Houston, We Have No Problem – Amazon TOS Update 2015

If you are looking for the Amazon TOS Update of 2016 that can be found on our in-depth post here!

 

 

 

 

Our Position on Amazon’s Update to their Terms of Service and the Chaos that has Ensued

Originally Posted: 8/30/2015

Amazon is constantly changing and transforming. We were reminded of that this weekend as they discreetly updated their Selling Policies, specifically their “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” page.

If you have not read for yourself here are the excerpts from the updated page:

Reviews:

“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.”

Misuse of Sales Rank:

“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. “

So what does this mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for your future with Viral Launch? There have been more than enough rumors and opinions posed as facts, so we would like to break things down as best as possible for you. We’ve launched over 2,000 products, consulted $50m/year Amazon businesses, and tracked 10′s of millions of data points all in the last 10 months. This is not to brag (hyperbole marketing and telling others how great I think I am is not my style 😉 ), but to illustrate the interesting perspective we have obtained, and while we have no absolutes, here are our thoughts.

Our Position

For those with limited attention spans, or simply want the short version, I want to pose Viral Launch’s official position here at the beginning. I will elaborate and explain in greater depth our position throughout the rest of this post.

Our goal is to provide our clients a long-term solution to promoting their products, gaining exposure and building their businesses. If that means taking calculated precautions so as to ensure we are 100% ToS compliant and without possibility of being accused of manipulative or fraudulent behaviors, then we will take the appropriate actions to do so.We would never want our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Although we do not believe that Amazon will be cracking down on sellers for running promotions through targeted URLs or begin penalizing sellers for running promotions giving more than 50, 100, 300, etc. in a day, the fact of the matter is the language of the new policies deems these actions strictly in violation of policy. For that reason Viral Launch is repositioning itself as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure capable of driving buy-ready traffic to your product in a powerful yet controlled manner. We have an audience that wants to buy your product. Simple as that. Under the hood, everything will remain essentially the same. However, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. You can checkout our new page at https://viral-launch.com.

No One Knows Anything

The thing is, in the Amazon marketplace Amazon creates the law, enforces the law and answers to no one.They write their policies to be broad and vague so that they may interpret as they wish and enforce them as they please. There is no knowing for certain their intentions when crafting these policies. Even if one did know the intent of a rule, the language is so loosely written that they can turn around and penalize sellers on completely different grounds.

-Will Amazon penalize, remove, or suspend you for running promotions through a SuperURL or any other type of targeted URL? The short answer is probably not. However, they can very easily see that you are sending traffic through an unnatural URL, the customer has a new session, and by tracking the referrer tag from the referring URL.  I will say that our OrganicURL satisfies these three issues, but then the question comes down to whether or not Amazon perceives this as an attempt at ranking manipulation, which in my opinion I can very easily see Amazon interpreting this an attempt at ranking manipulation. My opinion does not matter, it is how Amazon decides to interpret and even more importantly how/if they choose to enforce it.

I will say that one leading service in their position announcement made a point trying to “geek-out” and use programming language (the sample code they used was definitely not written by a programmer as it had some major issues and is nothing like what Amazon uses but that is besides the point) to illustrate that Amazon could very easily disallow keyword ranking boosts from launches using the SuperURL. I would like to disagree. I am a developer myself. I hand coded the entire Viral Launch platform, and have experience working with advanced machine learning (AI) algorithms similar to those employed by Amazon. This gives me a unique perspective on the A9 ranking algorithm. The ranking algorithm is not a simple script that allots keyword ranking to products after a sale through a specific keyword like the previously mentioned service believes. We are talking about a brilliantly complex algorithm architected to take into account a myriad of data points with logic constructs that are not easily adjusted. I believe Amazon has intentionally decreased the ranking effects of SuperURLs because they are well aware of launching services using them and Amazon does not like it. So why has Amazon not done away with the ranking effects of the SuperURL altogether? Frankly because at this point, they simply cannot. Think of an intricately designed spider web. It may be easy to remove just a couple of supporting threads, but if too many are removed or adjusted the spider web will collapse in on itself. The A9 Algorithm is just such a spider web, a very complex construction which services millions. It is not easy to completely change how it operates (allotting ranking) while continuing to service such a high volume effectively.  But I digress.

-What is “excessive” in Amazon’s eyes? Who knows, but my assumption is A TON. I am referring to numbers in the thousands. You will see why we believe this in the next section. That being said, Amazon could very well interpret giving 100+/units in a single day as excessive. Do I think you should be concerned with giving more than 100 units in a day? No, but I think it is important to  simply be aware. We have sellers who have been giving 200+/day since the updated terms have launched and thus far nothing has changed. Amazon tells us the term “excessive” is referring to giving an “excessive” number of discounts of the same product to one individual.

-Does running promotions constitute as attempting to inflate sales rank? I think the keyword here is “inflate”. There is a difference between improve and inflate. Inflate, according to Merriam Dictionary refers to excess, which is again a very subjective term. From speaking with Amazon we are led to believe that when the policy refers to “sales rank” it is in direct reference to Best Seller Ranking. Again, we do not think you should be concerned with Amazon accusing you of inflating sales rank, but we want you to be completely informed.

What We Know of Amazon

Amazon prides itself on its review system. The quality and legitimacy of reviews are vital. If consumer confidence plummets in its review system then sales will suffer. From some of the largest brands on Amazon as well as Amazon themselves we are being told that Amazon is far more concerned with review manipulation than they are sellers sending promotions through unnatural targeted links.

