Search on Amazon has turned into a sponsors' arms race

And it can be overwhelming when you're just trying to buy some cereal.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has three times been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Doing a search for "cereal" or "detergent" on Amazon will show you a prominent list of sponsored products on its results page. It's not until you scroll past that section, as well as the following section showing products from Amazon's own 365 Everyday Value brand, that you'll see the rest of the results.  

The e-commerce giant has increasingly been cramming its search results page with ads as it works to grow its advertising business, Recode reported Monday. 

And brands want in. Compared to last year, the amount spent on sponsored products on Amazon searches went up 165 percent in the second quarter of 2018, according to marketing agency Merkle.

With sponsored ads, brands bid to have their products appear in searches for related terms. For example, if you search for cereal, Kellogg's Raisin Bran Crunch could pay to show up at the top of those results. 


Sponsored ads and products from Amazon's own 365 Everyday Value brand dominate the search results for "cereal."

Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

Recode found that these sponsored ads showed up for items ranging from lotion to phone chargers. In some instances, the sponsored ads take up almost the full page before scrolling. 

This advertising model could prove to be increasingly beneficial for both Amazon and brands that sell products on the site, given that more than half of online shoppers start searching for products on Amazon instead of search engines like Google. Advertising is also Amazon's fastest-growing segment, according to Recode. 

Jason Goldberg, senior vice president of commerce at digital marketing agency SapientRazorfish, told Recode that the competition is leading to a "perfectly escalating arms race where all the trends are to spend more money to buy more ads to have better visibility on Amazon."

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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