Why They’re Everywhere & How To Beat Them
Anyone who has ever tried to market an eCommerce store knows the feeling: You take a survey of the competition and inevitably you run into a few big companies. If you’re in consumer goods maybe you’ll bump into Overstock, in construction: Home Depot, in industrial: Grainger.
But across the board, you’ll almost always bump into Amazon.
It can be frustrating, especially when you’ve been in the industry for twenty years and know the products forwards and backward. I’ve even heard multiple stories from site owners talking about routinely being asked for troubleshooting help from people that bought from Amazon. Not fair at all, but unfortunately the algorithms (and many price-conscious buyers) don’t care.
There’s no reason to fret though, once we understand how Amazon does it, we can all start to fight back.
So How does Amazon rank so well?
Now Amazon has some advantages that not everyone can emulate, like size and the ability to market themselves while surviving on razor-thin margins. But that said there’s no conspiracy here and they can be successfully fended off.
1. Backlinks are Amazon’s #1 dirty little secret: How they get backlinks
Amazon doesn’t just have the advantage of a headline-grabbing company, brand recognition, and a CEO who grabs headlines for ventures in rockets or failures with new product adventures – it also has a healthy referral program. For those unfamiliar with how this works, referral programs allow you to create a link to a company’s product and they’ll give you a percentage kickback if anyone makes a purchase as a result of clicking on that link. Of 53,365 links that Amazon received from June 6th back to May 5th. 68% were from its referral program.
You’ll notice that most major online retailers like Overstock, Home Depot, Grainger, Northern Tools, REI, etc have similar programs in place. (And as we’ll see with Amazon, almost all of them have started writing out guides because backlinks are not enough anymore.)
How to Respond:
There’s no fun answer with this one. The best solution may simply be to join a referral program if you can afford to part with the margin and cost of setting one up.
That said backlinks aren’t the only thing at play here, and there is a lot you can do to stay focused as an agile e-commerce store.
Biggest takeaway: With the right approach on everything else in here, and a concerted effort on building out backlinks and quality to your own category pages you can compete with Amazon’s numerical advantage.
2. People Know Amazon & Search Engines Respond To That Recognition
There is no doubt that google responds to how users click through on the SERPs and even relies on AI to decipher the evolving complexity of what people want. The truth is that the more people recognize and love your brand, the more you can rely on getting people to click on your name. Unfortunately with Amazon’s massive reputation and free shipping on items that many people love, it can be tough to deal with the fact that they’ll always reliably get clicks, especially when your site is unfamiliar.
How To Respond:
When it comes to reputation, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle against Amazon, unless you’re another massive online retailer.
That said, there is actually a lot we can do to counteract the pull – and don’t worry, handing out free shipping isn’t going to be one of my recommendations.
- Make your customers love you too. The Beatles were right – At the end of the day, you can’t buy love. While people may like and order from Amazon, you have the expertise, agility, and hopefully desire to outperform them on customer service. If you follow the steps outlined below for “technically” competing with amazon, the people-pleasing, as well as the rest of the success puzzle should come together nicely.
- Make your site feel familiar. Remember if we do get customers to come to our site, we want to make sure that we can keep them around. Think about their experience, and think about all the authority symbols you can add to make them feel comfortable with their choices.
- Make your titles competitive. People still treat title tags like they’re just about keywords, but this is can be another great place you can leverage your agility. Amazon doesn’t have the bandwidth to customize all the title tags on their site to an excellent degree; use the fact that it wouldn’t take thousands of hours to write custom title tags for your site as an opportunity to appeal to searchers by presenting the most useful information directly on the search page.
- Topic Relevancy. Topic relevancy is using relevant terms on your page to communicate that your page covers the topic in detail rather than repeating keywords with little or low-quality text. Google wants pages that cover the topic in-depth and overcoming this obstacle can potentially improve your Google rank at a faster pace, often pushing past Amazon. Amazon often uses weak descriptions provided by the sellers. Here is the catch! You can do better by including in-depth content that Google requires by including specific keywords, use related terms, video, editorial reviews, or instructional content.
