• [Not Fake News] The Truth About Amazon’s Keyword Character Count Change

    Recently, a company put out a blog post about how Amazon changed their rules on how many search terms a seller could put in the back end of their listings.  That company has a pretty solid following and lots of sellers likely read that article.
     
    Their post said, in short, how Amazon had reduced the number of characters from 5,000 to 250 total.  
     
    I can imagine many sellers raced to update their listings based on that advice, some even said they were doing that in the comments on the blog.
     
    But is it true?
     
    Yes…and No.

That article really pissed me off.  
     
    They cited zero data to support the claim other than a poorly written email from a Seller Support person who clearly had a challenge with English.
     
    I’m constantly amazed by the cavalier attitudes of some of the service providers in the e-commerce community.  Somehow, hidden behind computer monitors and continuity programs, many forget that behind every Amazon seller account is a real person or a real family working their ass off to create a better life.

We have been tracking this “rumor” for a few months now but there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence that this rumor was true with any regularity.
     
    Over the last few weeks, I’ve communicated with one of the Leadership Teams at Amazon to see if they could provide some clarity.
     
    It should be noted that before getting escalated to a leadership team, Seller Support gave me 3 different answers, each of which was wrong.  Please remember to always get 3-5 replies to any really important issue and try to get a US representative when at all possible.
     
    In this article I am going to share the conversation I had with Amazon and also show you the tests we have been doing on listings from our clients over the last few weeks.
     
    While the emails from Amazon seem very straightforward and conclusive, we are finding that the reality is very different than what they are saying.
     
    Then, I’ll share our advice and some free tools for you to utilize to see if your keywords are indexing.  That way, without panicking or guessing, you’ll have a clear plan to follow.
     
    First…the Amazon conversation.  
    I’ve taken the emails out of email form as I had 3 or 4 rounds of questions that I needed to reorganize here for you, however, none of the answers are edited in any way.
     
    ——
     
    Greetings from Amazon Seller Support,
     
    My name is Liz and I am the member of Leadership assigned to your case.
     
    Below are additional answers to your questions. I did my best to find as much information as possible to answer them, however, some cannot be answered based on the amount of information this team provides to Seller Support.
     
     
    Q: How many characters are allowed in each of the 5 keyword fields?
    A: 250 characters total, including spaces.
     
    Q: When did this update take place? Your link below doesn’t reference the change and from what I see the fields still stay 1000 characters max.
    A: The update has been placed several months ago, however, the Search Team did not communicate the same to Seller Support. We have contacted the developers in charge and requested immediate modifications to our help content, as this impacts all of our sellers and now Seller Support has been giving inconsistent information to Sellers.
     
    Q: Do extra characters/keywords penalize you?
    A: Anything over the 250 character limit will invalidate all characters submitted. Exceeding 250 characters will inhibit any keyword from search.
     
    Q: Do variations and order matter? Meaning…do you need to put the plural of a word? “black speaker” work the same as “speaker black”?
    A: When entering several words as a search term, put them in the most logical order. Though the search engine does not use both “black speaker” and “speaker black”, buyers are rarely going to search “speaker black” to find a product. Our search engine automatically includes different case forms, word forms, and spelling variants for searching.
     
    Q: Of those allowed, how many index in search?
    A: If an ASIN’s generic keywords exceed 250 characters, none of the generic keywords are indexed. Sometimes an item does not rank well for particular keywords, compared with the thousands of other products we list on Amazon using the same keywords. There is no guarantee all search terms will index.
     
    Q: With only 250 characters allowed now, it seems to have really reduced the opportunity for new sellers to compete. This is roughly only 35-40 words in total. What is Amazon’s logic in making this change?
    A: The logic behind the change is to mediate the effectiveness of each individual keyword used. During research on search term functionality, we found sellers with 100+ keywords were actually limiting the effectiveness of their keywords and searchability of their products. When using 35-40 keywords that buyers are more likely to use, these test products were found to have almost triple the search results.
     
    Q: Again, has this update been disseminated to sellers? Is this enforced across the board or only with new listings? Meaning, if I have a listing that was set to the old standards (1,000 characters per line), am I now being penalized?
    A: This is across the board and has taken effect on all listings, however, any existing listings currently use the first 250 characters provided. They will not be penalized for characters beyond 250, though any additional keywords will not function.
     
    Q: Also, what’s the point in invalidating the first 250 characters? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just not use anything over 250?
    A: Unfortunately, we cannot disclose the rationale behind this policy as the information is internal. The decision was made by our Business Team and I have forwarded feedback on the policy, as I understand how it can impact sellers.
     
