Episode 237 Featuring Alex Bond

Increasing Visibility on Amazon with Brent Zahradnik

Increasing Visibility on Amazon with Brent Zahradnik

Brent Zahradnik is the Founder and CEO of AMZ Pathfinder, an Amazon Advertising agency that works with brands to optimize their advertising presence on Amazon, increase conversion rates with content optimization, and drive external paid traffic from Google to their Amazon product catalog.

They work with 65+ brands in North America, Europe, Australia, and the UAE, and manage over $2M/month in ad spend. With over a decade's experience in the e-commerce industry, Brent has a deep understanding of the intricacies of Amazon's algorithms and the best digital marketing practices for helping entrepreneurs and brands succeed in the Amazon marketplace.

On this episode, Brent and I talk about how to drive external traffic to your Amazon page, how to cut through the noise on Amazon, the importance of reviews, and much more.


What is AMZ Pathfinder

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, sure. So we're an Amazon services agency, primarily focusing on advertising, which is what we've done for many years. But now we do content services, that is to say helping people's products and pages on Amazon look better. And we do external traffic too. So driving external traffic to the Amazon ecosystem. Those are kind of our three pillars these days. 

Alex Bond: Right. And so you started this company about eight years ago, correct? 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, it's been a long time, actually, Alex. I kind of fell into it. But yeah, it was something that I kind of happened to cross by accident, having a background in paid search advertising with Google and then just having the fortune to kind of come across Amazon just as that wave was kind of cresting. So, as I think most people should who find some sort of traction or success, there's also an element of like luck to these things, right? 

Alex Bond: Sure. And that's, you know, part of the question I was leading into in terms of like eight years ago in this industry is like a lifetime ago, if I'm being honest. And around that time period in 2015, that was when Amazon was really kind of elbowing its way away from the competition.

You know, I remember first hearing about Amazon probably 20 years ago, maybe something like that. The first time. It kind of really developed itself into the, the zeitgeist was around that time period. So I'm interested in how that impacts the inception of AMZ Pathfinder. 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, sure. I'll try to trace a sort of timeline that might be interesting. So I would say Amazon's been around since what the late nineties, but for many years, Amazon was primarily a marketplace. That's like what Amazon calls like one P or vendor. 

So it's like Amazon approaches. Adidas and they say like, hey, we want to sell your shoes, you know, work with us and we'll put them on our marketplace. You get distribution and then they work with these like well capitalized large brands that have existing distribution channels. Like they're at, you know, shoe locker and like stuff like that. 

What really happened in the, I would say the. The early 2010s, the teens. Do we have a name for that decade yet? The teens. Which is basically like, people started to do wholesale on Amazon, they started to do retail arbitrage, which is basically buy stuff from like a Walmart and then sell it for more on Amazon or wholesale is like work with a manufacturer who's not on Amazon doesn't have distribution channels.

And then that evolved into what became called like private label. And that craze, I think really started to take off and I would say 2014, 2015. And that's also the same year, 2014 that Amazon advertising launched as a platform when Amazon said, hey, we have all these eyeballs. We can make our own retail media network.

Why don't we do this? It's obviously a huge source of revenue for companies like Google that kind of pioneered that. And they have billions of dollars of revenue based on that model. So Amazon kind of did both those things simultaneously. And now fast forward to present day, looking at Amazon's quarter one results, 60% of the sales that happen on their marketplace are three P sellers.

So they're like individuals or small companies. Sometimes that's a one man show with a couple assistants. Sometimes it's you know, a whole team. Like a lot of our clients have, you know, team of full time employees, warehouse three P centers and everything like that. 

But they're not adidas, you know, they're not like the mega corporations that we all know that have been around for like a million years. There are people that started on Amazon, they're Amazon native. And so that's kind of when that all kicked off, I would say, 2014, 2015. 

Driving external traffic to your Amazon catalog

Brent Zahradnik: The main method for success for a lot of Amazon native brands has been successfully, let's say, optimizing in some cases over the years using a little bit of a, what you call like black hat tactics, like gamifying Amazon's algorithm, right?

