Leveraging Amazon as a Search Engine

Amazon is a search engine. Yes, Amazon is the world’s largest internet retailer, accounting for over 20% of worldwide ecommerce in 2012 . However, Amazon.com’s role as a research vehicle for high-intent shoppers continues to grow as well, and should not be disregarded. As of Q3 2011, Amazon had superseded traditional search engines as the initial source of knowledge for shoppers on their journey to purchase – accounting for 30% of respondents to the question “where did you begin the research for your most recent online purchase?” For third party sellers, Amazon should not be regarded as a retail revenue channel alone, but also as a messaging platform for product details and a high-visibility tool for building brand equity and product catalog awareness. Shoppers treat Amazon as a search engine for researching products, and so should you.

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When regarded as such, the objective for any retailer on Amazon is the same as on Google or any other algorithmic search engine: show up prominently on the ‘Gateway Page’ – the results a user first sees after executing a query – for a broad set of product-relevant queries. Thus, traditional SEO serves as a good analog for how retailers should think about success on Amazon when it comes to discoverability and display of product catalogs – success means good content and relevancy to user queries. However, this is only part of the equation: maximum exposure on Amazon also entails price competitiveness, customer satisfaction, adoption to additional marketing opportunities on Amazon.com and, quite simply, ensuring that as much of your product catalog is listing on Amazon as possible.

Price Competitiveness and Product Appeal

 The single biggest factor in determining search rank is performance history. Much like Google’s algorithm for surfacing text and product listing ads considers historical click-through rate, Amazon’s search rank algorithms rely heavily on sales history of particular products. And, like Google’s algorithm, this constitutes a virtuous cycle: products that perform well initially will be given more weight in Amazon’s query-matching algorithm, thus more exposure, and are therefore likely to continue to sell at a high volume.

How do retailers build positive order history and ensure their products factor prominently in search results? Pursue price competitiveness, get in the Buy Box, and generate orders. Products that occupy the Buy Box of detail pages account for roughly 90% of sales within a given ASIN. The biggest determinant of Buy Box ownership, far and away, is competitiveness of the landing price – product price plus shipping. Winning the buy box therefore comes down to two things: a competitive intelligence tool to understand how competing merchants’ products are priced within ASINs, and the ability to dynamically reprice your own products accordingly. A third party tool that marries these functions, such as Mercent, is key to Buy Box success.

Content and Data Quality

 Price competitiveness and historical performance are huge in determining search visibility among relevant products. However, you should also take steps to ensure your product data has the right content to establish relevancy in the first place and that, once your product listings are visible, they are telling the right story.

  • Descriptions and bullet points provide a crucial opportunity to concisely describe your product’s top features. Bullet points appear directly below landing, price, inventory status and shipping info. Many consumers refer to the bulleted list to determine whether the product truly offers what they are looking for. A useful tactic when crafting bullet points is referring to your paid search results: high-ROI keywords can serve as a proxy for determining which product details are key to driving sales for a particular product.
    Descriptions also present the opportunity to tell your brand story and connect with shoppers. Beyond describing the product in detail, we recommend seizing this opportunity to delineate your value proposition to the shopper more broadly: detail your customer satisfaction commitment, your sourcing practices, your excellent craftsmanship; any and all pillars of your brand as a whole. Beyond aiding shoppers in their product research, descriptions and bullet points have a direct impact on sales: we’ve seen the addition of description and bullets points increase daily sales by as much as 50%.
  • Send Multiple Quality Images, affording the shopper all views of an item wherever appropriate. Send images that are high-resolution (Amazon recommends 1000×1000 pixels to allow for zooming), with white backgrounds. A detailed visual representation of your products is crucial, particularly in apparel and home & garden, where shoppers looks to answer questions such as “will this jacket complement my favorite pair of jeans?” or “will this duvet cover fit the aesthetic of my bedroom?”
  • Correct category mapping: Make sure that all categories within your product data feed are associated with the most appropriate Amazon taxonomies. Not only will this improve search rank, it will also make products eligible for filtered results based on the left-hand nav. This is essential for certain categories, such as clothing and shoes.
  • Item type keywords: Amazon does the courtesy of allowing 3rd party merchants to suggest particular search keywords in a product data feed. While this won’t guarantee your products will show for a given query, it can boost search rank. Again, refer to paid search data to determine high-converting terms. Determine product-level ITKs logically based on other feed elements. For example combining category and brand.

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Customer Satisfaction

Amazon holds its third party sellers to its own lofty standards, and factors customer satisfaction metrics into search rank. Keep a close eye on pre-fulfillment cancellation rate, average customer review, late shipments, and order defect rates. These metrics factor into search rank and, if some combination of these metrics fall below a certain threshold, your products will be excluded from Buy Box consideration altogether.

Get all your products listed

In order to show up in relevant searches, generate brand awareness, and sell units on Amazon, your products must be there in the first place. Make sure that your Amazon assortment encompasses as much of your overall catalog as possible, and that you address listing errors wherever possible to reinstate products for full coverage.

Adopt Amazon’s marketing programs for greater visibility

In addition to 3rd Party Marketplace listings, Amazon offers several supplemental marketing programs to help bolster retail presence and capitalize on site real-estate. Amazon Sponsored Products can help serve to earn your product catalog greater discoverability and prominence. CommerceHub technology and service support all these programs.

i Goldman Sachs
ii Forrester Research