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Podcast: Is Amazon the New “King” of Product Search?

Insights / 11.16.2018

Red Door

When you hear the word search, you probably think of Google. But what if we told you that Amazon has become the king of (product) searches? While consumers once relied on search engines (such as Google) for product info, price comparisons, and so on – more than 50% of consumers now find themselves heading directly to Amazon for all of the above. What’s more, roughly 90% of product views on Amazon come from searches on the platform, rather than search engine referrals.

In this episode of The Marketing Remix, Heather Molina, VP of Paid & Earned Media, and Ross Briggs, Manager of SEO, discuss what goes into ranking for search on Amazon, what Google is doing to even the score, and more.

What are some of the key factors for ranking for product searches on Amazon?

Ross: If you think way back in the day to SEO, there used to be, or there still is, the possibility to add a meta keywords tag to your pages.
 
Reid: That's so meta.
 
Heather: It's so old school.
 
[laughter]
 
Ross: And for a while, Google would actually respect this. It would look at that and say, "Okay, here's the terms you wanna rank for and we're going to consider you for those terms." That's a deprecated tag now, so it doesn't work anymore. But Google or Amazon basically has the equivalent of this now, so it's really a box where you just type in, "Here is what I wanna show up for."
 
Heather: It's on the back-end on the platform.
 
Ross: But that doesn't mean you're going to show up for that term. It's based on a number of ranking factors. Just like Google click-through rate and conversion rate of your products is really what Amazon's looking at. They want shoppers to search for something, get to a product that fulfills what they were looking for, and then purchase that product ultimately. That's their measure of success. So identifying those keywords that you wanna rank for is important. There's a couple tools you can look at. One's called Sonar. The other is Merchant Words. And those will give you some free keywords for Amazon that you can then target your products with. You can actually even type in an Amazon ID number of the product, it'll give you some suggestions for it for those keywords.
 
Reid: Wow, did you say free?
 
[laughter]
 
Heather: No. And so, yeah. So some of the original... Back in the day, back when I started in this industry in 2003, as Ross mentioned that meta keywords tag, that was on the decline when I started in this business.
 
Reid: On the decline on Google?
 
Heather: Decline on Google importance. I mean that's back when...
 
Reid: Back in AltaVista and Yahoo?
 
Heather: Yeah. So, when I started, we were tracking like 11 engines and Yahoo actually had slightly more market share than Google, but very quickly that tag went away. But as Ross was mentioning, on the Amazon side, we do see that tag in the back-end platform for when you're setting up a landing page. And so it's important that you populate that with very targeted and strategic words. There are a lot of implications, things that you can't do. So you can't put in your competitor's terms into that space or it's frowned upon. There may be some regulations around that. So you have to be very true to whatever your product is about and your brand on that landing page when you're filling in that keyword tag.

If meta keywords tag went away on Google, do you expect it will go away eventually on Amazon?

Heather: No, I don't think it will. I think it's two totally different things. And as Ross and I, when we were exchanging notes about this very topic the other day, he mentioned, "Hey, on Amazon," as he just said, "It's about conversion and click-through rate." On Google, it's about your content, it's about how others view your content. And ultimately, we do see conversion rate and click-through rate factoring in. But Google won't officially say that they're factoring that into the algorithm. So Google is a much wider, much more vast space in which you have to operate. But Amazon, it's kind of very clear what the rules are and what you need to care about. And conversion rate, click-through rate, the back-end keywords that you're targeting, where you're populating those keywords within the title of a product, within the content of that product, the text on that page. But also reviews, reviews are huge. And whatever you do from an organic perspective on Amazon factors into what you pay on the paid search side on Amazon.
 
Reid: I mean I would assume this is the case. But reviews, do you feel like they're being manipulated for this?
 
Heather: In my opinion, they've really cracked down. You have to be a verified purchaser on Amazon to really leave a review these days. Or, like they're looking. They'll have that notification that is a verified purchase, like someone leaving this review actually did purchase this. So I think they've honed in a lot in the last few years what the reviews look like, what the process is to be able to even post a review, and they're looking to brands to engage with their audience and communicate with them as well in that review space if somebody had a really horrible experience.
 
Ross: Yeah, totally. They're looking at things like the velocity of incoming reviews. So did you get 1100 reviews on one day or one week?
 
