Amazon Cracks Down on “Black Hat” sellers- What it means for YOUR Business

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black hat banI’ve been creating my own brands and having products made under these brands for years now.  Knowing how this all worked and making it happen used to be a well guarded secret.  It took me years to understand and figure out.  Once I did, I decided to start this blog to help others learn a lot faster than I did.  After all, I would have really benefited from a blog like this when I was starting out!  Shortly after I started this blog, a lot of buzz started in the online marketing world about private labeling products to sell on Amazon.  I got excited that there were others out there who were aiming to help people build their businesses and create the life they wanted using similar techniques to what I had learned over the years.  I even promoted a big course associated with the private labeling concept!  Over the years, more and more books and courses have come out specifically outlining how to launch private label products on Amazon.com.

BLACK HAT TECHNIQUES

Do you remember when ranking in Google was just a matter of stuffing keywords into your pages and building hundreds or thousands of low quality backlinks?  Times have changed and when Google changed their algorithm, several “businesses” lost their entire revenue overnight!  The majority of these “businesses” were relying heavily on SEO (search engine optimization) using the “black hat” techniques referred to above.  “Black Hat” is a term thrown around the internet marketing community (as well as other places) that essentially means using techniques that are either against policies or made to intentionally manipulate systems in an unethical way.  Google does not like their system manipulated, and it turns out, neither does Amazon.

Amazon, like Google is a giant search engine, but it is a buyers search engine meaning that if a customer searches a keyword and your product shows up, it is extremely likely the customer has the intention to buy (rather than just browse as is so often the case with Google.)  This means that if you can get your product to the top of the list, you are likely to sell more than your competition.  Some ways to do this are more ethical than others.  I’ve been teaching the methods I use in this blog and in my book: Six Step Six Figure System.  There are a number of courses, blogs, articles and books out there, however, that teach less than ethical methods to make this happen.  This is extremely frustrating to sellers like me because it results in a loss of income due to following good business practices (while competitors are not).

This week, Amazon has revised their “seller prohibited activities” and added two activities that thousands of sellers have been taking part in! Take a look HERE

FAKE REVIEWS AND REVIEW MANIPULATION:

Some sellers have been desperate to get to the top and have used fake reviews to get there!  Consumers have become more and more outraged as they begin to realize that their purchase decisions (which are influenced heavily by reviews) have been manipulated by fake comments!  Amazon has gone so far to file a lawsuit against the companies who are providing this service!  Unfortunately, more and better reviews has been proven to raise products up in the search engines and some sellers will stop at nothing to get these reviews!

Amazon’s new policy states:

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 copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free 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.

SALES RANK MANIPULATION

The biggest area that has been exploited on Amazon is sales rank manipulation.  Several courses have taught using various techniques and even automated software to make fake purchases just to raise the sales rank giving the product an unfair advantage.  Amazon takes it a step further though.  From the reading of this new policy, it looks like even offering claim codes to real users of the product may be prohibited.  I have certainly done this (created claim codes for my product’s initial launch period).  While it seems like Amazon is making an effort to prohibit sellers from “gaming the system”, I’m not entirely sure about this one.  When I have more information about this, I will report back.

The new policy on this states:

The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders. This includes placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU AND ME?

Overall, I’m very pleased about these changes.  The fact is, over the years, it has become more and more difficult to operate a legitimate business while competitors left and right were simply manipulating Amazon with black hat techniques to outsell those who were playing by the rules!  I believe this will help level the playing field.  While I am uncertain about some of it, I am hopeful.  Even if I am no longer able to offer free products to help with promotion, I am very optimistic – particularly if all sellers are bound by the same policies!

THE TAKEAWAY

Remember, Amazon, just like Google (or any other search engine or marketplace) ultimately wants one thing- a great experience for it’s users!  If a seller or a website can get a listing to the top that does not provide real value for the end user, companies simply do not like this.  Companies like Amazon will always move in the direction of preventing this!  What can we do?  Always build a business using ethical techniques!  Quick tricks to manipulate systems and cheat your way ahead of competitors will work for a little while, but this will always come to an end.  Whatever big company you are relying on (Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon etc) is going to catch on eventually and change the rules.  When the rules change, you’ll be ready- if you are running a legitimate ethical business and if you’re in it for the long haul!

Want to learn more about the techniques I teach?  Download my book below titles “System Start Up.”  You can be making money as early as next week and you can be well on your way to a long term business in no time!

Thanks so much for reading and for your continued support!

7 thoughts on “Amazon Cracks Down on “Black Hat” sellers- What it means for YOUR Business

  1. Personally, I still think giving away a free product in return for a review is still review manipulation. Free is going to automatically bia a review toward the good in many instances. Whereas someone purchasing a product at normal price and giving a review is going to be a lot more relevant to the product than a review in exchange for a free product. What do you think?

    1. Excellent point Dave. Giving away a product in exchange for a review does tend to influence the review, but I would not call it “manipulation.” It is certainly not “black hat.” This technique is used in numerous venues (retail, internet marketing, service providers and contractors etc.) Though the likelihood of a positive review is greater, the consumer still has a choice and it is not guaranteed. Ultimately, Amazon.com themselves use this technique with their own products (this is how the Amazon Vine program works) so they cannot prohibit their sellers from using the same practice, but yes, it’s hard to justify calling these reviews 100% uninfluenced :)

  2. Hi,

    In the policy it you mentioned this:
    “You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review.”

    What exactly does that mean? When I launch a product I like to give out lots of them for free for HONEST and unbiased reviews. Can I still do this? What’s your thoughts??

    1. Great question Brandon!
      Yes, I also give away products for honest unbiased reviews. Amazon’s policy states this is still allowed, but that intentionally manipulating the rankings is not allowed. It is also not allowed to offer an “excessive number” of free or discounted products in exchange for a review. To me this means, you can still offer free or discounted products, but not in excess. As to what “excess means”… well… I would say 10 is fairy reasonable. Some sellers offer 500 free products or more during launch (when buying in extremely competitive categories and they buy 5,000 to 10,000 units at at time.) I would think this would be considered “excessive” but Amazon does not specify. I would think you would be safe with giving away 3-20 products for reviews, but since I’m not “on the inside” with Amazon, I can’t say for sure. This is only my best guess. Hope it helps!

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