June 2018 Update: We’ve shared updated information about Amazon reviews disappearing since this original post published — click here to learn more.
You’ve no doubt been hearing the news that Amazon is, once again, pulling reviews. And a lot of Amazon reviews are disappearing. Naturally, there is a ton of conflicting information out there on how and why this is happening. Amazon is, of course, silent on this issue except to say that they will be pulling reviews that violate their terms of service.
Why is Amazon Pulling Reviews From My Book?
First off let’s be clear, Amazon is not willy-nilly pulling reviews. They have a strategy for doing this. And this article will hopefully shed some light on how and why this is happening. More than that, you’ll learn how you can safeguard your own books and your Amazon reviews. It’s important for all indie authors, whether you’re going it alone or supplementing your efforts by hiring a book marketing company.
Verified Purchases, Do They Matter for Amazon Reviews?
Let’s get this out of the way first, because there’s a lot of controversy around this topic. Verified reviews don’t matter. Amazon reviews for books or products purchased on their site do not receive more credibility. Yes, these reviews do show up first. However, they don’t have more weight than non-verified purchases. Amazon has no intention of isolating reviews to only Verified Purchases, although at some point I think that was the plan.
Amazon is the Yelp of product reviews and, as such, can’t exclude one type of review over another. The reason for this, from a business perspective, is that the more Amazon opens their reviews up to anyone, the more reviews products will get. If you want to know if a book or whatever you’re interested in buying is good, you’ll check the Amazon reviews first. This is another great way for Amazon to pull in more buyers into their site.
What this means is: 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. Also, the whole “verified” is also not exact. I’ve added reviews to Amazon for products I’ve bought on the site, and it hasn’t been listed as “verified purchase.” So the system is still a bit glitchy.
Bad Reviewers vs. Bad Books
A lot of folks ask me if a book can get blacklisted by Amazon and the short answer is: yes, it can.
But more likely, the reviewer is being targeted. Once a reviewer has been caught posting questionable Amazon reviews, it’s hard to recover from that. And, Amazon will be suspicious of any future reviews they post, often pulling reviews by that person. In a lot of the cases, reviewers won’t continue reviewing on Amazon – regardless of whether it’s a book or product, because their reviews are consistently getting pulled.
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.
Some say that the same is true for Goodreads, but I haven’t seen any evidence of this.
Meaning if you’ve friended someone on Goodreads, vs. if they’re just following your profile/page. 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 readers follow you there and Amazon discovers this connection, they could pull the review. I know how crazy this sounds. And keep in mind, if the idea of Amazon spidering through your social networks seems oddly Big Brother, I’m not sure how much time I would spend worrying about this. Because not all of your reviews will come to you this way.
Yes, it’s a good idea to invite readers to your Fan Page certainly. But I’m not sure I would close down a Twitter account, or Instagram account just because you’re worried about getting reviews pulled.
Amazon Gift Cards
If you’ve ever done a giveaway with your readers and gifted them an Amazon gift card, beware. Because this is a direct link to you and your books. If they take that gift card and use it to buy one of your books and then post a review, I can almost guarantee you’ll get it pulled.
I recommend instead mailing them gift cards. This is something I’ve always done. It is a cleaner way of doing it – avoiding getting Amazon reviews pulled. But, also, mailing a gift card lets you send a personal note of congrats, if it was something they won in a raffle or whatever.
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.
This is an odd and slippery slope.
We know lots of paid review sources that are fully legit, such as Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly for indie authors. However, these reviews can appear on the Amazon page and won’t get pulled.
So what’s the cut off?
Well Amazon wants to be sure that you’re not paying a bunch of people and then asking them to throw up great reviews. So if all of a sudden several reviews appear on your book page, all at once or within the span of a day or two, Amazon will regard this as suspicious and delete them – whether they were authentic or not.
This will sometimes happen if you’ve run a promotion for your book and, let’s say, five of your readers post a review on the same day. Amazon will see this as a possible paid review placement and consider these reviews suspicious.
It’s genuinely hard to get reader reviews for a book, we know this for a fact. On average only one person reviews a book for every two hundred sold. So, when this happens, it can be heartbreaking. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do about this piece of it. Because you can’t and shouldn’t try to coordinate the times that readers post Amazon reviews.
Reviewing too much
This is another sticky situation, and ties in a bit to the paid reviews above.
A lot of times I talk to authors who have “tribes” of readers they go to for reviews. These readers are always eager to help. But when a bunch of reviews show up for a single book within a short span of time, Amazon will look at that more closely.
The other element of this is when authors ask their reader groups to post reviews across several titles, these reviews appear at one time, or close to the same time. Amazon also considers this suspicious.
The caveat to this is that we see situations where an author gets a legitimate number of reviews from a slew of readers, bloggers, or whomever they pitch. These appear at one time and Amazon doesn’t touch them.