Heather: [chuckle] That's suspicious.
 
Ross: Right? So, they should come in naturally and there should be a mix of three stars and four stars and five stars, hopefully with more of them being positive. And then they're also looking at things like connecting email addresses of the vendor to their friends and family and trying to detect those patterns because that's a pretty popular one. Like, "Hey, I've got this product for sale on Amazon. Can you go leave me a review?"
 
Reid: Wow. It's getting more and more sophisticated. Clearly the value of ranking in Amazon is huge. So there's a lot of reason to play that game and it sounds like they're trying to make it a little bit more equitable.
 
Heather: If you sell a product online, you don't have a choice. You need to be on Amazon in some way.

What are other speciality and big-box retailers (Home Depot, Walmart, etc.) doing to earn back market share?

Ross: I think, well, it's a dynamic that happens a lot. So a company grows to a certain size and they become really good at customer service for delivering physical products. But then they sort of grow into all these different areas and it almost becomes too generalized. And so we are seeing some online more specialty retailers, or even non-specialty retailers, they're just focusing on one vertical and being really good at selling that, and that's starting to steal some market share from Amazon. An interesting brick and mortar example is in the sporting goods world. Dick's Sporting Goods just purchased Golf Galaxy chain. So they were selling golf stuff in Dick's Sporting Goods already.
 
Reid: And so what does Golf Galaxy focus on?
 
[chuckle]
 
Ross: So, if you can guess...
 
Heather: Golf and space.
 
[laughter]
 
Heather: Just kidding.
 
Ross: Golf Galaxy is 100% focused on golf and all their sales people inside the store know about those products, are able to speak to it and facilitate a really good shopping experience. They are also opening up and spinning off a running specific store and then an outdoor equipment specific store. So these are all products that they already sold in their general brick-and-mortar store, but they're investing in these new chains and new brands because consumers are demanding that more specialized experience. And I think that's what we're seeing online.
 
Heather: They're essentially creating content. They're setting it up so that they're going to create content hubs so that they can rank. And the reason...
 
Reid: They're ranking Google in this case.
 
Heather: Exactly.
 
Reid: That's playing that game.
 
Heather: That's the whole point. When you talk about Home Depot and you talk about Walmart and how they are verticalized, they're vertical and verticalized search basically, people go there and just search for things on there, they're really good at the SEO stuff and the paid media stuff.
 
Reid: Right.
 
Heather: But, they have entire vast teams. We know because a former employee of ours now works at Home Depot in Atlanta and I've known people who've worked at Walmart. They've been a client of mine in the past as well. Where they have entire teams, not just an agency partner, but they have entire internal teams who focus on content and SEO and Google and making sure that they continue to not only continue to play really well and perform really well and Google is part of their focus, it's also paying attention to what the Amazons, the Wayfairs, the Google Shopping, all of that. They're paying attention to that and they're continuously strategizing on that. So it's a very robust massive effort so that they can have people just coming straight to them the way that people go straight to Amazon. They can have people come straight to them and do a search for whatever they need.
 
Reid: Yeah. I guess maybe I'm sort of expecting what the answer to this question would be then is that e-commerce brands putting all their eggs in the Amazon basket, so to speak, and it sounds like there's a lot of other opportunities.
 
Heather: I would not do that. Amazon is essential. If you sell a tangible product online, Amazon is essential. You have to be there. You also have to be in Google and then you also have to eventually start to look and pay attention to the market share of those verticalized ones and be like... Like Sephora. That was one that we were talking about a couple of days ago where they've lost market share. They've lost it to Walmart, probably to Target to some degree. But if I were on their marketing team, I would be paying attention to what all of the strategies are. It's not just with Home... With the Target and the Walmart, what they're doing around their verticalized search strategy to pull people in. But also what Home Depot is doing, because the same tactics, the technical tactics, the strategy around content. All of that plays well and can work well for Sephora even though they're too... Home Depot is home stuff, home improvement stuff, and Sephora is makeup, the strategies can really still apply.
 
Heather: And so they should be paying attention to what all of these growing and gaining market share verticalized search places, what they're all doing. And paying attention to how they're strategizing, and reading any article where they talk about their strategy, or going to conferences and attending that panel that someone from that team is on and trying to have a conversation with them about what they're doing. Because you cannot put all your eggs in the Amazon basket or the Google basket, but you do have to play into both of those spaces. But you may need to consider a Walmart, a Target, something else.
 
