On Amazon’s highly competitive platform, what does it take to have greater visibility and sell more product? In this episode of the Searchmetrics Voices of Search podcast series, Adam Weiler, founder of Sunken Stone shares his essential search optimization techniques, so your products can rise to the top of customer searches. Adam is a Premier Amazon Channel Partner with over 10 years of experience helping companies create profitable and sustainable business success selling on Amazon.
- How to do an analysis of the competition
- What are the best strategies for creating listings, including the front and back end and titles?
- Navigating the Amazon ecosystem, how do you research search terms, balancing out rankings and volume?
- What are the different strategies for commodity products like a coffee mug versus a new and innovative product?
- What is the difference between being in the top spot at Amazon compared to Google?
- How do you navigate duplication of listings?
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Ben: Welcome to non-Google search month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re going to turn the spotlight to how you can optimize your SEO efforts on some of the most important search engines that don’t start with the letter G.
Ben: Joining us today is Adam Weiler who is the founder of Sunken Stone, which is a performance-based Amazon management agency that is a premier Amazon Channel partner with over 10 years of experience helping eCommerce companies create sustainable business success selling on Amazon.
Ben: And today Adam is going to talk to us about his strategies for increasing organic visibilities of products on Amazon. But before we hear from Adam I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Search Metrics; we are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic, where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized.
Ben: To schedule your free digital diagnostic go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay, on with the show; here’s my conversation with Adam Weiler, the founder of Sunken Stone. Adam, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Adam: Ben, thanks for having me.
Ben: It’s great to reconnect with you, you’ve been on my other podcast, the Martech podcast, a couple of times talking to me about Amazon, and I’m excited to have my go-to Amazon expert here on the Voices of Search to talk a little SEO and content optimization.
Adam: As always, honored.
Ben: Just to give everybody some context, tell us a little bit about your work and tell us a little bit about Sunken Stone and who are your customers?
Adam: I have been selling on Amazon for about 11 years now, or 12 years now, and I started with HDMI cables. I started selling those in Q4 of 2007, and then quickly moved to other product; eventually, about 4 years ago, realized the talent that I and my team possess can be applied to other brands, and it’s so much easier working with a brand with some kind of momentum already.
Adam: So, we went into a full done-for-you turnkey Amazon service. Right now we’re managing about 75 brands on the Amazon channel, and that includes, and when I say managing we’re talking about four major inventory management and logistics, marketing, which is the Amazon ad platforms, content, how to build a great listing and customer service; how to get great reviews and keep your customers happy.
Ben: So, when you say that you’re working with 75 different brands, give me a sense of how many skews, at any given time, your company is optimizing?
Adam: We’re managing– I think the last time I saw it was around 1400 skews. We really specialize in a smaller skew count catalog, something that we can ring maximum value out of each skew, you know? Our secret sauce and our steps and processes works really well when we can hone in and extract maximum fills out of one or two or 10 skews versus a ten thousand skew catalog that you can’t really give that love and attention to.
Ben: Okay, so there’s a pretty wide variety of products, a wide variety of categories, and you’re managing multiple thousands of listings, which on some level makes you an expert to talk about how to optimize the listings for Amazon. You mentioned that there are four different categories that you’re working with, you’re helping with inventory management, customer service and paid media; I want to focus in specifically on the listing creation, and just get your take on the strategy that you apply when you’re creating a listing. Where are you figuring out how to source your content and keywords?
Adam: Great question. When you’re talking about listings there’s the front end of the listing and then there’s the back end of the listing, and I’ll break this up into sections; so, front end of the listing is title. It is images; it’s bullet points, it’s description, potentially video or enhanced brand content on the page. The way it works with us is let’s say we’re onboarding a brand; we’re going to get a Dropbox or Google Drive folder of all of their content. So, we’re going to get, “Here’s a million images, or ten thousand images; here’s lifestyle shots, here’s how we sell the stuff on our website, here’s how it’s sold in stores.” And what our team does is sorts through it and looks to see how it’s positioned.
Adam: First, we’re going to take a look at competition on the marketplace. I think for today– it’s always easier if we have a sample product that we’re running through this process, then I can even plug that into some tools that we’re using. How about a cappuccino machine? Or espresso machine?