But Amazon has cleaned that up in the past two, three years, way better. Like it's much harder to get fake reviews. These are all good things, by the way. I'm not saying this is bad, but harder to get fake reviews, you know, cause consumer trust is being restored there. There's not as much like black hat activity going on where people are taking each other's listings down and stuff like that.

The primary method, I'm going to get to your question, the primary method has been figuring out the on Amazon SEO because Amazon has its own search engine, has its own catalog methods, has its own structured data. And so being able to be found and seen and rank there is really the key. 

Now in 2022 and early 2023, it's become harder and harder to become differentiated like on platform because everyone has has found that level, like anyone who's competent is doing that stuff and It doesn't really set you apart anymore.

It doesn't make you special. It's just like table stakes, right? So now people are using other methods to drive external traffic and there's so many of those I'm happy to like dive into them. A lot of them are traditional. Some of them are newer, but it's all it's all very interesting there. 

Alex Bond: I talked with I want to say his name was Ryan Flannagan about some of these black hat techniques and how amazon is like seriously crack down on them, maybe even overcorrected in a little bit of an effect, but that's kind of for a later day. So what are some of those specific services that AMZPathfinder offers to increase visibility and ROI for companies? 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, I'll talk about ours first, because we actually do just like one arrow in the quiver. Like the quiver is full of many arrows, and we really specialize in just a couple. So when it comes to external traffic, we're really big fans of taking Google search traffic, which has You know, billions of people every day looking for products and channeling some of that to Amazon.

And so taking some of that demand, that search intent, those customers who may or may not actually be Amazon shoppers already and moving them over to Amazon and getting them to buy there. So this is like, how do I really position it? Think of the river of Amazon ad spend that our clients are already using.

This is like a small tributary, a little stream that's kind of like branching onto that main river. And that's our favorite way of doing things like this year. We've had a lot of traction with that and have had a lot of success with current clients and some new clients doing that. But man, there's like so many ways.

And another way that I really like, and I have a friend that has an agency, that does this, but they use a tech talk. You know, tech talk is like one of these things that's super hot, like red hot, trendy, and they work with like big brands like Sephora and stuff like that. 

And there's a component of virality that's built into some of these social platforms that if you understand you can capture and that really Can get you much further the analogy that I might use for like Google ads or like Amazon ads.

This is just kind of like slow and steady. It chugs along. It's like a faucet where you turn it on and it just keeps the water keeps running through. But if you have TikTok, it's like you've accidentally broken the dam and then you have a deluge of interest and shoppers and everything. But figuring out how to like break that dam is like very difficult.

So those are probably the two biggest ways that we are familiar with and that we like to see the tech talk Google search. There are a lot more like, I would say less traditional ways, at least in the Amazon space is like post purchase sequences. So you follow up with people, you get their email, you get their text, you know, you get their number and then you follow them afterwards. 

There's ways to do that that are totally compliant with Amazon. So you got to be careful with that, but that's really effective for building like lifetime value. People still use email. Yeah, I know. It seems kind of ridiculous to some of the brands we've talked about, but we're like, hey, do you have an email list? Have you sent out a blast to your email list? People still do this. 

You know, email is not dead. Email is a great protocol. It's still open. It's for everybody. It's not dependent on any one service provider, there's no gatekeeper. So really, it's super powerful. Still, which is funny to think after all these years that like, the hot new thing is email.

Authenticity vs Virality

Alex Bond: I wanted to follow up on the, this kind of your opinion on, you know, TikTok versus email advertising and something like that. Because what I've found is some people who attempt to chase virality specifically in advertising, it can actually backfire. So they're trying to essentially engineer buzz.

And, well we were talking a bit about during the show, the value of authenticity and anyone who's listened to the show more than once knows that transparency and authenticity. I'm really big proponents and fans of. So do you think that can provide an obstacle for a brand? If they're trying to chase some sort of buzz and audiences feel like they're being sold to, you know? 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, I think you have to consider where the person is when you're reaching them. So the counter example I'll provide is when people are searching on Amazon or Google, they know they're searching for a product and you're meeting them where they are with what you hope is the thing that they are after.

And then you're putting them on that landing page or that product page. So you're just basically meeting their intent. With what you're offering engineering that on tech talk is far harder because someone who's just browsing around like maybe they don't know and I know I've just used a Sephora example as my friends agency has worked with them. 

