Did you know that Amazon has surpassed Google as the go-to search platform for shoppers looking for products?
This may come as a surprise to many readers. (I’ve certainly never heard anyone use “Amazon” as a verb.) Yet the data backs this up.
When customers have a specific product in mind, more turn to Amazon search than Google.
The fundamental difference between Amazon and Google search
Anyone who’s been in SEO for a while will tell you that understanding the core goal of a search engine is critical to a sustainable SEO strategy.
Yes, in-the-moment tactics can boost rankings. But their use shouldn’t come at the expense of aligning your site to what search engines want to reward.
So what’s the main objective—and ideal user experience—for Google and Amazon?
- Google wants to answer questions. You run a search. The first result is exactly what you’re looking for. You either get an immediate answer or click through to a site, with no need to return to the SERP.
- Amazon wants to sell products. You search for a product, and the first result is the perfect match for your needs. In one or two more clicks, you buy—with the post-purchase experience reinforcing your initial choice.
Comparatively speaking, Google’s task is more complex. Take outdoor grills as an example.
Google needs to help people compare the use cases for gas versus charcoal grills, to find great recipes for grilling, to understand different techniques (e.g., low and slow vs. searing).
And it needs to answer all those questions with limited data—its visibility into the user experience declines after you leave the SERP.
Consider the range of intent: Shopping ads, local restaurants, barbecue techniques, and local retailers. Amazon’s algorithm manages a smaller set of users—those with the intent to buy a product online.
Amazon, on the other hand, is there to help buyers make a purchasing decision. Every click or scroll is trackable within their ecosystem. Even after a purchase, Amazon knows whether a return was necessary or how buyers felt about the experience (through reviews).
Amazon’s algorithm needs to solve a far narrow range of user problems and gets to use far more data to do it.
From those fundamental differences flow all tactical differences—the ones that require tweaks to titles or affect how you promote your ecommerce products on other sites.
Of course, not everything requires reworking.
What doesn’t change
Yes, Google and Amazon’s search functions are not the same. No, not everything is different:
- Keywords still matter. They’re the primary way that search engines match user needs to web content. You need to know how users think and talk about your product, and how to communicate that knowledge clearly but naturally on key parts of your product pages.
- Click-through rate is a proxy for relevance. If no one is clicking your link on Google or Amazon, that’s a sign that you’re not relevant—either because the content visible on the SERP isn’t compelling (e.g., low-quality images, typos) or the search engine misunderstands your page. In either case, you won’t last long on Page 1.
- Hardly anyone goes past Page 1. The lion’s share of clicks—and revenue—goes to those who show up near the top. That trend is only accelerating. The more you trust the quality of the search engine (i.e. the better it gets), the less inspired you are to dig through subsequent pages. (Who isn’t already a bit suspicious of sites or products on Page 4?)
So where do the two search engines diverge?
Keys to winning Amazon SEO (that experience with Google won’t teach you)
1. Single use of keywords is sufficient—as long as they’re relevant.
As long as the keyword is applicable to the product and appears in the listing title, there’s no need to litter the description and bullet points with the term.
On Amazon, most experts recommend including the product, material, quantity, brand, and color in the title, something that would be overload on a Google search result.
(The maximum character count before a title is truncated is 129 characters on Amazon compared to about 60 on Google.)
Consider the difference between All-Clad’s product pages and product listings on Amazon:
It’s easy to see some of the keywords added to Amazon titles and how those might target user searches: “non-stick,” “dishwasher safe,” “hard anodized.”
That’s why keyword research is paramount—not just for the obvious product name but for high-value descriptors. Indeed, keyword research is commonly listed as one of the most important factors for visibility on Amazon search.
Despite the availability of numerous tools to help sellers identify the most lucrative keywords, there’s no simple way to do it. Yes, you should start with a tool to build the initial dataset for your research, but the legwork doesn’t end there.
Entering your product’s primary description into such a tool generates a seemingly impressive list of related keywords. But this isn’t an exact science.
Each brand must decide which keywords have that special mix of relevance, high search volume, and low competition—those with the potential to generate sales from organic search alone.
Speaking of product descriptions: Amazon prefers bullets over walls of text. For users, it’s easier to scan a listing to see if a product has the desired features, especially on mobile devices.
And, for Amazon’s algorithm, bullets are a semi-structured way to imbibe information, which helps the search engine compare similar items (and rank them more effectively).
In the example above, separate bullets cover aspects like construction materials, battery life, and microphone capabilities.
Remember meta keywords? Google once allowed webmasters to dump a laundry list of (supposedly) relevant phrases into the source code, hidden from users. As you might expect, it wasn’t long before:
- Webmasters abused the privilege.
- Search engines got smart enough to figure it out on their own.
Amazon is still playing catch up, allowing sellers to include “backend keywords,” such as related terms, common misspellings, and even foreign-language versions.
These are freely visible in the source code if you’re looking to do some competitor research:
The meta keywords for a hand drill.
This may also be an opportunity to port Amazon learnings back to your ecommerce site. If all the top-ranked products share a subset of backend keywords, they may be worth including in your copy, too.
2. Optimize for the user (no, really).
Google has always pushed webmasters to optimize for the user—to match intent and solve user problems. The challenge, of course, is that “optimizing for the user” doesn’t always optimize for Google.
