Most sellers view Amazon’s algorithm as fickle, temperamental, and all powerful; almost like a mythical dragon. For this reason, people often refer to it and the Amazon terms of service that govern it, with either fear or defiance.
Believe it or not, this underlying view informs many sellers’ overall marketing strategy on the platform. It often dictates whether a practice or action is acceptable or should be avoided.
I probably don’t need to tell you that this form of making business decisions based on feelings is typically unwise. Best to base your decisions on facts and observations.
As such, I wanted to share what the past 5+ years of observations and tests conducted by myself and colleagues have uncovered about what Amazon’s algorithm looks for and flags with regard to marketing and keyword ranking activities.
Amazon Tracks Everything
Before identifying the specific activities that can earn a red-flag or further investigation from Amazon, it is important to know what Amazon is monitoring.
And the answer is, essentially, everything.
Due to documents and screenshots made available to the public from Amazon’s internal operations a couple of years ago, we know that Amazon tracks things like:
- Number of add-to-carts, and has a benchmark for an expected number
- Number of purchases, and has an expected benchmark for this as well
- Browse path
- And much more
And that’s just on a detail page.
They track every click, hover and action throughout a user’s entire experience on the Amazon platform.
While this may seem obvious, ever since the roll out of “Amazon Attribution” where Amazon is lending limited data to advertisers to help them optimize off-Amazon marketing, it seems clear the marketplace plans to actually utilize much more of this data as well.
So here are the actions and activities that might get flagged by Amazon algorithmically.
Red Flag Actions
These actions will typically flag your account for manual review. These are actions taken while directing sales with a coupon, through a rebate service, or otherwise through a flow to increase sales volume for the purpose of ranking keywords.
- If you get significantly higher velocity than normal (10x or more) and all sales are made with a deep discount coupon.
- If you give out coupons at greater than 89% off (90+).
- If a majority of the purchasers are repeat purchasers (of the same product and it isn’t generally re-ordered).
- If multiple orders from separate accounts are shipped to the same address.
- If multiple large-unit orders are placed using a deep discount code.
- If a majority of the purchasers have a low buyer trust score.
- If a larger than average percentage of discount purchasers attempt to leave a review.
- If multiple purchasers with low buyer trust scores attempt to leave a review.
Algorithmic Stifling Actions
These actions won’t trigger a review of your account, but instead trigger what we believe to be penalties on the normal activities of the ranking algorithm. Essentially these actions stifle what would otherwise be positive rank increase.
- If a significant portion (almost all) of your new sales velocity is through the same URL.
- If a significant portion (almost all) of your new sales velocity is through the search bar on Amazon’s home page.
- If a significant portion of your new sales velocity can be attached to a discount promotion.
- If a significant portion of your new sales velocity is from the same referrer.
- If add-to-carts exceed expected add-to-carts by a significant margin.
- If a large number of add-to-carts are associated with a discount code.
Easily Detectable Actions
These actions don’t trigger account review or stifle rank, but they have the potential to.
- If most of your buyers use a gift card (Amazon or otherwise) rather than their usual payment source.
- If most of your buyers use a gift card on their NEXT purchase.
- If most of your buyers leave you a review.
How Amazon Takes Action
Amazon has been fairly predictable with regard to how they take action when they choose to interfere with sellers’ attempts at purposeful keyword ranking.
These three actions have consistently been how the platform has addressed over-use of their promotion channels:
- Flag the customer with a low quality score (because just like you don’t like lists full of freebie seekers, Amazon doesn’t like them influencing organic search experience).
- Flag the product. Historically this has played out as specific ASINs being blocked from receiving any reviews for an indeterminate period of time.
- Take away a feature or suppress effects (two examples: money off coupons and deep discount ranking).
Does This Mean Promotions Don’t Work Or Aren’t Worth It?
Not at all.
This just means you need to be intelligent and calculated with your ranking and promotion strategies. Gone are the days where you can simply click a button and rank. Now it requires effort and planning, like most other forms of marketing.
That being said, here’s what to do to avoid triggering the bad side of Amazon’s algorithm:
- Mix up your traffic sources (from Messenger, from Instagram, from email, etc).
- Mix up your buyer pool (different audiences).
- Mix up your URLs (SuperURL, social share URL, search-find-buy).
- Mix up the promotion type (rebate, small discount, buy one get one).
- Mix up velocity (don’t get same amount of sales every day).
Think of it this way; when you run a single strategy all day every day, this makes it obvious to Amazon that you want one thing and one thing only. To increase your keyword rank, which may not place the appropriate product in search placement in front of customers.
Amazon will investigate this as they do care about when and where this is happening. You can avoid sending them that message by diversifying your marketing and promotion strategies.