How to Optimize Your Amazon Produce Listings - Lisa Suttora
The following excerpt is from an interview with Lisa Suttora. Lisa is an Amazon Sales and Marketing Strategist. She runs an online training program for eCommerce entrepreneurs where she coaches independent online sellers on how to brand and sell their products on Amazon.

Lisa helps her students and clients collectively sell hundreds of millions of dollars of products online.

She gives insights into how strategic selling and marketing works and specializes in helping independent entrepreneurs start, run and expand their eCommerce business.

Lisa is an industry leader who stays on the cutting edge of the latest trends in eCommerce and she's often invited to present the top growth strategies on stage at Industry conferences.

Lisa, when I first started selling as a new seller on Amazon, I listened to a podcast that featured you, along with Chris Green, Bob Willey and Kat Simpson. And you guys were all like the Amazon Fantastic Four superheroes!

So much has changed in the world of Amazon from back then when we were doing that podcast but it's always exciting.

There's always some new exciting things on the horizon which is one reason why I love selling on the platform and working with the Amazon merchants.

How about we just start with learning a little bit more about your background, your entrepreneurial journey and what lead you into eCommerce?

I have a very, very long history in eCommerce. This is my 16th year selling on Amazon and this is my 12th year as an eCommerce and Amazon Business Strategist; a Consultant providing online training to Merchants.

Just a quick story about how I got into this.

I was working in the IT department at a major software company and I had two little ones, a four-year old and a four-month old and my job was very demanding.

I was on call 7 by 24. The company wanted me to do a lot of traveling right after my daughter was born. They wanted me to be traveling all year long and I was a single parent and I still am. I was like, “I don't want to do this. I want to be home to raise my kids” and so I quit.

My family and my friends were all mortified, and rightfully so, because I was a single mom with kids quitting a very secure high paying job with a huge future potential.  But I wanted to be home, hands-on, raising my children. Fortunately I had some money saved up and so I financially knew that we were okay for a while.

Then I said, “Okay, what am I going to do? What kind of business of my going to start?   What do I know?”

Prior to working at the software company, and through my college years, I worked as a buyer for JC Penney. So I had this retail experience.

At that time Ebay was in its infancy and just growing.  On Amazon, at that point, you could pretty much only sell books. I know how to sell products and I know retail. So I figured if I know Offline Retail, I can do Online Retail.

So on a Saturday I registered my business and I listed my first products on EBay, and some books on Amazon, and I've never looked back.  It was a lot of work and it was something that I put my heart and soul into from day one, but for me this was it. I was going to make this work.

Ebay found me at some point as they'd heard about me somewhere. They wanted me to come speak at Ebay Live which is their big giant conference. So 2005, I took the stage in front of 1,100 people at Ebay Live to talk about Products Sourcing.  

I set up my first website, “What Do I Sell”, and it was all about Product Sourcing and Building Your Business.

So now I sell on Amazon. I’m not selling on Ebay at this point. We do FBA. FBA was a game changer for us in terms of scalability and I love it. We're 100% private label at this point. We do a little bit of wholesale here and there but that's where I am today. There's so much growth potential and there's so much opportunity for the future that this is it for me.

This is my passion. I eat, breathe, and sleep Amazon Commerce and eCommerce marketing in general.

So that's how I got to where I am.  Now my kids are teens and it's all good.

Everyone seems to start with the Arbitrage model, and then maybe evolve to Wholesale, and then Private Label, or do a mix of all of them. How did you evolve your mix of selling to just focus exclusively on Private Label and why?

The reason was is because I saw the future. When you've been in this industry for a long time, you've seen it all. You see the cycles. You see the good. You see the great. You see the bad. You see the ugly.  And I saw the future. I realized that if you're only reselling other people's products you really do not have a business asset.

I really wanted to have a business asset. I wanted to have my own products that I could design. It had always been a dream of mine.

Ten years ago it was not easy to import from China. I mean we dabbled in it and there were a lot of roadblocks.  But people don't realize how easy it is now to import. I mean, it’s crazy how easy it is. So I looked at this and said “I want to build an asset of this business. I want to build a brand”.

