- Lena R. Liberman
- On March 15, 2018
I can write this article in a single sentence, and if you’re pressed for time, you can stop after this: The way to get an Amazon #1 Best Seller badge (that little orange ribbon-like icon) for your product detail page is by selling the greatest number of products within your category over a duration that Amazon does not specify publicly.
. . . And while that sentence is indeed true, it isn’t the whole story nor does it address the value (or possible lack thereof) of the badge nor does it address what I call the Best-Seller 3C: Competition, Calculation, and Category.
The Amazon #1 Best Seller badge is precisely that: an icon displayed on the product detail page (detail page, not search results though I have noticed a few exceptions where it shows in results for an incredibly specific search) of the item that is the #1 bestseller in a category. In general, there are 100 best sellers in any category. The higher level the category (e.g., a department such as “Pet Supplies”), the more diversity and competition in the 100 best sellers; the lower level the sub-category (e.g., “Knots, Macrame & Rope Work Craft Books,” which is more specific and with a smaller audience), the less diversity and competition.
In some sub-categories, there may not even be 100 best sellers because the category is so slender. Needless to say, getting your product to be a best seller in “Toys and Games” is a different endeavor (and achievement) than getting your product to be a best seller in “Traditional British & Celtic Digital Folk Songs.” However, being the top spot in either can get you a #1 Best Seller badge.
Some Facts about Amazon Best Sellers and the Amazon #1 Best Seller Badge
- Straight from Amazon: “The Amazon Best Sellers calculation is based on Amazon.com sales and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon.com.”
- As is the case with the A9 search algorithm, Amazon does not publicize the formula for calculating best sellers though we do have some sense of factors involved.
- Bestsellers are updated hourly (sometimes there is a lag of an hour or two), which means that the top spots and the #1 badge are up for grabs hourly.
- When a product loses that status and badge, be it after an hour or a month, it’s gone from the detail page for good unless the product regains the spot.
- Ranking #1 means that a product has recently sold more than all other products in that category (or subcategory) within that marketplace. A book that ranks #1 on Amazon India but is #3557 on Amazon US will not display the badge on the American marketplace.
- Not all categories display the badge at all times, which is to say, if the best-seller algorithm isn’t satisfied with enough data, there will be no badge displayed in that category for that hour.
- Best-seller status and the #1 Best Seller badge are available to all merchants, so you’re eligible whether you are a 1P vendor on Vendor Central or a 3P seller on Seller Central (regardless of whether or not you use Fulfillment by Amazon).
- And remember: the badge doesn’t show up in search results, only on detail pages, so it’s not going to be there when a shopper is initially choosing your product or a competitor’s.
I think that it’s clear to all sellers by now that you are likely to sell more—and to sell more at a faster pace (sales velocity)—by being a 1P wholesale vendor who sells large quantities directly to Amazon (where, in turn, Amazon is able to sell to consumers at low prices) or by being a 3P brand-registered seller using FBA. In a nutshell, Amazon rewards you when you do all of the things that make business for them easier and more profitable.
If you are in one of these brackets and your numbers (price, feedback, account health, etc.) are in good shape and your listings optimized, you are well positioned to compete and to prosper. Lower prices and “Sold by Amazon” or “Fulfilled by Amazon” are all green lights and confidence boosters for buyers, and all increase your chances of winning the Buy Box as well as ranking higher in search results and thus selling more and having a better shot at your product becoming a best seller.
There is one seller with whom you cannot really compete and win: Amazon itself. If Amazon has a private-label offering, that product will be “Amazon’s Choice” in the category and it will get some extra love in terms of placement. It will also likely be low priced and it will certainly be sold and fulfilled by Amazon. That is the recipe for a best seller and one with which you cannot compete.
But that scenario is not applicable to all categories (yet), which means that competing hard can win you best-seller status and placement and even the badge. If you do win the badge, congratulations! Do take notice (and perhaps a screenshot) because best sellers are updated hourly (via a mystery algorithm) and the badge goes away once another product in the category usurps yours.
In short, yes, you can have a best seller for an hour and lose it—all without even knowing it happened. And once the badge is gone, it’s gone unless your product reclaims the position (sadly, there is no badge for “Once was the #1 Best Seller”). So there’s getting it and there’s keeping it, which, much like the getting and keeping the Buy Box, are entirely different things.
As I wrote, the Amazon algorithm for calculating a best seller is not made public and is thus somewhat mysterious. While I can’t give you the formula, I can tell you that there seems to be industry consensus about C2: Calculation.
- The algorithm for calculating a best seller seems to be historical but also takes into account predictive elements. Amazon is really good at prediction.
