Amazon is back in the news again for pulling reviews. If you’ve noticed this yourself, then you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. And because so many of us rely on Amazon reviews to sell books, it’s hitting authors right where it counts. And it’s hitting hard.
There’s no clearly defined answer as to how or why Amazon is pulling reviews. Because Amazon has been pretty quiet on this front, except to say that they will be pulling reviews that violate their terms of service.
As a result, I’ve done some testing and research to help explain why this may be happening. And it should help you come up with best practices for helping protect your book and its reviews.
Before we launch into things, I think we need to first address the elephant in the room. Amazon isn’t pulling reviews just for the heck of it. Nor are the pulling them randomly. There is some targeting and strategy involved.
Do Verified Purchases Matter?
The short answer is no. Verified reviews do not matter. They don’t receive higher weight or credibility than non-verified purchases. They do appear first, but that’s it. Although at one point, they may have intended to filter out the non-verified reviews, it isn’t happening. Not anytime soon anyway.
This is because Amazon wants to pull more buyers into their site. Simply put, it’s not in their best interest to pull reviews that will ultimately help them sell more of anything. When they become the marketplace, they are the go-to resource for finding out if a particular book or product is worth buying.
So, ultimately, don’t kill yourself to get all Verified Purchase reviews for your book. It doesn’t matter as much as some folks seem to think.
And, as a side note, the Verified Purchase system isn’t without glitches. I’ve added reviews to Amazon for products I’ve bought on the site, and it hasn’t been listed as “verified purchase.”
More Reviewers Get Flagged Than Books
If all of your reviews have been pulled, then, while it’s possible that Amazon has blacklisted your book, looking at who is reviewing your books may net you more answers. Because, while Amazon can—and does—blacklist certain books, it’s more likely that the reviewer is being targeted.
Once a reviewer has been caught posting questionable Amazon reviews, it’s not always possible for them to get back in Amazon’s good graces, because Amazon will automatically be suspicious of future reviews from them.
So, What Reviewers are Questionable?
This is ultimately the $10,000 question. But it’s part of what we’re looking at today. And, as you can imagine, just as you’re connected in a million ways to people, there are lots of factors that can go into Amazon’s decision when it comes to flagging and pulling reviews.
This one gets really tricky.
So, if you have readers who are connected to your personal page, rather than a Fan Page on Facebook, Amazon could deem them to be biased reviews. After all, Amazon has no way of knowing how good a ‘friend’ they are. This hasn’t happened a lot, but it does happen. And I assume Amazon’s systems are getting better at this.
This may be true if you’ve friended someone on Goodreads, too. Some people say it definitely is the case. However, I haven’t seen any evidence of this.
And, in my opinion, it’s because the interaction is different on Goodreads. Certainly, it’s not like it is on Facebook.
Twitter is another possible problem.
If your readers follow you on Twitter and Amazon discovers this connection, they could pull the review. It sounds crazy, I know.
To be honest, I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about this. It feels pretty Big Brother, and it may not be an issue anyway. Regardless, not all of your reviews will come to you this way.
And it’s definitely not worth closing down social accounts over. Even if it results in an occasional review getting pulled, the book marketing benefit of social media still outweighs this concern.
Amazon Gift Cards
If you ever use Amazon gift cards as giveaway prizes, listen up. An online gift card purchase is a direct link to you and your books, especially if your readers use that gift card to purchase and ultimately review one of your books.
Gift cards are still a valuable book marketing tool, but instead of emailing the codes, I recommend putting them right in the mail. It is a cleaner way of doing it for sure. But more importantly, it lets you connect on a more personal level. And those connections are what really counts when it comes to building your fan base.
As a side note, gifting books on Amazon can be perceived this way as well. So, if you’re doing a promo of some sort, just keep that in mind.
What About Paid Reviews?
This is an odd and slippery slope.
So, what’s the cutoff?
Amazon wants to be sure that you’re not paying a bunch of people and then asking them to throw up great reviews. Ultimately, they see it as suspicious if you get several new reviews on your book page within a very small window.
This will sometimes happen if you’ve run a promotion for your book and, several readers post a review on the same day. Amazon will see this as a possible paid review placement and consider pulling these reviews.
What’s really hard about this is that we all know just how hard it is to get reader reviews for a book. On average, only one person reviews a book for every two hundred sold. So, getting reviews pulled can be devastating. And there honestly isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Because you can’t, and shouldn’t, try to coordinate the times that readers post Amazon reviews.
Can I Get Too Many Reviews?
This is sort of related to the note on paid reviews above.
Because if you have a “tribe” of readers you go to for reviews, and they all post reviews in a short span of time, Amazon looks at each of them more closely.
Amazon also considers it suspicious when multiple reviews are posted to multiple titles all at once
This makes it potentially problematic when an author gets a number of legitimate reviews from a slew of readers, bloggers, or whomever they pitch.
Friends and Family Aren’t Exempt
This scenario sort of ties everything else together. Because, if your reviewer is related to you or a close friend, of course, they’re going to be writing a review through that lens. And Amazon uses all sorts of ways to spot these “connections.”
Sometimes it’s obvious. A gift or gift card sent to their address can raise flags.
But there are other less obvious connections, and that’s really where things like social connections can come into play.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the increasingly murky waters, you’re not alone. However, remember that the whole point of Amazon being more vigilant about who is doing their reviews is to make the whole process better. And, to get good Amazon reviews, we have to keep the systems ethical. Hopefully, it helps to prevent people from trying to cheat the system.
Unfortunately, in the process, good reviews are going to get pulled.
And, if this is the case for you, then let Amazon know. So, if one or more legitimate reviews are pulled, send a screenshot of the original to Amazon and ask them why. Do it nicely. The system isn’t always perfect, and, as they say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
The Bottom Line
There are companies that exist with a goal of cheating the system, which is the whole reason that Amazon is pulling reviews. And it’s not good for any of us if the site turns into a hacker free-for-all.
So how do you get in touch with Amazon to let them know your legitimate reviews have been pulled? Well, although you can certainly reach out via Author Central or email, I’d recommend calling first. Because the electronic contacts are probably going to result in a standard reply that the review violated their terms of service.
Fighting the 8,000-pound gorilla may not seem like something you want to take on. But it is worth it. In fact, it’s the only way we’ll be able to clearly define the difference between bad reviews and good reviews. So, reach out to them, be professional, and tell them what’s going on, because Amazon needs to know that you’re watching too.
Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns.