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How Amazon’s Algorithm Is Google’s, Pre-2010

Hey pals – long time no speak!

We’re back with a brand new weekly blog series, ‘Words From The Wise SEO’: where the seasoned pros of the industry will be sharing tried-and-tested hot tips, tricks and takes on how to improve your rankings.

Our premier post is by Amazon SEO Consultant, Tom Buckland, who has some ideas about how Amazon’s algorithms are quite similar to Google’s, circa-2010. Do you agree? Read on to find out…

 

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How Amazon’s Algorithm Is Google’s, Pre-2010

Background

Before the Panda and Penguin updates of 2011/2012, Google used to be a wonderful place. It was easy to rank using black and white hat SEO techniques. Content was easy. Any links would do. Life was great.

Then in 2011, a major update called the Google Panda update hit and changed the game forever. 12% of search results were affected! That’s the biggest impact an update has ever had.

In April 2012, Google released an algorithm update called Penguin. This was felt heavily by most of the SEO community at the time. Without getting into too much detail (as many of you will probably already be familiar with this) the Penguin update considered sites that were manipulating the SERPs, and they did this specifically by targeting OVER-optimisation. 3.1% of English queries were said to be affected and thousands of SEOs worldwide panicked at the same time.

So, What’s This Google Algorithm History Lesson Got to Do with Amazon?

Amazon is the largest B2C ecommerce store in the world. They also have a very advanced search algorithm that attempts to qualify products and searches and present the most relevant product at the top of the results to their users – of course, very similar to what Google’s primary goal is.

The issue with Amazon is they have other things to worry about. Operations, arrivals, packing, delivering, back-end maintenance, customer service (which has gone horrific in the last 12 months), ads, AWS, and hundreds of other individual elements.

All this means is search is not their priority. The investment going into improving their search algorithm is limited, and as a result they are quite far behind other search giants, such as Google (and even Bing).

Amazon and Google are two massive businesses with the sole goal to make money (by any means necessary in some cases). But, what they want from people is very different and how they do this is very different.

-Google wants users to use their search engine and click on Ads. Every decision they make is towards this one goal.

-Amazon (on the other hand) wants users to buy products from Amazon (as their core B2C goal). But they also want suppliers to sign up and start selling on their platform.

When doing optimisation or marketing for Amazon, keep one key question in mind (it’s what everything is related to) – “By taking this action, will I make AMAZON more money?” If the answer is YES, then chances are you will improve your organic rankings by taking that specific action.

What Do I Mean By “Amazon Is Google Pre-Updates”?

Amazon IS Google in 2010. Amazon sellers need to beware of this.

Whether it takes Amazon a year or a decade to get to a more evolved algorithm and improve their search results to the level of Google is yet to be seen. But one thing you don’t want to happen is to build a substantial business that is reliant on Amazon only to have a massive algorithm change based on a black and white animal ruin your hard work.

Personally, I believe Amazon will crack down on 3 key areas in the next few years. These elements will “make them more money” and hence they are starting to invest resources more heavily into these mediums, especially two of these. Stay aware and ahead of them to avoid the Google fate many suffered around 2011-2012.

3 Areas They Will Initially Target

With Google’s evolution in the past 5+ years, we can see the future of search engines and how they ideally should progress. This gives a huge advantage as we know what Amazon is looking towards in for the future. Again, whether this vision takes them a year or a decade to implement shouldn’t matter too much.

There are three obvious core areas where Amazon will crack down on first. Some areas they’ve already started.

Once these are complete, they will likely look to targeting specific smaller elements. But as the Amazon search algorithm is NOT Amazon’s “one thing” to quote Gary Keller, they will unlikely ever get to a manual penalty team (there is simply no need yet.)

  1. Reviews

Amazon is cracking down on fake reviews hard (they just aren’t very good at it yet.)

This is a huge issue, as reviews are the social-proof that gives buyers the confidence to make an educated decision about a specific product. If every specific product review is fake, then buyers can no longer make an informed decision, ultimately driving shoppers to another website.

There does need to be a middle ground here, though, and if there isn’t, then there will be a vicious cycle:

If you have no reviews 1. No one will buy your product 2. You cannot get reviews without people purchasing your products…

How Amazon Will Crack Down on Reviews

Amazon will be able to crack down on this by using patterns similar to how Google discovers users of PBNs who haven’t hidden their network well enough.

For example, having reviewers purchase a product at a discount is the first one they’ve considered. Any discounts over 20% are now flagged by Amazon’s internal system (more on this in the spiking best seller rank section) and if multiple reviews are posted without labelling that this was an incentive review, the product is suspended, or reviews are pulled at best.

Eventually, Amazon wants to completely eradicate fake or incentivised reviews. This is not possible with the technology they are currently integrating but as AI becomes more advanced and mainstream, I do not see this being a problem for them in the future.

What Sellers Can Do

Be extremely careful when starting out or scaling your reviews for specific ASINs. Remember the golden ratio – for example, if you get 100 sales and 50 reviews, that’s appears extremely unnatural to Amazon (it’s kind of like getting 100 visitors and 50 links… Google knows it’s BS and Amazon will too.)

Instead, look to get about one review per 10 full-priced sales at the start. Anything that is a full-priced sale, Amazon will usually over-look something dodgy. But a discounted review with a very high review ratio is going to send up all the red flags.

So, for Amazon sellers, the use of manual review processes is very important, but only with the right ratios. The family and friends reviewing your products is still officially against Amazon’s ToS, but as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s very difficult to currently track fake reviews.