Like maybe they don't they don't know that they need this like a mascara or like eyeliner or something like that, but they'll come across it and they'll generate interest by seeing it in a way that is Portrayed that like resonates with them.

So I think what they do is they they run ads, you know, they have promoted content that's usually with UGC, you know user generated content and they place a lot of small bets and some of these bets actually pay off. And they're not trying to like stir a controversy or anything when I say virality I mean like they're not trying to be like we got canceled, you know, this kind of stuff that that does resonate with a certain population in America.

It is possible to do that. We've all seen these ads. We all know this, but no, it's just like, hey, this is what works for me. Like here am I like your average Jane influencer, this is like, what's working for me. And this is why I think about this and. Some of those things, if they're promoted correctly, they get sewn to the right people.

It'll start to stir in the algorithm and carry on. Does it backfire? I don't have enough experience, man, to say like, yeah, I've seen it backfire. Because that's not something that we deal with a lot. I have seen success stories because our clients will occasionally come to us and say, Hey, we ran some Spark ads, which are like one of the main methods for advertising on TikTok, as I understand it.

We didn't basically want to describe. We placed a lot of bets with these kind of UGC content. Content generators, and then, you know, two or three of them actually got some really good traction. And we saw a demonstrable like uplift in sales for this day or this week based on this. And so, yeah, that, that seems to be the method that people are doing.

Now, if TikTok is around to stay in the US, I think that remains to be, remains to be seen a bit more of an open question. Yeah, I think, you know, it certainly has organic traction. It's not like it, it didn't buy it by its way to the top. It did it by merit. So I can't really fault it. 

Strategies for simultaneously operating an Amazon and Shopify store

Alex Bond: I was curious on kind of the differences between running like a Shopify store in an Amazon store and how to kind of leverage both. So if I sell products on Amazon, for example, and have a, we'll say a Shopify store, how, how can I approach operating both simultaneously? Is it better to leverage my brand to drive traffic to Amazon or vice versa? Or what are your thoughts on that? 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah, the goal for most Amazon first brands is to build awareness on Amazon to scale up in terms of size, sales, volume, catalog, you know, portfolio, brand presence, and then slowly migrate that off Amazon. Amazon sees the customers on Amazon as their customers. They do not see them as your customers. There are ways to be clever with that.

Like I mentioned, product inserts earlier. That's one thing that is within Amazon TOS, because they can't possibly, you know, stop everybody from doing that, as long as you don't put something in there that's like, please leave a five star review or else, which will definitely get you in trouble, or else that will absolutely get you in trouble.

Do not do that. But you can say, Hey, this is our warranty or like, scan this QR code to enter this giveaway for like another product. You know, this is not tied to reviews, by the way, no giveaways and reviews. Don't do that. Thank you. 

And then take those customers off, you know, the trend that I've seen with many of the brands we work with is they start Amazon native, or sometimes they start with like a Kickstarter or something, they get a lot of traction on Amazon, give that a couple years, and then they start to migrate out. 

The ultimate objective for a lot of these brands is to have their standalone Shopify, WooCommerce, whatever DDC website, right. Eclipse the revenue that they have on Amazon. The reason for that, like I said, Amazon thinks it's their customers and you have lower margins on Amazon. But the bonus of Amazon is like the eyeballs and the ease, you know, the marketplace is already there. 

The audience is already there. All the infrastructure is already there. That was kind of the dream in 2015, like I mentioned earlier. A lot of people wanted to have, you know, digital nomad lifestyle, start an e com business, set up products. You know, Amazon handles fulfillment, they handle this, they handle that. 

The reality is now most Amazon businesses have a margin that's anywhere from like 15 to 20 percent, like 15 percent is like very normal now, and that's low, by the way, so like if you are selling DTC, usually your margins are like way better than 15 percent, but Amazon takes a lot of fees, category fees, there's advertising, which of course we manage, and that's like a necessary component to a large extent. 

But these things need to be carefully balanced, you know, think, think of it like a series of scales, you're trying to keep everything in equilibrium. If you run out of stock, that could be really bad. If you have product sourcing costs go up, which we certainly saw during COVID after COVID, if you have supply chain problems, if it's not redundant, that's going to give you issues. 

