less time an item stays out of stock, the bigger the ranking increase. Some marketers have even noted that adding 150 or more units to existing inventory gives a significant rankings boost.
Reviews can make or break a product. While reviews don’t hold as much weight towards Amazon SEO, they still make a huge difference in the success of a product. Customers always look for social proof to confirm their interest in a product.
Average Review Rating
After checking the product title and image to make sure it matches their search query, customers turn to reviews. Products with anything lower than a 3.5 can turn customers off pretty quickly. While reaching a perfect 5/5 may be impossible, having a higher rating than competing products can lead to direct sales.
Although it’s not as important as your overall review rating, both Amazon and your customers look to make sure you have a lot of product reviews. In fact, a product with 4.5 stars based on 20 reviews will have a higher ranking than a product with 3 stars based on a hundred reviews. But marketers report a significant boost (going from the last page to the first four pages) when they have at least 15-25 reviews. Make sure to get a lot of early reviews to get your product to rise through the ranks early on, as it becomes more difficult once it passes this threshold.
Length of Reviews
It’s easy to write a fake review, so one way Amazon tackles this is through review length. Longer reviews are perceived more trustworthy and have a greater impact than shorter reviews. User-submitted media such as videos and images are also taken into consideration, as they are difficult to fake.\
The higher the reviewer’s rank, the more valuable the review, and the bigger the boost. The top 1,000 reviewers, in particular, have amassed considerable followings and reputations, so reaching out to them may not be a bad idea.
Answering customer questions can contribute to both Amazon SEO, as well as CTR and CTS. This section of the product page is a great opportunity to provide greater clarity on the product, such as supported formats/devices, additional materials, and user experience questions.
5. Outside Traffic Sources
With so much to do for on-page optimization, it’s easy to lose sight of external referral traffic. Even with a fully optimized page, marketers won’t get far without promoting the product via other channels.
Facebook and Twitter remain the de facto promotion channels but one should consider alternative channels depending on the product. Pinterest is highly popular among women, particularly customers interested in culinary items, furniture, and DIY products. YouTube is absolutely necessary for product videos- even if they’re a minute long and only show off how the product looks. Instagram is another popular channel, especially with the millennial demographic.
An Ongoing Experiment
Like other search algorithms, the true science and math behind Amazon’s A9 algorithm remain a mystery to anyone outside of Amazon in order to protect Amazon’s trade secrets and to prevent marketers from gaming the system and gaining an unfair advantage. By keeping everyone in the dark, the playing field remains (mostly) balanced.
By understanding these factors and how they fit into the overall algorithm, marketers are in a better position to make educated guesses and business decisions with their products.
Keep a close eye on this page, as it will continue to update with more information as the search marketing industry learns more about A9.
Curious about SEO for other services? Check out how SEO works for the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store.
For more articles and guides on SEO, check out Arcalea’s blog.
Want to find out how Amazon can help your business? Get in touch with Arcalea today.