Forget about Bing. Forget about Yahoo (if you haven’t already :P). Google’s biggest competition might actually be Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”).

When it comes to product searches, Amazon is Google’s biggest competitor. A recent study found that 55% of online product searches began on Amazon in 2016. That’s up 11% from 2015, when 44% of shoppers checked Amazon first.

The same study found quite a few game-changing facts about the power of Amazon’s search engine and common online shopping habits:

  • 90% of shoppers will check Amazon even if they’ve found the product elsewhere (but 70% will also check elsewhere after finding the product on Amazon).
  • During the holiday season, people prefer traditional search engines if they don’t know what to buy (only 49% start on Amazon), presumably to help inspire ideas. However, when the shopper already knows what to buy, Amazon search rates increase (59% start on Amazon).
  • 50% of shoppers on mobile devices start on Amazon, with only 34% using other search engines and 16% going directly to other retailers.

Sure, Amazon can’t replace Google for finding an Italian restaurant near you or diagnosing what that spot on your back is. But when it comes to product searches, Amazon is the winner according to the numbers.

This is great news for Amazon vendors and AMS users, but also for 3P sellers. 3P sellers can take advantage of Amazon SEO to compete on level playing fields with bigger vendors.

Because Amazon SEO best practices differ from Google SEO best practices, it’s worth learning the difference so you can alter your strategy accordingly. So let’s start by taking a comparative approach.

5 Differences Between Amazon SEO and Google SEO

At the heart of the matter, Google’s search engine and Amazon’s search engine are designed for two completely different purposes. Google encompasses all types of sites and must account for every corner of the internet. Amazon, however, specializes in eCommerce and product searches only, and so can tailor their algorithm to suit this alone.

As a result, Amazon searches differ from more mainstream search engines. Here are 5 key differences that you can incorporate into your strategy to make the most of Amazon searches.

1. Once is Enough for Keywords

One usage of the keyword is enough to get noticed on Amazon. It’s generally best to incorporate the top keyword into the product title and the second most important keyword into the description. Other keywords can be included in the details.

2. Short Tail Keywords

A lot of people ask questions directly to Google, which opens up the opportunity to target long tail keyword and keyword phrases of entire sentences. Entire articles can be written to get seen by people who search for questions like “What’s the difference between Amazon SEO and Google SEO” (to name an example off the top of my head).

Amazon doesn’t really encounter this problem, as people tend to search only for specific products or product types rather than long-winded queries. So when writing for Amazon SEO, stick with short tail keywords only.

This technique not only helps when writing page content, but is directly applicable to AMS ads as well. When manually choosing the keywords to trigger your ads, keep in mind that the longer a keyword phrase is, the less often it will occur.

3. Product Quality

Google SEO can be manipulated (for lack of a better word) by SEO specialists and professional content writers; a new or unknown site can achieve top results if they know what they’re doing.

Amazon SEO is more of a meritocracy: it relies less on secondary factors and more on the quality of the product itself. If your product is popular and people review it highly, it will improve search results.

This is a double-edged sword, though. New and unfamiliar products are at a disadvantage at first since they have no clout or reputation to draw on. For these situations, paid advertising like AMS ads or Sponsored Product Ads could balance things out.

4. Changing Variables

Product quality is not the only factor to affect Amazon SEO. A product’s ranking will fluctuate based on changing variables like shopping trends or inventory levels.

For example, seasonal bestsellers or temporarily popular products will do better in search results during the time that they’re in demand. Products that are out of stock will do worse.

These variables are constantly in flux, so it’s important to keep an eye on details. You can tailor advertising strategies based on when your products are popular, and scale back advertising while you’re waiting to restock.

5. No External Sites

Last is perhaps the greatest difference between Amazon SEO and Google SEO: the influence of external sites.

For Google and most mainstream search engines, external sites have an enormous impact on search results. Google’s algorithm monitors not just what’s on your site, but also links to your site on external sites. This allows Google to gauge a site’s importance by how relevant it is to other sites — especially those within the same industry.

For example, let’s say you sell tents and other camping gear. The Google search results for your site will do better if your website is mentioned and linked on a site that reviews outdoor equipment — a review site is seen as an expert on that topic. If your website is mentioned and linked on a general site like Reddit, it’ll still help your rank, but not as much as the outdoor equipment reviewer.

Amazon searches, on the other hand, don’t even factor in mentions on external sites; their search engine is entirely self-contained. It doesn’t matter if your tent receives a top industry award; all that matters is its performance in Amazon.

This makes it harder to manipulate the system to earn a higher rank, but it also makes it more difficult to start out. Amazon SEO is already geared towards products with successful backgrounds, so if you’re looking to break in, paid advertising might be worth a try.

Why Not Both?

By pointing out the differences between the two search algorithms, it seems like we’re pitting them against each other. The truth is, you don’t have to choose either one or the other: the two searches actually work well together.

As I said above, a little over half of all product searches start on Amazon…but 28% still start on traditional search engines (the other 16% are direct to the retailer). If you want to maximize your sales, you have to appeal to both platforms. Even if you sell exclusively on the Amazon marketplace, Google can still feed traffic to your Amazon page.

Moreover, the two complement each other. The more popular your Amazon page becomes, the better it will perform in Google search results. The better it does on Google, the more sales you’ll make — which will help your results on Amazon searches. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of success.

And don’t forget about stability. Designing your sites for multiple search engines gives you security by avoiding placing all your eggs in one basket. For example, if you’re temporarily out of stock, your ranking will fall on Amazon, but not on Google. This gives your product page more stability in the long run.

Matt Ellis

Matt Ellis is a freelance online content creator, specializing in eCommerce, content marketing and web design. For over a decade he's been sharing his industry knowledge through ebooks, website copy, and blog articles, just like this one. You can learn more about his career and writing services at Matt Ellis - Freelance Writer.