Ben: I got a better one for you.
Adam: What’s that?
Ben: I want to sell a box, here’s my new product; I want to sell a box that I can buy an Amazon Echo, a Google Home and an Apple Siri Home kit or whatever the Apple one is called-
Adam: Yeah, Apple Home.
Ben: I want to put them all in one box, put a light on top of it and whenever one of them talks that light goes off, so I can just talk to Apple, Siri, Google, Alexa, whoever, and somebody responds back to me.
Adam: All right. I’m going to imagine that we’ve cleared all the trademark hurdles with Amazon, Google and Apple already. I’m assuming that we’re good to go because what happens, as we’re going to get further down this, you start putting some trademark– let’s say we put Amazon Alexa in our backend keywords, could be flagged, so we want to avoid that stuff.
Ben: Yeah, no, we’re on the up-and-up; they all know we’re putting their products in one box, what’s wrong with that?
Adam: Awesome. Okay, so first thing we’re going to do is take a look at the competition; in the cases that there isn’t direct, direct competition, we’re going to look at tangential. So, in that case we’re going to look at smart home; we’re going to look at the Alexas; we’re going to look at the Google Homes.
Ben: Speakers, Sonos, right?
Adam: Yeah, smart speakers, Sonos’, and what we’re going to do is compile this huge list of the products, the ASINS; ASIN is how Amazon classifies their products. And then we’re going to start running them through some tools. Helium 10 is one we subscribed to, I like it just for ease of use, and it’s called this reverse ASIN lookup; you’re going to put a product in, let’s say you put Google Home in their products, or I don’t think Amazon even sells Google Home because they’ve got a weird, but imagine it’s on there, we grab the ASIN, we run it through and this is going to spit out a list of a bunch of keywords.
Adam: And it’s also going to spit out what they call their ‘IQ score’, or their cerebro IQ score. It’s like trade-off, like, yeah how hard is this going to be to rank, but also the volume that it’s getting in search terms. These are all weird, crude, rudimentary tools– it’s not the same or whatever tools you’re used to on Google; that stuff does not exist on Amazon. So we’re playing it a little different, we’re playing into different ecosystems and Amazon doesn’t like sharing some data, so you either have to piece it together from experience, or you’ve bought data on their ad platform, and you can use that for another product, or you scrape it together with the best tools out there. Helium 10 is a great one, I recommend it.
Adam: So, instead of running competition, you can run a bunch of competitor products and then based on that you’re looking at what you want to rank for; I would say we’re going to go for smart home products, because the issue is if you’re not selling a commodity product, like coffee mugs, for example– people are searching for coffee mugs, so you can optimize for coffee mug or orange coffee mug. The issue is something that’s a little different is we’re going to have to find a bucket to put it in.
Ben: So that’s an important distinction; let me just chime in here and echo what you’re saying is that Amazon, when you’re trying to optimize your listing, if you’re working with a commodity product, something that already exists, it is a different strategy to do your content optimization as opposed to– likely a fair amount of the Amazon listings are not necessarily coming onto the platform to compete in a category that already exists; if you’re doing something new and innovative, you’re creating a new product, you’re basically looking for similar categories, and you’re creating your own niche.
Adam: Exactly. You might never be able to rank for smart speaker, but you’ll show up on a couple of long– you want to show up in a bunch of long tail searches. Amazon will give you bottom of page 1 or page 2 or page 3 ranking for a bunch of those related keywords.
Ben: Just anecdotally, do you have a sense of how being in the top spot at Amazon compares to being the top spot in Google?
Adam: For sure; you want to be above that fold and in the top couple first spots of any keyword search result. Now, if you were coming into market and targeting smart speaker, that’s going to be a competitive search term, and it’s going to take a while for you to get there. I’ve heard it’s very similar, around 30% click to the first spot, and then cascades down from there, very similar to how Google ranks.
Adam: You want to be above the fold just like in Google.
Ben: Okay, so SEO’s can think of the value of the position similar to how they think about it in Google when they’re optimizing a listing for Amazon?
Adam: Exactly. The 1st position is always going to get the most clicks. Especially in mobile when screen real estate is limited.
