In today’s article I will present the 19 most common mistakes made by Amazon sellers that I have noticed again and again during the daily account support of the last months. Avoiding these mistakes can help Amazon merchants to optimize their sales and turnover figures. In the first points, I will particularly discuss optimization potentials regarding Amazon SEO and Amazon advertising campaigns.
Further topics that I will mention in this article include mistakes in the product display, product upload, monitoring of the buybox and sales via other channels and to other countries.
1. Incorrect use of backend keywords
Every Amazon seller can (and should) take advantage of the backend keyword option for the items they offer on Amazon. In the vast majority of the Amazon accounts I optimize, I notice the same mistakes regarding the use of backend keywords.
In total, you can specify keywords with a size of 250 bytes. However, I keep noticing accounts that clearly exceed the keyword limit. If the limit of 250 bytes is exceeded, all entered keywords are ignored. Therefore the first optimization measure is to make sure that the bytes limit is not exceeded.
The following rules apply to byte allocation:
Letters (A-Z) and numbers from 0-9 correspond to one byte.
For umlauts (Ä, Ü, Ö) 2 bytes are counted.
Special characters, such as the € sign, are counted as 3 bytes.
Another problem that I frequently notice when revising the backend keywords is that keywords that have already been used are also entered in the backend keywords. Basically, keywords which are already included in the listing do not have to be mentioned twice. The keyword-frequency does not play a role in the Amazon-Listing optimization and can therefore be safely neglected. By removing the double-mentioned keywords, space is created for additional, unique keywords that increase the visibility of the products.
Further considerations regarding the use of backend keywords:
Keywords do not need to be named in the correct order for them to be considered. For example, a specific term can be used in the product title that matches one of the backend search terms. If this combination of terms is now being searched for, the item will also be included in the index of the played items.
Upper and lower case letters are not considered.
Keywords with umlauts are also considered if the search requests do not contain the correct spelling (ä=ae, ö=oe, ü=ue).
2. No ideal campaign structure
Advertising campaigns are a part of successful selling on Amazon. Whether it involves sponsored products, headline search ads or display campaigns – it is impossible to sell successfully on Amazon without actively marketing your own products via the paid advertising formats on the Amazon marketplace. However, creating advertising campaigns is by no means the end of the story, even if many manufacturers and retailers consider this to be the case. I notice that about 90% of the accounts that I optimize have a non-ideal campaign structure for their products. Generally, campaigns should be structured according to products or even brands.
This is what a non-optimal campaign structure would look like:
Campaign Brand X → Ad group All products
Regardless of whether the campaign is automatic or manual, this campaign structure is not recommended. The reasons for this are as listed below:
All products in the ad group are now displayed with possible keywords. Since these are usually different products (variants or even completely different product categories), there is no clear product definition. This means that ads can now be displayed for search requests that do not match the search request at all (e.g. keyword „blue shirt“, but ad „white shirt“). This ultimately leads to a lower click rate on the ads and thus to a lower quality level. And if there are clicks on the ad, the conversion rate is usually unacceptable, resulting in unnecessary costs.
Another problem that arises with large ad groups is the lack of clarity about which product was sold via which keyword playout. Although this problem can“t be solved completely, smaller ad groups (< 5 products) allow more precise assumptions to be made.
