How to compete with Amazon (and win) during the holiday shopping season

Kerri McCarthy Dec 21 2017

How to Keep More of the Holiday Pie in Paid Search

The holiday shopping season brings many rewards for eCommerce businesses, but over the past several years that brings a familiar seasonal challenge: Amazon. It’s no secret that Amazon ramps up its SEM competitive presence during the holiday shopping season – beginning heavily in November, through December. But just how big of a slice is Amazon taking from your holiday pie? And how on Earth can you even compete with the 800 pound holiday gorilla in the room?

Here are three things to look for to gauge Amazon’s competitive reach during the holiday season. And, three ways you can take action to compete more effectively.

How to compete effectively with Amazon during the holiday online advertising push

Dramatic reenactment of an 800 pound holiday gorilla.

Gauging Amazon’s Competitive Reach in Your Market During the Holiday

Monitor Impression Share

Amazon spends more to compete against eComm businesses of all kinds during the holidays, be it brands or retail. No surprise here! The effects are most notable in their increased Impression Share. Take a look at your Auction Insights over time, and you will see their share of voice increase and get closer to your own during the holidays.

One of my eComm clients has seen Amazon’s Impression Share increase 3x this season compared to last year. No doubt Amazon is doing more of a push in 2017 because, well shucks, it’s worked well for them in the past. And we’ll likely see this trend continue.

While there’s not a magical formula for exactly when to act if you see Amazon surging relative to your own Impression Share, you should have an eye on your Auction Insights throughout the year. Plan and budget accordingly for 2018 if you’ve modeled the value Impression Share on your overall sales and you’re seeing the wrong numbers this holiday.

Top of Page Rate

One thing you simply cannot ignore is whether Amazon starts beating you in the auction. Compare Amazon’s Top of Page rate against your own. Since we know over 90% of clicks occur on Page 1 of Google, and over 30% of all clicks go to the ad in first position, we have to take notice.

If you hadn’t already done this months ago, you need to determine a good holiday-adjusted ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) for your business, and then bid up the keywords with the best return for your business to compete with Amazon’s across-the-board avalanche. It may sting a little to compete with Amazon in a space where you held a top position before. But, the holiday returns are likely to outweigh the increased CPC. Just remember to lower your bids during your off-season.

Check for Brand Infringement

How often do you look up your brand name via search engine? Now’s a good time to do it if you don’t already do this regularly.

Is Amazon (or anyone else for that matter) using your brand name in their ad copy without your permission? It doesn’t matter whether this is dynamic or manual, if it’s happening it’s likely against AdWords policy. And you can easily submit a complaint via an online form through AdWords support. For next year, if you can get ahead of the holiday rush, there is usually a short turnaround time to resolve these complaints.

Bing Ads, on the other hand, will not help out in this case. The latest word we got on a similar trademark complaint against Amazon was that they will not serve as a third-party mediator and that their trademark policy deems it “lawful fair use.” So, pick your ad battles in this case.

Is all hope lost? Not at all. Here are some tips to beat Amazon during the holiday push.

Tips to Beat Amazon During the Holiday Push

Bid up on Brand

Do not shy away from bidding up on your branded keywords during the holidays. You will still pay the least amount per click of any business despite increased competition from Amazon. Google favors the brand, rightfully.

Also, don’t dismiss the concept of brand loyalty no matter what you’ve read about “brand agnostic” millennials’ buying habits. Imagine clicking on an Amazon ad (or any other retailer) in Position 1 when you expected to go straight to the brand. Mismatched expectation and results are a bad experience for the searcher, no matter the reason. And any lost business because of this misdirected click is a bad experience for you.

Unique Products

What products of yours is Amazon selling? Most likely they’re not offering your latest, in-season products, nor your entire inventory.

Keep these uniquely available products in mind when you are writing ad copy and optimizing your product feed and shopping campaigns.

Focus on Content

First, you can win with your Ad Content. Amazon doesn’t always optimize its paid search ad content beyond using basic keyword insertion in the headline. The 2nd headline and description line tends to be generic Amazon language. For example, in a recent search for a well-known beauty product brand, we observed that Amazon’s headline contained the relevant brand keyword, but the description was, “Shop Devices, Apparel, Books, Music & More. Free Shipping on Qualified Orders.”

Trust me, you can be more enticing and relevant than Amazon here.

Secondly, you can win with your landing pages and product content. You have probably spent years and lots of marketing dollars creating a unique brand experience for your customers. Amazon has not. Now is the time to rely on that content to help in the battle with Amazon for those hard-earned shopping dollars.

When a searcher lands on your site, they are presumably getting the best content experience possible. Beautiful product images, product stories, and don’t forget customer reviews and social sharing opportunities. This experience can be very valuable measured against the standard Amazon product landing page experience.

Never fear, dear Search Marketers. With research, preparation, and a little fearlessness in advance of the online holiday shopping season, you stand a good chance of competing with Amazon for some of that holiday pie.




  1. NIEC


    This was a great and interesting post for Digital marketing. I have really enjoyed all of this very cool information. Thanks for sharing

  2. Gary


    Thanks Kerri, will share this with some clients, they generally dislike the big A for the huge fees they siphon out of sales.


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