Ben: Essentially what I’m hearing is when you’re starting a new category, like this home speaker collaboration we’re talking about, if that’s what we want to call it, you’re probably not going to be landing on the first page right out of the gate; you’re going to end up being on a fair amount of long tail keywords.
Ben: Talk to me about how you put your keyword list together, and is there even a keyword list?
Adam: Yeah, it really is a keyword list. So front end you can put keywords in a title; obviously you want to target that and Amazon very heavily. You can put keywords in your image file names and Amazon will index those; you can put keywords in your bullet points; you can put keywords in your description. People leaving reviews for you, they can put keywords and rankings on those. That’s the front end.
Adam: Backend, Amazon– it’s so weird. Amazon has five blanks or blank spots for you to figure out your keywords; now, they’re always changing this, the most recent I heard was 250 bytes of data, or 250 characters, it changes all the time. There’s tools out there where you can run your keyword list through, and they’ll verify that you’re not going over the data, because apparently if it’s 250, and you go 251 Amazon reads it as 0, which doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just not look at the most– the last keyword on there.
Ben: So when you say there’s five spaces on the backend, this is essentially where you’re writing the equivalent of a meta tag description; something that can’t be seen by the end user, but is still trying to provide a sense of how you would like your product to be ranked or described to the platform.
Adam: Exactly, if it’s a really important keyword that is in the title and description and bullet points. You can also add it to the back end for a little extra boost. There’s conflicting opinions about that, some people say, “don’t duplicate,” some people say it’s okay to duplicate. Or there are some use cases or really long tail keywords or niche keywords that you would never put in your title or description, but you still want the product to potentially for. This is a great spot for that.
Ben: So, for example, in the case of us putting the combination of all the different voice speakers together in one box, we might put the keyword “Tim Cook” or “Jeff Bezos” in our keyword description, because somebody might be looking for something that’s Apple related and those are keywords that we think are long tail keywords that could be relevant.
Adam: Perfect example.
Ben: Other than we’re totally going to get in trouble, and it’s totally copyright infringement, but we’re ignoring that.
Adam: Yeah, we’re already getting sued, [delicate, we’re a chip in sales].
Ben: Okay, so you have your front end listing, your, “consumer content” let’s call it, and then you have the equivalent of your meta tags where there are five spots to put something like 250 characters, maybe it’s 250 bytes of data, which you can feed Amazon a little extra juice for how you’d like to be positioned.
Adam: Exactly. When it comes to listings, a strong backend.
Ben: Okay we had a little technical issue in the recording side, Adam’s headphones died, so he’s going to rejoin us on the call. It’s going to sound a little different here, but Adam, now that we have you back; we were talking about our listing for our box that has all the voice assistants in one, and if we’re getting some performance, we’re seeing that the people are clicking, are converting at a high rate, but we’re not getting a ton of organic traffic, and let’s say we don’t have the budget to do a lot of paid, what are you doing to optimize a listing that you’re seeing is performing well in terms of conversions, but not getting a lot of visibly on Amazon.
Adam: Yeah, great question. I would start by tracking your keywords, so when you use Helium 10 for a keyword tracker there’s plenty of other can see the overall trend for your specific keywords that are in your title, that are in your front end, that are in your back end. The thing about Amazon, they don’t give you, unlike Google Analytics, they’re not giving you info on where a customer comes from, fewer data.
Adam: So, if it’s just an organic sale, you don’t know what keyword triggered that sale, which is unfortunate. I don’t know why they don’t share it; they like to hold onto that data. Eventually they’re loosening up, but internally you can track your keyword ranking, and typically how it works is Amazon is a flywheel, so if you’re selling well, through a specific keyword you’re going to see better rankings for that keyword.
Ben: So basically, when you start a listing, and you’re getting your initial performance, if you’re seeing strong conversions, the expectation is that you will continue to see organic listing growth. You’re going to have better placements because Amazon is seeing that that listing is performing. So you have to be patient and just wait for your placement to increase.
Adam: Yes, be patient; obviously there’s other things that we can do, and we’ll get into those, but you also want– Amazon, if you think about it logically, Amazon is a virtual mall and yes, they have unlimited shelf space, but really they have limited screen real estate for a specific keyword.
