Hi and welcome to another live episode of Marketplace Masters. Brought to you by MerchantSpring, the leading Marketplace analytics platform for Amazon vendors, and agencies. Now, Marketplace Masters is all about going deeper into the challenges that vendors and agencies face to lift performance by practical actions and insights.
I'm your host, Paul Sonneveld and today we are talking about product, catalogue, strategies, and listing optimization specifically for Amazon Vendors. To help us do this, I’ve invited James Wakefield to join us and share his expertise. Let me introduce him. James is the founder of Wake Commerce, a London-based Amazon agency in technology provider firmly focused on Vendor Central. James has been selling on marketplaces since 2002 and on Amazon since 2005. So brings a broad range of experience to the conversation today. Thank you for being with us today, James.
Thanks for having me back, Paul. Great to see you.
It's a really big topic today. So, I know we've got a lot of content to cover. Let's try and do our best for our audience here. So let's kick off and let's start with this big question. Why do you think catalogue and listing optimization is important for vendors? Doesn't Amazon look after everything?
Does Amazon ever look after anything? Yeah, it's a really big topic. I feel that it's an aspect of Amazon and vendor that is kind of underserved. There's a lot of almost mystery behind it and it is multifaceted. It's quite complex. So, yeah, hopefully I'll distill some of that today. In terms of why optimization important, I've tried to kind of summarize that in this slide. And it starts really with visibility, you know, are your products sharing up for relevant searches and tied to that is are they ranking for specific search terms, you know, keywords that people are using that have got volume and then sort of going down the stages. Discovery really is concerned with the products that you want to push and prioritize on the marketplace. Are those the ones that are getting the attention and with brands that are on vendor Central in particular, there might be issues around duplicate listings, illegitimate listings for your brand that you really don't have any control over.
So you really need to understand your products getting the attention or is, you know, there’s too much noise around them. And then, when shop has actually come onto your listings, are they being served with a high quality experience in terms of the content? are you giving them enough to answer the questions that have kind of got them to your product listing in the first place. It is the content reflective of your brand integrity and, you know, their drivers within there to encourage conversion in terms of shipping options, price competitiveness, all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I mean, in terms of how you address this, we've got some kind of put together here, which is three stage. First of all, we're trying to sort of quantify the opportunity, which I'll go into a bit more detail on. We then trying to basically rank the products that we've decided to go after. And then once those products are active, we need to keep quite close eye on those to ensure that there's no issues with kind of measuring performance, and I'll kind of go into a bit more detail on that as well.
So, in terms of quantify, we really need to define the current state of your account. Which means understanding what type of vendor or seller you are on Amazon, what stage you're at in terms of your Amazon Journey, or even maturity and this is really fundamental to defining your strategy. If you're a reseller or a distributor then you've probably had a good time of it five, six, seven years ago. But since then it's really been a race to the bottom. You’re competing with a lot of other players. You're not really in control of any of the products or the brand presents. If you're a private label seller, then that's great. You're probably going to have full control over your brand and listings limited to no direct competition with your brand.
And then if you're a mainstream consumer brand, which is typical of the type of brand you see on Vendor Central and also fairly typical of the type of client that we work with. Then there's a good chance that you've probably joined the Amazon party a bit too late and you weren't necessarily the creator of your product listings on Amazon. Now, this causes something of a nightmare in terms of trying to take ownership and tidy up your brand presence on the platform, but it also represents a bit of an opportunity because if resellers have already had a go at listing your products, we can see what's going on with those listings and that takes us to the kind of audit stage.
Now, what we're doing with this is we're looking at Amazon data to understand what is the current situation with your brand’s products and we can use external kind of publicly facing metrics, including sales rank review, quantity etc, to really understand which products have already got momentum.
Now if I advising a consumer brand on where to focus at least in the kind of short to medium term, it would be on the products that are already proven on the channel and then really double down on those in terms of keywords content, customer experience advertising, Etc. And from a report like this, we can infer what's going on with resellers, pricing. Is Amazon already holding the products, do they have stock? And from this, you can really start to pick out a focus list to pay deeper attention to. So that allows us to kind of identify the winners at least, in terms of what's already going on on Amazon. But there's obviously going to be products outside of that and you've really got to use your own experience. Look at data from other channels to understand which of your products are going to have the best chance of success on Amazon. But that's not enough on its own because you’ve also got to understand then where do those products sit within Amazon's catalogue? And what's going on with the competition?