    Q: Should all 250 characters be on line 1, leaving the other 4 lines blank or is there value in putting 50 characters per line?
    A: This is completely up to you. The 5 lines are there for your convenience. Some sellers prefer one line, some prefer separate to easily view all keywords. The software will read all 5 lines.
     
    Q: Are you suggesting using phrases over single words? How should phrases be separated? Commas? Spaces? If spaces, how does the algorithm know what words are grouped together?
    A: Again, this is up to you. I would suggest spaces, as commas will add an additional character. Our software reads them in any combination of groups from left to right, but will not read the keywords in any other order.
    
——
     
    So to summarize, what Amazon is saying is that only 250 characters are allowed in the search fields and anything over that 250 will invalidate everything.
     
    I don’t really want to get into the politics here in regards to this update, but what an insanely poor execution on Amazon’s part.
     
    In place for months?  Extra characters invalidating the others?  Are you kidding me?
     
    However, you can’t believe everything you receive from Amazon or read on some guru Amazon blog.
     
    What’s important is to test and see for yourself.
     
    THE RESULTS
     
    When we thought through the potential impact of this update, we had a lot of questions.  We still do.  
     
    For example, if all of a sudden, 95% of a listings back end keywords stopped indexing…wouldn’t sales drop off?  

    Potentially…yes.  
     
    We wanted some REAL DATA so we started our research.  This is what we discovered.
     
    We took 20 random clients, from random categories, with a variety of different kinds of accounts.  About 30-35% have been selling over 2 years, 30-35% between 6 months and 2 years and the remainder are newer accounts, 6 months or less.
     
    • The average listing had 570 keywords in the search terms…or about 3,500 characters spread out over all 5 fields.
     
    • As of June 19th, the average listing has 314 of those 570 keywords CURRENTLY indexing…or roughly 2,000 characters


    • The highest had 95% of their keywords indexing or about 4,500 characters


    • There are no standardized results in terms of which keywords indexed.  Some are indexing from each of the 5 fields.
     
    • A few listings definitely had a point where their keywords didn’t index, but it wasn’t at 250 characters.  Some were 280 some were at 400 and others were higher.



    So what does all of this mean?
     
    It means that I think it’s all a bit too early to tell.  It means you should understand what Amazon’s intentions are but we’d suggest not make any rash decisions, especially if your listing is currently producing solid results.
     
    While Amazon says that currently only 250 characters are indexing for all listings, that is obviously not the case for everyone.
     
    Will it change?  Probably…but at this point, the results are far too random to set a rule across the board.

     
    WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?



    First, check to see if your keywords are indexing.  We created a tool that we use internally when Optimizing client’s listings to see if keywords index.  We’ve made that tool available for free to you.

You can check that out HERE.



    Be patient with it.  It’s not designed for massive bandwidth so it may take a little time to process each request. 

    • NEW LISTINGS: For new listings, our recommendation is to add up to the 5,000 characters and then do an index check.  If you index, awesome.  Be grateful.  We’d suggest monitoring that listing regularly and seeing if it changes at any point.

    

If you find that you didn’t index at all after adding all 5,000 characters, then delete all of the characters from each field and only add the highest value 250 characters to field 1 or spread them across as many fields as you want.  That part doesn’t seem to matter.

     
    • EXISTING LISTINGS:  Do an index check.  If your results are solid.  Do nothing.  Don’t touch it.

    

If your listing is currently producing and most of your keywords are indexed…I wouldn’t touch your back end keywords.  



    There are a ton of ways to continue to optimize your listing.  Focus on your title, bullets, description, EBC and images.  However, unless you have to, I’d be hesitant to change anything in those 5 search fields until you determine that they are negatively impacting your listing.

     
    This is how we are approaching things with our clients.  Data-driven and methodical.
     
    Moving quickly in business can often be an advantage, however, when something is working, be really cautious to make any sudden changes.  
     
    SUMMARY
     
    1. Evaluate your listing to see what is actually happening.  There are a number of tools available to see if your keywords are indexed or you can use ours HERE.


    2. If you are currently indexing for lots of keywords in your back end…leave it alone.


    3. If you aren’t indexing, reduce to 250 characters total (in field 1 or spread out)  then begin testing to see how many more you can add.


    4. Be really careful about where you get your business advice.  Think about everything you read/hear and test first before taking action.
     
    This isn’t likely the last we’ll hear about this situation and we’ll continue to update our findings as we learn more.
     
    It’s a really crucial time of year for sellers.  I hope you are starting now to set up your best 2nd half of the year ever.
     
    To your success,
     
    Keith

    Link: Keyword Index Tool

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