So there's a lot of fragility in that system, which I think was laid bare during the pandemic, especially if your supply chains were long, but most businesses are trying to eventually. Let's say graduate from Amazon. Now they'll still stay there and hopefully they'll have a nice slice of revenue there because it can be a new customer acquisition channel if you do it right. But generally speaking, that's the way they do it. 

The other way that I've seen is bigger brands that are already established that are in brick and mortar that are in Walmart, which is like, you know, one of the kings of like in person retail in the US of course, they go to Amazon with a very different perspective for them. It's another sales channel they're expanding into. 

But Amazon is such a unique beast that they kind of need to work with agencies or hire multiple people in house to like make sense of how to make it work. Because it's not like you can just put your content on like, I forget what they call it, but there's like these content distribution systems where you're like, all right, here's our photos, here's our bullet points, and it'll just distribute it to like 15 different marketplaces.

And then we sell in all those marketplaces now. I think it's called an ERP. You can't really do that with Amazon. Amazon has its own way of doing things. You have to... Pay attention to all their rules and you have to look at your feedback and because they do things the Amazon way. So that's like the other way to look at it.

And we work with both brands. We more primarily with like 3P sellers that are coming from the bottom up rather from the top down. But both are interesting to work with and provide their own like set of challenges. 

Alex Bond: And I can imagine Amazon is going to be incentivized to have companies compete with each other. I mean, that's just kind of like capitalism. One on one is that competition is going to be best for them. So having the end goal be to move away from that, where, you know, they're diametrically opposite things where I want my product to be sold and Amazon's going to want every product possible to be sold there. So I think that makes a lot of sense, just logically Brent. So thank you. 

Brent Zahradnik: Yeah. They call it the infinite shelf actually, Alex. And I kind of disagree that it's infinite because most people don't look past, you know, page two of the search results or the ads that show up, but you know, Jeff Bezos has a famous somewhat cryptic quote, which is like your margin is my opportunity.

Which is basically like saying, we're going to be the ones that at scale are able to come in and undercut. We're the ones who are going to enforce a map. So Amazon has done something for years, which is basically if you're selling on their marketplace and they find your product cheaper, other places, they're going to either like ban you from the buy box or they're going to lower your price.

They're going to make sure that they have the most attractive price because their whole thing, their whole Nexus is like, you know, one of the world's most customer centric companies. And what does that mean? Low prices is one of those things like low prices, fast delivery, good customer service. These kind of things are like the triad of Amazon's existence.

Now, if they've been able to reach that the last couple of years, I don't know, but that's like something that's very core to them. When you speak to people at Amazon, they always want to understand how it's going to help the end customer. And where's the data to back it up? It's part of their culture. It's very fascinating to talk to people from Amazon. 

The impact of customer reviews for successful Amazon marketing

Alex Bond: And one of the other things that you were touching on that I talked with the CEO of Debutify about recently is the value of reviews and how that word of mouth can impact a brand, a product or Amazon as a whole. So how important in your opinion are reviews and garnering reviews when trying to market products on Amazon?

Brent Zahradnik: It's one of the most critical things and Amazon a few years ago, actually, Alex made a distinction. So you have ratings and you have reviews. Ratings is where you Alex have a purchase on Amazon. You go in, you give it four stars. You don't give any explanation. That's a rating. A review is here's a photo.

Here's two paragraphs about why it's awesome. Or why it sucks. So Amazon we'll wait reviews and ratings differently. And they look at individuals rating history and actually weigh it differently. So the average you see on Amazon is actually a very fairly, you know, calculated average. 

In my opinion, they've had problems with it in the past, but like the reality is for any online purchase, and this is just data from the top of my head, you know, our clients, they usually have a one to 3% review rate.

So a hundred products purchased. Three reviews, like that's normal. That's tiny, right? Anything you can do to get that up is gonna, is gonna make a huge impact on your like standing on Amazon and you can take reviews to the bank like they're they're literally worth money. 

We saw this action the last couple years of people buying Amazon businesses and aggregators buying sometimes individual ASINs like individual Product listings on Amazon because hey, it has 10, 000 reviews. That's like starting hundred meter race 70 meters from the start line. That's like anyone else trying to get out the gate. You're already that far ahead. 

