Once upon a time, in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, Google was the home of ALL internet search. It didn’t matter if you were looking for industrial fasteners, power tools, a new pair of shoes, your favorite band’s song lyrics, or an academic paper on Botswana’s economic system. Google was the place to go. It still is today, for the most part; Google has captured more than 80% global market share of search.
However, as of early 2017, Amazon has become the top place buyers go on the Internet to search for products. In a Raymond James study published in early 2017, 52% of people said that Amazon was their first choice for product searches. A December 2017 Survata study found slightly different results, putting the percentage of people who start online searches on Amazon at 49% and on search engines at 36%. Although that showed a slight dip for Amazon, its share of product searches remains strong.
Places have been Traded
It is now clear: Amazon has traded places with Google as the preferred search engine for products.
This only means one thing for companies across the B2B and B2C spectrum—manufacturers, distributors, retailers and brands: Not being listed on Amazon creates risk of obscurity and irrelevance for your company.
The rate of return on “traditional” internet marketing methods for products—using search engine optimization and paid search tactics to drive traffic to products on a branded website experience—is decaying. Yes, branded product websites remain relevant and can still provide a powerful customer experience. However, they are simply not the engine for product discovery and purchases they once were.
Many online sellers, however, have not yet fully realized this trend. Most continue to allocate the majority of digital marketing budgets to ‘traditional’ search engine marketing and related channels. This creates first-mover advantages for companies that shift advertising budgets to where buyers are looking—which is increasingly on Amazon.
Adding to the appeal of Amazon, it turns out that Amazon converts buyers at a far superior rate than the average e-commerce website. According to a study by website traffic measurement firm Millward Brown Digital, the average conversion rate for Top 500 E-commerce merchants is 3.32%. Amazon, however, converts at 13% for non-Prime customers and an astonishing 74% for Prime customers. While these numbers are impressive, they shouldn’t be a shock: the buying intent of visitors to Amazon.com is extremely high. (Prime, and Business Prime Shipping, are the expedited shipping programs that Amazon offers to online customers.)
So how can a merchant succeed on Amazon? Luckily, Amazon’s marketing tools for sellers work similarly to other online tools (not to the level of Google’s tools, but getting there). Following are four tips to ensure your business succeeds on Amazon. It is important to note that some these require a significant use of resources and advertising investment, but let’s be honest: Won’t it be worth it if you can capture new customers and convert at four times the rate of your website.
Invest in building a foundation of great product data.
Many digital marketing managers have invested a lot of time, energy and budget into developing robust product data for their websites. The good news is that a lot of this data is extremely relevant to Amazon’s system. Amazon is a data-driven company, and products with better quality data will perform better. Unfortunately, too many product listings don’t go far enough, only including a basic product photo, title and description. That simply isn’t sufficient.
Each product listed on Amazon needs to have a strong, very descriptive title which incorporates product benefits, an extremely detailed product description, technical product data like size, weight, and other details, 5-7 images, and ideally at least one video. This means having staff with excellent product knowledge, who can produce high-quality videos and photos. Over many years in e-commerce, I’ve learned that great images sell products online—and this holds true on Amazon as well. The bonus here is that you can leverage all of these assets across other selling channels.Amazon calls these great product listings ‘A+ Pages’, and you should aim for nothing less for your listings.
Spend resources on customer engagement
You might think Amazon is simply an e-commerce website; it isn’t. It is a customer engagement platform. And the more engaged you are in the selling and optimization process, the higher your products are going to rank in Amazon’s search. This means:
- Encouraging positive product reviews: Amazon weighs the number and ranking of product reviews very heavily. Anything you can do to encourage satisfied customers to write a review will help your overall rankings and visibility. Tools exist in the marketplace to assist with generating reviews on your products, including Amazon’s ‘Early Reviewer Program’, which enables sellers to generate more review content, more quickly.
- Rapidly responding to all feedback: The quality and speed of your responses is extremely important, as it impacts your seller rating, which in turn impacts visibility. Amazon sets a high bar here for response time from sellers, and you need to comply in order to achieve and retain good rankings.
- Monitoring competitors and testing content: See how your pages compare to your competitors and test micro-adjustments to the title and description to increase conversions. Don’t be afraid to use superlatives in your titles (within Amazon’s guidelines). Price monitoring is also important, particularly for manufacturers and brands who are looking to ensure resellers are not eroding selling prices on Amazon (including Amazon itself).
- Develop a brand page: Amazon gives brands the opportunity to build branded pages on their platform, to create a brand-appropriate experience within the marketplace. The payoff here should be obvious, and the more volume you do in sales, the more benefits you get from Amazon (if you get big enough, you may even qualify for Strategic Seller status). For examples of good brand pages, check out GE Lighting, or this B2B page for Fluke Multimeters.
Take advantage of the marketing tools Amazon offers
Amazon offers several paid tools that can boost product visibility. These tools are critical to drive visibility for your products amidst the millions of listings on Amazon, and can help new sellers get started on the platform. These marketing tools include:
- Sponsored products (paid search) where you can buy keywords like you do with Google AdWords. This drives more visibility for your products, helping them garner more reviews, which ultimately improves organic visibility. Additionally, Amazon offers analytics to help users understand and manage ad spend for better return on investment.
- Headline search ads (banner ads) are also based on keywords, showcasing several products in a single ad at the top of search results and category pages. Headline ads also give you the ability to create targeted landing pages on Amazon, which improves their effectiveness.
- Product display ads are closer to the point of purchase, displaying on Amazon’s product pages. Here marketing dollars can be more effective because they are typically more targeted and there is higher buying intent.
- Retargeting —Amazon offers the capability to drive traffic back to your Amazon store or even to your own site by using display ads served across the web.
With any of these tools, it is critical to have a well-organized strategy and experienced resources executing for you (as you would for a traditional Google search engine marketing program). The good news here is that higher Return on Ad Spend levels are still available to sellers on Amazon, even for non-brand specific terms (similar to Google from 10 years ago).
Make sure your fulfillment is on-point: Several options exist for marketplace sellers for fulfillment on Amazon, including merchant-fulfilled (where you ship directly to the buyer) and Fulfilled by Amazon (or ‘FBA’, where you ship in bulk to Amazon, they store your product, and then ship individual orders on your behalf).
There are two reasons why you need to make your fulfillment system works flawlessly. First, you are more likely to get good product and company reviews when your shipments arrive on time and the contents are accurate. Second, being visible to Amazon Prime members increases the likelihood that your products will be found and purchased. For your products to be eligible for Prime, you either have to sell products directly to Amazon (not necessarily optimal, as you will lose margin, and you can’t control pricing or product presentation), or you can leverage Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). As mentioned above, Prime members convert at a 74% rate, and are expected to number almost 70 million people in 2017, making this group a market segment you don’t want to miss capturing.
Sellers have much to gain from developing and boosting their presence on Amazon. It is the #1 place buyers are searching online for products. Ignoring the giant in the room will put your business at risk. Even if you view Amazon as a competitor, you need an Amazon strategy. This could include selling on Amazon in the near term, in order to capitalize on the volume to be found on the marketplace.