In 2018, product reviews are one of the hottest topics in the Amazon seller community. More specifically, the issue of reviews being blocked, deleted, or anything between. Stories of rule-abiding sellers having a bunch of product reviews disappear overnight have become all too common.
2018 is over, and Amazon’s aggressive stance on product reviews only looks to be getting hotter. As product reviews are not only an essential form of social proof but also a large part of Amazon’s ranking algorithm, maximizing the product reviews on your listings has a big effect on your bottom line. Hence, the review conundrum will continue to be a big focus for Amazon sellers into 2019.
Read on to see everything there is to know about the state of product reviews right now, and how you can stay clear of the carnage.
What We Know (Reviews Being Blocked, Limited, or Removed)
As with anything on Amazon, details can be scarce. With no official word from Amazon, you have to dip into the community for first-hand accounts of review blocks or removals. From what has been gathered so far, there are three common cases:
- Reviews for a product are blocked. Amazon customers are finding, when they attempt to leave a review on some products, a message informs them that the product is not eligible to receive reviews at this time. Often the sellers themselves are not informed, and the only way they find out is when a customer reaches out. In most cases, it’s unclear how long the product is unable to receive reviews, but the block is often lifted after a short period of time.
- Reviews are being “throttled”, or limited. Like the previous case, many products are being limited to several reviews per day. Most often there will be two separate limits, one for verified reviews and one for non-verified reviews. The limits tend to be 3-5 reviews per day.
- Reviews are being removed altogether. This is the most mystifying and most damaging case for sellers. After doing the hard work to get sales, and getting reviews on a small percentage of those sales, some sellers are seeing their review numbers going down.
Knowing the “what” is the first step. The next is figuring out why, so you can work on protecting your account and all your hard-earned product reviews.
Why Is This Happening?
If your listings are experiencing any of these problems, you want to know why. The problem is, you’re unlikely to get a definitive answer. Amazon keeps most details under wraps, to avoid people gaming their system.
They do leave breadcrumbs, and if you follow the trail you may be able to get to the source of the issue.
“Unusual Reviewing Behavior”
The most common message given to reviewers trying to leave a comment on a listing with a review block is that it is due to “unusual reviewing behavior”. Very cryptic, but we can draw the conclusion that the listing has somehow been flagged by Amazon’s software.
Many things could cause Amazon to flag a listing. Some theorized reasons include:
- A disproportionate number of unverified reviews.
- Suspicious wording in your reviews.
- A sudden uptick in sales or review velocity.
Getting an answer for what exactly “unusual reviewing behavior” is, is difficult. We’ve known sellers to contact the Seller Support team about cases like this. The problem is, Seller Support often don’t know themselves.
There are two different departments of Amazon at work here. The Performance Team deals with suspensions and other disciplinary issues, while Seller Support is for day-to-day issues. As the two are not connected, contacting Seller Support isn’t guaranteed to bring you any answers.
So we’re left to take what information we know, and build conclusions around that.
If you find your reviews disappearing, it may not be anything to do with your seller account or your listing. Most often it is to do with buyer accounts, having all their reviews wiped when found to have engaged in illegal review activity.
Ever since 2016, Amazon has been taking merciless action on buyer (and seller) accounts involved in activities such as incentivized reviews and buying reviews. Part of this includes banning the account or suppressing all the reviews made by the account. Whether the review broke the rules or not.
That means even though you may not have done anything to do with incentivized reviews, some of your buyers may have done so, for a completely unrelated product. As a result, all their reviews are deleted, including those on your listing.
It may be tough to stomach, but it is an unfortunate after-effect of the shady underworld that is Amazon incentivized reviews, post-2016.
How Can Sellers Protect Themselves in 2019?
It may seem like an uphill battle, right? How can you protect yourself, when you don’t even know what the infraction is? Worse yet, you can end up losing reviews for something not even related to you.
There are some ways, and by no means is this the death of third-party Amazon sellers. While you may not be able to protect yourself 100%, consider the rest of the field is at risk too. If you take appropriate steps to avoid risk, you’ll still end up ahead of the pack.
The first and most important step; play by the rules! If sellers are being flagged or coming under fire for things they don’t know they’ve done, you can bet that you’re going to get caught for running grey or black hat tactics. Paying for reviews (including offering PayPal refunds after purchase), trying to get negative reviewers to change/remove their reviews, and using suggestive wording in your email follow-ups are all things that are likely to get you in trouble.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with Amazon’s review policies and make sure you stay within the guidelines. You won’t be 100% clear, but it’s a start.
Make Use Of The Early Reviewer Program
Reviews are harder than ever to get, so why not take advantage of an Amazon-sanctioned review service?
The Early Reviewer Program is an initiative in which Amazon themselves offer small incentives to buyers to leave a review for a product that is yet to get any. The program costs $60, and Amazon will continue to try to get reviewers for 12 months, or until you get five reviews through the program (whichever comes first).
The program is only open to Brand Registered sellers, and there is no guarantee that you will get all five reviews, or that they will be positive reviews. As such, it is still imperative that you have a good product. However, if you get all five reviews, $12 per review is a very fair price for your first, 100% legitimate Amazon reviews.
Space Out Review Requests
Most sellers user autoresponders to send review requests, and for good reason. Without a review follow-up sequence, you’ll be sitting back and hoping for people to leave reviews, instead of proactively seeking out happy customers.
PS: LandingCube now has our own, built-in follow-up email feature, to help you send review requests to people after they’ve claimed a coupon.
With increased review velocity believed to trigger Amazon’s unusual review activity algorithm, it may be best to avoid a short-term spike in reviews, as amazing as that sounds. If you’re running a short-term, high-velocity promotion, such as a product launch, try not to send all your review request emails at the same time. For example, if you sell 30 units in a day, instead of sending 30 follow-up emails at the same time, send 10 one day, 10 the next, and 10 the next. If you’re using LandingCube, you may want to consider setting a daily promo code limit to effectively space out your coupon claims, and subsequent review requests.
Mitigate Risk – Drive Your Own Traffic, and Sell On Multiple Channels
What is clear here is that Amazon selling can be a fickle game. It’s not to say you should abandon Amazon – we’re big advocates that if you’re selling ECommerce, you should be selling, at least in part, on Amazon. But to put all your eggs in one basket is risky.
However unlikely, you should consider the possibility that your Amazon listings take a big hit in one day, or even worse, you get suspended from Amazon. Whether it’s a week, two weeks, a month, that’s going to end up in a lot of lost revenue if you have no other sales channels. But if you have your own store, set up with a platform such as WordPress or Shopify, you have the option to focus your resources on that channel and keep making sales, in the case that Amazon goes south.
Additionally, learn how to drive your own traffic, through avenues such as email marketing, Facebook ads or other social media platforms. That way you make your listing less reliant on reviews and have the option to increase your focus on external traffic if organic Amazon traffic takes a dip.
Amazon Review Blocks And Deletions – In Summary
The world of Amazon reviews is scary, as more and more sellers are beginning to realize. You can do everything by the book, yet at any moment the book can change, or you fall victim to something that wasn’t in the book.
While many see Amazon’s aggressive stance as a problem, ultimately this is a positive move. Dodgy grey and black-hat sellers are getting taken out, leaving more of the market for people who play by the rules.
Amazon is such a massive beast, and is still growing, so it’s not worth giving up on selling on Amazon. Just take smart steps to mitigate risk. Follow the rules, try as much as you can to avoid suspicious activity, and have other channels to sell on should the worst happen.
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