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!