This approach is equally inefficient for the playout of automatic campaigns, as only a standard CPC can be determined at ad group level. A standard CPC is not appropriate for a very diverse product range with different sales, margins and conversion rates. To avoid this problem, several ad groups with a few very homogeneous products would be recommended. Only the items that cover the same search terms should be sorted into one ad group. This applies in particular to the characteristics of the products such as size and price. Therefore I recommend the following campaign structure:
Campaign Brand X → Display group blue + XL (Exact)
→ Display group red + L (Exact)
→ Display groups green + M (Broad)
3. Inadequate time taken for the campaign analysis
After the first advertising campaigns have been placed, especially „newcomers“ would love to analyze and adjust their campaigns on a daily basis. However, this enthusiasm is contra-productive, as Amazon campaigns particularly need some time to generate enough data as a basis for campaign optimization. First of all, the „current“ data in the campaign report is not up-to-date, but often tends to be delayed by 24 hours. Another point to consider is the attribution window for advertising campaigns, which is 14 days on the Amazon marketplace. This simply indicates the following: If a potential customer clicks on your ad and does not immediately place an order, but returns to the advertised product within the next 14 days and then orders it, this order will be attributed to the campaign/advertisement with which the customer was in contact. This ultimately results in subsequent changes in key figures such as revenue, orders and AcoS. For this reason, I always advise to place the analysis window of the campaigns at least 7 days before the analysis time, so that the actual effects of the advertising campaigns can be analyzed. (The 7-day rule has become established with me, but of course it is also possible to analyse after 14 days).
Another reason why campaigns should not be „optimized“ too quickly is the amount of data collected as a basis for decision-making. When optimizing advertising campaigns, I always make decisions based on data such as clicks, CPC, AcoS, etc. An essential part of optimization is the removal of keywords that are not performing well or the reduction of the maximum CPC for certain keywords. But first of all you have to question yourself if and when a keyword is not performant. Is it 10 clicks without purchase? Or is it 25 clicks?
In this respect, I cannot give a generally valid benchmark, as the conversion rates vary according to product category and price range. However, you should be careful not to deselect keywords too quickly. As a benchmark the product-related conversion rate can be calculated with a certain discount.
Product A has a product-specific conversion rate of 5% – that would mean that a sale is generated after 20 visits/clicks.
As a rule, in order to identify non-performing keywords, I attribute a discount of 25% to advertising campaigns.
As a result, if a keyword has reached more than 25 visitors (conversion rate 4 %) and no purchase has been made yet, the keyword will be deselected or its maximum CPC downgraded.
However, such decisions can only be made if enough data is available!
4. Exclusive campaign optimization based on AcoS evaluation
AcoS stands for „Advertising costs of Sale“ and is one of the most important KPIs in the placement of advertising campaigns, as it relates advertising costs to advertising revenues.
Example: Our product costs 100 € and an average of 20 € is needed to market it via advertising campaigns – in this case the AcoS is 20%.
The AcoS is a relatively easy to understand KPI and is an important parameter for most sellers. The goal of most sellers is to reduce the AcoS. However, dealers neglect key figures such as sales and turnover potential. If only a low AcoS is used as a target value and not the total sales and profit generated, then retailers are leaving a lot of sales potential unused.
To reduce AcoS at campaign level, there are two measures that retailers can take. The first measure is the use of negative keywords to exclude non-performing keywords. Unfortunately, this leads to keywords being prematurely excluded without enough data being used for evaluation. The result is that the number of advertised keywords is ultimately reduced and with it the number of impressions and conversions.
The second way for Amazon merchants to reduce the AcoS through campaign optimization is to reduce the maximum CPC of the keywords. This results in lower costs per click, but also reduces the number of possible clicks and thus the number of possible conversions.
Instead of focusing exclusively on the AcoS, merchants should also look at sales development and the total profit achieved. Especially in highly competitive product categories, it can be strategically advisable to accept an unprofitable AcoS in order to gain visibility in the organic search results.
5. A limited daily budget and inadequate keyword bids in advertising campaigns
Another point of optimization that I regularly notice in advertising campaigns on Amazon concerns a low daily budget, which is already used up during the day. With a limited daily budget, merchants miss both impressions and sales. For this reason, the campaign manager should be checked regularly, as this is where the notification regarding a too low daily budget is played out.
The problem with low keyword bids results from the low possibility that the very own advertisement for the particular search term will be displayed. Especially at the beginning the keyword bids should be a bit higher to compensate the missing quality factor by higher CPC.
