A Behind The Curtain Look At How to Rank on Amazon


In a time when search engine ranking factors have been analyzed to death, one of the final mysteries in ecommerce marketing is how to rank on Amazon.

That’s right — it’s far easier for a small business to find solid, usable advice on how to raise its search engine rank on sites like Google and Bing (so they appear earlier in search results) than it is to do the same on Amazon. Why is this the case?

The answer is complexity.

You see, at their core, search engines focus on boiling down all types of content (text, images, videos, and audio) so they can be ranked equally. This drive toward homogenous ranking makes it easier to conform to identified standards that yield better search results.

How To Rank on Amazon

Amazon on the other hand uses a variety of visibility engines including:

  • Search ranking;
  • People who bought this bought that;
  • Top 100 sellers in product categories; and
  • Based on your previous browsing history.

Given this complexity, it becomes much more difficult to determine how to rank on Amazon. In order to do so, you need to isolate one ranking methodology from the others so you can observe its effects.

This is exactly the approach used by Ripen eCommerce in their groundbreaking study, “Amazon SEO research study – inside Amazon’s search engine”, a deep dive into Amazon’s search ranking factors.

“We poured over more than 746,500 search results for 16,930 keywords, looked for correlations between those data points, and tried to determine what factors appear to improve a product’s search ranking,” says David Rekuc, Ripen’s marketing director and the head of the study. “Much like traditional SEO, we found several factors influence search results on Amazon, and optimization has a compounding effect.”

So, how do you rank on Amazon? Using the findings of Ripen’s study, we’ve compiled the following guide and explained how to rank on Amazon.

What’s Not in This Guide

Before moving on to the guide, it’s important to note what factors were excluded from the study and thus from the guide (click here to learn why each was excluded):

  • Reviews;
  • Search terms;
  • Target audience; and
  • Platinum keywords.

After speaking with Rekuc, we also learned that the study:

  • Focused solely on physical products (including books), not digital;
  • Excluded all visibility engines except search ranking; and
  • Determined rank exclusively by using the default search sorting method, relevance rank.

How to Rank on Amazon: The Guide

Ripen’s study focused on identifying the correlations between specific product listing details and search rank on Amazon. Based on these correlations, we’ve created a guide that will teach you how to optimize your own product listings so they will rank higher in Amazon’s search results.

Ranking Factor #1: Sales Rank

The most important factor in search rank on Amazon is a product’s sales rank. As the chart below illustrates, there’s no question that products with higher sales rank numbers appear more often in Amazon search results.

In other words, these products are much more visible than those with lower sales ranks.

Number of Searches Vs. Sales Rank Percentile

The study went on to find that the influence of Amazon sales rank influenced more than merely search rank: “Not only did we see a strong correlation between sales rank and SERP, but we also noticed that top selling items had incredible ranking power for a wide range of search queries. On Amazon as a product’s sales rank improves, the number of search queries resulting in that product also increase.”

This correlation between search rank and sales rank leads us to the first step in optimizing your products to rank on Amazon: increase your sales rank as fast as you can in order to trigger a “snowball” effect. A higher sales rank will lead to more visibility in search results which will lead to more sales and so on.

At first this suggestion may seem like a catch-22. After all, how can you raise sales rank when your product is less visible in search results?

Amazon Search Optimization Step 1:

The key to success here is to start by focusing on conversion rate (i.e. sales) until the snowball effect kicks in.

Use both Amazon and outside advertising and promotion to drive targeted traffic to your products. This will increase the likelihood of sales that in turn will increase your product’s sales rank, leading to greater visibility in Amazon search.

Certain products such as books can be pre-sold, a factor that you can use to increase your sales rank before the product even goes “live”.

One caveat on sales rank:

The study only focused on top-level product categories. As the study notes: “Amazon uses more than one sales rank metric. For each of the search indexes, Amazon maintains a sales rank value; we call this a top-level category sales rank. The site also maintains subcategory sales ranks.

For example, this crib mattress from American Baby is ranked #52 in the baby category — but it’s #1 in the mattress pads subcategory.

Top Category

Because our study only investigated each product’s top-level category’s sales rank, and not the appropriate subcategory sales rank, there is a good chance we’ve actually understated the importance of sales for an item in search results.”

Ranking Factor #2: Category

While not directly correlating to search rank, knowing how to work with top-level categories on Amazon can make the difference between visibility and invisibility in search results. Here’s how it works:



  1. When you run a search on Amazon, you can either specify a top-level category or simply search all departments:

amazon top level search

  1. Let’s say we run a search in all departments for refrigerators. Here are the results:

amazon results

As you can see, the search results are returned for all departments (listed on the left) in which refrigerators are listed.