I had always wanted to design my own products and come up with this really cool product line. So that's when I said “Let's start building out what I call ‘brand assets' ”. Because while we haven't sold any of our product lines yet, if I wanted to, I could. I could spin off a brand and I could sell it. There's a big market out there for it.

So that was one of the primary motivations to go private label.

I also started to see the competition coming in on Amazon. When I was starting on Amazon, it was really pretty much people who were pure play retailers – whether they were offline or online, these were people who wanted to be in retail.

About 2011, we just started to see this explosion of “Anybody can sell on Amazon and make a million dollars”. We got all of these people coming to Amazon who knew nothing about retail, and had no clue of what was involved in actually being a retailer, and who just saw the dollar signs – a way to make fast, easy money. The retail business is great but it's not necessarily fast, easy money.

I saw the competition – both with wholesale and retail arbitrage. I saw the issues with price compression on wholesale prices and just the price racing to the bottom.

We needed have our own products and create our own demand.  I love the ability to go into the market and look for the gaps in the marketplace.

We have a niche that we sell in.  Being able to know what our customers want and understand who they are, it's just fun! It's creative. You have so much freedom of marketing.  It is really the way of the future on Amazon.

That's not to say the whole wholesale or retail arbitrage are dead. I think those methods are a great way for people to get started in the process: to learn how to sell on Amazon, to learn how to source, to learn how to pick a niche and understand who that customer base is.  But as a primary sourcing method, if you really want to have a brand impact, and have the ability to build your business off of Amazon, you really do need to have your own product and product line.

INTERVIEW FREEBIE

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What are some of the latest and most significant changes you're seeing on Amazon as it affects third-party sellers?

The biggest change that we are seeing right now is that Amazon has clamped down and is clamping down on all the black-hat and gray-hat strategies that have been used previously in the reviews.

The biggest change for Amazon, and this is critical for anyone who sells on Amazon, it's one word: “Relevancy”.

Incentivized reviews are not allowed anymore. They've recently clamped down on post-sale emails and how you can ask for feedback or a review in your email.

They’ve clamped down on the title links.  No longer can we have these awful horrible 600-character titles and feature bullets, or stuff the backend with keywords with other brands and Terms of Service violating practices.

Amazon page relevancy is a make-it-or-break-it for your product pages this year.

Basically what relevancy is, is this: When you are creating your product page, your title, your feature bullets, your description and your backend keywords need to be highly relevant to the product that you are selling.

Every single thing that you say about that product on the product page has to relate directly to the product.  Amazon wants to serve product pages that are tightly and highly relevant to the buyer searches.

We're seeing things, for example, like people who have stuffed their backend search terms with tons of keywords that are not relevant.  Amazon allows 5,000 characters with spaces in the backend search terms. People are trying to cram 5,000 characters in that backend search term field.

Amazon is like “No, this is not relevant. Either we're not going to index the stuff that's not relevant, but more likely, we're just not going to index your backend search terms”.

So people are seeing huge drops in sales. They're wondering why their page is not being surfaced on page one of the search that they were formally getting shown for, or their page rank has been pushed back to page 23, when maybe they used to be on page three or four.

The reason is because the product page is not relevant and Amazon is really cracking down on this. The biggest shift that Amazon sellers can make right now and the most important thing is to go to every single one of the product pages and really, really vet it. Make sure that every field with every piece of content that you have on that product page is actually relevant to what you're selling.

If buyers don't find the products that they're searching for, they get mad. They leave the site. They have a bad buyer experience and the one thing that Amazon is trying to avoid is a bad buyer experience. So Amazon said “We're only going to serve pages that are highly relevant to the product that is being sold”.

That is the biggest change that we're seeing this year.  Sellers are seeing their sales drop like a rock if their pages are not relevant.

Amazon now looks at your sponsored ad campaign and looks at the keywords in the campaign. If those keywords don't match your page, and if your page is not optimized to be relevant for the product you're selling, guess what? They're not showing your ad no matter how much you spend because they don't want your ad to give a bad buyer experience to the buyer.

If your pages are not relevant or if they're not optimized with relevant content, there's no point in doing ads. There’s no point in sending traffic. If you go through all this work to source a great product, you need to create a relevant product page. 

You speak about the importance of relevancy and the importance of keywords.  What do you recommend sellers do as they create their product page and optimize it to be more relevant to Amazon’s buyers?

