You’ve launched your product on Amazon and are starting to generate some sales. You’re probably monitoring your keyword rank for your target search terms, the primary driver of sales velocity.
In past years this was an easy metric to track. Your listing would appear in the same position, on the same page regardless of the searcher. A shopper in New York would find your product on the same page of search results as a shopper in California. Just as a shopper on a tablet would see your product in the same position as a desktop user.
This has changed profoundly and is the subject of a much speculation. Most sellers can recount experiences of search anomalies. You search for your product using your target keyword and find your listing on page 1 of the search results. But don’t celebrate yet, your friend across town or across the country searches the same term and finds your listing on page 3, or worse not even indexed.
With so many sellers reporting varying search positioning we decided to take a closer look. To fully understand what is happening on Amazon’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) Rebaid partnered with Zyte. Zyte is amongst the largest web scraping services with a reported 300 million monthly scrapes of Amazon alone. While their name is probably unfamiliar to most sellers, they provide the systems and servers used by the largest Amazon Product Research tools.
While speaking to Zyte’s senior engineer, Yogesh I raised the issue of SERP shuffling. In other words, the phenomenon of a product listing appearing in different positions on different searches. As expected Yogesh confirmed that 10 simultaneous searches from different IP’s, using the exact same keyword phrase would display different listing rankings in each search result. The confirmation of this did not come as much of a surprise. But what was surprising was his observation that on some searches a product listing would not be indexed.
For example you run 10 searches using the same keyword phrase from different IP’s. The results break down in this hypothetical example is:
3 Times: Page 4
5 Times: Page 5
2 Times: Not Indexed
So in this example on 20% of the searches your product listing would not be indexed. In other words your product listing would be impossible for shoppers to find since it would be completely omitted from the results. And this isn’t unusual. According to Zyte this is observed quite frequently in the massive data sets they continuously examine.
The most likely explanation is saturation. Amazon has seen an explosion in the number of sellers in past years, a trend that is likely to accelerate. A robust variety of products is one of Amazon’s primary advantages, yet displaying hundreds of pages of search results is clearly not wise. In fact Amazon has instituted a 7 page search results page limit for many categories. That means more competition for less real estate. Amazon’s apparent solution is shuffling and that is objectively what is occurring.
On Wall Street stocks are often designated as blue chips or pink sheets. Blue chips are the high flyers; Netflix, Facebook, Ford, Exxon and so on. Pink sheets on the other hand are companies you have probably never heard of that trade at pennies per share.
Similarly listings on Amazon’s marketplace could be designated as blue chips or pink sheets. Every category has Blue Chips. These are the listings with the most reviews, Best Seller or Amazon’s Choice badge and firmly occupy the top of page 1 for the highest traffic keywords. Blue Chips typically don’t shuffle for the simple reason that Amazon wants shoppers to buy those products. These are the listings that Amazon has identified as having great price points, low return rates and high customer satisfaction.
Pink sheets are everything else. Listings with few reviews, higher return rates, uncompetitive pricing or simply those which never got traction occupy this space. In many categories there are far more of these listings than pages Amazon is willing to display, so they shuffle. Listings caught in the shuffle sometimes generate enough revenue to make them viable, but never fulfill the stellar sales numbers everyone looks to achieve.
Page 1 of the search results is an island of sorts. Get there and you’re likely to stay there, while enjoying the benefits of stable ranking and high traffic. In this sense Amazon has increasingly become a winner take all game. You’ll often hear the false rationalization of a growing pot. This is the idea that while competition on Amazon is growing, so too are the number of online shoppers. In theory this would result in something of an equilibrium. But in reality the top 3% of sellers in any given category generate 90% of the sales. So they capture the vast majority of the increased ecommerce revenues. So to conclude, design a kick ass product, with great packaging and compelling copy. Launch aggressively used all available tools and strategies, and relentlessly pursue a page 1 rank for high traffic keywords to ensure success!
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About the author
Brendon Fields is the founder of Rebaid and an 8 figure Amazon seller who started his first e-commerce business at 14. He now manages the development of Rebaid as well as adhoc consulting and podcasting.