Both aspects – a limited daily budget and keyword bids that are too low – lead to the fact that it is difficult to get the most out of Amazon campaigns.
6. Use of different keyword options at ad group level
Another mistake I often experience during account audits is the use of different keyword options in a single ad group. This mistake follows the same direction as the errors discussed in point 2. Concerning advertising campaigns on Amazon (sponsored products or headline search ads), there are three different keyword options that can be used to control the delivery of ads: „Broad Match“, „Phrase Match“ and „Exact Match“. For more information about the different keyword types, you can read the article „Instructions for Sponsored Product Campaigns“.
By using several keyword options in a single ad group, keyword overlaps can occur, so that the ad is suitable for a search term with several saved keywords. Ultimately, this makes campaign optimization more difficult, since search terms could now be played out across multiple keywords and these must be taken into account.
7. No usage of negative keywords
When using negative keywords, Amazon merchants are in better control about the play out of advertising campaigns because the use of negative keywords informs Amazon for which keywords the ad should not be played out for. Especially in manual broad-match campaigns and automatic campaigns, negative keywords should always be used to avoid spending unnecessary budget on keywords that match the advertised product.
During the daily campaign optimization I notice over and over again that campaigns are switched off prematurely if they do not reach the desired target values. A glance at the keyword report is often enough to see which keywords are responsible for sales and which for costs. Usually, it is only a small number of search terms that are responsible for not reaching target values. These search terms should be determined and finally booked as „negative keywords“.
8. Placing of advertising campaigns on non-optimized product listings
In addition to optimizing advertising campaigns, product listings on Amazon should also be created in such a way that there is a high probability of conversion. A recurring phenomenon that I observe is that advertising campaigns do not deliver satisfying results. In these cases, the campaign design is usually criticized prematurely without getting a more precise overview of the advertised products. An optimally designed campaign is only half the answer, the other 50% is determined by the product listing. Without an optimized product listing, the target values of the advertising campaign will also be difficult to achieve. Product listings with only one product image, little description, poor shipping conditions and a sales price that is clearly above the competitors will have a significant impact on sales via advertising campaigns.
For this reason, the focus of advertising campaigns should not only be on the campaign structure, keyword bids and keyword options, but of course also on a conversion-optimized product listing. By optimizing product listings, I have been able to observe a reduction of AcoS of up to 50%.
9. No campaign playout for products that are already displayed on the first search results page
Another mistake that some merchants make is to disable advertising campaigns for products that appear on the first search results page for the main keyword as organic placement. This is where the following argument is usually made: The keyword is not organic: Why invest money in an advertising campaign when you already have organic placement on the first search results page? However, most people do not take the fact into account that advertising campaigns can achieve a second presence on the first search results page and that by switching off the advertising campaigns, the placement on the first organic search results page can be lost. Just because the respective product appears on the first page or even takes the first organic placement, this does not mean that the sales maximum has already been reached. Advertising campaigns should therefore be placed independently of the organic placement. Every additional sale of one’s own product also prevents the customer from buying a competitor’s product and thus from building up a customer relationship with the competitor.
Short summary: The first nine points related to mistakes and misunderstandings in the placement of advertising campaigns on Amazon (sponsored products, headline search ads, etc.) and optimization for Amazon search (Amazon SEO). In the next step, I will now present mistakes & misunderstandings in other areas when selling on Amazon.
10. Exclusive focus on main keyword
It is relatively easy to determine the main keywords for a product. For example, if customers want to buy a vitamin B supplement, they will search for „vitamin B“. However, this does not apply to all buyers! There are enough customers who have a different search behaviour. For example, it may be a more specific search request, such as „vitamin b complex vegan“. If these different search requests are not considered, the own product won’t appear for these types of search requests. Therefore, you should not only pay attention to the main keywords, which are usually very obvious. As a result, the competition for these main keywords is very high and it is therefore very difficult to gain relevant rankings. Focusing on longtail keywords not only ensures that quick success can be measured, but also leads to a higher conversion rate than for generic main keywords.
