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Deciphering Amazon’s A9 algorithm updates

June 16, 2021
Mike Black
Written By
Mike Black

Like Google, Amazon is constantly tweaking its search algorithm to produce more relevant results and make it harder for sellers to “game the system” and rank unqualified listings higher in search results. During this past year, Amazon released an update to its famed A9 algorithm, which many in the industry have erroneously (and perhaps jokingly?) labeled “A10.”  In fact, the “9” in A9 stands for “algorithm” and has no relationship to version history. Amazon is pretty secretive about what influences its algorithm, but there are some directional patterns we can reasonably infer through our own data and what others in the industry are saying.

Still, at the heart of Amazon's constantly changing organic rank algorithm is Amazon's #1 leadership principle: Customer Obsession. “The customer is at the center of all Amazon does and it works vigorously to earn and keep customer trust,” said Nancy McLaughlin, Senior Director of Search and Enterprise at Tinuiti, a Profitero agency partner. “Building trust with customers looks like serving them products that are directly relevant to them or audiences like them, in the delivery window they want and at the price they want. Amazon will continue to evolve its organic search rank algorithm to best serve its customers.”

Things that remain the same

  • Sales history and conversion rates count for a lot – This is the easiest way for Amazon to ensure the most relevant products are being shown to consumers.  Therefore, it’s critical to prioritize “conversion” factors such as having complete and accurate product information; offering enhanced content in the form of videos, lots of images and A+; having lots of reviews; and running occasional promotions to accelerate sales history. It’s also important to maintain a steady rate of “traffic” to your pages through paid advertising and staying in stock on a consistent basis. (See our eCommerce Acceleration Playbook for tips on how to strengthen the core elements of your digital shelf.)
  • Having lots of reviews will help you rank higher  – Having a lot of reviews is a fundamental driver of sales conversion (see above), but it’s worth calling out separately because our research shows it’s something Amazon values highly as a signal of trust and relevancy for consumers. Ramping reviews quickly is essential for getting new products to rank. In fact, our research shows that adding just one review to a product will almost double your sales on Amazon, and going from 1 review to 50 reviews will double it again.
  • Keyword relevance still matters – Amazon frowns upon keyword stuffing because it creates a bad user experience. But relevant keywords still carry weight, which means product titles and product pages need to be optimized. (See our latest Amazon SEO research for the U.S. here; and for EMEA here)

Things that changed

  • Profitability counts for less – Since 3P sellers can control price versus 1P brands, this removes an unfair penalization and ensures searches are awarding relevancy. As a 1P brand, this doesn’t remove the importance of being profitable since unprofitable items are typically delisted (or flagged as CRaP). 
  • Seller authority is emphasized (i.e., tenure selling on the platform, reputation, and depth and breadth of inventory count for more) – Amazon is doing a lot to crack down on unauthorized sellers and sellers of counterfeit products. The addition of this criteria helps balance against the fact that savvy sellers can juice up their sales history and reviews to get to the top of search results.
  • Organic sales count for more than sales from paid ads – Another way to ensure relevant results are shown is to place more value on sales generated via organic than paid means (i.e., you can’t just buy your way into sales history). Amazon now places less importance on pay-per-click (PPC) sales, underscoring the importance for brands to have a sound organic SEO strategy in place. 
  • Traffic & sales from offsite sources count for more – Traffic funneled to Amazon from external sources — for example, social platforms like blogs, Instagram, TikTok, etc. — is now weighted more heavily. According to Feedvisor, “Not only will you benefit from a boost of traffic to your product listings from external websites but so will Amazon. The company wants more consumers to use its marketplace and prioritizes brands and sellers who bring in external traffic.”

So what? Now what? What should brands do? 

Search algorithms will continue to evolve and change. “As marketers, we need to stay nimble and engaged. We need to be constantly testing, gathering data and measuring results. We need to evaluate our best practices and strategies based on what we are seeing, and take action by continuing to test, learn and adjust,” said McLaughlin.

The bottom line for brands: It doesn’t matter how much or how often the algorithm changes. What does matter is that you chase the consumer, not the algorithm — this way you’ll always be a step ahead in search. The fundamental playbook for winning on Amazon remains the same: Satisfy the consumer by providing a great digital shelf experience, top to bottom — this means maximizing product availability, traffic and conversion — and you will win.

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