Reid: Yeah. It's interesting. You talk about market share, and I think there's probably, to a degree, we're talking about search market share that then equates to real actual market share.
 
Heather: Yeah.
 
Reid: And it is, I would say, probably a precursor to, or leading indicator to, what their actual market share is at this point. So how powerful search is in this regard for a company's overall performance. So earning some of that shelf space where you've got shelf space on Amazon or shelf space from a search stand point on Google, now we're talking shelf space on whatever you're verticalized retailer may be and how you can maybe chip away at some of that and get some of that back.
 
Heather: Yeah. I mean I don't know what the... On a Home Depot or a Walmart or a Target, what their organic search ranking factors are on each of their sites to show up in the search box from there, but I do know that when we look at how we optimize pages and what has worked on Google and Amazon, we would apply the same best practices if we were working for a brand that wanted... Like a WD-40 or something that wanted to be in Home Depot, or if there's a special makeup brand that wanted to show up on Target when somebody did a search around a product, either a branded product or a non-branded product. We'd be applying the same SEO principles.
 
Reid: It sounds like where it's challenging for some of these retailers is those that are broad are now about... They battle with Amazon.

What’s Google doing to even their eCommerce race with Amazon?

Ross: We've seen Google with quite a few developments this year. And one thing that's interesting that happened is Amazon used to have a patent up until last year on 1-Click purchasing for physical goods. And so that's expired now. And we've really seen Google move heavily into the space to sort of capture that ability to buy something instantly that you see online and really be a destination for product search. So along with that ability to purchase directly from SERPs that we see in Google shopping, they're also rolling out Google Express which is basically a direct competitor to Amazon Prime.
 
Reid: Right.
 
Ross: So, guaranteed returns, free shipping, quick shipping. And this is really them pushing to get your credit card information into the Google platform so that you can buy more quickly today from maybe desktop or mobile search, tomorrow maybe from voice search, so that those details are already in there. And then something also interesting which is non-query search that they're doing currently, is with Google Lens. This was released recently, and currently it's only on Pixel phones but it will be on all phones soon. And this... Basically you can point your camera at something, Google looks at the image of the object and then identifies both what that is and then shows you a few places you can purchase that item. So Google's huge on the micro-moments as they call them. And so this is really a, "I have to have that", micro-moment and then making the connection to where you can buy that that much quicker and easier.
 
Reid: Damn. That's... [chuckle]
 
Heather: They're innovating. And they don't talk about it. A lot of times the way that we uncover some of the stuff that they're doing is we're constantly doing searches. We're playing around with the search engine results pages, the SERPs, all the time for our clients to just study what something looks like, what it's rendering like here in San Diego versus Denver versus Salt Lake City where we have people. And so we'll notice something and then we'll be like, "What?" And then we'll go to the different SEO forums. We'll go to the subreddit on SEO or we'll go to different networks that we tap into to discuss SEO knowledge with the rest of the industry. And people will say, "Yeah, I noticed that too and I dug in a little bit more." Or somebody will totally nerd out and go down the rabbit hole of... Which happens on our team quite a bit. Of just deciphering exactly and pulling apart exactly what this is about. And then we discuss what the intention is of Google. And so they've been doing... Like this is something that Ross's team uncovered probably a few months back, like six months back. And then we started theorizing like, "Oh, AI's going to come into play and how will this factor into Google Home?" And all that stuff? And just what the intent is behind it with regards to playing against Amazon.
 
Reid: Yeah, it's interesting to try to connect the dots to all these things, because you see the evolution.
 
Heather: Yeah.
 
Reid: I do have the Pixel 3 now and seeing how it's different than the previous Pixel and what they're doing with that. So, I don't know. It's a lot of fun to try to piece that together.
 
Heather: To theorize. Yeah.
 
Reid: Right. I mean what they're doing...
 
Heather: Conspiracy theories.
 
Reid: Google Pay and all that. So it's interesting we've now segued from a whole show on Amazon product search, and started seeing where Google is playing a role in this. But obviously what we're talking about here is how do we gain our market share as it relates to product sales. And historically, or in the recent history, it's been now evolved to all about Amazon, but we're now seeing who else is competing in the space. So it is interesting and I think there's a fair bit of optimism now for people to say maybe there's some other games that we can play here.

