In 2018, Amazon’s annual revenue exceeded $232 billion. That’s more than New Zealand’s GDP. Going by its net worth of over $1 trillion, Amazon also has the Netherlands’ GDP beat. The retailer has created its own economy, one with more than 1 million sellers proffering over 12 million products to 300 million-plus users.

And it’s not just the scale that’s outrageous. The average Amazon Prime customer visits Amazon about once a week and spends an average $1,500 every year. Forbes has called this level of customer loyalty “astounding.”

What’s more, the success extends beyond consumer goods. Amazon Business has blossomed into a $10 billion market in the span of about three years, offering everything from office equipment to autoparts to medical supplies to building materials.

As easy as it is to ooh and aah at Amazon, sellers in B2C and B2B markets can’t presume they’ll be profitable. The online marketplace is competitive, and success requires a strong Amazon marketing strategy.

Getting Started: Selling on Amazon

First things first: Should you sell on Amazon, and how?

Many brands sell their products on the e-commerce platform as a way to tap into its massive customer base and some of its loyalty incentives (e.g., two-day shipping).

But selling on Amazon can be a marketing campaign unto itself. About 66% of customer journeys start on Amazon. And when they start on Amazon, they often end there – with or without your product. This is to say, listing products on Amazon can ultimately improve brand awareness. Not to mention, Amazon is a great place to cultivate influencers by way of positive reviews.

So, assuming your product is not on Amazon’s restricted list, and there’s a market for it on the platform (e.g., you’re not selling industrial automation systems, disaster recovery services or another niche offering), you should probably be using Amazon.

Nearly 90% of consumers say they are more likely to buy products from Amazon than from other online platforms. That alone should tell you all you need to know.

A quick primer on how to sell on Amazon

Brands that make their own products can sell them to Amazon or on Amazon. It’s a subtle but important difference, as it affects which of Amazon’s e-commerce services the seller uses:

  1. Vendor Central: In this invite-only web interface, manufacturers and distributors sell in bulk to Amazon which, in turn, sells to customers. Amazon controls retail pricing under this model.
  2. Seller Central: This interface is open to anyone. Individuals, manufacturers, brands or third-party merchants can sell products on Amazon (or Amazon Business in the case of businesses) directly to customers, giving the seller more control over pricing strategy and inventory.
AmazonBasics Waterproof car bench seat cover for pets

This practical bench seat cover for pets is sold by Amazon.

Nicoge Custom Nicolas Cage Pillowcase Standard Size by Weitengs

This highly impractical pillow case is not sold by Amazon.

Amazon makes more marketing resources available to sellers using Vendor Central – understandable considering Amazon acts as the seller and wants to move more products. But again, the tradeoff is that Amazon has more pricing control, which makes it a little harder for suppliers to manage their margins.

The recurring monthly cost is the same for Vendor Central and Seller Central: $39.99. However, Seller-Central users also have to pay a fee per sale.

Brands can also allow third-party resellers to sell their wares. However, brands that wish to control their presence on the e-commerce platform can restrict third parties from carrying their products.

An important note on two-day shipping

There are more than 100 million Amazon Prime customers, and many of them come for the two-day shipping. Keep this in mind when deciding between FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) and FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon).

With FBM, the merchant uses its own logistics infrastructure to get the product to the customer. This means that if they want to sell products on Prime with the perk of two-day shipping, they need to work for it.

But with FBA, your brand automatically qualifies for Amazon Prime. The tradeoff, of course, is that you pay fees for FBA. However, it could be worth it if you sell fast-moving consumer goods and want to tap into Amazon’s logistics network.

Whether you opt for FBM or FBA will ultimately depend on your industry, your company’s supply-chain capabilities and how important two-day delivery is to your marketing objectives.

Marketing on Amazon – aka what you came for

Marketing on Amazon requires a little trial and error and a lot of attention to detail. To help break this down for you, we’ve split Amazon marketing into three categories:

  1. Amazon search engine optimization.
  2. Amazon Marketing Services.
  3. Digital marketing outside of Amazon.

Let’s take a look at each, and how it contributes to a larger campaign.


1. Amazon search engine optimization

Astoundingly, Amazon now has more product searches than Google. Organic search engine optimization is therefore of the essence. Here are the core search factors to consider:

Keywords

Identify the top search terms that lead to certain types of product pages using tools such as Sonar or Ahrefs. Be sure to add these key terms in your product listing, including the title, descriptions and details.

Backend keywords

You can only fit so many relevant keywords on a product listing. But you can still rank for the rest by including them as search terms in the backend. These won’t appear on your page, but they will affect product ranking. Note that word order matters (“pillow Nicolas Cage” vs. “Nicolas Cage pillow”). Also, avoid including keywords used on the page in this list.

Sellics Amazon Central Backend Keywords

Via Sellics.

Product titles

Always put keywords first in the product title, since Amazon has different word limits depending on where the product appears (main search results page, mobile search results and side-bar results). This will ensure the most important information comes first.

Bullet points and product descriptions

Try to anticipate the attributes that shoppers care about the most, and if possible, include keywords in the bulleted list and product description. Note that if you enroll in the Amazon Brand Registry, you can add an enhanced product description that includes a “From the manufacturer” section.