Adam: So someone typing in ‘smart speaker,’ Amazon only has five spots above the fold, and only 11 spots on that front page. So, Amazon– it’s in Amazon’s best interest to show the product that’s going to result in a sale, or the highest revenue per pixel artist, or whatever method you prefer anyway.
Adam: So they want to go show something that’s going to help being a consumer and get them to keep coming back to Amazon, and give them a good experience. So if they think– they do this over time by fluctuating your keyboard rankings. To test. So, on page 3. Amazon might try you on page 2, and if you keep out-executing and out-selling that other product listing for that keyword, you’re going to keep rising in that rank.
Ben: So, the expectation is that your placement, your ranking, is going to bounce around a fair amount initially as Amazon tries to evaluate your revenue per pixel, revenue per inch, revenue per listing KPIs. What are some of the triggers that you can pull to try and maximize that value, and then secure a higher listing placement to get more traction?
Adam: It used to just be… you throw up a listing, and they came, and they will come. Now, not so much. You really got to spend some money, whether it’s internal traffic or external traffic to get that needle moving, and to show Amazon that they should be ranking you higher per specific keywords.
Ben: And by internal traffic and external traffic, I’m assuming you mean using Amazon’s ad platform to drive people within Amazon to your product, and then external traffic being, driving traffic outside of Amazon to your listing. Did I get it right?
Ben: Okay. So you can use paid placements to try to drive more traffic to your listing with the hopes that it will boost your conversion rate?
Adam: Not necessarily boost your conversion rate; and you don’t have to do this. You can just set your product and if it’s a great product, and a great product marked as fit, people are going to find it and eventually just move up over time. We call these, “naturals” in our company, like this cup, this product that just doesn’t even have an optimized title, doesn’t even have an optimized listing, that’s just somehow is a great product and people love it and people return to it and Amazon keeps rewarding that.
Adam: But, if you don’t have five years to wait around, or 2 years to wait around you kind of want to see better results now or of your products going to be a success on Amazon. You have to start throwing eyeballs at it and seeing what happens.
Ben: So is there any impact that paid advertising has on the performance of your listing organically, is it, you know, does it drive more reviews; does it– more eyeballs on the page and Amazon knows you’re serious, so they’re going to send you more organic traffic, talk to me about the impact paid has on organic traffic.
Adam: All of the above. So there is something called the “Halo” effect, where, if you are bidding on the keyword, if you’re paying for the keyword for smart speaker or smart home speaker, and you start getting conversions through that ad. Amazon is actually going to notice that and start ranking organically for the same keyword. It makes sense from their perspective, they’re like, “Hey, this guy is paying,” and they know they’re getting a good response from the audience, so why would we reward them organically for that.
Ben: So, you can essentially expedite the pace of Amazon evaluating your product for a specific keyword by using their paid tools to buy traffic for that keyword?
Adam: Yeah, and unfortunately it seems to be — unless you have a huge list, like an email list or Facebook list or Instagram list, it seems to be the only way now to expedite that.
Ben: How often do you go back and edit the keyword lists and optimize the title? When you get some data, and your listing isn’t performing, is it something that is valuable to you to go back and take a second look, or do you just find that you do one iteration of the product, title, description, bullets, the back end data you have, and you just said it and forget it.
Adam: Great question. So, what we’re looking at internal KPIs, we’re looking at conversion rate for the product, and our internal metrics, if we’re not at 30% conversion rate, something is up, like Amazon has a higher conversion rate that a typical website, and we want to get that higher up. We’ve had products with 75% conversion rate.
Ben: And conversion rate — you mean when somebody gets to the listing page, they’re actually buying the product.
Adam: Exactly. They’re buying. Yeah, Amazon’s biased, it’s way different than a typical website conversion rate. So what we’re doing, we’re taking a look, we’re seeing if– and we’re evaluating this not on a daily basis, because there’s not enough data coming in and not enough changes, but maybe every week, every two weeks we’re taking a look and seeing if there’s– what good converting words or phrases in those advertising campaigns that for some reason weren’t in the title, weren’t prominent in the description.
Adam: And if we’re finding those gold nuggets then we do want to update the front end, or the back end with those keywords, because obviously people are searching for that keyword, our ad is showing to them, and they’re buying. But it’s not even in our listing, so that’s some goals right there.
