What do you need to know about
Keyword Searches, Wishlisting, and other Seller Requests;
and where does it fit into
Amazon’s TOS (Terms of Service)?
I will start by stating that Amazon’s TOS is purposely vague so that it is open to interpretation. This benefits them but puts us at a huge disadvantage.
There are so many people getting their review accounts wiped by Amazon but Amazon will not give them any specific information as to why this is happening. My heart goes out to these people who have spent so much time and energy into establishing themselves as a top ranked reviewer and then it is all just gone.
For those of us who are still reviewing, we are looking for guidance but there is none forthcoming from Amazon. At this point, we can only go with what we consider as being a fully informed decision in regards to many matters. A reviewer has a responsibility to gather as much information as possible, examining all angles. Educating ourselves is the only protection we have at this point.
There are a few things we do know about writing reviews, such as who can and can’t write a review and what we need to specifically include in a Disclaimer. There are also some very basic guidelines provided by Amazon on how to write a review in their Customer Creation Guidelines. I have elaborated on this in my article on How Do I Write a Review? What Makes a Good Product Review? However, this isn’t enough to go on and we still don’t know what we can do to protect our accounts.
Before I get into the main discussion about Keyword Searching, Wishlisting, and other Seller Requests, let’s look at what I could find for
Seller Guidelines and Reviewer Guidelines.
“Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers’ experiences with products and services — positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free or discount copy of the product. If you offer a free or discount product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free or discount product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”
“Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.
The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact.”
It doesn’t give us much to go on does it? Wouldn’t it be great to have a set of guidelines with specific things we have to do and a list of things we shouldn’t do? Instead, we have a very few things we know of and a huge list of things that we continually speculate about.
Again, Amazon’s TOS is purposely vague to fit whatever
Amazon wants it to be at any given point in time.
So where do activities like Keyword Searches, Wishlisting, and other Seller Requests fall into Amazon’s TOS?
There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not a Seller actually can or even should require Reviewers to participate in things like keyword searching, adding items to their wishlist, or even having them ‘ask questions’ on the product page for their listing. Some people will say this has been talked to death but I still see it being brought up in other FB groups so it is relevant. There will always, hopefully, be new reviewers who ask the same questions that we once asked and debated for countless hours.
All of the conversations have been interesting, some of them more than lively. Some of the conversations have frankly gotten out of hand. There shouldn’t be any conversation that turns into a Seller vs Reviewer debate and certainly not an Admin vs Reviewer debate. Reviewing should never become a situation where you feel pitted against someone, especially someone you are working with. Admins and Reviewers should work together, supporting one another, educating one another. Healthy, respectful debate should always be welcome in any situation.
As reviewers, we are often asked to jump through hoops simply to order the product we are going to review.
Why would a Seller ask us to do anything extra other than request a review?
Because it helps them in some way.
How does it help the Sellers?
Since I am not a Seller I can only go by what I have learned through reading the documentation we do have access to, from Sellers sharing what they know, and from the discussions going on about this in different Facebook groups. Here is what I have learned.
- One of the biggest trends has been requiring keyword searches. Sellers input keywords for their product listing in a program called Listing Optimization in Seller Central. Keywords are then tracked and measured as ONE of the things that Amazon uses to formulate Product Ranking. Every Seller’s goal is to be the #1 product in their category and be the first thing a person sees when they are looking for something specific. Asking us to search for the exact keywords that they have chosen for their product is artificially inflating their metrics.
- Sometimes Sellers will require us to add their product to a public Wishlist and send them a screenshot as proof. Why would they have us do this? Why cause extra work for someone you want to review your product? Because items showing up in Wishlists is another metric that Amazon uses in formulating Product Ranking.
- What about Sellers who require us to ask and/or answer questions on the Product Listing page? What is wrong with this, isn’t it just being helpful? No, questions and answers are also metrics that Amazon measures. This is obvious by the fact that is was recently added to our Amazon Personal Profiles. They should come from consumers and be answered by other consumers or perhaps the Seller. Well, aren’t we consumers? Yes, of course, we are. And if you have a question be sure to ask it. If you feel you are able to answer a question, then by all means do it. Amazon wants this to happen naturally, though, not in a contrived manner. Again, why would the Seller ask you to do something that is causing you to do extra work beyond requesting a review?
- I have had Sellers ask, even tell me, not to click on the link to their product until I am ready to buy it. Why? Because every time someone clicks on a product on Amazon but doesn’t purchase it right away, those metrics are captured and it negatively affects their conversion rates.