Cuisinart product image

Customer reviews

Positive product reviews are the cheapest form of influencer marketing. Equally important, Amazon tries to help shoppers find the best products by giving higher-rated items a ranking boost, and vice versa. Quantity of ratings and quantity of reviews are also important. You can encourage customers to review your products by sending post-purchase follow-up emails asking them to share their experience. Here’s what one customer said about his Nicolas Cage pillowcase:

It also helps to respond to negative customer reviews in an attempt to rectify a bad situation and hopefully earn a higher rating. This loyal customer, for instance, could have used some reassurance from the seller after his third – and possibly his final – Nic Cage pillowcase turned out to be a dud:

Drafting reasonable responses can also influence shoppers’ impressions of your brand by making you look more attentive and dedicated to customer satisfaction.

Answered questions

Product listings on Amazon have a Q&A section so that customers can get additional information or ask more specific questions about the product. These details can help shoppers make purchasing decisions.

What’s more, leaving questions unanswered can hurt your ranking. Technically, other customers can answer product questions, but some of those queries may be better left to your brand than someone speaking on behalf of it – and you probably shouldn’t assume that another customer will do that work for you.

It’s also worth noting that the types of questions shoppers ask convey information about their values. You can mine those questions for important details you may have missed or even opportunities to improve your products.

Product images

A product image is often the first thing that shoppers will see, so make it high-res, and make sure it’s of the core product – no custom graphics or illustrations allowed. You can add graphics or superimpose information on additional images, but make sure your main image features the core product.

Sometimes, it helps to provide an image that demonstrates a unique selling proposition. For instance, this sequin pillow that reveals Nic Cage’s face when you swipe it:

Nic Cage pillows have really cornered the gag gift market.

Conversion rate and price

No big surprise here. Amazon search favors competitively priced products that drive more sales. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at a disadvantage if you charge more for premium products that customers love.

Still, it’s worth remembering that Amazon is a business with a long and somewhat contentious history of under-cutting prices to drive up sales.

Quick note about ‘Amazon’s Choice’

Have you ever noticed some products have the label “Amazon’s Choice”? To the best of everyone’s knowledge, this is an organic designation that is determined by selling a product that meets certain criteria. According to Business Insider, items that qualify for this title are:

  • Popular and frequently sold.
  • Competitively priced.
  • Positively reviewed by many customers.
  • Not returned often.
  • Shipped quickly via Prime.

Otherwise, not a whole lot is known about the label, and as far as we can tell, your best shot at earning it is to do everything right from an SEO and customer experience standpoint (check out our post about Amazon SEO for more details).


2. Amazon Marketing Services

Also known as Amazon Advertising, Amazon Marketing Service (AMS) lets sellers create pay-per-click ad campaigns as part of their e-commerce marketing strategy. The service relies on keywords, related products and shopper interests for placement. Once clicked, the ad leads to the product page.

Merchants can use AMS for several different types of ads, including:

Product display ads

Product display ads may appear on the side or bottom of search results – as in the example above – or in the margins of related product pages.

Sponsored product ads

Sponsored product ads are similar to PPC ads on Google SERPs. They appear in Amazon search results, but also in product pages right above product descriptions.

Headline search ads

Headline search ads – also known as “sponsored brand ads” – appear at the top of SERPs. They’re highly customizable in that they can feature custom ad copy, a link to a branded Amazon landing page and additional links to specific products.

Paid ads on Amazon are no substitution for creating strong product descriptions and following other organic SEO best practices.

Quick note about ‘Amazon Attribution’

Historically, Amazon users have been able to track Amazon ad campaigns and receive Amazon Advertising media reports through the Amazon Advertising console.

However, in 2018, Amazon released Amazon Attribution Beta, a more robust analytics resource that helps sellers understand how shoppers discover, research and purchase products. The platform, which is already available to all U.S. merchants, will also let sellers track sources of traffic outside of Amazon. This includes brand websites but also Google and social media platforms.

TL;DR: Amazon is actively trying to make marketers’ lives easier as they create their Amazon marketing strategies.


3. Digital marketing outside of Amazon

At long last, we arrive at the off-site elements of the Amazon marketing strategy.

For some brands, the bulk of profits will stream in directly from the e-commerce colossus. But the vast majority of Amazon merchants (80%) sell on other channels simultaneously. These include branded e-commerce sites and apps, other online shopping platforms, brick-and-mortar stores and more.

The whole reason for selling on Amazon in the first place is to tap into its massive pool of existing customers. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about the ocean of prospects that exists outside of Amazon.

Furthermore, the strategies you employ across non-Amazon channels can significantly affect your success as a seller on the platform. Email is maybe the best example. Sending post-purchase thank you messages to customers, and reminding them a few days or weeks after purchasing to review your products, helps you create a relationship with those buyers and hopefully turn them into brand advocates.

Social media, meanwhile, can act as a valuable way to promote your products outside of Amazon, announce updates, share company information and cultivate a brand voice. It also gives users yet another way to engage with your brand. After all, there’s no better social media influencer than a genuinely satisfied customer.

In a manner of speaking, your brand is bigger than Amazon

There’s no denying that Amazon provides businesses with an exceptional resource in the form its e-commerce platform and its humongous base of loyal customers.

But even if most of your sales come from Amazon, your brand is not Amazon, and Amazon is not your brand. You still need to distinguish your presence on the site with SEO-driven product pages, paid campaigns and brand-awareness efforts outside of the platform.

More importantly, your brand must cultivate an identity that is separate from the leviathan. It must demonstrate its values through email campaigns, social media marketing, content marketing and other digital channels.

Because, at the end of the day, if you create a brand customers love, they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth, Amazon or no Amazon.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.