- Website Relevancy. Your website content should match your targeted specific keywords. You should focus on being a niche expert by including rich keywords, it’s related content on your homepage, and internal pages supporting the main keyword theme of your website.
- Make your price competitive. Your prices should be competitive with Amazon or other big e-commerce brands selling the same products. We all look for products that are of high quality and good price, right? The same concepts need to be applied to your e-commerce brand to drive in the traffic.
4. Leveraging user data & testing
We’ve all hopefully read the 300 Million Button story and realize that constant testing and tweaks to any e-commerce store are essential to success. Amazon is always testing out new features to see how they please users and affect conversion. While the changes will seem subtle over as they happen even in the course of a year or so things can change pretty quickly.
For example look at this listing of the PS4 from March 31, 2015.
Courtesy of wayback machine
And look at it now:
While the changes happen gradually, they make the old product page look much older than it really is, and display the refinement of priorities that Amazon has recognized through careful testing.
Another great example of Amazon’s testing and usage of user data is their augmented shopping experience.
Their “Frequently Bought” together and “customers who bought this item also bought” categories help people unfamiliar with the product find the right item quickly.
While this may be a better tactic for upsells and cross-sells it’s also key to nurturing customer experience.
How To Respond:
You may not have the capabilities for a robust “related product” or shopping cart grouping feature right now – but you should always be thinking about it. At the very least items like these can be added manually on product pages or written about in an in-depth manner in onsite resource guides or blog posts.
5. Product Listing Optimization
Your product title is one of the most valuable and essential SEO elements, therefore, you must craft it carefully. Read it a couple of times before publishing it to ensure that your title is of top quality with the right amount of keywords used. A competitive product listing and title on your website can help you have an edge over big e-websites such as Amazon.
How To Respond:
Your product title should have:
- Brand’s name to ease filter searchers
- Product line describing the key features concisely
- Material or the unique and key features
- Colors available
- Sizes available
- Product quantity and availability
Lastly, your title should be informative, concise, and SEO-oriented. By SEO oriented I mean, it should be keyword focused.
For example, check this product title on amazon.
WARNING: DON’T STUFF ALL KEYWORDS IN TITLE!
6. Amazon “Keywords Secret” and the Importance of Research your Keywords First”
Before you start working on your keywords, you need to understand what the keywords for Amazon mean. By now, I am sure you know that keywords are one main factor that amazon looks for in determining the relevance of the search queries and ranking the products accordingly. Therefore, if you are looking to outrank Amazon, you need to go deep in your target product or market, so you can uncover the gaps that Amazon doesn’t explicitly target.
How To Respond:
As aforesaid, one thing you can and must do is to integrate high volume and most relevant keywords in your product title and listing.
Another way to do this is to use keywords modifiers which can add value to your search while being too specific for Amazon to target such as “cheap”, “personalized”, “compare” etc. This is one of the gaps that you can try to cover for your e-brand.
Are you worried about “how to start your keyword research?”
Here is a small tip for you.
Start by “thinking around the keyword”. Figure out the ways to target your audience who may be searching in a specific way. You know your customer like no other, so you’ll be able to tag the keywords which might not match your specific product name but will essentially capture how your customers are thinking.
So, looking at a bigger picture, you need to practice Amazon SEO to step up your game.
Keyword order and Keyword choice can dramatically influence your product sales and drive qualified traffic to your listing.
7. Robust Comparison Features
Amazon makes it easy to compare the product with near alternatives side by side. This means customers are less likely to look elsewhere for a cheaper price and more likely that they will make their eventual purchase through Amazon.
How To Respond:
Get this added to your site as soon as possible. Product comparison need not be complicated or full of bells and whistles – There are HTML table generating sites that should help you get the job done quickly. If there’s no space on your product (or category pages if that makes sense) then this is another area where you can involve on-site guides or blog posts and reference them to and from product pages.
Amazon has no qualms about bugging the people who have recently purchased a product for a user based answer. At least a few of these people are more than willing to answer questions – and given the scale Amazon has available people get these answers out quite quickly.
There is also the added value of people directly contributing to the quality of the content on product pages (without amazon having to do it themselves for thousands of products).