In an incumbent listings within those categories that you're competing in? So that means looking at bestseller lists, specific category analysis, search volumes, that kind of thing. And then from there, you can begin to understand, okay, is our offering price competitive? Is it more compelling the than the competition? Is there just so much established competition that we've got no real prospect of competing in this space? And this is a really important point because people don't tend to appreciate the scale of Amazon. I mean, I've heard that there's close to 1 billion products in their database.
Obviously, the vast majority of those aren't active, but it shows you the level of engagement there's been in terms of adding products that the level of competition now is extremely high. And so you've got to quantify that and really understand who you're up against, as there's no point going in blind because that's what will essentially result in failure. I’m going to jump forward to ranking factors. This is kind of bread and butter in terms of aspects which are going to drive search rankings and conversion rate on the listing. So that the blue areas are ones that we pretty much have direct control over in terms of the content. So, these are obviously going to influence what the algorithm detects in terms of relevant keywords. It's also what's going to engage the customer in terms of the content that you're presenting to them.
But there's also a lot of other factors which determine where your products are going to run and how they're going to convert with customers. Everything from the type of delivery that you're offering whether you're charging for delivery. And then conversion rate is kind of self-perpetuating because if you've got a highly converting listing, that's going to have the single biggest influence on keyword rankings and obviously the higher you rank, the more sales you're going to get the higher the conversion rates going to be. Ratings and reviews as everyone knows is really critical on Amazon. And one that isn't on here is price which is a really big driver in terms of progressing listings.
Yeah, and James, I noticed on your previous diagram, you mentioned monitoring. What were you referring to there?
Yes. So once you've got your listings up it's a case of keeping a close eye on those. And this is what we find is fairly neglected on the channel because it's quite difficult to cut through the noise and sort of understand what's happening a product level. But it's really critical because, you know, it irrespective of the size of your catalogue. If you've got a listing, which can be generating tens, or even hundreds of thousands of pounds a month, which you know obviously does happen.
You want to be damn sure that you've got stock of that product and availability also means that there's no issue with the listing, you know, we often see the listing takedowns due to some compliance issue or other nonsense that Amazon's come up with to kind of disable your listing without any notice. They can get missed very easily and the next thing you know you've lost a ton of revenue because that listing was down. So understanding and monitoring availability is crucial and very closely related to that is monitoring the buy box.
Now, if I jump back to this previous listing. This column is showing as the number of active offers on particular ASINs over a 90-day period. Now, this listing at the top here has got 46 offers and one of those is Amazon. And so what that means is 45 third-party sellers who are making that product available on the platform, and you've got other products with in here that have also got a lot of reseller activity. So if we're supplying to vendor, we want to be certain that Amazon is consistently winning the buy box, and as I kind of mentioned before, this is something that's not appropriately measured or looked at, but can have a very significant impact on account performance.
And then beyond that, you know, you want to be fairly regularly looking at things such as market share, how you perform in terms of keyword rankings. But this has to be done a product level. There's no point in kind of having consolidated account data, and obviously, it means more work and I suppose diligence in terms of digging into the data, but it's really essential when you've got key listings that are going to driving the majority of the revenue.
And then obviously kind of broader analytics, especially through platforms, such as your own, you need to be able to see what's going on an account level. But have that granularity across a whole kind of swathe of factors and on the vendor side, you've obviously got metrics around purchase orders or Amazon ordering and reordering stock of your key lines. What's it looking like in terms of weeks of cover a week, kind of identifying issues, that could result in stockouts, have they stopped ordering for whatever reason. So again, kind of knowing what to look for and regularly monitor is really crucial to having a successful catalogue strategy.
Now, I'm just going to jump back to rank because I forgot to discuss a couple of slides that I've put in here. So when we're kind of trying to address these factors that have a very significant influence over ranking conversion rate. We might be dealing with a listing like this in the first instance which is quite clearly subpar in terms of pretty much everything I've shown on that previous graph.
The creative is fairly bad, in terms of the imagery, the copy is not at all compelling or informative. Also, the purchase and shipping options are just not conducive to conversion. So we want to go from something like this. Ideally to something like this. Where all the aspects kind of above the fold are optimized to the maximum potential and that that's everything from the visual assets to the way that the variations are structured, the shipping options. But also, as you can see here, the text content in terms of keyword placement. But not just keyword stuffing actually trying to create compelling and informative copy that's going to engage the customer. It's going to answer all their questions and hopefully take them through to the next stage which is to make a purchase.