- The sales-period durations are neither fully historical (all sales since start) nor are they so brief as to account for a spike like in a product launch where the item is super-cheap and new. The emphasis is on recency within reason.
- Amazon Best Sellers are precisely that: the items that sell the most according to the algorithm. What will not push you toward the top spot is reviews. The Amazon #1 Best Seller badge is awarded according to sales and only to sales. Of course, reviews are indirectly correlated as without good ones (or worse, with bad ones or none at all), your sales will suffer.
- This is Amazon. As a seller, you can do things to increase volume and accelerate velocity (running a huge sale or promotion, aggressively running Sponsored Products Ads or Sponsored Brands Ads), but you’re not going to outsmart the algorithm in a way that is ethical or sustainable or without repercussions. Be cool and play the game as Amazon intends.
Not all categories are created equal as touched upon early in this article. There’s definitely more prestige, placement, and sales power in having the best seller in “Books” versus having the best seller in “Industrial & Scientific Lab Autoradiography Supplies.” That said, competition comes back into the picture as it is infinitely easier to achieve best-seller status in a small-niche super-specific subcategory such as “Cat Leashes” than it is to achieve such in a larger subcategory of “Cat Collars, Harnesses & Leashes” or the even-larger category “Cats” and the much-larger (and infinitely more populated with competition products) department of “Pet Supplies.”
So in this case (as in all product listings), if you are the purveyor of a cat leash and you are pursuing that best-seller spot, you would definitely want to list your product in “Cat Leashes” as it is the most-targeted category (shoppers looking for cat leashes who ended up here would be more likely to convert than other shoppers) and also the least-populated category. You would also want to list in more-general categories so that your product might be found more easily by someone browsing at a higher level of the category tree (rather, the CATegory tree—rimshot!)
Since most shoppers do not browse by category but instead search by inputting keywords, it behooves sellers to get granular with their categories if they want to achieve best-seller status but not necessarily if they wish to be found by browsers.
Don’t List a Product in a Loosely-Connected Category: An Example
And with that comes the temptation to pursue best-seller status or the #1 Best Seller badge by listing a product in a “loosely connected” category. For example, a pair of Bluetooth headphones (high-interest items generally) showing as the #1 Best Seller in the subcategory of “Two-Way Radio Headsets & Microphones.” It’s a stretch to say that the product is a right fit there, but the seller put it there and got the top spot and the badge in that category—but not by selling to browsers of that category, rather by selling the product generally and crushing sales of other items in the lower-interest subcategory of “Two-Way Radio Headsets & Microphones.” The item is also listed in “Bluetooth Headphones,” but it faces much more competition there.
Needless to say, I don’t advocate category reaching. I don’t advocate it for a few reasons:
- It’s misleading and it’s not in the spirit of fair play. Consider a shopper who is legitimately browsing for two-way radio headsets and microphones. His or her shopping experience becomes frustrating when he or she encounters top-level products that simply are not relevant. Don’t be that seller.
- A frustrated shopper leaving a product detail page after not buying can actually be a strike against a product in the big-picture ranking algorithm. If users leave Amazon (without making a purchase) at a high rate after being on your page, Amazon notices that and considers it a high exit rate, a negative. Amazon also measures time on the page and picks up on incredibly short durations such as what might occur if a user is steered to a detail page that is not at all what he or she sought. So those are red flags to Amazon. No conversion for you, no conversion for Amazon, Amazon counts that against your product.
- Trying to game the Amazon system eventually catches up with sellers. If you are consistently taking liberties in order to stuff your products into lower-competition categories, Amazon will eventually find out. Getting best-seller status or even the #1 Best Seller Badge is not worth risking your ranking or selling privileges. If you find yourself tempted to manipulate the categories, ask yourself “Is being a best seller or having the badge for an hour (maybe longer) worth the risk?”
Don’t Confuse Legit Best Sellers with the #1 Best Seller Badge
There is no doubt that the badge has visual appeal and carries weight with customers. But it is buried on the detail page rather than in search results and it is fleeting. I’ve heard sellers refer to the Amazon #1 Best Seller badge as more appealing to ego and vanity than to buyers.
Don’t be distracted by shiny objects. You’re not a raccoon or a magpie, you’re an Amazon seller trying to run a successful business. Work on doing the things that make your product a legitimate bestseller in its legitimate categories and don’t sweat getting the badge or holding onto it.
Focus on keywords and listing optimization and ranking in search results, focus on advertising and conversion, focus on shoppers who know what they are looking for and who choose your product because it best meets their needs and wants, and focus on customer service all the way through the sale and in the follow-up communications. Keep your eyes on the real prizes: sales, brand recognition, and customer satisfaction and loyalty. If the badge follows, all the better, but it’s not what really matters.
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