How the Amazon v Google Product Search War affects you

The Google v. Amazon WarThe Wall Street Journal recently reported on the war between Google and Amazon to be the starting point of consumers’ product research journey. It’s a fascinating story of iterative improvements aimed at getting consumers to the most relevant products as quickly as possible – even if they do still fall short in some areas. Retailers, unfortunately, are facing greater pressures. It isn’t, however, a bout you’re destined to lose – if you take action now.

Unlike Google’s text ads saw adoption rates slowly increase by early-adopters in 2000, Google’s Shopping ads in paid form exploded when they were launched in 2013. For a number of years ecommerce store owners had a free ride, but we all knew Google Shopping was just in a beta ahead of extracting more money from us at a later date.

Summary:
* The free lunch is over when it comes to Google Shopping
* Google wants to be the channel of choice for consumers to research products
* Google has been updating their algorithms to remove spammy price comparison competitors
* Price Comparison and voucher code sites have been hit very hard over the years. Online retailers have to use Google now.
* Other low-quality sites have been all-but removed too
* Sites that add value, enhance the consumer journey and a positive user experience have benefited
* Even ecommerce websites that don’t break Google’s Terms of Service have been hit
* For Amazon it is absolutely crucial that you work hard towards obtain very high customer feedback scores
* Look at your sales data, refine the product range you feed into Google Shopping / Amazon and improve your product descriptions.
* Consider loss-leaders
* Products feeds going into Google won’t fall foul of ‘duplicate content penalties’, but Amazon may do
* Use feedback data from customers to refine your product descriptions
* Ensure that high demand/high margin products have good availability and quick dispatch.
* It’s all about the ‘Featured Merchant Status’
* Don’t forget the detail in product titles
* Fight the battles you can win to win the war

Similarly Google has leveraged their free search results to increase the volumes of traffic to these new forms of ads. Without the recent improvements to their core search algorithms in the form of Caffeine, Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird consumers would use Google less for their product searches and use of Google Shopping would similarly fall – handing sites such as Amazon a very significant share of the billions spend online each year.

Price Comparison Sites as Dead as a Dodo?
But Google’s assault hasn’t just been focused on taking product research traffic from Amazon. Price Comparison sites have been whacked, very hard, and where it hurts. The charts below show the number of keywords a number of price comparison sites receive organic traffic from Google.

Pricerunner.co.uk
Keywords - pricerunner.co.uk - SISTRIX Toolbox
(points A & B “Panda” updates resulting from the calculation of a site’s on page “quality” and “C” a “Penguin” update looking at

PriceInspector.co.uk
Keywords - priceinspector.co.uk - SISTRIX Toolbox
CompareStorePrices.co.uk
Keywords - comparestoreprices.co.uk - SISTRIX ToolboxShopwiki.co.uk
Keywords - shopwiki.co.uk - SISTRIX Toolbox

Many of these websites have lost ~90% of their organic traffic from Google. The bounty they produced for their owners and the ecommerce outfits that pumped their product feeds aimlessly into them, either via affiliate programmes or directly have seen that source of traffic affected greatly. The gravy train had come to a screeching halt. They had to look elsewhere – well many didn’t look too far. Many voucher code websites also combined affiliate programmes with product feeds and researching discount codes and mashed up pages – often when no codes existed. They even optimised for “[merchant] sales” or “[merchant] opening hours” and the like to attract even more traffic and clicks to advertisers. As the success of these websites became obvious, more jumped on the bandwagon. Google quickly became a mess. Websites without unique or useful content (i.e. allowed the consumer to take a useful action from their visit) often filled the first two or three pages of the search results. Google had to do something. These websites were similarly hit, perhaps even harder than Price Comparison sites:

MyVoucherCodes.co.uk
Keywords - myvouchercodes.co.uk - SISTRIX Toolbox

Vouchercodes.com
Keywords - vouchercodes.com - SISTRIX Toolbox

Although some voucher code sites have flourished, those are the ones that could, perhaps, be seen as those not trying to ‘game’ Google.

Collateral Damage
The point is, Google has cut off many sources of traffic and sales for ecommerce businesses. Their algorithms have now become so sensitive that even those retailers that are doing things properly are getting caught up in the cross-fire. Retailers are now forced to play Google’s game their way.

Review and Enhance
But this doesn’t mean that you should blindly throw everything you have at Google’s products in a blind panic. Now you have to pay for your Google Shopping clicks don’t just upload all of your products into the service – just as you don’t PPC all of your products now in AdWords or Bing Ads. Look at what battles you can win, look at which products have a suitable ROI. Use the data that Google Merchant Services and Analytics give you. Take out the products that don’t bring the ROI. Similarly don’t be too aggressive with your cull. Look hard at the data and the contents of baskets. A customer might be brought in for an inexpensive product but they may checkout with a full basket, or they may become a long-term customer.