Recipes are an obvious example. Does anyone really want that 1,000-word personal history above the ingredient list and procedure? No. Does it give more context to search engines—and a potential reason to rank it higher? Yes.
Because Amazon has end-to-end analytics and is interested in sales, however, sellers can focus on copywriting that persuades users to buy.
That rationale applies to other aspects of your Amazon product listing, too:
- Include great images because they will help you sell the product, not because Amazon ranks listings with X number of images at Y resolution higher.
- Encourage honest (but mostly positive) reviews because they motivate people to buy, which, in turn, will cause Amazon to rank your listing higher.
Amazon can skip right past the superficial metrics in a way that Google can’t, and sellers benefit from it.
Too often, on Google, the inverse is true: We optimize for the micro-conversion of an organic visit—even though winning it sacrifices some of the post-click experience, negatively impacting engagement and conversion.
3. External links are valuable—if they result in traffic.
With Amazon’s A10 update to its algorithm, traffic from external sites is given increased importance.
This may appear to overlap with Google’s affinity for backlinks, but there’s a crucial difference. Amazon focuses on referral traffic—valuing only the the links that drive pageviews.
This makes total sense:
- Google is looking at links from other sites as a mark of authority.
- Amazon is looking at links from other sites as a source of leads.
Calls to action on such external links are far more important for Amazon than they are for Google.
An ecommerce site trying to boost their rankings on Google benefits most from links that appear on credible sites, even if they drive limited traffic. (Yes, Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model suggests that, “The amount of PageRank a link might pass along is based upon the probability that someone might click on a link.”)
But Amazon retailers must earn links that get clicked. Whether it’s “do follow” or “no follow” doesn’t matter. External links that drive traffic to Amazon create another pathway for online shoppers to buy something from them.
Amazon will reward sellers who do that.
4. Internal PPC traffic is less influential than it once was.
With Amazon’s A9 algorithm, people who spent more on internal ads seemed to rank higher organically. With A10, the effect has lessened.
Paying for your listing to appear in the Sponsored Products, Display Ads, and Headline Search Ads may still influence your search result position. But, thankfully, you don’t need to build an organic strategy around it.
(Google, by contrast, has maintained a firewall between paid and organic listings.)
There are reasons beyond Amazon SEO to run paid campaigns.
Seller authority is paramount for Amazon (more below.) Retailers new to the platform need to illustrate their conversion potential and credibility to be “picked up” by the search engine, and PPC is one of the most effective ways to kickstart this process.
Once it happens, however, the importance of traffic generated via Amazon’s PPC campaigns falls off in terms of search visibility. PPC, in other words, is a paid tryout for the organic listings.
5. Click-through and conversion rates are critical.
Amazon’s search engine places massive weight on these two metrics. They indicate the percentage of people who:
- Click your listing on the SERP;
- Purchase the product the page is selling.
The good news is that sellers can tweak the content that has a direct impact on these ratios. The bad news is that they can’t hide the content that they don’t control.
Amazon sellers who aim to improve their organic click-through rates have limited options. The main components of an Amazon SERP are the product image, title, price, and customer ratings, with the last item (generally) out of sellers’ hands.
As the most visible component, the product image is critical to grab attention. Test ways to make the most of this element.
A hit of bright color can catch the eye on a dull SERP.
The same goes for the product title. It’s arguably the second-most visible component of the search result and needs to catch the eye while also containing the necessary keywords. Finding this balance is crucial.
Compared to optimizing for click-through rate, there are more customizations available to a seller to optimize for conversions.
Fortunately, there are many excellent online resources on how to do so. Typical strategies include:
- Keeping the product’s price competitive;
- Ensuring that the product is eligible for Amazon Prime;
- Writing engaging product descriptions that highlight the listing’s benefits.
- Keeping inventory available and diverse—the breadth and depth of inventory show Amazon that you’re a high-value partner.
On the flip side, things like out-of-stock notices can hurt conversions (and rankings).
Remember, Amazon wants sales, but not all sales are created equal. If Amazon earns a higher margin for a given product, that’s a better end result for them—and a reason to showcase that product in search.
6. Seller Authority remains pivotal.
Seller Authority is assigned even more importance with the A10 update, meaning that retailers who exhibit a history of customer-focused behavior are given a significant boost in their search engine rankings.
Seller Authority is determined by numerous variables:
- How long sellers have been on Amazon;
- The percentage of customer returns;
- Overall feedback from customers on their products.
Amazon sellers can and should (subtly) motivate customers who had a positive experience to leave good reviews. Getting this right has the twin benefits of providing social proof to drive conversions (an important ranking factor) and contributing to Seller Authority.
The choice for or against Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) shifts responsibility for several aspects of Seller Authority. With FBA, sellers send their goods to Amazon, which sends them to buyers. From Amazon’s perspective, they can:
- Ensure consistent delivery times;
- Manage returns and overall customer service.
That, in theory, ensures a more consistent customer experience, which has obvious benefits for Amazon and possible knock-on benefits for the seller. But it also limits the customer data provided to sellers and has some other negatives.
SEO strategies to help pages rank on Google diverge from those that are effective on Amazon.
Amazon’s objective is to serve search results that generate a sale in as short a time as possible. Sales velocity is their primary concern, and the logic that drives their search results is designed to support this.
Mostly, this is good news: On Amazon, you can focus more on making your buyers happy and less on the needs of an esoteric algorithm.