I asked Ken Freeman, a former Amazon seller turned consultant, if a brand could still make millions on that marketplace. “It’s hard but not impossible,” he told me. “Eight years ago you could get rich selling yoga mats.”
Having launched as a bootstrapped business, Freeman now seeks established companies as clients, preferably $10 million or more in revenue per year.
He and I recently spoke, addressing heightened Amazon competition, black-hat sellers, and more. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give us your elevator pitch.
Ken Freeman: I’ve been in the ecommerce space for nearly a decade. I started with bootstrapped drop-shipping businesses, which evolved into a bootstrapped FBA business, which evolved into a seven-figure company I sold in 2019 to Thrasio, an aggregator.
Since then, I’ve started many more Amazon businesses. That’s my specialty. I love exploring the Amazon marketplace. I created multiple businesses, and for the last year and a half, I have been vice president of Amazon at The Ridge, the wallet brand. I’ve recently started an Amazon agency called Full Circle, which focuses on direct-to-consumer sellers.
I love strategy. I’ve played nearly 10,000 games of chess, I’ve done jujitsu for about 15 years, and I’m very competitive. I’m not the best product or branding person, but I love teaming up with folks with incredible products and brands. The idea behind Full Circle is to merge those with cutting-edge strategies on Amazon.
Bandholz: Many sellers like me are wary of black hat competitors.
Freeman: Black hat tactics can be many things, such as competitors clicking on your sponsored ad listings or taking down your listings — via humans or robots. The worst is where there’s a clear battle going on, and black hat sellers will artificially inflate their rankings. It’s easy to get tons of Amazon accounts in China, for example. It’s a matter of one account going down and switching to another. It’s not a long-term strategy. But they’ve got some crazy tricks. It’s both impressive and terrible at the same time.
One of my brands was number one in a competitive space. It was wild how often we experienced takedowns, where competitors would falsely allege a violation from us, and Amazon would then remove our listings until we proved otherwise. Competition is intense when you’re in the top 10 spots. But until then you won’t get aggressive action against you. There are telltale signs to watch for, such as ad spend going off the charts or budget running out. Amazon has some automation to detect click fraud, and it returns that money. But it can’t detect everything.
Bandholz: How do you succeed on Amazon legitimately?
Freeman: Obsess over learning and surrounding yourself with others doing the same thing. I’ve been in a seven-figure mastermind group for five years now. Stay on the cutting edge of what is going on. You have to master every aspect of the pay-per-click game. The amount of sponsored ad spots on Amazon is insane. It must be 4-times what it was when I sold my brand. Amazon makes so much money from ads. It’s a pay-to-play system. You have to master it.
Scrutinize data for every product. Look closely at the keywords and see how your pay-per-click spend performs on a keyword level. What’s your return on ad spend? Use that to boost the most important keywords — your “golden keywords.” Get crazy granular with data. Amazon has provided some amazing tools in the last six months to do that.
Bandholz: So it’s all about pay-per-click ads?
Freeman: You have to do everything to win, more than PPC alone. A good review rate and sales velocity on a keyword level will help that keyword rank higher. Your listing has to convert well. “A+ Content” is an Amazon program that is now free. It used to be crazy expensive. It helps your listing convert better. I’m data-oriented. I see ones and zeros when I think about Amazon.
It’s all about optimizing your click-through rate via pricing and images. Titles are important, too. We research every keyword. What is the conversion rate for that keyword in terms of the market average and the top three?
We track performance over time. Say we change the main image to improve the click-through. Once we’re comfortable with the conversion rate — in the top 10 of the category — we can push the ads.
A proper review funnel is critical. Amazon’s terms of service address soliciting reviews. Essentially you cannot pay for them or offer incentives. Some things can be tastefully done, even if they violate Amazon’s rules.
If you have loyal community members that love your brand, you can entice them through email lists and group forums. You can say, “Hey, love you guys, and thanks for being a part of the community. We want to offer you a product for free. We’re getting started on Amazon. We’d love your support.”
You can buy reviews through Amazon, too. The service is called Vine. I recommend it depending on your product. There’s the “honeymoon period,” which lasts for roughly 45 days from the launch of a listing. When you’re getting started, you want to hit the ground running in terms of PPC. You can get 30 reviews from Vine for about $250. It’s extremely cost-effective on a per-review basis.
Bandholz: Can a seller still make millions on Amazon?
Freeman: It’s hard but not impossible. Eight years ago, you could get rich selling a yoga mat on Amazon. Thankfully, I got into Amazon before the biggest wave. Many DTC owners have a very negative sentiment around Amazon, which I understand.
But many consumers will only buy on Amazon. They could see your Facebook ads and go right to Amazon and click or type your brand name or keyword. If you’re not there, likely a cheaper, crappier alternative will be. Without a presence on Amazon, you’re not catching that spillover, which can be material.
Bandholz: Where can people reach out to you?