Now what you won't hear me talk about on this webinar is A-Plus content or storefront. Because for me, they are very much nice to have but I don't want to be focusing any attention on those until we've really nailed this aspect. Because from my perspective, this is where the vast majority of sales are made. So we really need to ensure that this is as optimal as it can be. Storefronts and A-Plus are going to create marginal gains, but they shouldn't be the priority. This really needs to be the priority in terms of going after new keyword opportunities and providing customers with that I suppose base level information to convince them to purchase.
So James, you’re one of the few agencies that specialize specifically on Amazon vendors. So when you are talking to potential customer, to large CPG, or Health and Beauty brand, where do you start in terms of size and the price and auditing their opportunity?
Yeah, sure. So the stuff that I've kind of outlined previously, in terms of I suppose, what we're doing in the initial stages is we want to have a clear understanding of what's the current situation with the client or the prospective clients listings, what's going on within their category and essentially what opportunities can we go after and what do we need to prioritize? So this is an example of a listing order not for a brand that we work for but I kind of picked out because it's fairly significant within its category. I feel that the listing is quite problematic in terms of, obviously the areas that I flagged in red and also orange where I'm looking at the variations and this is really common, especially when I'm looking at grocery listing. It actually kind of shocks me how certain fundamentals have not been looked at. So in the case of this listing, the visual content is spot on, they've got video in there. If you scroll down, they've got A-Plus content.
As I've mentioned, however, there's been no real attempt at keyword placement, keyword optimization. I can only actually identify one search term in this content, which is whey protein powder. Now, we're trying to get ideally 10 to 15 search terms into the title and the bullet point without obviously looking like it's keyword stuffing. We really trying to balance that with, how were engaging, the customer and providing good quality content to them.
So yeah, this is kind of what an initial listing order looks like and this is where we’re flagging areas that I think require Improvement and we sort of feed this into a scorecard where we're in this case, we're emphasizing, okay, your text content is really weak, the positive aspects, obviously are I suppose the existing sales history on the listing, relating to feedback, delivery options, bestseller rank etc. These are factors that's obviously going to contribute to the ranking. But there's a huge missed opportunity here which could fairly easily be addressed in terms of doing some keyword research and an attempt to optimization. And in terms of trying to understand how that product is performing within the category that it's that there's obviously tons of different tools for this. Probably too many tools. But one thing that I like to do, which anyone can do is, literally go to Amazon, click on the best sellers list and that's going to show you the full category structure on the left hand side. And what you need to do is dig into the particular category and then subcategory, or subcategories that your product sits in or is kind of most suited to.
What we can see in this example, is that this product six, it's in this subcategory, and you can even dig a bit deeper if you wanted to, but when we're kind of qualifying an opportunity, we're trying to understand how is that? How does that product set within that category and against kind of incumbent listings? And if I was coming into the market with a new protein powder, this would scare me a bit because you've got really established listings that have got a ton of ratings, ton of feedback. It's actually going to be very difficult to break into this category and unless you've got probably money to burn in terms the advertising.
So what we're trying to do with certainly a lot of the other products we optimized is understand what niche that they fit into and how can we kind of win in that niche. Typically, that comes down to going after longer tail keywords that have got, say, the lower search volume, but obviously less competition kind of get the listing performing for those. And then over time, as long as those listings are resonating with customers, you know, customers are buying them. Then that's going to contribute to ranking for those more competitive and higher search volume terms. What we're also interested in is kind of the size of the prize in terms of how big is this category? And, you know, this is quite astonishing in terms of the scale of this, its worth over 91 million on Amazon UK. This brand at the moment has got twelve percent market share. So, that's great.
We need to understand is this category growing or declining majority of the categories have been looking at recently of declined, compared to the previous 12 months because that was obviously peak pandemic. So there's been a bit of a reset there, but we really need to understand the context of how is this brand already doing within their category and is that category growing or declining? In their case, there are ten percent on the previous period. I reckon they could have grown probably quite a lot faster and better have this sort of their catalogue out. And then we can also look at, you know, what's going on with the competition in that whole category as well which is always useful.
Let's just talk some of the practical aspect James. I think there's a great scene setting strategy but when it comes down to actually optimizing and when you're actually optimizing a brands listing and its brand presence on Amazon, what does it actually look like? You know, within your agency if I sort of was a fly on the wall? You know, I was looking at your team, I'm sure they're working remotely but what does it look like?
Yes. So kind of going back to the example I showed before in terms of an optimized listing or at least at a listing how it should look after we've gone through that initial optimization process. Because I should mention that optimization shouldn't be a one-time thing. You know, the marketplace is very fluid. You want to be looking at this fairly regularly especially on your key listings to make sure you’re going after the most appropriate search terms.