There's a very specific two-step process that people want to do. First of all, you want to make a list of all of the keywords that you think are relevant to your product. So this is where knowing your product, knowing your customer, knowing how they think about your product is very important.  We're going to have that as like a pre-step.

The first step is to go to amazon.com and type those keywords into the Amazon search box. Amazon has a system just like Google. It's called ‘Suggested Search' and it will show you the top 10 buyer searches related to your keywords.

So let's say that you're going to go to Amazon and you sell a black diaper bag. So you go to amazon.com and you slowly start typing in “Black…Diaper”. At that point you're going to see a list of the top buyers’ searches that are happening right now on Amazon. 

Once you start amassing this list of keywords from your manual searches on Amazon, the other thing that you do to validate relevancy is to start clicking on those search results and looking at the products that are on page one to find out if the keyword phrase is truly relevant to your product.

So that step one is to really go and do a manual search on Amazon. People say “Oh but that's going to take me time”. Yeah, it is.  But do you want your product page to really sell?

Here's a shocking shocking reality and this is a study that was done on Amazon searches by buyers last year. What they found is that only 20% of buyers will go to page two to look for a product. If they don't see what they are looking for in page one, they redo their search.

Keyword relevancy on your product pages is literally money in the bank. So once you do that manual search then you can go and supplement with some keyword tools.

There's a lot of keyword tools out there but one that I really like is called FreshKey.  FreshKey basically replicates what you're doing with that manual search but they do it in seconds because it's a software tool.

The other tool I really like is a new one that just came out called Scope from Seller Labs. It's really an advanced Keyword Tool. It's quite a bit more expensive than FreshKey but it gives you page rank information and it gives you competitor information. It gives you a lot of in-depth data. So that's a tool that is definitely worth investing in. 

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Lisa, what strategies do you recommend sellers use to market and promote their products within the Amazon Marketplace?

Number one thing I would do is start with Amazon sponsored product ads. You really need to monitor them to make sure that you're not spending more than you can afford to and budget so that you're not decreasing your margins. The sponsored ads are really the best way to get traffic on Amazon to a product page. If you don't own the page or if you're with other sellers, you’d have to be in the Buy Box in order for your sponsored ad to run.

The other thing I really recommend for people who don't own their page is to have some type of off-Amazon marketing. So pick a social media platform and start building some advertising around your product, whether it's paid advertising, or if you sell in a niche, actually building a following on Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest.

For brand owners there is so much cool stuff!

Number one is obviously sponsored product ads. Number two, if you're a brand owner, use the Enhanced Brand Content that Amazon just rolled out recently. The way that you can set your product page and your product apart from everybody else's is with Enhanced Brand Content. The sellers who sold directly to Amazon have always had access to this. They call it A-plus content. They've had access to it for years.

Amazon stats show that it does give your product a boost in sales anywhere from like 4% to 12% which doesn’t sound like a lot but over the lifetime of products sales that adds up. Enhanced Brand Content, more importantly than even increasing your existing sales, gives you the ability to differentiate, educate the customer and make your products stand out.

Most people aren't using Enhanced Brand content right now. They haven't even started looking at it. So for your listeners who are brand owners, this is going to give your page the competitive edge.

If you're a brand owner, you have to have some external traffic coming in. No longer can you rely solely on Amazon to bring you customers and buyers. Yes, they bring us a lot but we need to take control of the traffic that we get to our products.

You really do need to take control of your traffic and start sending people from your buyers live Just send them over to your Amazon page.

Lisa, I know you started in this whole venture with Product Sourcing as your emphasis. What do you teach your students who might be struggling to find profitable products to sell? What strategies do you find helpful to help them find ideas of what to sell online?

Here is my best advice if you're going to look for products to sell, you need to have a focus.  

What a lot of people tend to do is say, “I'm just going to look for something to flip to make money”. That's not inherently bad but it's only going to get you so far. Focusing on a niche or a sub-niche, or a subcategory, and really understanding what people are looking for, what they like, what they don't like – that's where you start to get these brilliant ideas of “Oh my gosh I could sell this. I could import this”.

