Understanding the Amazon Search Algorithm

by Liz Adamson

Over the next few months I’ll be talking about how to increase your product’s visibility and sales on the Amazon marketplace. Before we jump into all the different tactics however, let’s talk about the platform’s search engine. Understanding the logic behind the search engine results page (SERP) will aid in developing tactics to rank higher in search.

A9 Subsidiary

The A9 subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. ("Amazon") is an entire company dedicated to managing product search for Amazon and other clients. Using a combination of data, customer traffic patterns, and an index of the text found on millions of product pages, A9 uses complicated algorithms that are designed to show a customer what they are most likely to buy based on their search query.

While the details of what is considered by the search engine algorithms are not published, we do know a few things about it. First is that recent sales and conversion history are weighted heavily. Amazon will show products with a high conversion rate for a specific search query, products it knows its customers will buy. This means that if customers are not already buying your product, Amazon is not going to rank it well in its search results.

Other Factors That Impact Ranking

There are other factors that have begun to play a larger role in recent months, including product reviews, pricing, fulfillment method, and seller account health. If you and another seller have a great sales history for a certain keyword, the FBA seller will have the upper hand on the FBM seller. We see similar trends with product reviews, pricing, and seller account health. Amazon weighs all these different factors when deciding which product to show first.

The emphasis on sales history however, naturally leads to the question, how do I help a poor performing product or a brand new listing if the search engine is programmed to ignore it? There are several methods a seller can use. Be warned, however, that Amazon has begun to crack down on sellers who use tactics intended to manipulate the system. On February 2, 2016 Amazon announced it added new language to its list of prohibited seller activities prohibiting any attempt to manipulate the search and browse experience on the Amazon marketplace.

“White Hat” SEO Tactics

In the next few months I’ll be covering “white hat” or legitimate Amazon SEO tactics and how you can give your new products a boost. Here’s an overview of some of the tactics that are used to help increase your visibility in search:

  • Product page content optimization - Before Amazon can show anything in its search, it needs to know what keywords are relevant to your product. There are several factors to consider when creating title, product descriptions and keywords. We’ll be discussing those next month.
  • Product reviews - We all know that customers rely on product reviews. This is precisely why the Amazon marketplace has become one of the most widely used eCommerce platforms in the world. In a later post I’ll be discussing strategies to gather product reviews that can not only gather a strong number of reviews, it can also give your sales history a big boost.
  • Sponsored product ads - While some sellers I’ve talked to balk at the idea of paying Amazon more money, “Sponsored Products” is here to stay. It is a good way of getting onto the first page of search until your sales history convinces organic search to rank your product well. Managed well, Sponsored Products can be a great way to increase your visibility and sales. Watch for a post discussing how to run a profitable campaign.
  • Fulfillment method - Amazon takes fulfillment seriously and considers its FBA platform to be the gold standard, allowing their Amazon Prime members to use their benefits. There are other factors to consider of course in choosing a fulfillment method. Refer back to Fulfillment by Amazon, or Fulfillment by Merchant? for details.
  • Seller account health - Amazon will not be showing your products to customers if it doesn’t think you are living up to their level of customer service. See my article on seller performance metrics for details on how to keep your account healthy.
  • Pricing - The elephant in the room. Amazon strives to provide customers what they are looking for at a low price. I’m not encouraging a race to the bottom, but know your competition and consider whether you are priced competitively. You also need to maintain your margins so refer back to 3 Steps to Ensuring Profitability.

A well rounded strategy encompassing the above tactics can make a big difference for new or some poor performing products. Using the right keywords to describe your products, giving customers a compelling reason to buy, getting sales jump started and convincing Amazon that you can provide a great customer experience through order fulfillment are all key parts of an Amazon SEO strategy. Stayed tuned over the next few months to learn more.

Originally published on March 23, 2016, updated May 31, 2019

This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.