You addressing kind of the most appropriate customer concerns. So the process for us, you've got the kind of text-based content that I showed you. Imagery, visuals is just as important, if not more important for certain product types. So we're often working with clients either their existing design resource, or we can obviously create assets for them. We prefer to leverage their internal designers because they've obviously got the experience of the brand, the positioning, color schemes, etc.
So we're kind of guiding them in terms of best practice for visuals. And we'll kind of work through listing by listing until all of those are up to scratch. This is an example of the conversion rating Improvement we saw on that particular listing, after sorting the content out just to give you a view on the ranking Improvement. So we've gone after a couple of search terms here, which might seem fairly niche, but the search volume on them is pretty decent.
So, what we've seen just by going through that Organic optimization process is a significant Improvement in the rankings for those keywords just within a two-week period. And obviously, as the listing matures further, those rankings improved even more. So just by getting keywords into the listing, if it's got sales history, then Amazon is likely going to start ranking the keywords for that product. So then it's a case of seeing what's working and then kind of doubling down again on those particular keywords. That's our process in a nutshell really.
That's fantastic James. So I really appreciate you sharing that and being like, lifting the bottom tips for how you do that. You know, some agencies would consider some of this kind of secret sauce. But you know, others would describe and I think your probably capturing and just putting in the effort and actually building that foundation. You made the point about the brand store, you know. I wholeheartedly agree. You need to get the foundation right before you start to put the cream on the top. Getting my metaphors mix there.
Yeah. And we won't engage with the client if they won't allow us to, you know, we're not saying to them, we need to do everything, but at the very minimum, we need to go after your key listings or the ones that have got the biggest opportunity. Because if we don't do that, then what's the point throwing advertising money at listings that aren't converting well.
So for me, it's really fundamental and it's the number one starting point on any account. And regardless of how well a brand thinks their listings have been optimized, you know, there's always new keyword, strategies, tools, methods coming out and also the data is changing day to day. So you might have you might have optimize your listing a year or two years ago, it's going to be completely out of date in terms of the keywords you're going after. So you've got to be proactive in updating those listings and going after those new opportunities.
That's right. Yeah. Now I'm looking at the clock and we have gone over the half an hour. I did want to squeeze in a few questions here. We've got a few audience questions be before I get to them. I had one of my own and I wanted to ask you James, you know what are the biggest obstacles that you tend to find in terms of perhaps a willingness of your customer or areas where you really need to convince them to invest? You mentioned obviously content in other specific sticking points that you come across time and time again that you focus hard on to resolve.
Not necessarily the investment side. I mean we don't kind of overcharge for these kind of projects. For us, it’s kind of essential that pretty much break even on the optimization projects that we do the quite complicated. There's a lot of moving parts in terms of collecting those keywords, dealing with copywriters, getting the listings updated is a story in itself.
Making sure the content is actually pushed through. Again, that's a whole other conversation. You mentioned about sticking point because probably the biggest sticking point or point of concern, particularly with consumer brands who come onto the channel and certainly the types of businesses that we work with, they are typically although they're selling consumer brands they are typically B2B businesses. In that they're supplying retailers or distributors or resellers. So for them, you know, Amazon is just another customer, but they've got lots of other customers who may have been active on Amazon for many years, re selling their products. So we've often got to make the case that you know, you've given responsibility over to these resellers to essentially to represent your brand on the channel, create these listings.
99.9% of the time, they've not done a good job in terms of the content. So when the brand then wants to engage with the channel, we need to kind of give them some some hard truths which is that you know, it's typically a mess in terms of these duplicate illegitimate listings or even legitimate listings that have got really weak content on them. So we're always making the case that, you know, everything should be consolidated into official listings with the correct barcodes and that inevitably means getting some of these other listings removed and Amazon really doesn't have the appropriate tools in place for that. Because brand registry is the only way to address that. And when you kind of remove listings using that method, inevitably, it's going to upset these resellers, particularly if they've got stock, if they've ridden off that listing for a long time, and it's become profitable for them.
But my perspective is that, for a brand really wants to engage with the channel and you wouldn't tolerate walking down the supermarket aisle and seeing your products on the floor with the wrong packaging, kind of graffiti scrawled over them inconsistent pricing, but for some reason, a lot of brands seem to think that's okay on Amazon. So I've got to make the case that it's not and we've really got to tidy things up to ensure that customers are getting that solid experience.