Amazon does not care who is at the top of the keyword rankings, no matter who it is, they are making their money all the same. However, as soon as the consumer base loses faith in the integrity of the reviews posted on Amazon, their bottom line will take a hit. That is not acceptable.

That is not just our view, but the shared beliefs of some of our largest allies who have been on Amazon for 10+ years and are each hitting in the ten’s of millions every year.

I think it goes without saying, but you must be uber careful when it comes to reviews. Be wary of promotional services that require their users to leave reviews. They incentivize their users to leave reviews by telling them they can get more deals after they leave their review. I cannot help but view this as manipulating reviews, that is why we have never employed such methods ourselves. Although the methods were more black hat, Amazon recently took legal action against review manipulating companies and I imagine there will be more to come. Amazon is cracking down.

What Amazon is Telling Us

As you know talking with seller support and the info received from them is not exactly the most reliable. Despite this being the case, there were a few points that were offered almost uniformly.  We also have some inside connections with Amazon along with powerful friends with inside connections. Even so, after speaking with many Amazon representatives in various departments, we have no definitive answer and very little clarification on the language used and exact intention of the updated policy.

Here is what we have been told:

  • Incentivizing or manipulating reviews is against policy (duh).
  • Those that abuse or infringe upon this policy will first be warned before action is taken.
  • Amazon does not want you sending multiple units of the same product to the same customer.

We have been told almost uniformly that these new statements are simply an extension of an existing rule working to thwart black hat rank boosting efforts. We have friends of friends who will have a “customer” make hundreds of purchases on a single product at a discount to boost their keyword ranking. There are sellers sending thousands of products to fake accounts and fake addresses. There are ways sellers are working to manipulate the systems, and it is these instances we feel Amazon is largely targeting. Don’t do that.

This is Not the Death of Promotions!

Amazon relies on merchant run promotions as an avenue for driving new customers to the Amazon marketplace. Without promotions, how would one get started in this space. It would be incredibly difficult, and would take a toll on the marketplace’s overall performance.

If Amazon did not want you to give products away at a discount (or free) in exchange for reviews they would not state, “If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review.” The ability to create these promotional codes would be no more. So all the rumors you have heard telling you that you cannot promote your product or else your account will be suspended are absolutely false!

Repositioning

Viral Launch has always prided ourselves on being an honest company and being 100% compliant in our approach. We really care about the success of our users (if you have ever reached out for advice or help you know this first hand). In order to ensure compliance we have to make changes in how we operate and how we advise you with promotions.

1.) First, we are changing our positioning as a company. We no longer want to be lumped into the category as those “blast” sites. In the past we prided ourselves on our ability to raise products from no sales to $10k, $25k, $35k/month after just a couple of launches with only our standard packages. We have been able to boost keyword ranking at will, however, so as to avoid jeopardizing the accounts of sellers we work with, we will now be positioning ourselves as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure to your products and services. While most things under the hood will remain the same, and you will continue to see the same effects, we believe that it is important to change our positioning so that there is no doubt that we are running a completely compliant service. We feel this is imperative to offering a long-term solution to promoting and growing your products and business.

2.) Second, we offer ways to spread or stagger your launch promotions through multi-day launches in a very controlled manner. We have always found that this receives better results and is much more likely to help you feel compliant in terms of not being “excessive.” We will continue to offer this and educate sellers on the best launch strategies for them.

3.) Thirdly, you will now have the choice as to whether or not you wish to use our OrganicURL for your launches.  As stated previously, we do not believe any seller will be penalized for using targeted URLs, however, for your sake we wish to give you the choice.

4.) We have updated our pricing model to better reflect our intentions going forward. As you are familiar with Pay Per Click models on other promotional platform such Google and Amazon, we want to emulate just that. You can view our new pricing on our landing page.

5.) Finally, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. We would never want the opportunity for our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Our Warning to the Wise (and everyone else)

We are in a space of super marketers. They know the exact language needed to make anything sound appealing or appropriate. They will brag about themselves and self-impose superficial titles to sound more authoritative just to get your money. They have no problem claiming you NEED something that just so happens to require you to pay them more money in order to be successful. When they fail to deliver, they blame you. To some services, all you are is money, and they will stop at no expense to get as much of it as they can. They do not care about your success they care about their bottom dollar.

Now more than ever, be skeptical. Only work with the people, services, and companies you trust. It is very easy to be swept up in pretty talk and superlatives. Only do what you are absolutely comfortable with. It is not worth losing the business you have worked so hard to build. Viral Launch is no exception. If you are not 100% comfortable with what we are doing ask us questions. If even then we do not ease your concerns, then I encourage you to find a company which better satisfies your needs and aligns with your perspectives. 🙂

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Do not pay for reviews. Even if they are video reviews.
  • Do not require or incentivize reviews. Using services which require their users leave reviews on the products they get is included in this. Telling users that they will have access to more deals if they leave a review is incentivizing them to leave their review. This is strictly against Amazon’s policy. There are many many services out there that do this. Please be skeptical and use caution.
  • Be weary of services that allow you to pick and choose which users will be reviewing your product. This is a lot like manipulation.

Ultimately, we will continue to work towards providing the best long-term solution to building and growing your business. We are continually building out new features and services that allow you to effectively and efficiently grow while ensuring the probability of your long-term success.

Wishing you the best,
Casey Gauss
CEO/ Co-Founder

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