2. Spiking Best Seller Rank

This is the specific service we offer to clients. It’s popular because its hard to do. BUT, there are easier ways that most sellers have been using for the past three years that many people are probably familiar with. But these methods are starting to disrupt Amazon and become less and less effective.

For anyone not familiar with best seller rank, it’s the Google PageRank of Amazon. It’s based on how many sales a product makes in a given time period (no one knows the exact time period, but it doesn’t matter all that much. I’ll use 24 hours for ease of explanation).

So, if a product makes 100 sales everyday and another product makes 50 sales a day, the product that makes 100 sales will OUTRANK the product that has only 50 per day. Even if the on-page optimisation of the other product is very poor (it has to be a certain quality but it’s a very low benchmark.)

This is one of the reasons why you sometimes see strange results when you search in the “all departments” section of Amazon with a broad keyword. Amazon tries to quantify the search, they just aren’t all that good at it (yet).

SALES ARE AMAZON’S “OFF PAGE!”

Similar to Google, it doesn’t matter how good your on-page optimisation is, if you don’t get any links, then you aren’t going to rank for anything competitive.

Amazon takes this to an even higher level. If you don’t make sales, you won’t get organic rankings.

But how are you meant to make sales without ranking for any keywords?

And this is the reason why 90% of Amazon sellers fail.

The answer is to use external marketing sources, or 3rd parties, that manually spike best seller rank using techniques that are against Amazon’s ToS.

How Amazon Will Crack Down?

The title of this post is how Amazon is Google of the past. With reference to sales equalling links, this could not be clearer.

If we took two websites that have perfect on-page optimisation (in 2010) and built 10 average links to one of them and let the other one sit with zero links, what would happen?

As it’s 2010 and any “good enough” link gives us some value, we end up ranking higher the more links we build. As a result, we get more organic traffic and more revenue. Happy days.

On Amazon, the exact same happens but replace the word links with sales.

If we have two product listings selling the same product, at the same price, with the same on-page optimisation, and we then generate 10 sales a day for one product and zero sales a day for the other product, what happens?

Well, currently Amazon will rank that product with 10 sales a day HIGHER for its related keywords. Once the product ranks organically it starts to generate organic sales and hence increases total revenue.

The issue is with HOW these initial sales come in.

If you build them in natural ways generating full priced sales, Amazon loves you, you rank higher, happy days.

The problem (for Amazon, not the sellers yet) is that generating these sales is usually done in a non-Amazon-friendly way. For example, things like discounted products (90-100% discounts) asking everyone you’ve ever met to purchase it, and even paying random people to purchase your products.

Amazon wants to get as far away from this as possible. If they do not solve this issue, then low quality products will start ranking highly for keywords and customers start to become unhappy with what they purchase.

Long term, this would lead to less customers shopping on Amazon.

How Amazon decides to solve this problem is far beyond my thought capacity, but it is something they are starting to look into judging by the lack of effectiveness of some of these 3rd party best seller rank companies in the past few months.

What Sellers Can Do

Put simply, you need to invest into external marketing sources to spike best seller rank. These work even better and can be even cheaper in the long run than paying a 3rd party to spike best seller rank unnaturally.

3. On-page keyword stuffing

Again, when it comes to on-page optimisation of Amazon, it is very similar to Google (pre-Panda). Meaning you can do as much keyword stuffing, long tail keywords, everything just get those keywords IN!

But.

If we think about the first major update that Google implemented (which was Panda) this targeted sites that had very poor or thin content. This is what the majority of Amazon product listings look like. So, instead of keyword stuffing, we must get a mix of optimisation for Amazon and users.

The key I recommend here is learning keyword focused copywriting.

At the end of the day, we optimise for search engines, but we need to convert visitors once they visit our website or product listing.

Inside Amazon there are 4 key elements to implementing keywords. Use the similar over-optimisation rules as you would apply to Google or you can check out our 5,000 word guide to perfect on-page listing optimisation on Amazon.

How Amazon Will Solve This

This is an easier one than the previous two, as we can almost use a simple keyword density tool, mixed with a relevance score, to give a percentage. This can then raise a flag to Amazon’s internal processing system to monitor whether there are high refunds and returns for this item. If everything points to a low-quality listing, they can have a human (if there are any left in Amazon) to review these quickly and give a suppression if so.

Saying all this, I can’t see Amazon investing the resources into achieving that positive result. But it would improve the overall user experience of the site, so one can hope.

What Sellers Can Do

Sellers should be using correct on-page optimisation as the benefits drastically outweigh any time investment. For example, spending two hours upfront on a product doing keyword research, competition analysis, listing optimisation, and copywriting can led to a huge ROI throughout the life of your product and business. Conversions and rankings will help you in the long run.

Conclusion

Remember, Amazon is NOT Google.

They started as an Ecommerce store, so their goals are different. As a result, you can currently “get away” with more: free giveaways to spike best seller rank, keyword stuffing listings, and just an overall spam approach to promotions.

The solution is to use REAL external marketing sources, such as influencer marketing, FB ads, content marketing, and others, to manually spike best seller rank and increase organic rankings. If done correctly, you won’t have to offer discounts or free products and you will build a better quality following in the process,you won’t have to offer discounts or free products and you will build a better quality following in the process. Organic rankings themselves and tracking them effectively is one of the key areas you can invest your Amazon marketing efforts, the ROI is incredible and the added benefits of this are massive too. You can see the exact process we use from start to finish that has worked for dozens of clients here.

Thanks for reading – we hope you enjoyed this post! Leave us a comment below with any thoughts!

 

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