So many people have asked themselves, and others, where do I go from here? “Maybe I shouldn’t do this but where does it say in black and white that I shouldn’t it,” is something I have heard a lot. Along with the facts presented in the Seller TOS, I have 2 compelling pieces of correspondence to share along with some very insightful thoughts.
Seller TOS: General Guidelines: Last Bullet Point: “Misuse of Search and Browse: When customers use Amazon’s search engine and browse structure, they expect to find relevant and accurate results. To protect the customer experience, all product-related information, including keywords and search terms, must comply with the guidelines provided under Optimize Listings for Search and Browse. Any attempt to manipulate the search and browse experience is prohibited.” Taken from Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions
This email has been used a lot in the conversations about Seller Manipulation. I am sure many of you have seen this, but just as many have not. This is a screenshot of an email between a Seller (yes, it was a Seller, not an admin as many of us thought) and Amazon Seller Support. The Seller is asking if it is okay to ask a buyer to search for a product instead of providing a direct link. This is what is referred to as Keyword Searching. For those of you (me) who find it difficult to read screenshots, I have made this image somewhat large.
The answer is a definitive NO, a seller can not ask a buyer to search for specific keywords. It is a violation of Seller Policy. It goes on to say that the buyer’s account will not be ‘reviewed’ meaning that if they catch the Seller doing it, Seller Support will not be looking at the buyers account to penalize the buyer.
There are two additional points I want you to consider here.
1. The Seller did not say that the person doing the purchasing was a Reviewer. If he had, there may have been a different answer as to how the buyers account would be handled.
2. Support told him that the seller performance team is closely watching sellers accounts, which is, of course, true. Seller Support doesn’t have anything to do with monitoring Reviewer accounts.
That does not mean that Customer Reviews does not monitor Reviewer accounts for promotions that are processed for Sellers who have had their account flagged for Policy Violations. It does not mean that even if Seller Support and Customer Reviews never communicate, that there is not a team that acts as oversight to the issues that are flagged within the respective departments and works on making correlations between the two.
Even if there were never any communication between the two teams, why would you want to do something for a Seller when you know that it is a violation of Seller TOS?
A friend, Karen Leigh McConnell, took matters into her own hands and decided to write to Jeff Bozos himself to ask if seller requests such as Keyword Searching, Wishlisting or any other Seller Requests are activities that a Reviewer should participate in.
Here is a screenshot of a letter that Karen received in reply to her letter to Jeff Bezos. He requested that Herbie, who is part of Executive Customer Relations respond to her.
“Actions being requested, items being added to Wish Lists and Keyword Searches are against Amazon TOS.”
Notice the first thing he said: “Actions being requested.” That means anything the Seller asks you to do is against TOS. They can only request that you write a review, they can not require or demand that you write it. They can not put any special conditions in their request.
Note that he says Amazon TOS, not Seller and not Reviewer. Ultimately we fall under the same umbrella.
As an aside, I would like to add that I think that Herbie has given us confirmation in his email reply to Karen about what is coming. We all have our theories about what is happening. Are they going to get rid of all reviewers? Are they going to keep Vine? Will there be a new system?
Herbie: “I’ve forwarded your feedback along to the team involved in the future development of Amazon Reviews.”
To me, this seems to state that a team has already been formed that is working on the new format for Amazon Reviews. Amazon can’t be happy with the current state of how reviews are being perceived by consumers. The overwhelming influx of individuals that are here to grab some freebies or deals and have no desire to be a conscientious reviewer has crippled the system. It makes me cringe to read reviews that are clearly not authentic and read more like a second-grade writing assignment that has a requirement of two to three sentences.
Let’s hope that we can all be a part of the future Amazon Reviews and that the Guidelines will actually provide more Guidance.
So if we have this in black and white straight from the top, how come they don’t just write it into both the Seller and Reviewer TOS?
Karen herself wrote this next part and it is spot on and I thought it would be good to include some opinions other than my own.
“What most people don’t understand about TOS and big companies like Amazon, Google and the like, their TOS is written extremely vague on purpose – so they can make it up as they go along. Their reps are trained to answer you as vaguely as possibly, so you can’t get a real answer. The real truth, it’s a balance game – while it’s mostly a seller violation, our reviewer accounts are linked to the sellers because we are reviewing items for the seller. If we do too many search and buys in a row it throws off a natural balance and could flag our reviewer account, if we consistently add items to our wishlists, then buy the items with promotional codes — and never buy items from our wishlists at full price, or just leave items sitting in our wishlists indefinitely we have literally manipulated stats for wishlist items – again flagging our accounts.”
