If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I write a lot about Amazon – the beta testing we catch, the changes once they’re made, all the things. But one Amazon topic that comes up again and again, that continues to perplex authors, is why their Amazon reviews get deleted.
I first wrote about this a few years ago, but sadly, the problem isn’t going away. In fact, it only seems to be getting worse. What I’ll uncover in this piece is not a big-scope solution, because there isn’t one (and I’ll explain why), but rather a concise list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to getting more Amazon reviews, and keeping the ones you already have.
Understanding Amazon’s Vetting System for Reviews
Amazon pulling reviews seems super personal. Like, they’re just going through and picking off your favorite book reviews and deleting them. And to add insult to injury, why isn’t Amazon pulling reviews that are negative and petty one-star reviews?
While this seems personal, it’s not. But that still doesn’t mean that this is correct, in terms of how and what book reviews they pull. Amazon uses a robotic system, based on several algorithms that they don’t share publicly.
It’s Not Just You and Other Books
Disappearing reviews isn’t just a book problem: it’s everywhere.
And as the algorithm keeps changing, Amazon reviews may disappear and then reappear onto your page. The problem is, as Amazon tries to find a happy middle ground for vetting book reviews (and product reviews, too), these issues of disappearing reviews (as well as other technical glitches) are going to keep popping up.
Late in 2022, an author we were working with discovered that overnight 20 Amazon reviews went missing, but within two days they were all repopulated onto his book page. This is Amazon’s (sometimes) glitchy algorithm at work. And it’s a problem for product vendors, service vendors — so if this has ever happened to you, I’ll also address what you can do to protect yourself!
Amazon’s Terms of Service
A lot of authors know, in general, what the Amazon’s terms of service are as it relates to reviews – but even then they can be confusing.
First, let’s look at what you cannot do:
- Swapping reviews with other authors
- Pay or otherwise incentivize someone to review your book
- Offer a freebie if they post a review – this can be a free gift or some other incentive
You can gift a book in exchange for a review – which happens with bloggers, influencers and Amazon reviewers all the time. But you can’t give them a gift card and ask them to purchase the book themselves, because Amazon spots this as a possible “pay for play” scenario.
One Surprising Reason Your Reviews Were Flagged
First off let’s take a look at something that may have a bearing on whether your book reviews are getting pulled.
Here it is: the URL you’re sharing with bloggers, readers, and potential reviewers.
Why does that matter? Because there’s coding in URLs that could be flagging Amazon that it’s from your account. And yes, I know this sounds crazy, but remember: this is a robotic algorithm that’s trying to find similarities in unethical reviews and one of them might be the URL. Let me explain.
When you share a URL for your book on Amazon, you probably grabbed this long link off of Amazon:
This link has a lot of numbers in it, including a QID number and other coding, including the keywords you used to search. In this case, I pulled up my books using my name, and it shows up in this URL. Now, keep in mind that this URL also originated from my account on Amazon, so it’s possible that some of this coding identifies my account, too.
Why is this a problem? Well, it’s a problem in that if that URL travels, from one person to the next, the fact that it originated from your account, could become a flag that any Amazon reviews related to it are potentially compromised. Am I being too suspicious of Amazon’s review practices? Or maybe you think this is a bit overkill? Well, we know that Amazon looks at social media connections, which already seems pretty invasive to me.
And while there’s no official confirmation that Amazon is doing this, it would make sense. And the fix, fortunately, is pretty simple. You need to clean up the code.
But if you really want to take this a step further, just go “incognito” or “private” on any browser and find the link that way. Then there’s no chance that you’re logged into your Amazon account, but you’ll still have to clean the coding as I mentioned above.
And while you’re in the zone to share your book, you should also work on highlighting the stellar reviews you already have, make the most of what you’ve got! I wrote on piece on this that has five simple recommendations you can’t afford to miss.
If you want to geek out further, check this out:
The QID number, (see orange arrow below) – is the number of seconds since January 1, 1970 – so every single search on Amazon is time stamped. Don’t believe me? Then do a search on your book, wait ten seconds and do it again. You’ll see the QID increase incrementally, by 10 seconds.
At the end of that, string, or almost to the end, you’ll see: sr= and that’s where the book was found on the page, so the sixth book down. That’s highlighted below.