So it is absolutely critical to have in place some kind of system for gathering reviews, weeding out ones that are bad if possible, and like catching dissatisfied customers before they do that. And, you know, there's a halo effect. Like this is something I do a lot. 

Maybe you've done this. You're looking at something online and you want to buy it from the website. Maybe because it's, you know, better shipping. You want to support the company more directly instead of giving margin to Amazon and you just look at the reviews on Amazon first, you're like, this is the place where I'm going to vet this.

And there are extensions actually out there that'll help you, you know, weed out the reviews in Amazon that are suspect and the ones that are good. I've noticed that generally speaking, the extensions are getting less and less useful because the reviews are more and more clean these days. Amazon's kind of like a source of truth, right? So people check that not only if they're buying on Amazon, but everywhere else on the web. 

Increasing brand visibility on Amazon

Brent Zahradnik: So when we think about visibility on Amazon, that usually means like being found in search. Because that's the way that most people come to products on Amazon is they go there and they type in a search query. First two pages, or if you're on mobile, it's like an infinite scroll. 

And by the way, you know, more than 50% of traffic is mobile. So never forget, mobile is huge, whether on app or on the website. And the reality is a lot of developing countries, like let's say India, for example, which has a massive population and is more and more online every day.

Most people there, their first internet connected device is an Android phone. It's not a laptop. It's not a desktop computer like you and I had. Windows 95 in our parents basement, you know, dialing up on the internet. No, no, no. These people are on 5G. They have fast connections and they have you know Amazon app on their phone.

So they're shopping on mobile. And that's important to remember. That's an infinite scroll for the most part. You can just keep going on that. Yeah, I mean, visibility is about addressing the two areas that matter to Amazon. So there's like the art side of it, which is like, how's your copy? What's the brand perception?

What's unique about it? Visually? How does it look? How do the videos make people feel when they look at it? And that's the art and the human side. And then there's the robots side, which is like, are you using the right keywords? Is it structured properly? Amazon has what's called a flat file, which is a very, very boring topic I don't want to get into.

But basically, imagine like structured data inside of a very large spreadsheet. Amazon loves an Excel spreadsheet. And you can fill in all sorts of wonderful fields and data in there. And if you do that, then people searching will know, oh, this is a keto. Oh, this is like gluten free. Oh, this is like a veteran owned business.

You know, there's other things that can pop up on Amazon. So you can get these badges, get these modifiers, be found and search. And because what you're doing is just filling out metadata for the search engine to properly index you. So like I said, it's this robot side and then the art creative side and you need to mesh those two together.

It's a little bit of each. I wouldn't say it's like too heavily weighed on either one because You can have all the keywords in the world, but if you're listing is like sterile and uninteresting, it doesn't excite anybody. They might get there, but they're not going to convert. And Amazon takes every click, every conversion, every add to cart, every action on page as a signal, right?

So if no one's converting, they're going to stop promoting your product as much. It's not going to do well in the rankings. It's probably not even going to be affordable to advertise. It's really a blend of those two things and figuring those two things out. 

Alex Bond: And I think you're touching on something extremely valuable, Brent, and that is ease of access, especially with certain demographics, certain cultures of seeing something immediately getting on on my phone and thinking about buying it, that it is important to kind of cater to that impulsiveness. 

You know, that people can have instead of kind of being so in depth and and over the top and over copy that feels like it's selling me. Sometimes people just want something that verifies something I already know because I see it. I want it just give me a reason why to get it, you know, confirm my own biases. 

Brent Zahradnik: You know, I love that framing. Confirm my belief for me, please. I will buy your thing. 

Alex Bond: Realistically. That's how I think sometimes that's how other people think. I mean, if I hear one person say. Someone that I trust say, Hey, you need to get this sort of microphone equipment, this specific one. I'll go, okay, I'll go online. Most likely hear or read something that is echoing what he just told me. And I don't really need to get a second opinion. You know, that's how I am as a shopper.