Yeah. That's spot on. I love how you characterize their difference of view and I’ve certainly seen that as well. So I do have a final question from the audience. And we've got a great commentary and discussion amongst various participants happening on LinkedIn. But for the benefit of those views that are tuning in via Facebook or YouTube, I am going to bring up the question and get your perspective on James. So I hope you can hope you can read it. Eraj is asking, "Is there a specific character limit by Amazon for vendor listings content for title bullets, product descriptions?" and let me add, you know, what's the limit and what do you work towards?
Sure. So, we're typically going off 200 characters, including space is for the titles. I'm an advocate of long titles. Some people disagree with it. I'm pretty sure that it's been proven time and time again, that longer titles are more effective. Longer titles also give you the opportunity to kind of convey a few product benefits. But from my perspective, more importantly, get maybe three even four high opportunity search terms in there. And the title is the single biggest ranking factor that we have influence over in terms of going after specific keywords.
Now, having said that, some categories have a limit, which is lower. So, I've seen in some cases, 150 characters even low as 100 or the that seems quite rare. And then in terms of the bullet points, you've got up to 250 characters per bullets, and there's five bullets and I wouldn't necessarily advocate trying to reach that level, but certainly the kind of longer form bullets, where you can go into a reasonable amount of detail on the products.
Again, getting more keywords in there. We could get another 10 to 12 in the bullet points, as long as they're kind of play strategically. And then description is up to 1,000 characters, and that is another kind of ranking opportunity. We don't always optimize that we will tend to use the kind of manufacturer description, but if we're doing a kind of holistic optimization on a listing, we'd also do the description as well, but it has much less ranking juice than the title and the bullets.
Yeah, I think I can see some of the some of the people pitching into discussion you as well, making some of the same points. you know, obviously description having much less weight in terms of the search algorithm and a lot of times below the fold as well in terms of the actual product display page.
And another one worth mentioning actually, which has been neglected a lot in the past is the back-end search terms. So it's been shown recently that Amazon started to put a lot more emphasis on that and the trick with the back-end search terms is You've got 250 bytes, so a byte might be more than one if it's like a special character, for example. But let's say for argument's sake, you've got 250 characters and you can just put a string of words in there. And what the algorithm will do is it will kind of concatenate that the various iterations of all the words in that list to create additional keyword combinations. So that gives you the opportunity to actually go after a lot of additional search terms and there's no benefit in duplicating words in the back, end search term. So it takes a bit of work, but if you're willing to put the time in, you can actually go after a lot more keywords by exploiting that.
Yeah. Okay, I'm going to squeeze in the last question here, I think is quite an interesting one. Because I've often wondered this myself, so we have a user on LinkedIn asking us, "as a vendor, can you actually go ahead and do brand registry and use that as a mechanism to control the content but not actually sell on Amazon?".
Yeah, absolutely. So I think brand registry is very flawed in the way that it's set up. I've got a lot of criticisms of that. But essentially a brand registry account sits entirely separately from a vendor or a seller account. So any trademark owner can go on there, submit the relevant documents and then that effectively gives them kind of additional level of brand ownership on the channel. And it can also help withrectifying content issues. Removing illegitimate listings or listings are infringing on your trademark. So, yeah, by all means brands can engage with that without actually having to actively sell or lift on the platform.
Great. Thank you, James. We are out of time. So we'll have to wrap it up there. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. You've given us lots of practical advice and I think a really helpful reminder as well, I think we can all get lost in advanced advertising strategies, or brand stores or even DSP. Actually need to get the basics, right. And I think, if anything it's a really great refresher that the basics matter, especially for vendors who tend to see, you know, Amazon perhaps more as ayou know, another retail channel than where the retailer does more of the work. It's not so. So thank you so much for lifting that topic and sharing lots of practical advice along the way. Now, I also ask for any viewers someone who's tuning in or maybe watching this on demand, what is the best way to get in touch with you if they want to maybe explore some of these topics further?
Sure. I mean, you can either reach out to me on LinkedIn or drop me an email. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Always happy to help particularly in terms of looking at what's going on with specific products and categories. We've got a fairly robust set of tools. Some of which kind of ridiculously expensive but give us that overall view on the size of particular segments and categories. So yeah. Always happy to look at that without any, you know, obligation or attempt to sell to people.
Fantastic. Thank you so much, James. And that's it for our today's episode of Marketplace Masters. Thank you so much for tuning in and don't forget to visit merchantspring.io to access exclusive offers only available to viewers of this show. Till next time, take care!