How do search intent and purchase intent factor into the Amazon and Google comparision?

Ross: Yeah, I think we kinda talked about it a little bit upfront where the search intent for Google can lead to a number of differen searches. You can want to learn something or you can want purchase something. The search intent with Amazon is always directly driving towards that purchase intent. So there is that fundamental difference I think between the two, and Google always needs to account for that varied intent of search. They don't always wanna be presenting a buy now option. Sometimes it's more informational. What is interesting is even in the world of product search... So what brought this up is that the two have flip-flopped so now more product research is starting on Amazon. But Google is still pretty strong in there. Last year Amazon was at 46% of product searches and Google was at 54%, and this year they've switched.
 
Reid: Wow.
 
Ross: Google's still hanging in there with 46% of product searches starting there. And then what you mentioned, the search intent is a little bit different even for product searches. So if you look at time to actually purchase from doing the search to when you actually make the purchase, 35% of Google searches, and corresponding less than 20% of Amazon searches, led to a transaction within five days. So you do have that little bit more direct intent to purchase the product. And maybe that's a function of Amazon's wish lists and shopping carts and it never forgets who we are. So maybe we feel a little bit more comfortable leaving an item in the cart there, whereas with Google we feel like it might get lost or it's a different website or something like that. And then even just in terms of time to purchase, 25.9 days in terms of an Amazon purchase is the average duration between search and purchase, and Google checks in at 19.6 days.
 
Reid: Oh, interesting.
 
Ross: The purchase happens a little bit more quickly and more of them result in a purchase. So I think it's a good thing to keep in mind as you're approaching the two search platforms.
 
Reid: So, the speed to purchase is a factor as well, which obviously makes a lot of sense. I wonder too if there's other elements? Amazon's obviously moved into physical stores and that kind of stuff, but Google, I think, seems to be a little bit more the king of out there in the world looking for things and all that, compared to Amazon, you're like, "I'm online. I wanna buy it. I want the thing to arrive tomorrow." Whereas Google, I think... It's interesting to think that that happens faster in that regard, but maybe it's because people are out there saying, "I see that thing, I want that thing, and let's go."
 
Heather: There are more options with Google. And then in terms of when you do a search what's returned. Again, talking about the educational or informational piece versus the intent to buy and everything. So, I think that if people... I think both are very valid for... If you're a brand and you have physical products, you need to absolutely be on both. But you do have to understand and pay attention to the data and be able to dissect that data as to how people are purchasing when you're looking at data for those people who did searches and then resulted in a purchase on Amazon versus Google. It may be different for you, it may be different by each product and stuff, and it really just depends on... I don't know, probably how, I imagine, how expensive your product is.
 
Reid: Yeah.
 
Heather: Do people need more research? And how quickly do you... Do you offer Prime shipping, and can somebody get it same day or within two days or? There are some things that I've bought off of Amazon where it still takes like three or four days because they don't have the Prime shipping available and stuff. So I think that you have to pay attention individually to how each of those performs and determine where you need to be putting a little more budget or focus from a strategic perspective, and then also pay attention to your competitors and what are they doing on Amazon and how many products do they have and what do their reviews look like and stuff. You have to factor all that in.
 
Reid: Well, price probably too.
 
Heather: Absolutely.
 
Reid: Price is a huge factor in this.
 
Heather: Yeah.
 
Reid: I mean Amazon, people who talk about the quantization of things and the race to the bottom there and now what's that role. Is Google going to help solve some of that or is it, because it's a major considered purchase, Google is more your place versus something that's more commoditized that you might find on Amazon. So all factors and nothing more we can dig into on this show. We're kinda coming to the end.
 
[chuckle]
 
Heather: We're running out of time.
 
Reid: So, hopefully we'll keep people's interest piqued for maybe one of our future episodes because this is obviously an evolving topic that we'll have to bring up again, I'm sure. So guys, thank you for joining and educating our listeners. Obviously, people should tune in, come back to the website, so reddoor.biz/learn for some of the show notes to get some of the details and some follow-up content for this Amazon searches. Heather, Ross, thanks for joining us guys.
 
Heather: Thanks for having us.
 
Ross: Thanks, Reid.

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