What exactly is a customer looking for when they search for „vitamin B“? It could be „vitamin B complex“ or „vitamin B12 supplement“. Furthermore, it is not known whether the customer is looking for tablets or a liquid vitamin B preparation. This very generic search query ultimately leads to a high search volume, but low conversion rates compared to specific search queries (longtail).
Due to the increased competitive pressure on generic search terms, the recommended CPC for advertising campaigns is usually higher than for specific search queries, which leads to lower efficiency of advertising budgets.
11. Non-compliance of the Amazon style guides
Amazon style guides are general requirements for the presentation of products on the marketplace. The style guides differ according to category, so that it is difficult to make general statements about when a product listing is not in conformity with the Amazon style guides. You can find a representation of the different style guides here. By not following the Amazon style guides, it is possible that listing components such as the title or images are not played as desired. In some categories Amazon has already implemented „filters“ that categorically reject listing components that do not conform to the style guide. Unfortunately Amazon dealers are not informed about these measures. Furthermore, it regularly happens that products that do not conform to the style guides are hidden and thus cannot be found and therefore cannot be purchased. The fading out of items inevitably leads to a decline in sales and should therefore be taken into account.
To obtain a list of the hidden products, select the menu item „Hidden“ in inventory management, as shown below.
12. Product variations not being represented as variants
When selling on Amazon, the offered products can be offered either with or without variations. Which variation relationships are possible is shown in the style guides of the respective category. Not creating product variations (e.g. T-shirt in different colours) is a regularly occurring mistake. Causes are usually your own ignorance or a lack of time. However, product variations offer some advantages which can increase the success on Amazon. The first advantage would be that product ratings of the variations are added together (status July 2018: Currently there are some adjustments in the playing of ratings).
By combining the ratings, the number of ratings for each of the versions increases, which in the case of good ratings ensures that potential customers have increased confidence in your products. The second and often underestimated aspect is the increasing probability of up-selling and cross-selling, as the product variations are immediately displayed on the product detail page. Especially when retailers advertise with promotions such as a 10 % discount on the purchase of 2 products, product variations are an excellent way to draw attention to additional products.
13. Selecting the wrong category when uploading a product
An essential product feature that should not be missing when presenting products on Amazon is the corresponding product category. When selecting the appropriate product category, Amazon merchants should analyze the different classifications in detail in advance, since it is quite possible that there are several appropriate product categories for a product.
For example, a shoulder bag can be classified in
Shoes & Handbags > Handbags & Shoulderbags > Men’s bags > Handle bags
as well as in
Suitcases, backpacks & bags > Handbags & Shoulderbags > Men’s handbags > Shoulder bags
At first glance, there is no difference between the two classifications. However, there are different style guides for both categories, so that the presentation of the product listings and thus ultimately the sales performance can differ significantly.
Without a detailed preliminary analysis, even the wrong product categorization can lead to a serious competitive disadvantage.
14. Lack of consideration of Amazon notifications (payment account verification, quality warnings etc.)
In addition to product presentation, optimisation of product listings and the placement of advertising campaigns, there are numerous other tasks associated with selling on Amazon. Account management also includes, among other things, the prompt response to Amazon notifications. This regularly results in Amazon products being set to inactive, as quality warnings such as missing attributes or brand names being ignored. For this reason, the entire warehouse inventory should be checked regularly so that quality warnings are processed before the product is set to inactive.
In addition to quality warnings, there are a number of other notifications that occur regularly. Amazon notifications that have not been taken into account can even lead to a short-term deactivation of the entire inventory if appropriate measures are not taken in time.
