[Data] The “Best” Way to Outrank Amazon

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Think about your own online buying habits.

You have a problem or desire, and you’ve done a little research and decided what type of product you want. But you want to make sure you get the best… so you search for that, verbatim.

You search this way, and so do millions of other online buyers. Best movies. Best printers. Best ovens. Best espresso machines. It’s probably the most common way we ask the Internet to help us whittle down our options to a single product and vendor.

By leaps and bounds, Amazon shows highest for those searches with their “Best Seller” category pages. twitter-icon


Here’s an example of what you see when you click through on one of their Best Seller page results:


But what’s mystifying about this is how alone Amazon is. Why aren’t other retailers competing for the “best” search market share?

Just how well does Amazon do for “best” searches?

To understand how retailers perform for these queries, we did some market share research using our Web Presence Management platform, Searchlight. We looked at 763 non-branded “best” search terms with the highest search volumes.

That’s 4 million searches in the US alone. And don’t forget these keywords fall in a later stage of the buyer’s journey – they are late in the funnel and high converting.

Amazon dominates.

Here’s a category summary in Searchlight, showing Amazon’s overall performance for the “best” search terms we tracked.


Here’s an example of some of the high-volume terms that we tracked in Searchlight:


Amazon’s success is by no means due solely to their domain authority – they’ve got a better SEO strategy. twitter-icon

They create these pages algorithmically. When I did a quick in:url google operator search, we can see they have about 2.4 million dedicated Best Seller pages.


This strategy is clearly working for Amazon. How does it work for other retailers? Or perhaps a better question – are other retailers even in the competition?

Amazon VS. Other Retailers: the War of the “Best” SERPS

Here’s a view of the category market share for the searches we studied. This pie chart shows what domains have the top five spots for the “best” search terms. Amazon, by far, has the greatest share. (The “other” section represents hundreds of different domains that have less than 1% of the market share.)


Next in line (but a full ten percentage points lower) are publishers like Consumer Reports and PC Magazine. We do have one retailer holding their own with 3% — Best Buy.

So, has Best Buy got it figured out better than the rest of us? Not really. It’s not because they have a great “best” category page strategy to compete with Amazon. It’s their exact match domain, and the fact that they have such a dense recurrence of “best” keywords because of their branding. (If you wanted proof that in many ways Google is still a “blind five year old” like AJ Kohn calls it, here’s a great example.)

This SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for [best computer stand] tells this story:


Amazon has three pages ranking in the first three positions! The top two pages are “best sellers,” and the third page in position 3 is a similar concept, a “top rated” category page.

In the middle of the SERP, we have a presence of publishers. At the bottom is BestBuy. Here’s BestBuy’s best ranking page for this query:


It’s not well optimized for this valuable “best” query. This holds them back in the SERP. After all, BestBuy is a strong domain with a niche expertise in electronics. They can absolutely usurp Amazon’s spot with content that’s optimized for these comparative searches. But they have not created a page to reflect the way millions of users search and shop online.

(Also, side note, check out that universal video feature spot. BestBuy – Amazon – anybody… making a video about best computer stands would be an easy video SEO win!)

But I don’t mean to pick on BestBuy exclusively. You would think that other sites, both those with a vast selection or niche authority, would have legions of pages devoted to the “best” selection of products for their consumers to choose from. Walmart? Zappos? Target? They have a few here or there, but they’re sparse and haphazard:


This begs the question: shouldn’t more retailers be aggressively pursuing these lucrative, late-stage terms? twitter-icon

Amazon’s advantages: a good strategy and developer support

One reason that other retailers lag behind may be a reluctance to make the subjective judgments about their products that “best” implies. Best, after all, is so contextual. A product that’s best for you isn’t necessarily best for me. On top of making a bad recommendation, they could also potentially be concerned about alienating vendors.

Amazon has elegantly sidestepped this by creating pages that are “best sellers.” The concept is actually what’s most popular, but Google doesn’t know the difference. Other retailers could find similar ways of aggregating “best” product pages.

Another friction point for other retailers is the developer support Amazon clearly has around their SEO strategy. These best seller pages are algorithmically generated and updated. But other companies can wrangle developer support, too. They can also compete by manually creating more unique, authoritative pages that searchers love.

Why aren’t more retailers competing with Amazon in a game they could win?

Ultimately, Google rewards authority. Retailers can tap into this by creating excellent, user friendly content around their niches.

Here’s an attitude I think more of us should have: one of our customers gets excited when she sees her domain is outranked by Wikipedia or Amazon. Why is that? It’s because she knows those are placeholders. She knows that if you can demonstrate expertise through quality, trusted content that users love, you can outrank Amazon or unseat Wikipedia in the SERPs.

It’s an opportunity, not an obstacle. This is also a good reminder that we should make sure our sites are truly aligned to our customers’ intent.

It’s one way we should all be more like Amazon: start with how your customers search, and then build your site to accommodate that intent. twitter-icon It’s worked so far for Amazon – you could quantify the ROI of their SEO effort in the billions.

Want to see how it’s done? See How REI Outranks Wikipedia.

  • Nathan Safran

    Nice post Charity! Really good mix of data and real-world industry analysis and observation. I think your take that ‘best’ is a really commonly used consumer modifier is right on, and more retailers should be paying attention to that. I’m sure you are right, if they focused on it a bit more they would make good headway against the Amazonian giant.

  • Matthew Holly

    A lot of companies don’t go after “best” because there’s legal and marketing issues with making those claims.

    • Charity

      Great point — in those cases it might be ideal to partner with a publisher or third party site in that case to make sure your web presence is covered for “best” terms. Also I think Amazon gets away with it by angling this as “best” in their store, not necessarily claiming they are the best products in the world. A little bit of semantics that can help. Thanks for commenting!

  • Alan Hutchinson

    Interesting post, but i think one of the reasons retailers dont compete with Amazon is that it seems like an enormous and impossible task. at any rate, that was the reason i didn’t start earlier.

    Inspired by this blogpost: I’m now fully focused on combining Content and SEO, as i think this might be the way to beat Amazon.

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