Does Amazon’s Ranking Algorithm Favor Variations?

variations

This has often been a topic of contention. The reason the topic is so important to sellers is because in many cases, when faced with the option to expand our product lines, we stare deeply at a critical choice; to combine variations or list them separately.

And anecdotally ranking results vary across the board. Many say variations are crucial to the growth of your business while others claim splitting into variations caused lowered conversions and sales. Now, this really doesn’t apply to apparel items or things that have different sizes, but when it comes to colors or slight modified versions, this is a serious contemplation.

What Are the Advantages To Varying Your Listings?

Adding variations can offer a number of benefits. First, it allows you to keep all of your reviews under one set of products. Now that the review policies have changed so drastically, this is an important thing to remember. With it being a bit more challenging to get initial reviews, being able to combine a new product with an existing one and have all reviews transfer over can be a major advantage.

Another benefit is that adding variations can allow you to create unique bundles. Bundling offers you the ability to sell larger, more expensive packages as well as add a bit of brand uniqueness that keeps hijackers at bay.

So What Are the Disadvantages?

The primary disadvantage to adding variations is that sales may NOT increase. Often times people think more options will somehow mean more exposure. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always. Sometimes it just means more opportunity to split the decisions of your buying audience.

If you sell X number of products per day and you add two more colors, and STILL only sell X amount of products per day, your conversion rate for your original variation will suffer. That drop in conversion will cost you in rankings.

What Do the Numbers Say?

Well, I spent three days digging through 620 listings to find out just what the data says about variations and whether they appear to be advantageous.

All I did was look at the top 10 listings for 62 different key phrases across as many categories as I could think of and see how many of them had variation options. The idea behind this simple test was to see if necessarily there were more top ranking listings with variations than there were without. From this we could extrapolate whether it was evident that Amazon’s ranking algorithm favored listings with variations or not.

I was unable to do this in every category because many don’t allow variations at all. I also avoided categories that intrinsically always had variations (such as clothing or shoes). I basically looked for products that had a specific functionality so their intrinsic value would not be necessarily increased by having variable options.

Here are the key phrases I searched for:

  1. Yoga Mat
  2. Camping Mat
  3. Baby Wrap
  4. Silicone Spatula
  5. Hot Pads
  6. Running Belt
  7. Baby Bandana Bib
  8. Silicone Bib
  9. Infuser Water Bottle
  10. Hammock
  11. Gardening Bag
  12. Workout Bag
  13. Diaper Bag
  14. Coffee Maker
  15. Measuring Spoons
  16. Exercise Ball
  17. Soap Dispenser
  18. Bike Pump
  19. Garden Trowel
  20. Jump Rope
  21. Grooming Glove
  22. Pet Grooming Brush
  23. Teething Ring
  24. Coffee Vault
  25. Microfiber Towel
  26. Lunch Box
  27. Ice Chest
  28. Tent
  29. Grill Mat
  30. Grill Gloves
  31. Anti Fatigue Mat
  32. Vegetable Spiralizer
  33. Smoothie Blender
  34. Carry On Roller Suitcase
  35. Neck Pillow
  36. Travel Umbrella
  37. Headphones
  38. Step Stool
  39. Potty Training Seat
  40. Swim Cap
  41. Swim Goggles
  42. Resistance Bands
  43. Hand Wraps
  44. Fly Swatter
  45. Shower Caddy
  46. Closet Organizer
  47. Fabric Shoe Rack
  48. Bamboo Pillow
  49. Wall Clock
  50. Utility Knife
  51. Hunting Knife
  52. Ceramic Knife
  53. Bottle Opener
  54. Silicone Ice Tray
  55. Potato Masher
  56. Flashlights
  57. Sleeping Bag
  58. Pepper Spray
  59. Gun Holster
  60. Blow Dryer
  61. Flat Iron
  62. Storage Cubes

Of the total 620 listings, 365 of them had variations of some kind. That is 59%! While this is a large percentage, it isn’t staggering. I am not sure the statistical variance is enough to determine with absolute certainty that the algorithm favors listings with variations (we are missing some data for that anyway, such as how many listings total actually HAVE variations vs how many listings are there in all).

It is hard to ignore that 6 out of 10 listings on page one of many, many key phrases in several categories have variation options. It may very well be that Amazon does like it when variations are provided. This would make sense too as it is the clearest indicator that you are offering their customers options.

Another thing this may indicate is that Amazon shoppers are the ones that like options. This could be a ‘case of which came first, the chicken or the egg’, where the reason these listings are ranking is because they get more volume. I’m under the impression that it is a little of both (and I’ll explain my personal experience in a bit).

Also, I want to note that the number of variations appears to have zero impact on ranking. I saw many listings with only 2 or 3 variation options outrank those with 15 or 20. It also doesn’t seem to matter how many different kinds of variation options you offer (color, size, style). It just seems that variations look good.

*IN FACT… One really strange thing I noticed in quite a few different categories was a number of listings that, on the search page, said “click here for more options”, but when you click the listing, no options were available. I don’t know if the other variations were just out of stock, or if perhaps the products were uploaded on a template designating variations without stocking them (almost as if they were purposefully tricking Amazon into thinking they had variations to offer). I wouldn’t normally point to conspiracy but it happened enough times to make me wonder.

My Personal Experience

I started my Amazon experience with a single product and then expanded into variations. I know many people are faced with the same possibility and are plagued by all of the above mentioned concerns. My personal results cannot be the measure for what to expect as it is too small of a sample. But I will give them anyway.

When I introduced new variations my conversion rates DID suffer. Sales increased, but not drastically and were split up among my variation options, causing lower sales for any one color. As a result, my rankings appeared to suffer for a bit. I blamed this on the variation situation at first, but later realized it was because of increased competition. I have since settled into a range that has been consistent with my product, regardless of whether it had variations. This tells me that when you introduce variation options, Amazon’s velocity threshold lowers a bit (I believe).

I tell you that to say you shouldn’t be afraid of variations. If I am correct in thinking Amazon’s algorithm compensates for spread out sales across variations then this would be consistent with the results of our little experiment here.

I have also tried it the OTHER way. I released a different “line” of the same product, but independently so the product could rank on page one for the same search term. This also didn’t work. I believe it didn’t work because I chose brighter colors, and Amazon shoppers clearly prefer neutral (we’ll save that for another post). This isn’t to say you can’t have multiple of the same product competing and winning top spots on page one for the same keyword. It just illustrates that sometimes things don’t work as planned.

So that is my analysis of whether listings with variations are favored in Amazon’s ranking algorithm. Always remember that regardless of all the changing ranking factors, one thing that remains consistent is sales velocity. And ZonBlast is certainly your friend in that respect.

P.S. I want to share a PROTIP for those customers using our blast services. When blasting variations, it can be confusing and challenging. The best way to go about it is to find the single ASIN that is currently ranking somewhere for your desired keywords. Blast THAT ASIN. You can make the code applicable to all colors/sizes if you so choose, but the actual promotion will be geared toward the ASIN that is going to make the ranking strides.