15. No monitoring of the buy-box ownership
The buy box or the shopping cart field is used to add products to the shopping cart. What is taken for granted in most online shops is not the case with Amazon, because every Amazon merchant has to earn the shopping cart field first. You can find out which criteria are taken into account in my blog post „Amazon Buy Box Criteria 2018“. For this you have to know that not every merchant owns the buy box for a product and that merchants can get the buy box and also lose it again. If a product has only a small percentage of the buy box, this naturally has dramatic effects on sales and turnover figures. Without a buy box, the conversion rate eventually drops and advertising campaigns cannot be played off. This leads to lower organic visibility, which ultimately means lower sales again.
Many Amazon retailers take the buy box for granted and then wonder why their own products does not have the buy box. However, in order to sell successfully on Amazon in the long term, the analysis of the percentage buy-box ownership is inevitable, so that measures can be developed to increase the percentage ownership. To evaluate the buy box ownership percentage per product, select Statistics & Reports in Seller-Central at Reports → Thereupon we select the menu item „Detail page sales and traffic by superior product“ in the left sidebar. Now we get an evaluation per parent product with KPIs like total orders or ordered units, but also a view that reads as follows: „shopping cart field percentage“. Here we can now take a look at how often the products have the buy box.
In my opinion, this analysis is done far too seldom and should be compared regularly with previous periods so that action can be taken to increase the percentage of the shopping cart field.
16. Out-of-stock problem
Having an insufficient stock level when selling on Amazon can lead to long-term disadvantages in sales performance. This not only affects missed sales while products are not in stock, but also the risk of ranking losses. This problem can be counteracted relatively easily, because in Amazon-Seller-Central, merchants can find the Amazon Sales Coach, who draws attention to low stock levels and even calculates how long the current stock will last in days (based on sales data from the last 30 days).
17. Missing product differentiation/missing USP
In the 16 previous points I have not even mentioned the product itself to be sold. However, this has the greatest influence on the success or failure of the sale on Amazon. The majority of Amazon dealers sell products that do not show a clear difference or advantage over competing products. Usually these are me-too products, which only differ by a different brand name and packaging, but nothing more than this. However, an undifferentiated product in a very competitive product category (just take a look at the categories of various dietary supplements) may sooner or later not be successful exclusively through Amazon SEO and Amazon campaigns.
For this reason, a product research with competitive analysis (incl. SWOT) is inevitable if long-term success is the goal.
18. No internationalisation on the European marketplaces
A huge advantage of selling on Amazon is the relatively easy internationalization. With just a few clicks, revised product listings and campaigns that are targeted at the respective country, Amazon dealers can easily reach customers in France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. Through internationalisation, dealers not only open up new sales markets, but can also successfully occupy the sales markets in France, Italy and Spain, which are characterised by little competition, in the long term (keyword: first-mover advantage). Unfortunately, I see hardly any Amazon account with a well thought-out international strategy to be successful in all markets.
19. Exclusive focus on the Amazon marketplace
Amazon is without doubt the most important online marketplace for selling products. However, I consider the exclusive distribution via Amazon to be grossly negligent, because there are enough people who move on platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest and can already be picked up by the retailer there. These are usually people who have no active buying interest yet.
But this is also the reason why these platforms are so attractive, because through a first brand contact outside of Amazon, retailers can build a customer relationship that Amazon will never make possible. An emotionally charged brand that is built up via social media can not only enjoy a loyal clientele, but also establish a higher price standard than an Amazon retailer who sells his products exclusively via the Amazon marketplace.
A successful brand building, which nowadays is mostly achieved via social media, also leads to people and customers actively looking for the brand and not for synonyms in the long term. This is ultimately reflected in the advertising costs.
With this article I have noted the most common mistakes or misunderstandings in connection with selling at Amazon that I have noticed in my daily work. The 19 points mentioned prevent merchants from using the full potential when selling via Amazon. There are probably many more issues that I have not addressed in this article. I hope that you have received some tips and food for thought and that you will be even more successful in your selling activities on Amazon.