The Amazon Effect   //   April 27, 2023

Amazon has quietly removed editorial recommendations from search results

Amazon search results are no longer showcasing so-called “editorial recommendations,” marking the end of an opaque program that many viewed as pay-for-play.

For years, Amazon had a program called Onsite Associates — known internally as OSP — that worked with publishers to match top-rated products with editorialized blurbs. For example, in a screenshot taken in 2021, search results for masks had a section from the blog Gear Review that showcased the publisher’s top picks. According to sellers, despite the high positioning in search results, the placement brought mixed results — likely having to do with the fact that brands offered the spot had to meet top-seller performance metrics like having more than 100 reviews and a rating above four stars.

But at the beginning of the month, Amazon took out that section of the search results and replaced it with more ad units. “At Amazon, we’re always experimenting and evaluating the potential of our products and services to deliver customer value, and we regularly make adjustments based on those assessments,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Keri Bertolino in an emailed statement to Modern Retail. “While we’ve made the decision to discontinue this specific experience that uses article content from publishers, we are actively exploring new opportunities to test where and when we show articles across Amazon to ensure we’re showing customers the most relevant and helpful content for their shopping journey.”

For many sellers, this is a welcome change — as it could bring down the cost of ads and make the search experience less cluttered. But there has been a cottage industry growing for years capitalizing on connecting sellers with publishers participating in the OSP program.

“People paid PR firms to get access to it,” said Jon Elder, CEO and founder of Black Label Advisor. If a product was chosen by a publisher, it could get top billing on the results. “It took up a huge spot on the search results,” Elder said. “It was very in your face — a really really high-value spot.”

But it seems like Amazon is focusing on other ways to work with publishers rather than having their content synthesized on search results. “Back in August of 2021, there was a major shift in the Amazon OSP content,” said Kris Weissman, general manager of SellerRocket, an agency that does PR for e-commerce clients. Amazon, Weissman said, told publishers that posts needed to be formatted in a very specific type of way in order to get placement on Amazon. Internally, it seemed clear that Amazon was in the process of de-prioritizing the OSP program.

“Overall, transactions and performance from the content was declining,” Weissman said.

As such, agencies like his have been working on growing other areas of the business. With OSP being sunset, publishers aren’t being paid commissions for editorial content that is posted on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean all publisher-Amazon relations are dead. “[Publishers] still get affiliate fees from their own native content,” said Weissman. “It’s just not any content that lived on Amazon.”

With that, “we are already shifting [our focus] to the native publisher content,” he said.

Weissman wasn’t the only one noticing the editorial recommendations not leading to conversions. “When you look at impressions and opportunity, it just hasn’t been performing,” said Abi Harmon, CEO of Perpetua. “They’ve been looking to replace it with something that’s going to be a better customer experience.”

Harmon added that it may mean that agencies will have to rethink editorial strategies. The focus will no longer be about getting a spot on a list at the top of the search results, but instead focusing on the editorial placements that are known to drive organic traffic. “I do think it’s going to be a pivot of looking at measurement and attribution,” she said.

For most onlookers, this move isn’t a huge shock — in fact, many expected it. “Us as a business had been pivoting to external content over the years,” said Weissman. “That’s where, one, the value was and, two, what the brands were wanting.”

On the seller side, too, this could be seen as good news. “Most third-party seller are happy with the change because it’s been replaced by another PPC ad slot, so bids are going to go down,” said Elder. “That’s opened up a whole other suite of advertising opportunities for sellers — it kind of levels the playing field.”