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,’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 As of Q3 2011, Amazon had superseded traditional search engines as the initial source of knowledge for shoppers on their journey to purchase – accounting for 30% of respondents to the question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.

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 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.

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