When Being in a Group is Better than Going it Alone…


Updated Note (August 2019) – Amazon is changing how it displays variation listings which means that while the following benefits are still relevant, the plans that are afoot will mean there are some disadvantages too.  I write about those at the end of the blog. 


I get many questions about Amazon variation listings A.K.A Parent-Child listings.  There’s a lot of uncertainty about them, so I compiled a number of benefits you might not have considered yet. 


So, here goes. 


Besides helping customers to consider and compare all of their buying options, here are some other reasons why it can make good sense to group products together. 


1.  You can split different keywords across each group – each Amazon product is allowed up to 250 bytes of keywords to be entered into the backend to help shoppers find you.  If you have four variation listings you can place 1,000 bytes of keywords across the four items which increases the depth and breadth of keywords you will index for. 


2. Structure your long-tail keywords better – like above, you can also incorporate more long-tail keywords into each listing.  Despite what Amazon might claim, a little repetition here and there does seem to entice the algorithm into noticing your product.  Once you have done your keyword analysis place the best five throughout your Title, Bullets and Description, the next five in your Subject Matter, and an additional five in Intended Use (where available) – change them for each variation and you are increasing your chance of indexing during searches.  The more harmony you can bring between your listing and your PPC the better the potential for a lower CPC. 


3. Improved Relevancy – providing that the keywords you have chosen are relevant to your category, by splitting more phrases across your variations you are increasing the breadth of keywords ranked by the algorithm for your whole product variants.  The algorithm basis your relevance for things like sponsored ad campaigns, largely on which keywords you have in your listings front end and backend.  The more you have, the more relevance you are likely to have.  Amazon will log a number of keywords that it recommends for your product category, and the greater the breadth of keywords used in your product the more likely you are to hit these recommended keywords, which makes indexing and ranking a smoother process.  You want to check that the algorithm understands your product correctly.



4. More Clicks – shoppers are likely to click on one of your variation listings when they can see them grouped together. Amazon will measure this as “interest” which catches the attention of the algorithm.  You need to ensure that your listing is fully optimized and competitive because if your clicks don’t convert, Amazon will notice this too, and lower your ranking accordingly if it expects you to sell less than other competitor products. 


5. Piggybacking – in variation listings, it is common for one product to outsell the rest, over time, the other listings will also benefit from the improved ranking of the best-seller and therefore “may” piggyback it.  Usually, when a keyword does well it can improve the ranking of others also in the listing.  With variations, the very fact that more people are likely to click on one or more of your listings will help with ranking.  If they were sold independently, they would not have this competitive advantage as they might not be found. 


6. More Feedback –  In PPC, it is best to give each variation a separate Ad Group so that you can control your budgets better and make strategic changes to keywords without those decisions impacting all of your products at once – some keywords will work well for one SKU but not another, if they are commingled together making decisions will be more difficult to do as what impacts one, will also affect the other.  The search terms that shoppers use before clicking your ad will give you clues to your customers’ needs and you can, therefore, set your HSA (sponsored brand) ads to more closely match those needs, and you can create campaigns based around the most searched for variation type. 


7. Stars Attract – when a person is shopping on Amazon, one of the factors sure to get clicks is where products have more review stars and good ratings.  The advantage of variation listings is that all of your product ratings are pooled together (this is changing, read disadvantages below).  If one product has 10-reviews and another 15 they will appear to have 25 collectively.  


8. Multiple Markets – if you sell in multiple marketplaces such as the US, Canada and EU, your ratings transfer across if you keep the same ASINs.  This means that when you sell products in one marketplace their star ratings transfer across to the other marketplace.  This is explained by Amazon once a shopper has clicked the listing, however, on a page of search results it can make your product look even more enticing! 


Take a look at the images below, which products would you shortlist, which would you click?

Let’s take a closer look at what is happening here:


This coffee mug shares its home with another seven coffee mugs, and they all pool together to total 244 ratings.  

Chances are, people are going to take a quick peek at what else they are selling.  And that’s how it works my friends! 

9. Adding Sub-Categories – if you add variations using a flat-file you can change the subcategory of a variant which gets added to the main category of the original parent listing, therefore your products can appear in different categories.   You will need the correct browser tree nodes to do this effectively which you can access via Seller Central.  Note, if you contact the Catalog Team (.com) they may be able to add a single product to more than one category.

10. Speed Up Inventory Changes – if you have a lot of products to edit or add it can speed things up dramatically by placing them in a parent-child group.  If for example, you wish to alter your target keywords, changing them in the parent also changes them across all of the child listings (if you want the keywords to be the same throughout).  Changes to bullets and descriptions can also be altered in the parent, but the titles and images need to be done individually.  If you are adding 10 products, simply writing the parent and adding the variant details is much faster than doing them separately. 

And now to the disadvantages…

A. Lack of Positioning on Results Pages – let’s imagine you have three products clustered together under a parent-child family; when a shopper searches for such a product only one of the variations will appear on the product results page.  The last product to get a sale is the one that is shown in the page results.

So, let’s imagine that you are selling a black, a blue, and a white blanket, and the blue one sells the most.  Then the blue one will appear the most in the product results and therefore people who are searching for a black or white one might not click your ad.  What will then begin to happen is that if you run PPC campaigns most of your ad spend will go on a single variation.  Some colour choices might get extra clicks because of people making impulse purchases, but it is something you are going to need to measure.

If, however, you decided to keep your listings separate you will still likely experience one product out-ranking/selling the others but the potential is that each of them will appear on the results page.  If you can rank each of them on page 1, and you have three variations, you get 3 out of 50 ad positions.  If you can do that for mobile users, you will get 3 out of 16 ad positions as that is the maximum number of results when searching with a mobile device. 

B. Too Much Choice – back in the mid 80s, I worked in a retail store which sold household appliances; we called them white goods (washing machines, freezers etc), and brown goods (TVs, Hi-fi equipment and so on), and my boss at the time said whenever a shopper came in I needed to narrow down their choice as soon as possible or they would feel overwhelmed and might not buy.

Facing a wall of TVs is the same as facing a page of variations.  They can distract a customer.  And if they are not 100% certain about buying their confusion can lead them to click elsewhere.  It all comes down to your branding, your product and your marketing ideas.  If you look at the mugs pictured above, you can see that the Enesco mug has 8 variations, and the ratings it has achieved have all been commingled together, whereas the Kinrex mug with a quarter of the ratings has no variations.  If I was Enesco, I would reduce the variations to 2-3 maximum, to help keep the customer focused.  They don’t need over 244 ratings when their next nearest competitor has 60.  They could split the variations, grab more floor space on the product page results and still have 60+ reviews on each. 

C. The Stars are Falling Out of Alignment – yes, Amazon has decided to separate the rating values across variation groups.  Therefore, if you have three products with 30, 50, and 20 ratings, their scores will not be collated together.  This is being put in place but very slowly.  So, you could make hay while the sun shines and then separate the listings again once this happens. 

So, you have plenty to think about!

Happy selling!

Until next time.


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