All authors want book reviews because they show social proof on the world's biggest online bookstore. That has an indirect effect on sales, and can help an author obtain an advertising slot with BookBub or one of the other big ebook advertisers.
Readers also want reviews. Reviews provide social proof, a perceived indication of quality. At least, that’s what reviews are supposed to provide. Amazon is fighting a neverending battle against the rising tide of fake reviews, and are forever refining their algorithms to identify and weed out fake reviews and dishonest reviewers. Their regular review purges are usually followed by some change to their Reviewing Guidelines to prevent that loophole from being exploited in future.
I discussed this in a recent post: A (not so) Brief History of Fake Reviews on Amazon. As frustrating as the ever-changing Reviewing Guidelines are for honest authors, my observation is that the Amazon crackdowns are always the result of sellers (or authors) trying to manipulate the system for personal gain.
I’m all for Amazon removing the reviews of fakes and cheats and liars. Unfortunately, sometimes honest authors and honest reviewers find themselves losing reviews, collateral damage in Amazon’s war.
I know authors get upset when they lose reviews. But try to look at the bigger picture. You might have lost one or two reviews (maybe more). That means there are one or two reviewers out there (maybe more) who have just lost hundreds of reviews representing thousands of hours of work. They may also have had their Amazon reviewing privileges revoked.
As a reviewer, losing hundreds of reviews is devastating. I lost 800+ reviews last year.
Fortunately for me, this was a temporary glitch—my reviews reappeared a couple of days later. I might not even have noticed they’d disappeared if one author hadn’t noticed my review of her book was missing and let me know.
Here are my theories and suggestions.
Some reviewers don’t disclose they received a free book—something that is required under the Federal Trade Commission Guide Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. If a reviewer receives a free book to review as an individual or as part of a reviewer program (e.g. through NetGalley), then the FTC considers their review an endorsement. The FTC says:
Knowing that reviewers got the product they reviewed for free would probably affect the weight your customers give to the reviews [and] your customers have the right to know which reviewers were given products for free.
Reviewers don’t have to disclose they received a free product if other people had the opportunity to acquire the free product e.g. a book that was available free on Amazon.
Note also that Amazon now only permits sellers to provide books and ebooks to be offered free to reviewers. Reviewers may not accept any other free product to review.
Solution: As a reviewer, always disclose if you received a free book. As an author, remind your reviewers to disclose.
Some reviewers say they got a free book or ebook in exchange for a review. This used to be the preferred way to phrase the required FTC disclaimer, but the rules have changed. Amazon now says:
Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.
Yes, reviewers must disclose if they received a free book. But they are under no obligation to review, so they must not write “in exchange.”
Solution: As a reviewer, disclose the free book, but don’t say a review was required. As an author, remind your reviewers that they aren’t obligated to provide a review, but reviewing will earn your undying gratitude.
Some reviews clearly violate Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines. These prohibit reviews by family, friends, or business associates (so I can’t review books I’ve been paid to edit on Amazon).
Amazon also prohibits paid reviews, or reviews in exchange for vouchers, in-game credits, contest entries, promised refunds, or any other form of compensation. These all fall under the heading of promotional reviews.
Solution: As a reviewer, ensure your reviews are honest customer reviews, not promotional reviews. As an author, don’t ask family, friends, or business associates to review your book.
There is a theory that authors who use so-called Super URLs to direct their street team to review their books are losing reviews because Amazon uses the timestamp (the QID) on the Super URL to “prove” the review requests have all come from the same person i.e. the author.
What’s a Super URL? Here’s an example, the Super URL for Rachel Thompson’s SEO book:
You can see my search terms at the end of that string: Rachel Thompson SEO
You can also see the QID, the timestamp which shows when I made the search: 1533089114. Here’s the same search made in a new tab a minute or so later:
You can see the Super URL is almost identical. The only thing which has changed is the timestamp, which has increased from 114 to 184.
Here’s the short URL, which includes just the title and the ASIN:
That’s still long, so a lot of book bloggers share their short Amazon affiliate link instead. Here’s my affiliate link:
That’s tidier. But it links directly back to me, so while I believe it’s a great idea for authors to use Amazon affiliate links on their websites, they shouldn’t be used for review links. Why not? Because they link right back to you, the author. Also, affiliate links aren’t supposed to be shared via email, which is how most authors request reviews from their street team, or from individual bloggers.
But are Super URLs really a problem? Carolyn Jewel wrote a long and technical blog post explaining why the timestamp aka QID code isn’t the issue. Her TL;DR states:Amazon URLs don’t identify the person who did the search so Amazon is not using incoming links as a criteria for review removal. The value of qid= in a URL does not assist in distinguishing the user account. While there are reasons to use a “clean” Amazon URL in your links, identification of your Amazon account as the link source is not one of them.
The issue is actually the search terms in the URL. Many Amazon sellers use Super URLs to try and trick the Amazon algorithm into thinking their product is being searched for by “real” customers, so Amazon will think it’s a popular product and promote it in the search results list. However, even the “experts” touting this technique acknowledge it may breach Amazon’s seller policies:
Amazon’s policy strictly states that manipulation of their algorithm is forbidden. Amazon Super URLs, therefore, walk a very thin line of policy violation, which is why most sellers avoid using Super URLs altogether.
Solution: don’t use Super URLs. Instead, use the short URL, or the link on your Amazon dashboard.
Sometimes reviews are deleted through no fault of the reviewer or the author. Here are three more reasons reviews might be deleted:
Reviews are the intellectual property of the reviewer, and reviewers can delete individual reviews, or all their reviews. Maybe they’ve changed their mind. Maybe they have an issue with Amazon. Maybe they have died, and the next-of-kin or password holder deletes the reviews and closes the account.
Solution: None. (Because reviewers are human.)
Glitches are common. Top 10,000 (and even Top 10) reviewers have had hundreds of reviews one day, and none the next. Then they reappear. No one knows why.
Solution: None. Unless you’re Jeff Bezos.
Every so often, Amazon undertakes a system-wide purge of reviews (usually when they’ve identified yet another group of sellers and reviewers colluding to defy their Reviewing Guidelines). For example, as part of my research for this post I looked for Harriet Klausner’s reviewing profile. It’s been deleted, so anyone “lucky” enough to have been reviewed by the Harriet Klausner account lost that review.
More recently, Amazon have deleted several infamous bookstuffers. I’ve heard rumours that some of the people who’d given their books five-star reviews without pointing out that it was a stuffed book have lost all their reviews. So if you were unlucky enough to have been reviewed by a reviewer who also reviewed books by Chance Carter or Cassandra Dee, then you will have lost those reviews.
Amazon does occasionally make mistakes when it comes to deleting reviewers, and they are quick to delete and slow to restore. My best advice is to stay under Amazon’s radar: familiarise yourself with the the Amazon Reviewing Guidelines, and stick to them.
If you have specific questions, please let me know in the comments!
…is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).
Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has recently introduced the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge, an email course for authors wanting to establish their online platform. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, two teenagers and one cat.
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