Friends and family
This one is pretty clear cut, right?
If the reviewer is related to you or a close friend, of course they’re going to be writing a review through that lens. And funny thing, Amazon uses all sorts of ways to spot these “connections.”
Sometimes it’s obvious. If you buy a gift for someone from Amazon, that’s a clear connection.
But other times it’s not so obvious, and that’s where Amazon may look at things like social connections, to see who you know.
Though all of this seems to make things murky and difficult, remember that in order to get good Amazon reviews, we have to keep the systems ethical. This hopefully helps to prevent or deter people from trying to cheat the system. In so doing, of course, good reviews are going to get pulled.
Amazon doesn’t want to just pull reviews for the sake of pulling them, so if you have a review or several that have been pulled, I’d send a screenshot of these to Amazon and ask them why. I would (nicely) challenge their system, because it’s not always perfect.
The Bottom Line
There are, unfortunately, entire companies set up to attempt to “cheat” the Amazon system. And because of this, Amazon must take action to ensure that the site doesn’t turn into a hacker-free-for-all. Sadly, this means pulling reviews.
So if you want to arm yourself with a good, solid, publishing partner, I recommend that you keep tabs on your Amazon reviews. This means contacting Amazon when and if they pull an ethical review. You can do this by contacting them via Author Central, teeing up an email or having them call you. If you email them, you’ll no doubt get a standard reply that the review violated Amazon’s terms of service, so I’d always recommend starting with a call.
I know that fighting the 8,000-pound gorilla may not seem like something you want to take on. However, Amazon is your publishing partner. And I believe that the only way we’ll be able to clearly define the difference between bad reviews and good reviews, is to communicate professionally.
Let Amazon know, you’re watching, too.
And, now that you are working to protect your book from Amazon pulling reviews, if you’re ready to sell more books on Amazon, I’m ready to help you start!
This review culling has unfortunately run amok. I’m not sure how to get the idea across to Amazon, but there IS a solution that does not require removing any or most reviews.
All Amazon’s reviews need is a few new fields for identifying the source of the review before it’s posted and a corresponding filter interface for prospective buyers/readers.
When a review is posted, allow the reviewer to check a box regarding relationships that could be perceived as biases:
* I purchased this book [ ] yes [ ] no
* This is a paid review [ ] yes [ ] no
* If this is a paid review, list the organization with which you are affiliated (e.g. Kirkus)
* What is your relationship to the author; check all that apply: [ ] Close family (parent, aunt, uncle, child, sibling, niece, nephew, grandparent); [ ] employee/employer; [ ] fan/follower on social media; [ ] personal friend on FB; etc.
Then allow the prospective reader/buyer to make up their own mind which reviews they want to read. Give them a list of the options above, so they can rule in or out Grandma’s review. But for gosh sakes, accord Grandma some respect and let her review be displayed. And allow the new author to bask in the approval (or not) of their friends and family. Have a little heart, Amazon!
Amazon can still run their algorithms and flag reviews that seem to be reported dishonestly. They can put a DISCREPANCY flag on the review and allow the reviewer to change their options to fix the discrepancy.
The technology is child’s play. Amazon has some of the most powerful and smart search and filter databases out there. However, they need to respect the intelligence and preferences of their buying audience. Let them decide for themselves instead of deciding for them what is important to them. With this plan, nothing need be deleted. It would build a lot of good faith because new authors could at least garner a bit of confidence, even if their only reviews come from Auntie Min and the twins.
D. L. Diehl
D.L., thanks for your insights! I’d encourage you to reach out to Amazon to share your ideas!
I would love to reach out to Amazon. I’m just not sure how! I don’t have any published books yet, so I don’t have an avenue for approaching them as an author. However, my comments are valid from a reader/buyer point of view as well. I may research it a bit more.
I found a couple of feedback forms on Amazon, to which I submitted the Feature & Policy Change Request below. Forgive me for repeating a reworded version of my previous comment. I hope others will join in.
I’d like to suggest a winning solution to the problem of bias in Amazon reviews, especially for books.
Review culling has unfortunately run amok on Amazon. It discourages new authors, creates bad P.R. for Amazon, and may even depress sales. As an author working on a few books, I can tell you there is a significant amount of ill will circulating in blogs circuits and writing organizations about recent draconian review policies that exclude many reviews.
I propose a solution that does not require removing any or most reviews. As a former interface designer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD, I contend that this solution is not rocket science and can buy you a ton of good will from both readers and authors.