Everything we do is tracked by Amazon. I do mean everything, every search, every review, every question, every click, they know it all. Amazon even reports our searches to Facebook for relevant ads – so when you are on FB you’ll see the last item you searched show up in your feed with a reminder that you didn’t purchase it…
If you update your phone or browser it’s possible Amazon and your social media accounts relinked. It’s always good to check that they didn’t otherwise they may see “relationships” with other reviewers and flag you.
It’s not personal, literally, it’s a computer that flags and wipes you. It’s all based on data that a computer interprets, there is no human eye that looks at your account, it’s a computer, and we all know that computers CAN and DO make mistakes.
The seller TOS is very clear, the ONLY thing they can do is ‘request’ a review, they can’t ‘demand’ or ‘require’ it. They certainly can’t expect 4 or 5 stars, they can’t do anything to manipulate stats. ANYTHING and I mean ANYTHING that involves keywords, wishlists, questions, upvotes, downvotes, etc, affects stats. It’s black hat SEO manipulation. In Google, it would get you put on a blacklist and banned.
If a seller gets flagged and you’ve reviewed 5 of their 7 products, what do you think the odds of you getting flagged will be? My guess is that you will at the top of the wipe list since a computer is the one making the final call.
Just like with a government agency, you don’t only have to know the reviewer TOS, but you are responsible for knowing the seller TOS, and not breaking any rules pertaining to the seller. If you knowingly break a rule that could get the seller in trouble, you are just as guilty. It’s called Guilty by Association.
If you’ve ever had to collect unemployment – you should understand this – they actually tell you that you may be responsible for paying back any overage of benefits if it’s found that the employer reported something incorrectly… So if the employer makes a mistake YOU the unemployed person ends up paying for the mistake…. because YOU are supposed to know and understand the vaguely written law….
Again, Amazon’s TOS is purposely written vaguely to allow leeway. They are a data driven company and the interpreter of the data, almost always, seems to be the computer program, not a statistician, not a human. When you email [email protected] and they say that they can’t tell you why your account was wiped, they are probably telling you the truth.
A computer program made the decision for them. They don’t know how to interpret the algorithms that have been programmed. They do not know if the computer program has bugs in it. They probably don’t even know who wrote the program or who made up the requirements for these formulas in the first place.
I would say that has what has occurred with 99,9% of the accounts that have been wiped. The other accounts that were wiped seem to have been controlled by someone who has no understanding of what they are looking for but is following up on some kind of report. In light of the legal actions being taken, Amazon has to be seen as a company who takes reports of abuse seriously. In some cases, it seems to just be the luck of the draw.
Here is another opinion for your consideration from another friend, Kelly Kuhn-Wallace.
If a seller requires a reviewer to do _anything_ but write a review, it violates Amazon’s TOS. So that includes keyword searches and wishlist adds. These two falsely manipulate product rankings, a particularly big deal. Some sellers will take the risk still and require these things with reviews.
Others, FB Group Admins, have gotten into the habit of using wishlist adds (a) to offer an extra bonus to sellers or (b) to help admins sort out which reviewer is most interested in the product – because wish listing is more work than just opting in.
The only reason wishlisting and keyword searches aren’t listed in review guidelines? It doesn’t have anything to do with reviewing. They mess up the thing that drives Amazon: data. I LOVE all of the groups and the admins that work so hard in them…..but I don’t know how many more ways I can say that continuing to do these things will get us all shutdown. Amazon isn’t going to care whether we did it ourselves or the seller required it or whatever. I don’t want anyone to lose their reviewing account because they put a product on their wishlist to opt-in to review it. Not worth it.
So how do I keep my account safe? Here is what we do know:
- Beyond the basics of writing a correctly worded Disclaimer, there still isn’t much we do know!!!
- However, use your common sense, if it feels wrong, don’t do it.
- If someone is asking you to do anything beyond them requesting a review, don’t do it.
- Ani Ruhama has provided a comprehensive list of things NOT to do in her article: You Don’t Know What You’ve Lost Until It’s Gone. This should be required reading for reviewers. I would like to add Keyword Searching, Wishlisting, and any other Seller Requests to that list.
- As an Amazon Reviewer, above all, your duty is to be honest and unbiased. Your loyalty is not to the Seller, it is to provide an unbiased review in order to assist other consumers in making informed purchasing decisions.
Along with Karen and Kelly, I would like to thank L.j. Redding‘s entire TOS Compliant Reviewers FB group for input and lively discussion. Thank you!
Disclaimer: I do not claim to know everything abut Amazon TOS or have all the answers. I am only committed to finding all of the information I can to make sure that I am doing everything I can to be a responsible reviewer who follows Amazon’s TOS to the best of my knowledge.