For those who are like, “I don't have a niche. I don't have a focus”, start by selling a variety of things and start to see what you gravitate to because if you don't have an interest in what you're selling, you will not spend the time to gain the knowledge on what the market wants.

Live where your buyers live, read the magazines that are pertinent to that niche, go to the website that are based around that niche. Look at other stores off of Amazon. There is a world outside of Amazon and people tend to forget that. Go to other stores online and see what people are selling. Go to independent websites learn everything you can about the category.

If you're private labeling, look at the reviews on Amazon for the products that are selling well, and the products that aren’t, and see what buyers are saying. Are they looking for something bigger? Are they looking for something in a different color? Are they looking for something that doesn't crack after three months? All the data is there to know what to sell if you tap into a specific market and understand what their thoughts are.

The biggest mistake I see people make is they do surface sourcing.  They're  just looking for a widget to sell. You can't do that on Amazon anymore. It's too competitive and there's too many people who are focused on a niche that if you don't have that knowledge — the knowledge is money. 

The other thing to do is just testing. If you're private labeling, bring in some samples and list them on Amazon. Test them. You've got to validate your product idea with the marketplace. When you find what sells, then you move forward with it.

Lisa, do you still believe it's a good time to get started selling on Amazon? Everything has evolved and advanced to such a degree that I wonder if this is something you would still recommend new sellers do in terms of getting started?

I think because Amazon is clamping down on all the people who were trying to use the platform as a way to make quick easy money, those sellers are leaving. The sellers who are using practices that are against terms of service in trying to gain the marketplace, those sellers are leaving. 

So getting back to why is private label the future of Amazon?  

Because every single program that Amazon is rolling out this year supports brand owners. There is nothing that they're rolling out that supports future arbitrage sellers. Actually it’s even getting tighter for wholesale sellers. Brands are being gated. You are having to pay to get in.

We're starting to see a return to a more high level, high quality standard for selling on Amazon. That is why I think this is the best time to get into selling on Amazon – as long as you're serious about doing it right. 

This is the greatest opportunity. Amazon accounts for 53% of all growth of eCommerce last year. So opportunity is there and we're still just looking at under 10% of retail purchases are made online. So there's huge potential not only on .com but also in the European and internationals sites.

Lisa, do you also recommend building your own brand off of Amazon so that you can have your own customer base and your own customer email list using one of the other eCommerce platforms?

Absolutely. Amazon is a great start and, realistically, you are still going to get the highest percentage of your sales from Amazon because they’re just scooping up the eCommerce wallet share more and more every single month. Selling off of Amazon is absolutely important for strengthening your base for your company and your brand.

I love Shopify and absolutely recommend Shopify as a platform.

WalMart is not for the faint of heart. It's not easy, and there's a lot of hoops you have to jump through, but people were definitely seeing sales on WalMart increase.

Ebay is still absolutely a viable channel. You've got to test it. It depends on what you sell.

Look up international marketplaces, even if they are the Amazon international marketplaces.

You really need to get your sales going on Amazon and know your brand before you start going off into these different channels. Make sure you've got everything firing on all cylinders on Amazon.

If we think of your website as real estate that you could build out as slow or as fast as you want connecting with different social channels.  It absolutely is the growth path.

For people who are new to Amazon and just getting a first private label product up and going, you need to focus on Amazon and making sales and understanding how to be a retailer before you get distracted by doing other expansion efforts.

INTERVIEW FREEBIE

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Lisa, can you share a bit more about your training program?

My training program is called AMP Training. This is a live training program that’s updated every month. I work directly with our members in the Facebook group. I am literally in there five days a week — sometimes six and seven days a week. It's a Facebook mastermind group working with our community.

We have a fabulous community that works and is so supportive and works with each other.  This program is always current information. Keeping up with all the changes, it's a pretty big job. I'm always looking for the leading edge strategies.

We have a very strong focus on page optimization and all of the different things that go into fully optimizing your page. First and foremost, people are going to learn how to keep their product page fully optimized, and keep it current with the latest strategies.

Secondly, they're going to learn how to drive traffic to their product pages from social media sites.

We also have basic, fundamental training, like Amazon reporting. We have things on Product Sourcing. We have things on Importing. It really is a resource for anyone who has some experience selling on Amazon.