All Amazon’s reviews need is a few new fields for identifying the source of the review at the time it is submitted and a corresponding filter interface for prospective buyers/readers reading the reviews. Here are some high level suggestions to start out your requirements list for this improvement:
When a review is posted, allow the reviewer to check boxes regarding relationships that could be perceived as biases:
* I purchased this book [ ] yes [ ] no
* This is a paid review [ ] yes [ ] no
* If this is a paid review, list the organization with which you are affiliated (e.g. Kirkus)
* What is your relationship to the author; check all that apply: [ ] Close family (parent, aunt, uncle, child, sibling, niece, nephew, grandparent); [ ] employee/employer; [ ] fan/follower on social media; [ ] personal friend on FB; belong to the same critique group [ ]; [ ] none, etc.
Allow the prospective reader/buyer to make up their own mind which reviews they want to read and which biases matter to them. Allow them to see all reviews or select from the list of the options above so they can rule in or out Grandma’s review, paid reviews, etc.
But for gosh sakes, accord Grandma some respect and let her review be displayed. She probably buys books at Amazon. And allow the new author to bask in the approval (or not) of his or her friends and family.
Have a little heart, Amazon!
Amazon, you can still run your algorithms and flag reviews that seem to be reported dishonestly. Place a DISCREPANCY FLAG on reviews in question and allow the reviewer to change their relationship options to fix the discrepancy. Don’t take them down.
The technology is child’s play. Amazon is running on some of the most powerful and smart search and filter databases out there.
However, as a major marketplace vendor, you need to respect the intelligence AND preferences of your buying audience. Let them decide for themselves instead of deciding for them what is important to them. Be inclusive, not exclusive.
With this plan, no review need be deleted (unless it violated policies on vulgarity, copyright, etc).
This would build a lot of good faith because new authors could at least garner a bit of confidence, even if their only reviews come from Auntie Min and the twins.
I ask you to run this past your policy and development teams. Good will is worth a lot. Megacorporations need to show you are thinking of the little guy.
Dr. D. L. Diehl
Former Documentation and User Portals Lead
To D L Diehl. Thank you for this! You offer some excellent common sense. If indie authors get reviews by friends and family pulled, how else are they supposed to get off the ground?! If you open a coffee shop or a guest house, your friends are the ones who get things rolling, right?! It seems mightily unfair (and impossible to carry out with any accuracy – what constitutes a “friend” these days where some people have over 3,000 of them on FB?) to regard reviews by friends as illegitimate.
I hope people will join me in requesting from Amazon these new features and more egalitarian policy regarding reviews.
Thanks for a great, insightful and detailed post!
Paid reviews and Amazon gift cards might be obvious, but I never thought Amazon might pull reviews based on social connections, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I suppose they have an algorithm for that, right?
Thanks Marios! It’s amazing, isn’t it!
It really is… I think everyone should have that in mind
Thank you for helping to bring some clarity to murky issues. The 800 lb gorilla sits within a cloud that is difficult to pierce, but it isn’t impossible. After several years of posting reviews almost weekly, one didn’t see the light of day for almost two weeks. I was in contact every day with the support department. It finally showed up.
Mark, thank you for sharing your experience!
I fought through page after page of help files until I found one that enabled me to submit a request, I was able to establish an email relationship that led to resolution.
So glad you were able to find resolution! Thank you again for reading and sharing.
I looked this morning and my first book had 78 reviews. Later in the morning, there were 74. Some sleuthing showed that 74 only showed if you were on the ebook page, and the other 4 showed up only on the print book page (it wasn’t like that yesterday nor for other books!). I sent an email asking for clarification of this.
Two hours later, ALL my reviews were GONE. Poof. On this book only, but all 78 had disappeared.
That’s what I get for asking for clarification. Retaliatory removal.
WHOA. Do you have *any* idea what happened? Did Amazon give you any clarification on this? I mean, why the rest of them were pulled??
Whilst I commend big Z for rooting out fake reviews, this tends to happen on books that have 100s or even 1000s of reviews and are already established. If one of your books only has one or two reviews, and they delete them, it’s rather devastating. I honestly don’t think you can cultivate a relationship with them. It’s their site, so they can do what they want with it. That said, I have contacted them through KDP, not author central. As some comments have shown, they can actually be even more ruthless on your book page once you’ve given them a reason to cast their eyes over it. Best thing is to broaden your reach via Apple, B&N et cetera. If you were relying on Z only for your book career, they could delete it in a second. What’s really strange is that if you log into author central, you can still ‘see’ a review that they deleted from the main page. We just have to win more reviews over time.
I’ve read elsewhere that besides having reviews pulled, some reviewers have had their Amazon accounts terminated. Don’t know personally if it is true, but why put my KDP channel at risk? So…I no longer post any reviews on Amazon., only GoodReads & LibraryThing.
I tried to practice what I preached about helping writers, but…sorry.
The 800 pound gorilla might want to review Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
Why terminated? Did they give you a reason for the termination?