  1. Some searchers might narrow their search by clicking on refrigerators under appliances in the left column however, the number one selling refrigerator is not in the “Appliances” category, it’s in the “Tools & Home Improvement” category:

Best Seller Category

  1. Clicking on that search result instead of using the left category menu lands us directly in the “Tools and Home Improvement” category (note the change in the top search bar) after which all your searches will use that category instead of all departments:

amazon Category Search

What’s the effect of this scenario? If you’re selling refrigerators on Amazon, it’s important to note that the top selling refrigerators use “Tools & Home Improvement” as their top-category. If you use “Appliances” as the top-category for your refrigerators, then by the time a searcher reaches step 4 above, your product will be completely invisible in search results.

Ouch.

Amazon Search Optimization Step 2:

To retain visibility in Amazon search, make sure to do your research and list your products in the top-category in which the best selling competitive products are listed. Failing to do so will result in a dramatic loss of search visibility.

Click here for more details on categorization including information on blended search categories…

Ranking Factor #3: Product Fulfillment

Amazon offers three primary fulfillment relationships to its vendors:

1. Amazon Shipped & Sold – In this case, you have a vendor relationship with Amazon. You sell the product to Amazon at wholesale prices, and Amazon sells it for whatever retail price they deem appropriate.

2. Third party sold, Amazon Fulfilled – This is a typical consignment relationship. The product is still entirely owned by a third party seller, but it resides in an Amazon warehouse ready to be picked and shipped when ordered. Amazon calls this program Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). In most cases, this is the best route for a merchant to sell Prime-eligible products directly to the consumer.

3. Third party shipped and sold – This is a typical drop-ship relationship. The item is listed for sale on Amazon.com but resides in the seller’s warehouse. When an order is placed, the third party seller picks and ships the item.
As part of the study, Ripen assigned ranking factors an “r-value”. As the study explains, “The higher the R-value, the more likely that products or pages fulfilling that ranking factor will rank better in search results.”

As the chart below demonstrates, the correlation found between product fulfillment method and Amazon search rank was strong:

the correlation found between product fulfillment method and Amazon search rank

In fact, third party fulfillment seems to negatively affect a product’s search rank.

As an independent factor, when a product is “Prime eligible”, it also ranks higher in search.

Amazon Search Optimization Step 3:

If you want your products to rank higher in Amazon search, investigate the opportunities to have your products sold by Amazon and be Prime eligible as the alternative fulfillment methods seem to negatively impact Amazon search ranking.

Ranking Factor #4: Keywords

Ripen’s study notes an interesting departure from a widely held belief on product keywords: “A great deal of existing Amazon SEO advice suggests keyword stuffing the product title, but we advise against keyword stuffing at the cost of click-through rate.”

The insight here focuses on title length. While Amazon provides 500 characters for a product’s title, the average cutoff (where the title doesn’t fit and is truncated) on mobile devices occurs at 74 characters and on desktop devices at 110 characters.

As the chart below demonstrates, there’s a correlation between shorter titles and sales rank showing that products with titles under 74 characters sell better:

amazon Keyword Length Bias

While a keyword-stuffed title may gain a product visibility for more keywords, the numbers show that it can backfire instead. For example:

  • A product titled, “Bed Sheets — King/Queen/Full/Twin — Black/Blue/Orange/Green/Red” may show up in more searches, but sell less because shoppers will click through less often.
  • A product titled, “Bed Sheets — King — Red will show up in less searches but lead to more click-throughs as it’s the exact product for which the shopper is searching.

Given this bias towards exact product titles leading to more sales, Rekuc hypothesizes that, “uploading different images for product variations will also lead to better click-throughs. After all, a shopper looking for a red sheet will be less likely to click on an image if it shows black sheets even if the product title says red.”

He also recommends stuffing the keywords into product descriptions instead of titles. “The correlation between description and Amazon search ranking is low, but it can’t hurt.”

Amazon Search Optimization Step 4:

Make your product titles concise and to the point. While your products may show up in less searches, this approach is shown to correlate with higher sales.

Ranking Factor #5: Discounts

While the correlation between pricing discounts and Amazon search rank were low, Rekuc offered another hypothesis here. “Discounting your products, especially at first, may lead to more conversions which in turn will raise your sales rank leading to a better search rank.”

Amazon Search Optimization Step 5:

Consider pricing discounts up front to increase sales rank, which will positively affect Amazon search rank.

Conclusion

While Ripen eCommerce’s study is by no means a complete view of how Amazon ranks products in its search results, it’s the first tantalizing view behind the curtains of the ecommerce giant’s methodology for doing so.

If you want to know how to rank on Amazon, review the guide above for 5 steps you can take to increase the search rank of your Amazon products.  Please share additional tips you have on ranking in Amazon in comments.

Amazon.com Photo via Shutterstock

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Matt Mansfield


Matt Mansfield Matt Mansfield is the Tech Editor and SEO Specialist at Small Business Trends where he is responsible for directing and writing many of the site’s product reviews, technology how-to’s, and lists of small business resources as well as increasing the reach of our content.

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