- On July 20, 2017
- 5 Comments
There’s been a bit of a disturbance in the force of late, with reports coming in from around the Amazon ecosystem of a rankings shake up. Of course, any time more than three of us see our products move up or down a spot, we post to a few forums and bam: Rankings shake up!!!
Since Amazon doesn’t usually tell us, it’s impossible to tell how often ranking algorithms really change, but the core algo is fairly stable. Don’t obsess.
I’m not being Zen here. It’s very, very important to understand the difference between an algorithm change and all the other random tweaks and modifications Amazon throws at us. If you don’t, you may miss important risks and opportunities.
Here’s how you tell the difference, and what you should do if you suspect something’s happening:
Rankings Changes vs. Algorithm Changes
Amazon’s algorithm is at least partly based on user behavior: If someone searches for a phrase, then buys your product, you rank higher for that phrase. Amazon definitely depends more heavily on user behavior than conventional, unstructured search engines like Google.
That means the rankings change based on search traffic and purchases as much as they change based on algo updates. There are a lot of changes.
All of my assumptions are based on caffeine-fueled 2 a.m. patent research, then KitKat-fueled tests at 10 a.m. the next day. Take my theories with a grain of salt.
But that’s not the same as an algorithm update. Algo updates are system-wide. They’re fundamental changes to the decision-making engine of Amazon product search. They’re usually pretty easy to recognize, with at least 5% of search results fed into a blender and reconstituted. They’re not common.
A quick tip: If you see three forum threads saying “Hey, I just saw my products drop. ALGO CHANGE OH MY GOD BUY CANNED GOODS AND BATTERIES THE END TIMES ARE UPON US,” it’s not an algorithm change.
If you see a statement from Amazon, or sweeping changes affecting almost all of your colleagues’ stores, that is a shakeup.
Get More: What Amazon’s 250 Character Indexing Maximum Means for Merchants
If you think the algorithmic turds have hit the fan, here’s what you do:
- Look at your revenue. Has it taken a serious hit? This is by far the most important metric. I know: Obvious. But I know my first reaction when I fall a couple of positions in a relevant search. I scramble to fix the rankings. Don’t do it. Start with the core business.
- Check the back end. Recently, Amazon limited the back end keywords field to 250 characters or less. That lopped off a lot of keywords. Products fell out of the rankings. But it wasn’t an algorithm change. If you assumed an algo change, you missed an easy fix: Put your most important phrases at the start of the back-end keywords field, and reduce duplication.
- Look outside Amazon. News can change searcher behavior. “Fidget Spinner” wasn’t a factor last year. This year, if you sell a Fidgeting Salad Spinner, you saw weird things happen. Not an algo change. A behavior change.
- Check your products. Did you make a recent change to your description, bullets or something else? Any typos by any chance?
- Talk to people you know. Don’t rely on random forum posts and messages. Forum posters have many motives and levels of expertise. Check in with trusted colleagues. See what they say.
It’s Not a Duck
If it walks like a…
You know the saying.
Confirmed, widespread algorithm changes are very rare. Don’t assume a big change. Focus on things you control. If you assume an algorithm tweak, you may miss the real problem, and your sales will suffer.
So, before you panic, look at your products, your revenue, and your community. Worst-case, there was a big change, and you did your homework. More likely, there’s no cause for panic.
About the Author
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He’s recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle.