As one of the world’s leading retailers, anything Amazon does should be examined closely and benchmarked for any transferable ideas that might help any business in the for-profit and not-for-profit world. A review of its A9 Algorithm prompts some key considerations when considering how to market and grow an organization, with positive consequences expressed as membership and revenue development.

In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a sequence of defined instructions which we use to solve problems or to perform a computation. The concept of algorithm has existed since antiquity. The word ‘algorithm’ itself is derived from the 9th-century mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, whose name was latinized as Algoritmi. Later formalizations included Alan Turing’s work creating machines during World War II for the purpose of breaking ciphers and decoding secret messages. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Amazon’s Algorithm

When we search on the internet, the search engines use algorithms to determine what they will show us based on a set of inherent instructions which rank and display the results we see. As we all know, most of us never get past the first page of results, so the higher the ranking of a product, the better the chance of a sale. Let’s clarify here very quickly that Amazon’s algorithm differs from search engines such as that used by Google, which is much more oriented to research, and so, is based on a broader scope of data to answer the user’s question or inquiry.

That fact alone is very important. First and foremost, Amazon wants to sell you something, not enable your research. And that, my friends, is important for Association professionals to remember. If we want to develop Associations, and grow membership and revenue, we need to be mindful of certain priorities.

Amazon defines relevancy as what people purchase after conducting a search. Therefore, weight is given to purchase behaviour, as in conversions and sales. Google, on the other hand, defines relevancy as what a person clicks on to answer their query after conducting a search. So, more weight is given to engagement behaviour, for example; clicks, bounces, time on site.

A9 v. A10

Amazon’s algorithm is known formally as A9. That is because the algorithm was developed by, a subsidiary of Amazon that develops search engine and search advertising technology. The name A9 simply represents a number-based word (numeronym) that combines the first letter of ‘algorithm’ and the fact the word has 9 letters – thus A9.

More recently, the algorithm has been referred to as A10, as people try to reflect the fact the original A9 algorithm has been updated. One would assume this updating is continuous, that is to say, that the original A9 algorithm has been, and will be, updated and refined over time.

Now, let’s take a look at 5 of its top factors.

1. Just Sell Baby

First and foremost, Amazon wants to feature its best selling products. Yep, you got it, Amazon wants to make money. So that means they want to feature the products that sell. If a product has a good rating related to its sales activity, history and product range and inventory, odds are it will go near the top, if not at the top, of the list. That is not to say the algorithm does not look at price, it does, and customer reviews, it does, but all things being equal, if the prices are similar, and reviews similar, then the product with the better sales efficiency and volumes, goes to the head of the class.

For me, this is the huuuuge takeaway for Associations. It reminds us that we need to organize, or reorganize, our Association marketing plans, or, for some organizations, develop an Association marketing plan, around our best sellers – those programs, services, benefits that actually engage our members and potential audiences.

If your education courses are your biggest revenue producer, then you don’t want to keep posting information about your government relations advocacy as your priority communications. That is not to say advocacy is not important. It is. But it is to remember that, for most people, and that might exclude your Board of Directors, they join and stay joined to your organization, to get access to the courses and development programs, not to stay up to date on the latest legislation. If a prospective member, or even a member, searches for you, make sure they are going to see information, couched in marketing terms that excites and engages, about your best selling programs. Don’t make them dig for that. Think of your own buying or searching behaviour. If we don’t see what we like right away, we’re gone in 60 seconds.

2. Make a good Impression

The second most important factor for Amazon is how many times the product is seen anywhere on the Amazon website, affiliate and partner sites. More views results in a higher ranking.

That takes us back to Association Marketing again. Think about it. Is your website or Facebook page the only place someone can see information about your organization and what you offer? If so, you’ve got a problem. We have got to diversify and expand the number of possible opportunities for a potential member to see something about us. So, do you have a public relations, or media relations program? Do you advertise? Do you attend (either in person or virtually) conferences where people who would share an interest in what you do are likely to be present? Do you look for, or welcome, opportunities to partner with other companies or organizations to cross and co-promote? To grow our membership and our revenues, we need to be visible, and make a number of very good first, and ongoing, impressions.

3. People also bought

Amazon’s algorithm also favours products which have demonstrated good internal sales capacity. That is, while on the Amazon site, a product suggestion is presented as a complementary or additional purchase consideration. Associations should also review search patterns and preferences for their sites and marketing. To use our previous example, if most members are primarily focussed on education, why not offer suggestions concerning publications, or programs, that are intended to assist in the delivery of education, or in the most successful route to completing a course quickly and successfully. This might include, for example, a study guide with sample test questions and answers, or, how about a webinar or seminar, that is offered by one or more of the actual people who write or grade the exams?

Revisiting the previous example of education v advocacy, perhaps, in your situation, the advocacy is the more important and sought after program or benefit. In this case, immediately associated with the latest update on legislation or regulation, is an option to register for (buy) a guide, or seminar, hosted by respected leaders in the government relations field specific to your area of concern. These are, I hasten to add, guides, webinars and seminars that people have to pay for – remembering the first cardinal rule of Amazon’s algorithm – sales is a number one priority.

4. Click Through Rate

The Amazon algorithm rewards products with high click through rates. No surprise here. After all, the virtual shopper is, to a large extent, still mimicking the experience of a shopper purchasing a product in a brick-and-mortar store. In this case, through the two-dimensional medium of a screen, you have to use a combination of images, reviews, promotions and content to excite and engage your customer.

You need to provide additional, high-quality image and content on a detail page that gives buyers a better understanding of what they’re buying to give them more confidence that they’re actually getting the product they were hoping for. Products and brands which are utilizing these types of content see a decrease in the number of returns and customer complaints because their expectations are set accordingly.

Given the importance of optimizing your product listings, you may want to consider having an outside consultant or firm review your sites and pages, with a specific view to the marketability and calls to action embedded in your content. For many of us in the Association field, that means suggesting a volunteer, or a content-focussed staff person, who may also be handling a number of other jobs in the organization, step aside for a moment, to make sure the content is reviewed and refreshed. If you present the reasons why a second opinion is required, they will welcome the chance to upgrade and enhance the member and prospective member’s experience.

What you are looking for are sales-optimized product bullets. Essentially, whatever keywords weren’t used in the title should be worked into the bullets. This is also a good time to point out products your listing may be compatible with.

Also, create product descriptions that tell a story: Much like the bullet points, in the Amazon algorithm the product description doesn’t directly impact rank; however, it is indexed and will impact visibility. Additionally, well-written copy with a strong call to action can certainly have an effect on conversions. So make sure your copy is written in a way that is direct and to the point, encouraging people to register (buy) now, or order today.

5. Reviews Matter – Authenticity Sells

Amazon gives great weight to newer, more helpful and verified customer reviews (written comments) and ratings (the 5-star system) when determining top reviews to display, and when calculating a product’s overall rating. The system will continue to learn which reviews are most helpful to customers and improve the experience over time.

The goal is to make Amazon reviews and ratings more up-to-date and reliable. A product’s overall star rating will consider factors including the age of a review, helpful votes by customers, and whether the reviews are from verified purchasers. Some time back, Amazon actually filed a lawsuit against the alleged operators of sites that offered Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake customer reviews of their products.

Bottom line: If reviews matter to Amazon, they should matter to you too. Customers expect to find the opportunity to comment or review. Make sure you are offering members and potential members that option, and, for goodness sake, monitor these reviews actively and respond right away to express appreciation or take action to remedy a situation or experience.

In my experience, doing this as personally as possible, as in using a real person’s name and coordinates, is, despite the risks, worth it, as in “If you are currently experiencing an issue that you would like resolved as quickly as possible, please contact Paul McKay at pmckay@ or Paul welcomes the opportunity to speak with you directly and ensure your experience meets, if not exceeds, your expectations of service.”

Final Thoughts

According to Wikipedia, “Amazon has been referred to as one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world as well as the world’s most valuable brand. Amazon is known for its disruption of well-established industries through technological innovation and mass scale. It is the world’s largest online marketplace, AI assistant provider, live-streaming platform and cloud computing platform as measured by revenue and market capitalization. Amazon is the largest Internet company by revenue in the world. It is the second largest private employer in the United States and one of the world’s most valuable companies.”

By understanding, and, wherever possible, benchmarking its processes and priorities, and particularly, examining the factors it determines as most influential in determining search and purchase success, we can inform our Association marketing accordingly, and prioritize those activities, programs and selling points that position us for maximum success.

Paul McKay

Paul McKay CAE, is Senior Consultant with McKay Associates, specializing in advocacy, marketing and development.
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