Penguins and Amazon Listing Optimizations

Stop me if I say something new.

The cream always rises to the top.

Only the strong survive.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Creme de la creme.

March is a new platform, and like my son, it is learning how to run. It clearly walks just fine, and evolves slightly more each day.

So what does this have to do with cream and keywords?

The easiest way to explain might be using Google as an example. And for that example to work, you need to ask this: What happens when you google something?


ALGORITHM PIC ON RIGHT – This is how Google finds your answers, silly goose.

Several years ago, as the internet and affiliate marketing was beginning to gain traction, people quickly figured out how to game the system. It was not about creating amazing content and wonderful information based websites, but rather keyword stuffing and backlinks.


Websites would pop up, with the specific intent on selling affiliate products, ranging from Amazon Associate based sites to whatever high paying Clickbank product could be sold. Build site, buy or fabricate backlinks, rank on google page one, and earn.

Rinse and repeat.


Penguin construction hat picture with caption – Penguin came and rebuilt the foundation of search.

If you were to google “Penguin update 2012” millions of results would come up, and you’d quickly get an idea of how drastic the changes were. Here is a quick summary:


To summarize, at least for what is most important for us, Keyword stuffing became useless. There were other changes and other consequences, but I’m mostly talking keywords right now.

But the crazy part….

Every keyword stuffed page and site LOST their page 1 ranking.

Catastrophic for the people who had been “gaming” the system rather than providing value.

Amazon and Google are very similar, and I think we can especially find some connections between Penguin 1.0 and last weeks changes to the T.O.S.

After Amazon disallowed incentivized reviews, they took it a step further, and, realistically a step in the better direction for providing value to the end user (EXACTLY LIKE GOOGLE DID YEARS AGO WHEN IT DE-RANKED KEYWORD STUFFED SITES), the removed all the BS reviews.

Obviously this angered the people who had been soliciting reviews in fast fashion, just like Penguin.

And as all street people can attest, fast money spends fast.


Let’s have a quick summary, so that we are all on the same page as of this minute.

  1. Google penalized keyword stuffing by removing its ranking
  2. Google penalized link schemes
  3. What once was ok on google changed in favor of providing clear value
  4. Amazon changed review system
  5. Amazon penalized incentivized reviews
  6. What once was ok on Amazon changed in favor of providing clear value

Everything I above is to illustrate the simple fact that just because something might work right now, if it is not white-hat then it likely will not work long term.

And that is why I do not keyword stuff my listings on Merch.


Ok, not really the end.

Now I can actually talk about keywords!


We are given five spaces during which to use keywords and describe the shirt we are selling.

Here is my strategy for each space:

1. Brand

In my brand I grab a few relevant keywords for the specific niche my shirt is in and start there. I also use the plural versions of words like shirt and whatever is my main category.

For example, if the shirt is for a truck driver, I would use “Truck Drivers Shirts and Supplies” as my brand.

I have very few one-off t shirts. To test a niche, I generally will make 5 or 10 designs, depending on how many existing designs, ranks of them, ease of coming up with ideas, and gut feeling I have (the gut feeling is a strange one, I know, and I will write more about it in the future, for now you just gotta deal with it). Since I have several shirts in a specific niche, I will carry that brand name over to the other designs.

2. Title

In the title section, I use a similar approach. First always is to get a few relevant keywords. The main ones I will reuse from the brand, except now I will make them single versions of the same word. “Truck Driver T Shirt” will be included, and then a few keywords from the design.

I do not simply repeat the words from the design in my title, unless a trending design, because nobody is searching for my specific phrase.

If there are other synonyms that I can use here, I will. “Freight Operator Truck Driver T Shirt.”

Finally, I will add any other adjective or descriptive word that can fit and applies to this design. Words like Dad, Father, LTL, and anything relevant to actual design. “LTL Freight Operator Truck Driver T Shirt For Dad” is a title I would use.

The reason I use plural letters in the brand and not the title is because different people will search different terms, and I want to get both of the most important keywords in plural and singular version as high up in my listing as possible. Someone might search trucker shirts, and another might put shirt for truck drivers. I like to cover as many keywords as I can, as quick as I can.

3. Key Product Features

There are two spots here, and I generally use them for different strategies.

In the first spot, I will take my design and repeat some of the words if It is text, or I will write words to describe it. I will also look up in the thesaurus some similar words, and add those as well. After these few tasks I’ll have a list of several words I want to use in my listing.

Then I ask myself a few questions:

*Who will be searching for my shirt?
*How will they search it out?
*What are they looking for?

I will take my keywords, and I will create sentences for them. As mentioned above, there is no keyword stuffing for me. Full, complete, sensical sentences. Answering the questions above with the words from my list easily becomes my first bullet point.

In the second spot, I follow a similar strategy.

Now that I have targeted who will be searching for my shirt, and how, I ask myself one more question.

*Where will they wear it?

Now I make a similar list, of places that are specific to the niche. Like truck stops, gas stations, mechanics, and so on.

I take those places, and if any keywords that didn’t fit in bullet point one, I add those and make some more sentences. It sounds tedious and annoying, and truthfully, it is at times. However once I began doing this, my sales improved.

So I do it on every single design now.

Brianna Moeller-Greene wrote an amazing blog on her process for keyword research here, and a lot of what I do stems from watching her progress as well as several others in the Facebook groups.

4. Description

Initially I was not using this space well, but I feel I do now.

Here I will basically google search whatever niche I am posting in, and look up words and terms that are in that specific lingo.

Sticking with the trucker theme, I just searched “words only a truck driver would know.”


From here I clicked the first link, because it looked promising.

So now I would craft a quick narrative that would be very general to truck drivers, something that I can copy and paste to every truck driver shirt I make.

It would look something like this, based on my google search and the words that I could fit to make sense:

“Breaker Breaker Good Buddy, there is a checkpoint charlie up ahead and mama bear is rolling discos.” If you are a coast to coast truck driver, you likely can translate. Which would mean this brand is designed by you, for you, and these t shirts are perfect for every run in with a city kitty. Driving short haul loads or cross country FOB pickups is a task not for the faint of heart, so be proud of your skill in handling heavy equipment. Lot lizards will stare with envy when you wear your “Truck Drivers Shirts and Supplies” tee!

That would be my description, and my last spot to enter information on the Merch listing.

That is my process.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, initially.

After several times of doing it, it gets quicker and quicker. But for me the hardest part is by far keyword research and writing all this stuff out. It doesn’t take long, but because it requires concentrated thought it seems like more effort.

Everyone is very clear on this being a new avenue for Amazon, and as such it will change over the coming years.

But the lessons from Google Penguin updates (and really Amazon cannot make this point any clearer either, they constantly make us aware of who is the most important part of the buy/sell equation, and it is not the seller) has taught me that no matter what, so long as I keep the end user in mind, I am safe with quality content.

And since I am also a consumer, until I begin searching for things like “basketball t shirt basketball net basketball hoop player birthday christmas hanukah gift” I believe writing clear and concise sentences, with proper keywords, is the way to go.

As such, I believe I will be prepared and safe when Amazon begins its next round of updates and changes.

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