Amazon Keywords: The 250-Character Limit

The 250-Character Cap: Protecting your Amazon Keywords

UPDATED August 2018.
Previously sellers had up to 250 bytes; at that time spaces & punctuation did not count against this limit. Just 1 year later Amazon has updated their policy to be even more restrictive.

Amazon confirmed that back-end search terms (keywords) for Seller Central are being capped at 250 bytes; meaning your keywords actually need to be less than 250 bytes. This has generated intense discussion across the Internet – especially since their explanation leaves many questions unanswered. Sellers are wondering whether their listings are now at a disadvantage. They may be at risk of losing their place in search rank, and thus at risk of losing sales.

What Does This Mean for You?

The change in Amazon keywords could have a significant impact on customers’ ability to find your products, if your keywords aren’t optimized.

New Sellers

This can affect your starting ranking as well as your listings’ acceptance by Amazon.

Existing Sellers

You may not be ranking for any of your existing backend search terms if they are over 249 characters, and that could impact your placement in search.

Before we discuss how to address this huge announcement, let’s dive a bit deeper into these hidden search terms.

What are Keywords, and Why are They Important?

Amazon’s keyword or “hidden search term” fields live in the back end of your listing – meaning that they are not seen by shoppers. Here, Amazon allows you to list additional terms or concepts that are highly relevant to your product. This allows Amazon to tie your product to those additional terms and thus show up in a wider variety of relevant search results. It gives you a way to increase the reach of your product without having to “keyword stuff” your title or bullets (which are mined for keywords by Amazon automatically). For example, if you sell couches, you may want to list terms like “loveseat”, “sectional”, and “sofa” in your backend keywords so that shoppers can find your product even if they’re using slightly different terminology.

What Does This Change Mean?

It means that only 250 bytes of keyword data will be indexed for search, even though it may appear as though you have more (for listings written in English, 1 letter or number = 1 byte). Spaces & punctuation also count towards the 250-character limit, however you don’t have to separate terms with commas or semicolons. This 250-character limit includes all 5 search term fields combined.

How do I Fix or Create Hidden Keywords?

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the best practices of what to include in your Amazon keywords (and what not to). From there, we recommend using a wide variety of relevant sources to collect a solid set of highly relevant terms, and then revisiting the keywords periodically to make sure that you’re keeping them as relevant as possible. We’ll go through these three steps in more detail below:

What Belongs in my Backend Keywords? (and What Doesn’t)

Your Amazon keywords are not seen by shoppers – only your front-facing content (titles, bullets, description) is. Therefore you should use the most popular terms in that front-facing content, and then fill your backend keyword fields with other closely related terms. You do not need to add any words to your backend keywords that are already in your title or bullets, as these are already indexed for search.

The following terms definitely should be part of your Amazon keyword strategy (again, remember not to duplicate terms with what’s already in your title and bullets):

  • Synonyms
  • Hypernyms (a more general way to describe a specific object: for example, “silverware” is a hypernym of “fork”)
  • Important components, features, or uses
  • Closely related terms
  • Common abbreviations

The following terms are either unnecessary and/or prohibited by Amazon:

  • Duplicates of words used in the title or bullets
  • Alternate spacings (pillow case / pillowcase)
  • Subjective or time-sensitive statements
  • Unrelated or irrelevant terms
  • Brands/manufacturers (your own or competitors)
  • Alternate versions of words, such as pluralization

The following have conflicting information within Amazon’s official documentation about their use. They may or may not be redundant, but they will not harm or count against you:

  • Spelling variations (donut / doughnut)
  • Hyphenated and non-hyphenated versions of terms (thank-you / thank you)
  • Multi-word phrases

Amazon recommends against duplicating keywords, but also uses duplicated keywords in their examples and encourages users to list search terms in logical order, which is sometimes impossible to do without duplicating a term.

Where do I Find the Best Amazon Keywords?

Keyword Research Tools

There are a variety of paid & free options out there, such as Google Keyword Planner, Sonar, and Keywordtool.io. While Amazon keeps its search algorithm secret, these can still be extremely useful for finding alternate terms and getting data on search volume and relative popularity.

Amazon Itself

Mine your Sponsored Listings for customer search terms! You may also want to check out the listings of bestselling competitors and/or top-ranked listings of similar items to see what phrases they include in their titles, bullets, and descriptions. Top reviews and questions/answers can even be useful for finding words that real shoppers tend to use to describe your product. Even the auto-complete feature on Amazon.com’s main search bar can be a handy place to pick up a few additional terms.

Other Marketing & Sales Materials

Review sell sheets, website and brochure copy, customer testimonials, and other materials that directly describe your product or similar products. Look for additional terms or common feature call-outs that didn’t make it into your titles or bullets, but might be useful in your backend keywords.

How do I Manage Keywords so my Listings Stay in Top Shape?

Amazon is a challenging and complex marketplace, and it requires a significant amount of time and expertise to run efficiently. It’s important to review your copy, keywords, and overall performance regularly, and be smart about using data from marketing initiatives and sales trends to continue optimizing your listings. If you want to get expert eyes on your ecommerce listings and find out how to increase your sales through this kind of optimization, drop us a line.

Tiger Paton

Tiger Paton was the Creative Lead at Digital Brandworks, a digital consultancy that provides customized solutions for improving marketplace performance on Amazon and beyond.

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