This isn’t breaking news, and you’ve maybe seen this all before. But since we’re discussing URLs, I thought it was important to mention that these aren’t simple URLs, there’s coding and tracking in each of these, so be careful.
Sharing Amazon Pages Using Bitly Links
A lot of authors create custom URLs using Bitly links, and while I love the Bitly platform in general, it’s been inundated with spammers, so the links are less credible than they were. And this isn’t an Amazon reviews issue per se, but these links often get flagged as spam, and readers/buyers may never see them, so just be cautious there.
Reviewers Get Flagged Too
Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. But in all seriousness, there are a number of reasons Amazon will flag an individual’s account, and it can be warranted, but also the result of the algorithm. For example, someone on my team has a hard time getting her book reviews to go live because she lives on Amazon so much for work. The fact that her IP address visits dozens of book pages a week, and trolls the site to do keyword research, tells the system she may be “too close for comfort” and it’s easier for the system to just reject her reviews versus having a real human assess whether or not there’s any real violation of their terms of service.
I also mention this because it can be a common problem with review services, especially inexpensive ones. The individuals’ accounts that participate in paid review programs are prime for getting flagged so if you’re paying for reader reviews then seeing reviews disappear, this could also be why, and you can’t fight it with Amazon.
The Quality of Reviews Matters
Amazon announced that in addition to using AI to analyze reviews to create helful consumer “summaries” it’s also cracking down on the quality of reviews. Gone are the days of just being able to give a book a star rating without actually writing out a review. Amazon has also said the length and depth of the review will matter as well.
In some ways this is a real win for authors. With the above changes, someone can’t totally trash your average by posting a 1 star review that includes one or two vague, unhelpful sentences. Amazon won’t be putting a lot of weight into garbage reviews like that so it won’t negatively affect the first impression shoppers get when they land on your book page and see your ratings/review numbers. Silver linings!
How Editorial Reviews Can Help
Authors often forget to use the Editorial Reviews section in their Author Central account, but you can add an infinate number of reviews there and even re-add reviews that may have gotten pulled (see a hack for this below). But beyond adding pulled reviews, you can add any kind of endorsements, reviews from places like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and other sources that maybe didn’t get posted as a regular review to your Amazon retail page.
One Clever Way to Get More Reviews
I promote my book launch by offering a freebie. I let readers know that if they forward me the purchase receipt from Amazon, they get a gift. Not only does it help incentize a purchase, it also helps me build my mailing list. And, yes, I will remind them to post a review later!
The freebie can be anything, but should ideally be tied to your book topic and your author brand. So in my case I gift author-centric swag like an “Ask me About My Book” tote bag or decal. It’s a fabulous way to build early sales and your mailing list!
How to Protect Yourself and Your Book Reviews
Now let’s dig into some ways you can protect yourself if reviews get pulled.
First off, dig into your Amazon Author Central account. All of your Amazon reviews are listed there, so it’s easy to track them. Screenshot or save them in whatever way works for you. Because if you keep them somewhere, you know what’s being pulled.
When to Contact Amazon
Should you ever reach out to Amazon if your reviews are being pulled? The short answer is: yes. The long answer is only if you can do so calmly and productively. Because Amazon will help you if they can. In the case of the author I mentioned earlier who had a bunch of book reviews pulled, they did explain to him that there was a glitch, and sure enough, his Amazon reviews reappeared.
If you have a list of Amazon reviews that have been pulled, and you’re keeping track as I mentioned, then getting in touch with Amazon can be pretty easy. Because now you can ask about specific book reviews, rather than saying: “Two of my Amazon reviews got pulled” and you aren’t sure which ones.
A Workaround in Case Your Reviews Get Deleted
If your book page is suffering from Amazon reviews being deleted, take heart because there is a solution and it’s via your Author Central account, because you can add book reviews for reviewers who maybe didn’t post it as a reader (or, as I mentioned above, some bigger publications that won’t post book reviews on Amazon) or if a review got pulled. You can simply add this to the “Book Details” section. It’s that easy.
And here’s another must-have list of tips for optimizing Author Central to ensure you’re not missing out on any sales opportunities as part of your Amazon retail presence.
Understanding Amazon’s review policies, and this ever-changing mechanism they have for ferreting through book reviews can take time, but it’s well worth the effort if it means making sure your Amazon book page is a solid foundation for your platform and future potential sales.
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