If you’ve never sold on Amazon before, AMP Training is a bit advanced. You want to get some experience selling on Amazon first.

The program really is designed to help established merchants take their sales to the next level. Or for page owners who want to optimize their product pages, and for any merchant who wants to learn how to build a following on social and leverage social to advertise their products.

It's a fabulous program and it's a living program. It's always changing, and always evolving as Amazon evolves. We're right there ahead of the crowd.

Do you offer an Amazon Page Optimization service for your students within the AMP training program?

We started our Amazon Page Optimization Service. Our page optimization service is not like anything else that’s out there on the market because we do a full market analysis of your product before we ever start optimizing your pages. A lot of the page optimization services just kind of look at your product, and write some copy, and try and make it keyword rich.

We do a full market analysis of your products so we know what your product is, where it stands in the marketplace, and who the competitors are. We use five different tools to do keyword research including the manual research. It is so incredibly in-depth. We give you all that data that we have found in our research as part of the page optimization.

Additionally all of my optimization team, they have sold on Amazon. They have business experience in copywriting or they're trained in marketing writing. They are excellent in keyword research. All people who live in the US, English speaking, so there's no translation issues in terms of trying to understand what this product is.

I put my stamp on every single page. There’s not a page that goes out that I don't review. So it is really the premier page optimization service out there, not only because of what we offer, but because of the depth that we go into to actually optimize your page.

What are some of the most essential indispensable tools you use to run your own business?

The answer that I give may surprise because it’s not actually a tool, it's a person and that is my bookkeeper.

I've had businesses that we've worked with that did not know their numbers. So the most important thing that you can do in your business is have a bookkeeper.  If you're just getting started, you could do a little spreadsheet, but you need to know your numbers.

If you have any type of consistent selling, it's time to go and find someone to start doing your books for you. People will sell but they don't know what their profits are. They don't know what their costs are. They think they're making money but they're not, or they're making more and they could leverage that.

The most indispensable person in my business is my bookkeeper because I get a report from my bookkeeper every month. I know our profit and loss. I know our expenses. I know where our money is going and I can make informed decisions about what I'm going to do the next month. Most people don't do that.  If don't know your numbers, you have a hobby and you don't have a business.

A book that I want people to read and that's a book called Profit First by Mike Mike Michalowicz.  It's not a book keeping book. It's a way to look at the money that you make. So as Amazon sellers we tend to live on cash flow. We don't build assets for the future meaning we don't allocate money for our personal savings. We don't allocate money for business savings. That book, hands down, it will change your life!

Can you please tell our listeners the best way to connect with you and learn more about your business?

You can find me on all social media platforms under my name “Lisa Suttora”. You can find me at my website lisasuttora.com and to learn more about AMP Training. For those of you who want to learn more about AMP training, go to ecomexclusive.com/amptraining.

** If you go there through that link to find out more about the program and use coupon code “DANA”, you're going to get 15% off. **

I have my blog. Connect with me on Facebook. I do Facebook Lives. Connect with me on Instagram. I love social media and marketing is like just one of my passions.

The opportunity on Amazon, it’s there.

People are always looking for the magic bullet, there really isn't a magic bullet. It's the best practices implemented over and over and improving what you do whether it's your sourcing or your marketing or your page optimization. That is the secret to being successful and loving it and having the passion for it.

Thanks everyone for reading our Expert interview with Lisa Suttora from Amazon Marketing Training (AMP). If you have any comments or questions, leave them below and we’ll make sure Lisa has a chance to see them!


Connect with Lisa!

Website: www.LisaSuttora.com
Twitter: @LisaSuttora
Facebook: Lisa Suttora
LinkedIn: Lisa Suttora
Pinterest: Lisa Suttora
Instagram: Lisa Suttora

Lisa Suttora

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Dana Sanders

Dana Sanders

Editorial Director at eCom Exclusive
Dana Sanders is the Founder & Editorial Director of eCom Exclusive and has been in the field of eCommerce and Digital Marketing for over 8 years. Dana’s inspiration for starting eCom Exclusive is her ardent quest to connect with other aspiring and established eCommerce & Marketplace entrepreneurs and to consolidate from around the web the most useful content and resources they need to help make their eCommerce businesses more scalable, more profitable and more fun!
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