It is always a topic of discussion; what exactly makes Amazon’s ranking algorithm tick. Speculation runs rampant. Everyone has theories, some founded in evidence and observation, some on wild conjecture. In the end, a small group of algorithm engineers at Amazon are the only ones that are fully in the know.
For the rest of us, we can only test for optimization. And with the rapid changes being made, these tests should be rather constant.
Four years ago the formula was rather simple. Make about 50 or so sales through a super URL and viola; within a couple of days you’re page one. Combine that with the inevitable slew of reviews that would come in on those sales and you had a listing that was off to the races. Pathetic as it sounds, in many of the most competitive categories, it was that simple.
Then came changes to the review rules, changes to the benchmark averages, changes to what weights most in ranking. And the ease and simplicity of the thing disappeared, giving way to the much more complex (read: harder to compete in) platform we have today.
The concept of ranking factors is dynamic, so “what’s working now” is in continual flux. However, recent tests we’ve run can shed some light on the things sellers can do to rank today.
The Back End Search Term Causal Chain
June 2017 (almost a year ago as of this writing) Amazon changed the way they handle back end search terms on the .com marketplace. They switched from 5000 total characters to a limit of 250 bytes. This came just as many of us were getting accustomed to creating robust, full phrase, often repetitive search terms that aided in indexing and ranking.
Amazon’s “official” reason for the change was because in their tests it had improved search results and the overall search experience for buyers.
At around the same time I started to hear anecdotal grumblings of ranking being more difficult. Particularly more savvy sellers were noticing conversion rate appeared to have less impact on ranking.
For a long time relative conversion rate was king. Literally, it was the most important aspect of a listing that determined how far up search results it would catapult. And that is why in the early days of ZonBlast we were able to get STELLAR results for our clients. Our system not only facilitated massive sales velocity, but also a massive spike in relative conversion rate.
A blast would spike conversions, all routed to a specific keyword, up to as much as 70 or 80%! No wonder it was easy as pie to rank.
These “stories” of ranking woes and conversions losing their steam made me want to dig deeper. So I conducted some of my own tests. I ran blasts for under-performing products that I had previously run blasts for, or that were similar to products I had blasted in the past.
I ran the blasts precisely the way I had two years ago. With the same number of units, targeting the same number of keywords, and I even targeted the same keywords.
Two years ago, with a boost in conversion rate to 65% or so, I could easily blast 30 to 40 units a day for three or four days and make it to page one for my major keywords with no problem.
I conducted this test again. With one of my products, long since dropped off page one due to it being a less popular color variation, I ran a WAVE4, dispersing 25 to 50 units per day.
I didn’t even make it to page one at all. Not even temporarily. I did this with three more products. Each time, the result was the same. No matter what I did, no matter how many days I drew it out, blasting 50 or less units per day never got me above page two.
That was when I started taking this conversion rate business a bit more seriously.
And then it clicked….
The back end search term change. It meant so much more than just what keywords listings would index for. It was the first in a multi-step initiative to shift ranking more toward relevance. With the keywords a listing is indexed for limited to only seemingly relevant terms, search results should only yield the most relevant listings. If that is the case, why would conversion rate even be necessary for ranking?
It wouldn’t. That’s the point.
But, for a shopping platform, why is this a good move? Because, as we proved, conversion rate is far too easy to manipulate. By creating dependence on Amazon’s internal mechanisms for determining relevance, it takes power out of the hands of sellers.
The New King Metric for Ranking
So, with conversion rate out of the running (not saying it doesn’t matter at all, but that it has negligible importance for ranking) what IS the key metric?
Obviously sales are still important. But the number one question we still get is “which works better when blasting? Lots of sales all at once? Or spread out over days?”
So basically the question is:
Sales Velocity or Sales History
The driving rank metric being sales velocity, many sales all in a short period of time, would seemingly bring us back to the stone ages of four years ago. It would mean a single blast for a couple hundred units would rank for just about any keyword.
Most are hesitant to accept this because that just seems too simple.
The driving rank metric being sales history would seem to indicate that older listings with more established sales would outperform younger listings. However, we can easily observe this is rarely the case.
It was clearly time to run another test.
I took two newer products from my own catalog and decided to run WAVEs and Solo Blasts on them. I chose two with main keywords that had identical search volume. I checked each page one to determine how many sales I could get away with, on average, to make it to page one.
The first test was to run WAVE4’s for both products. To see what kind of movement that would yield.
…conversion rate is far too easy to manipulate. By creating dependence on Amazon’s internal mechanisms for determining relevance, it takes power out of the hands of sellers.
Even though I exceeded the daily sales amount of a couple of the other page one listings, the results of this promotion were underwhelming. Neither listing made it beyond page two.
The next test targeted the same keywords, but this time one was a WAVE7 and the other a Solo Blast. Both promos dispersed the same number of units as the last promotion. The difference being one was spread out more and the other was more concentrated.
The results were….interesting.
Solo Blast results:
With the WAVE, the best I could get was position 15, even after the previous promotion had brought the product up to position 19.
However, the Solo Blast pushed the product listing, with the same number of units (less if you want to get really technical, since not all codes were redeemed) up to position 13 from its new resting spot at 45. The previous promotion had only managed to push it up to position 27.
And the Winner Is…..
Sales velocity! Just like the easy days of the Amazon gold rush of yore, blasting your units all at once appears to have the desired result of ranking. It still took about four days for the rank to appear, but just the same it was the only thing that managed to get this listing on page one.
Now, obviously age of listing, category, competitiveness of target keyword, etc are all factors and YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. The moral of this story is, as of right now, evidence (albeit from a very small sample) appears to suggest that spiking velocity is the most effective promotion/ranking method.
My findings are supported by numerous results from SixLeaf clients as well. To illustrate, take a look at this keyword. Over 8,000 searches a month and significant movement made after just 26 units blasted:
Or how about this 11,000 search per month keyword that made excellent progress after a 60 unit blast:
And my personal favorite, a 600k search per month keyword that made insane leaps to the top of page one after a 189 unit Solo Blast:
We know now that the algorithm is always shifting and changing. As it evolves, tactics that worked last week may not be as effective today, and those that are killing it now may not work in a month. So it is valuable when we can pinpoint a metric that has a significant effect like this. Take advantage while you can.
And of course you should ALWAYS BE TESTING!
P.S. While conversion rate increases during promotions don’t have the awesome, fast-ranking effects they used to, ZonBlast’s Heatseeker URL is just the remedy. With Heatseeker you can rank just as fast and just as far as you ever imagined.