Also consider loss-leaders. If your data shows that you that running the one product at a small loss deliver a profitable overall sale, run with them and use them frequently.

You don’t have to worry about duplicate content with the product feed you offer Google so make it as comprehensive as possible. Add in all the size, colour and suitability information.

Furthermore, keep the availability information in your product feed up-to-date so you don’t waste budget.

It’s More About Customer Service than You Think!
So we’ve seen that Google is working hard, very hard, to drive as much traffic through their monetized shopping service as possible. And we’ve shown you how to make the most of the channel they offer. Previously we’ve also shown how to get ahead with their organic offering. So the other force you will need to master in this triumphant of challenges is that of Amazon.

When was the last time you changed the retailer that Amazon has assigned as the “Buy Box” option for a product you were going to buy? Actually when was the last time you even looked to see what the other options were? It’s obvious, therefore, that you take the steps necessary to take that spot from your competitors – and keep it. The problem, especially for those new to selling on Amazon, is that it can be incredibly hard an objective to achieve.

To secure ‘Featured Merchant Status’ you will need between a quarter and a half-year order history. You will also need to have the best customer-satisfaction metrics across a broad range of categories including shipping speed, feedback score, feedback count delivery options and the like. The crucial aspect is trumping your competitors in terms of customer service. Decor My Eyes played on negative reviews as a method of enhancing their SEO campaign, however, Google punished sites in their rankings for bad customer reviews. Similarly, Amazon will effectively punish you for providing a bad customer experience.

At the top level you would expect Amazon to reward sites that offer the cheapest price. The book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon shows us how determined they are to offer the cheapest prices, but fairly frequently you will see Amazon list a vendor with a slightly more expensive delivered price, but vastly better customer service metrics. It is essential that you work exceptionally hard on dispatching your sales quickly and accurately.

Ensure High Demand Products can be Fulfilled Instantly
Another metric is availability., If you have a range of products that you have a high-turnover of consider adding them to our ecommerce outsourcing solution so that products are fulfilled very quickly. Then you can hook your account up easily with Google. Your other products that you may only sell few of you can still house and fulfil yourself. This is incredibly easy to set-up within the Cloud Fulfilment dashboard.

First Time, On Time, Every Time
Another aspect to consider is the accurate delivery of orders. Anybody that has used PayPal to process payments will understand that many customers don’t keep their shipping address up-to-date and that it is very easy for them not to check the address the order is going to – sometimes the difference can be the matter of continents. Having your orders processed by Amazon and the details of the orders pushed into Cloud Fulfilment will not only lessen the pressure on your customer services team, but also greatly increase the address accuracy of your orders.

Train Your Customer Service Team to Focus On The Customer (Obviously)
It is this customer service team that needs to be up-to-speed. Customers will email you at all hours – make sure that you reply to their queries or concerns very quickly and accurately. If you have questions that crop-up often then make sure you alter your product descriptions to answer those questions within Amazon rather than wait for people to order a product that isn’t suitable. If a customer has left negative feedback and you subsequently resolve their issue, make sure you get the negative review and rating removed – you have 60 days to do this.

Use As Much Relevant Data As You Can Get Your Hands On
Thinking on a macro level you should even look at your keyword data from Google Webmaster Tools on a product level and enhance not only the product description on your own website, but also your amazon product description – if you sell more and have a better feedback rating you are likely to be the buying option for many of the other products you sell.

It’s Like Spamming, But Not Really
One of the most opportune placements to place these keywords is in the product title – how your products are search for on Google are likely to be very similar to how they are searched for in Amazon. The only difference is that your product names are not as limited in terms of character length (250 character length) as they are for Google (60 characters recommended). Look at all the associated keywords and compatibility lists for your products. Be verbose.

Make sure you are fully aware of Amazon’s policies – don’t contravene them. Realise that more often than not, you will need Amazon more than they need you. You will also need to keep up-to-date with Amazon’s category mapping, they can, and do, change often.

Keep Up-To-Date with Amazon’s Policies
Furthermore, don’t underestimate the sheer scale and growth of Amazon. Looking at their Sistrix figures (the same source as the charts above), their SEO has improved by 25% over the last half of 2013 and looks set to continue growing. They get double the traffic of bbc.co.uk, seven times that of tesco.com and thirty times that of Play.com.

With third-party sales up over 40% during 2013 on Amazon it is absolutely crucial that you make the most of the channel right. Amazon and Google are fighting, not only for the attention of consumers, but also your marketing budget – just don’t lose sight of that battle, focus intently on customer service, product specifics and ROI. If you fight the battles you can win, your are bound to win the war too.

Image © John Morgan