How to respond:
It’s tedious and will take some work – But this is another great area where you can use Google’s size against it. Luckily this Q&A section can serve as an excellent resource for you to create your own Q&A section along with the addition of your increased expertise. It’s startling how few people are willing to put in the work so you’ll set yourself apart, and hopefully, it gets you away from answering silly customer questions on the phone.
9. Amazon Uses Customers To Create Content (By Writing Reviews)
How To Respond:
Writing reviews is probably the toughest part of the puzzle: you can’t do it yourself, you have to elicit them from your existing customers. But there are several external software services that make it easier to get reviews out of people without having to go 110% on every single product.
10. Amazon writes content specific to category pages (but keeps it out of people’s way)
It took years for this to happen, but on most category pages, way, way at the bottom, you’ll find a little content blurb.
Is this meant for humans? Nope! Humans want pretty pictures of the products they’re searching for. This content is meant for crawlers, likely to specifically improve the text-to-HTML ratio and reduce the ratio of links to content.
How To Respond:
It’s stunning how many small e-commerce sites still lack content on their product category pages. This is yet another area where you can put in the elbow grease, write 300-400 words, put yourself miles ahead of Amazon in terms of content quality, and keep search engines (and a few users) happy. But (please!) keep it out of user’s ways so they don’t have their shopping experience interfered with. Near the bottom is best, where it can be found if wanted, and ignored if not.
Amazon has just started to get serious about creating product videos for their products. It’s simple – People love product videos. For search engines, they even keep users on the site for longer. And in fact, Zappos has made more than 200,000 product videos to date, so it is doable on large scale.
How To Respond:
Unless you’re a drop shipper there’s no reason not to make in-depth product videos for your products. Start the best top 20% revenue generators, compare those where there are relevant in that same category, and then go down the list from there.
12. Curated Content Guides
Amazon never avoids an opportunity to sell more. Creating sleek visual guides for a specific holiday or consumer categories in order to boost sales.
How To Respond:
While this won’t apply to every industry, do your best to create guides for holidays that go along with your industry (say Christmas, Mother day, Fathers day) or to go along with promotions (Memorial Day sale, black Friday).
13. They’re always pushing the envelope
Whether it’s with giveaways, innovative products, or grabbing headlines, Amazon is always going beyond what is expected for an e-commerce company – and they have the scale and budget to back it up. This all transfers into more visibility, backlinks, and new users, which feed back into their selling machine.
How to Respond:
You will never have the time and budget to match Amazon, but you do have the creativity and knowledge of your products to try something new. All you need is courage! Set aside a budget each quarter for an experiment, and be mentally prepared to never get any return on it.
14. They make headlines
Blue origin, amazon echo, their valuation, the fact that investors keep buying in, and the failure of kindle fire. Besides all the great referral links that Amazon gets, they also have a steady flow of great backlinks from big news sources which power their continual growth. Any time the company does anything, they are certain to have major media outlets linking back to their site and boosting their brand.
How to Respond:
You don’t need to be amazon to grab headlines and generate headlines, you can get involved locally at a state level, or generate 10X content and or novel strategies that pique people’s interest.
15. Don’t Be an “Everything Store”
Unless you have a budget like Amazon to become a big brand, we would suggest you practice the best e-commerce SEO practice and focus on creating a highly specialized niche expert website that goes in-depth on a specific topic.
Make your brand an Irresistible Brand with an attention-catching title and a descriptive keyword domain name so people automatically assume that this will be a great website to look for the targeted products.
So what if your website can’t become an AMAZON, you can be a winner in your niche.
Just follow the tips and tricks we have provided and you are ready to win this fight.
Conclusion: Amazon is relentless. You should be, too!
If you type relentless.com into your browser it only takes you one place.
The eCommerce landscape is a constant battlefield.
While Amazon has a clear advantage from its size, that doesn’t mean that agile business owners can’t get in there and make the behemoth fight for every little inch of your niche. Luckily expertise, instead of outright ranking factors like backlinks is the determining factor at this point, and with some savvy business moves and clever online marketing, you can take the fight back onto their turf.
Get out there and be relentless!