Hi Great article,
Question: you mentioned to ask Amazon why certain reviews were removed. How does one know which reviews are removed? They don’t send you an email that lists them. Just curious how an author knows without copying them all. Thanks for a great article. Very helpful
Everyone here makes fantastic points. I’m utterly disgusted with Amazon for the way they handle this. I could write a book (pun intended) on my thoughts. Ms. Diehl has a solid solution/change to offer, but my gut tells me Amazon does not/would not care. They do things their way because they are the Big Dog – one we have no choice but to deal with. Reviews are an integral part of our success on Amazon – they arbitrarily pull them right off our pages without even telling us what the heck is going on. That’s complete bull.
Like Wendy just said here….how about at least telling us what you’ve done and why you’ve done it so i know WHICH and/or WHOSE review(s) were just pulled? Give us a chance to at least prove to you why what you’ve done is wrong. But they don’t do it. They just continue to screw us around.
I want to thank Penny for this timely post and update. In case you were wondering, yes, I just had 1 review pulled from about half a dozen of my books – so basically 6 reviews GONE just like that. I have no idea what happened. I can only assume that Amazon found something suspicious about 1 reviewer in particular who has liked and reviewed several of my books – and yanked them all. Never mind the fact that I have never done anything dicey to get ANY reviews.
Yes, I could contact Amazon. But it feels like such a waste of time….time i could use to write more books….so Amazon can have more reviews to micromanage. I will consider contacting them and trying to help inspire change, but I highly doubt we’ll ever get them to make those changes.
I hate to be a negative Nancy…..thanks for listening and commenting, everyone!
Brad, thanks for sharing your experience. I know how frustrating it is. I’m not sure if you’ve seen this update with ideas for what you can do, but if not, it may be beneficial: https://www.amarketingexpert.com/disappearing-reviews-amazon-pulling-reviews/. I hope you’re able to get resolution. In the meantime, keep writing!
Thank you, Penny. I did not see that – more great info to use and try to prevent issues. Also helps affirm my utter disappointment in Amazon’s carelessness with this subject. 🙂
Wendy, thank you so much! I’m glad you’re finding this helpful. And, I’ve actually just shared some detail, not just on what’s happening but also on more things you can do to fix it, including tracking your reviews here: https://www.amarketingexpert.com/disappearing-reviews-amazon-pulling-reviews/. Please let me know if that answers your questions. I really appreciate your feedback and excellent questions. Keep them coming.
I just had a review pulled that said: “Amazon doesn’t permit reviews from customers whose relationship to the product or seller may be perceived as biased” ….. I bought the item knowing NOTHING about the company but that it seemed to be a knock off of the name brand …. turns out it is identical to the name brand and I said that …. so did they remove my review b/c I mentioned the other company??? Good to know Amazon reviews are totally BS now. Why would people waste their time writing a legit reviews just to have amazon arbitrarily cull them… what a shame.
Amanda, sounds like a frustrating experience. I’ve updated what we know in this piece: https://www.amarketingexpert.com/disappearing-reviews-amazon-pulling-reviews/. It’s from an author’s perspective rather than a reviewer’s perspective, but might help you out too! Thanks for sharing your experience.
I’d like to share my experience as a customer who had a review pulled from a music track. I understand that Amazon need to weed out fake reviews but their algorithms aren’t fit for purpose. Genuine reviews are getting deleted by the boatload and this alters the balance of fake:genuine reviews in favour of the fake ones. This leaves the whole review system even more broken than before, unfairly targets small artists and authors and misuses customer data. I’ve had enough of Amazon’s high handed customer disservice and I’m boycotting them unless and until they fix this. I’ve written an open letter to Jeff Bezos but so far Amazon simply don’t care.
It’s definitely frustrating, and we focus a lot here on what it does to authors and their success, but we don’t focus as much on the overall customer experience, so I really appreciate your feedback here, Louisa. Definitely, reach out to their customer service department and share your experiences. I wish you the best of luck!
I’m a little late this conversation but as an avid book reader Amazon deleting my reviews has really made me upset.
I go out of my way to find Indie authors, unknown authors in the genre. Then I like to leave a review, especially if it is a good book. I spend a lot of time and effort making these reviews and recently I have had several deleted!
So not only is the author losing the review, I’ve just wasted Lord knows how much time typing it up into something comprehensible .
Now, where does this leave me..not wanting to review. Really what’s the flipping point of giving something four starts and only saying “hey, good book you should read it”…wheres the info of why I gave it four instead of five, where is the info saying “this book is excellent because of X,Y or Z” ..but if you leave those details..DELETE.
Sorry, on a rant right now. I just realized 10 of my book reviews are missing and I am just a smidge peeved out of my head right now.
Thanks for leaving your thoughts — I know exactly how frustrating that is. I have a more recently updated post here that may offer you some more information. But in the meantime, I also encourage you to reach out to Amazon, but also to leave those reviews on Goodreads too! I hope you get some resolution from Amazon, and would love to know what they tell you.