Ben: That’s the interesting part to me about Amazon, is that you could do your keyword optimization, and you’re doing competitive research and trying to be strategic and use some data to figure out how to create your listing and how to place it so Amazon will rank it appropriately. But the biggest signal that you have on Amazon is what the performances of your paid advertising, and that is influencing your organic strategy, which is dramatically different than how we think about organic listings in SEO where there is very little, if any, impact when somebody advertises on Google.
Ben: That does not affect where they rank in Google organic search, and you’re saying, look, not only can we seed Amazon to ask them essentially to rank us for specific keywords by buying the ads, but then when we buy ads, we will then go and put those keywords back into the listing to try to drive our traffic back up.
Adam: Kind of crazy, yeah.
Ben: Interesting. So there’s a deep connection and collaboration between Amazon’s paid activity and their organic strategy. Adam, any other last tips for optimizing organic traffic to Amazon?
Adam: Yeah. I would say if you don’t want to spend money on Amazon, on their advertising platform, but let’s say you had a thousand, or a million person email list, you had a great Facebook community or Instagram community, you could actually drive traffic to Amazon, assuming they’re going to convert at a high rate. Give up your eCommerce sales, give up your retail sales for a day or a week or some scheduled period, drive them to Amazon, and then you’re going to rank organically for those front and backend keywords, because Amazon loves external traffic going to Amazon from other social networks and Facebook and email.
Adam: They really reward that. It’s like, “These guys are doing something, let’s reward them four keyword ranks.”
Ben: Interesting. So, Amazon’s algorithm that figures out where a listing should be placed organically, how you should rank, is not only influenced by the paid advertising platform on Amazon, but you could drive traffic to your listing; which basically can be generic traffic, and as long as Amazon sees that your page is performing, that’s going to help boost your organic listings, it’ll help you rank higher.
Adam: Yes, and big caveat: don’t just send a million Facebook bot likes; don’t send garbage traffic to it because that’s actually going to do the inverse, like, you’ll go down for your keyword rankings. You’re just going to waste a bunch of money and hurt you. You want to send high quality traffic, you want to send your raving fans to the listing, because they’re going to buy. They’re going to buy probably at a higher conversion rate than the typical Amazon shopper, and Amazon likes a high conversion rate, and they’re going to reward you with higher search rankings.
Ben: So at the end of the day, the Amazon algorithm, easily influenced by some of the other marketing activities that you can do; so the more traffic you can drive that’s going to be performant, anything that’s going to drive a conversion, whether it be using Amazon’s platform, using your email list, your social network following, whatever ability you have to point the fire hose towards your Amazon pages is going to inevitably help your organic listings on Amazon.
Adam: Well put.
Ben: Let me ask one question: have you seen the Amazon pages people are creating for their listings help drive any traffic outward? We know we can drive inward traffic to Amazon to boost a product listing on Amazon. Can you use a high-ranking product listing on Amazon to try to boost your Google rankings?
Adam: Anecdotally, yes, because what’s going to happen== that’s a flywheel we talk about, a model we talk about. So, you’re ranking well for Ben’s Smart Home Speaker, that’s your brand name, you’re ranking well for that. What’s going to happen is we’re going to start ranking organically for smart speaker– – that never knew about our brand, but they’re going to the generic smart speaker keyword, and some of them are going to the website, and they’re going to buy. Some of them are going to bounce out and go look for reviews elsewhere on the internet, so yes, some people like to go to Amazon, but some people like to buy from manufacturers’ website, and we’re going to benefit. It really is a rising tide.
Ben: So, there is a brand lift for you having a prominent placement on Amazon as well, which inevitably helps your Google rankings.
Ben: It’s a virtuous cycle. Adam, let me just say, thank you for coming out to the podcast, great to reconnect and thanks for telling the SEO audience a little bit about how they can optimize for Amazon.
Adam: Anytime Ben, thanks.
Ben: Okay, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Adam Weiler, the founder of Sunken Stone. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Adam you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can visit his company’s website, which is sunkenstone.com.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you could send me a tweet at BenJShap. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.
Ben: And if you liked this podcast, and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back next week.
Ben: Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember: the answers are always in the data.