Amazon Takes a Byte Out of Search Terms

Earlier this month, Amazon published a brief news blurb, “Update to Search Term Field,” in Seller Central. The blurb was an attempt to clarify long-standing confusion around Amazon keywords and how they were (or were not) being saved, weighted, and indexed.
Update to Search Term FieldWe’ve covered Amazon keywords in what feels like every iteration, configuration, adjustment, and angle. But there’s one post that is the mother lode of information about keyword characters and limits, What Amazon’s 250 Character Indexing Maximum Means for Merchants. And because this article has been top-down updated with new information rather than rewritten, you can actually see the evolution of changes that Amazon has rolled out with regard to keyword guidelines.

So What’s the Latest on Amazon Keywords and Guidelines?

Old Rule of Thumb: 5/50/250, which means five lines of 50 bytes totaling less than 250 bytes. Many sellers were confused by whether or not this included things like punctuation and spaces. Many sellers also saw the total number of 250 and assumed the following: 1) that bytes and characters were the same thing, 2) that they had 250 characters to use. This was not true as Amazon explicitly used the words “less than.”
New Rule of Thumb: 1/249, which means one line totaling 249 characters. When you hit 250 or you go beyond, you’ll get a red error message. Back it up byte by byte (because Amazon is recalculating in real time) and you’ll see what you can fit once you no longer get the red error message and you are instead able to save your changes.
Amazon Search Byte Limit

Important Things to Remember

First off, think about your Amazon keywords as a budget and stick with the “1 line, 249 bytes” rule where some characters cost more than one byte. Spend wisely with your big purchases up front, no duplications, and no frivolous words that you don’t need and that could be misleading (and in turn a red flag to Amazon and/or harmful to your listing’s relevance).
Differentiation: Did you know that yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing? It’s true, but grocery stores often mislabel them and eaters often discuss them interchangeably. Characters and bytes are like the yams and sweet potatoes of tech. They seem like they could (and maybe should) be the same, but they aren’t.
What’s the difference? Well, English-language alphanumeric characters are one-to-one-to-one where one letter equals one character, which in turn equals one byte. But not so when it comes to:

  • Certain signs and symbols (“&” aka the ampersand for example)
  • Unicode symbols aka alt-codes (like ♥, which will cost you the princely sum of three bytes)
  • Letters with diacritical marks (like the umlaut, which is the word for those two little dots over the ä, ö, and ü in some German words)
  • Languages using alphabets other than the English (such as kanji characters in Japanese).

In these cases (and in some others) characters are more than a single byte. 
To account for some of these exceptions, the less-than-250-bytes limit applies to all marketplaces save Amazon India where it’s only 200 bytes, Amazon Japan (500 bytes), and Amazon China (no byte limit).
“Less Than” Means Just That: Get the number 250 out of your head and replace it with 249. Here’s why: Amazon limits the length of the search terms attribute to less than 250 bytes. You don’t have 250, you have 249 or fewer.
Give Your Amazon Keywords Breathing Room: Spaces don’t count as bytes according to Amazon, though I have played with a few examples where I back up my bytes once they hit 250 and I’ve noticed some inconsistencies. Anyway, use spaces to separate words (no need to use commas here) and don’t worry about those spaces eating up your byte count.
Double Back to Your Existing Listings and Check Them for Compliance: 1/249 is new but it applies to both new and existing listings. And what you had in 5/50/250 won’t always translate exactly, so if you want a quick peace-of-mind/optimization tactic, check your existing listings and make sure that they are as you would like them to be and in the new format. Otherwise, you’re handing a free pass to your competitors who do circle back and tighten up their listings. And while you’re there, why don’t you use Scope to freshen up your keywords and bullets in order to keep up with actual data-proven current User Search Terms instead of search terms you used when your first wrote your listing and went with your gut.
Always Play by Amazon’s Rules: Don’t wonder about search-term nitty gritty or take a hit on your Amazon keywords because you didn’t know that the guidelines had changed. Read what Amazon has to say in articles like “Using Search Terms Effectively” and “Optimize Listings for Search,” and keep up with Seller Central News.

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