And I feel like a lot of other people are like that. So how is it kind of trying to be able to cater to both types of shoppers? Ones that could be like. Me who are impulsive, I'm generally a decisive person. I know I'm kind of rambling a bit, but when I go to the grocery store with my significant other, she'll spend five minutes figuring out which checks mix to get.

And I'm like, boom, this one right off the shelf, you know, I'm just a much more. Impulsive and decisive shopper, she's much more, you know, looking at the prices, what's kind of the calorie count, that sort of thing. So how are you able to cater to both audiences, specifically on Amazon? 

Brent Zahradnik: That's a wonderful question. And I like how Alex, you got no time for Chex Mix, man. You are just in out. You're making that decision.

Alex Bond: I'm a 20 minute grocery shopper, man. 

Brent Zahradnik: The sweet one, the salty one, corn, I don't care. Boom, done. I love it.

Yeah. I usually get lost in some of the aisles. I live in France, by the way. So some of the supermarkets here have like three aisles of just like yogurt is a big thing in France. People love yogurt.

So that you get lost in those yogurt aisles and that's where my head starts to spin. I don't feel that same way online. I mean, I think what a lot of people do on Amazon and this bears out in the data is they will buzz through the Amazon ecosystem. They'll add a bunch of stuff to cart.

But adding it to cart doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to buy it because if you look at the rate from cart ads to purchases for some products is incredibly low, especially higher ticket items, you know, three, 400. We have clients that sell stuff that's even like over 1000USD. And those have a lot of card ads.

People consider it, they come back to it after a couple days, maybe they wait for it to have a coupon or the price to drop, which by the way is a little Amazon shopper tip. You can get an email when they drop the price or a coupon goes live and you can save some money. Yeah, that's a classic move.

And so I think there is still comparison shopping going on, but at the same time, Amazon's whole conceit with prime is like as much friction as there is with online shopping, remove it. You know, literally I think they patented one click, right? Like one click checkout, which I use all the time for Kindle books because they're digital, right?

So I get a book recommendation from a trusted source. Like you said, I was an entrepreneur friend who says, oh, you've got to read this book. I buy it immediately. You know, I don't think twice about it. It's 10, 12 euros, whatever. It's not enough for me to like, think about it and then I'll get to it.

But obviously higher ticket items, it requires like a longer consideration period. I think it also really depends on demographics. I'm going to pick on the Germans a little bit because I got a lot of German friends in the ecosystem here. I live close to Germany. I go there for conferences occasionally, but there's massive cultural differences between a society that is like the US. 

Where consumerism is like a group sport and like everyone is in it and like buying stuff all the time. Versus Germany, where they're very interested in durability and quality and the specifications of something. They're not so focused on price. They want to own it for years. Famously, copywriting in German are, you know, already difficult because of the language.

But secondarily difficult because the things that Germans are interested in is not really the same kind of stuff that Americans are. They're not interested in your long story about how you grew up in the suburbs and your, your dog did this. And so you made this dog toy, which is like the best dog toy ever.

They want to know, like, how large it is, what materials it's made out of, is it high quality, is it going to last, will the dog get sick, well, how will the dog enjoy it, they want to know all the specific details and specifications, they're not interested in, like, the marketing stuff, where I might be more taken by that, maybe you, because of our shared American cultural background. 

It'd be like, oh, that's such a cool story about that dog toy. I don't know how long it doesn't matter. And then you might order it and be like, oh, it's too small. My dog's actually like a huge dog. That's one difference always to keep in mind for these listings. And for consideration is, you know, who is the culture you're addressing here? And Amazon is in many countries. 

Now they're in like half of Europe. We didn't was fairly recent Poland a couple of years ago, launching in South Africa and Columbia this year with any luck. So they continue to expand and all these cultures are very different. Very different places. 

I mean, I think the two that are probably the most similar are Canada and the US., because, you know, our North American brothers there we have a lot in common with them culturally, but everywhere else, you know, UK and US, quite different. Obviously, France, Germany, quite different. Poland versus Columbia, you know, those two places couldn't be more different.

So when you are a brand scaling across all these marketplaces, if you're lucky enough to, you know, to do that, each of these marketplaces has to be tackled with a different context. I'm not sure if that answers the question too directly, but I'm fascinated by these cultural differences as someone who travels in Europe for business and for pleasure a lot.

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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