What are Black Hat Tactics, and are they hurting your Amazon sales? As both a first and third party seller with experience driving Amazon sales for companies small and large, I have seen sales impacted by several of these techniques and have learned tactics to protect my listings.
Below I will explore what five of the most common Black Hat Tactics are, why these tactics are used, and how they can be reported. I do not endorse these tactics in any way and highly discourage anyone from doing them. I feel it is essential to discuss these tactics more publically so that Amazon takes greater action against them.
BIG 5 BLACK HAT TACTICS:
- Hiring people to leave critical reviews of another seller or competitive product and then voting those reviews as being helpful, making them the most prominent feedback seen by shoppers. Freelancers can be hired for as cheap as $5 an hour to do do this. This tactic can drive down the overall rating of a product, or influence the reviews that show up as most helpful on a detail page. Example: A product may have a 4.6-star rating with hundreds of reviews, but shoppers will first see a string of negative one-star reviews on the detail page.
Amazon implemented a Ban on Incentivized Reviews in October 2016, but this has not stopped bad actors from continuing to manipulate community reviews on Amazon. Incentivized reviews often do not show a verified purchase flag next to the reviews, but what about people who pay in full and are incentivized through other means? I have personally been offered a visa gift card that would pay for the product as well as an added bonus of $3, $5, or even $10 when leaving a 5 Star Rating for a product. Craigslist has posters offering $10 through PayPal for each $5-star review. Upwork.com has several people who offer to "upvote" reviews on Amazon.
False Trademark Infringement Claims
Amazon has a large sensitivity toward counterfeits. Some merchants are willing to game the system by filing false trademark infringement claims against competing merchants, which can push a legitimate business to be suspended in Amazon's "guilty-until-proven-innocent" vetting system. Even if the target has selling privileges reinstated, the process can take days or weeks where sales are lost and giving time to the competitor to capture the market share. A simple search on seller forums shows that this is very widespread.
Draining Ad Spend
Hiring people and using bots to repeatedly click and drain ad spends of competitive products. This can lead a brand to think that certain campaigns aren’t working and altogether stop bidding on the terms.
False Product Claims
Hiring people to buy products from competitors and then return the product, stating that it contains a banned ingredient or is a regulated product. This potentially results in a product receiving an andon cord (suppressed detail page & buy box.) Recently saw this with products being called out as having naproxen. The listing was suppressed on Black Friday and after several support tickets was reinstated 5 days later. Meanwhile, sales were lost during the most crucial time of the year.
WHY ARE THESE STILL HAPPENING?
Most of the reasoning behind why these tactics still take place on Amazon can be denoted by Amazon's monitoring and consequences found in Community Guidelines and Conditions of Use. The main reason why these tactics are still happening is the fact that there are HIGH rewards and LOW risk to sellers.
Consequences According to Community Guidelines:
"Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including by contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited. If you violate our Guidelines, we may restrict your ability to use Community features, remove content, delist related products, or suspend or terminate your account. If we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in any form of misconduct, remittances and payments may be withheld or permanently forfeited. Misconduct may also violate state and federal laws, including the Federal Trade Commission Act, and can lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties."
Individual Consequences: Consequences for individual users is pretty light. Individual users have a low barrier to create new/fake accounts. While Amazon attempted to deter people from creating multiple accounts and leaving reviews, the only real hurdle is their policy of mandating a $50 minimum spend through an account to actually leave a review. This is putting a quick stop toll booth on a freeway with no speed limit. It's an easy hurdle to pass and isn't stopping anyone, let alone companies willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to push free product to people in exchange for a review. Outsourced individuals are near impossible for Amazon to track down, and there is little to no ramification to the individuals if their account gets banned.
Seller Consequences: The burden is on Amazon to prove that a seller is in violation of the terms. Thus, punishments are rare and only come when someone is blatantly rigging the system. Amazon doesn’t have a huge incentive to ban sellers. Most of these seller accounts are bringing Amazon hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in revenue. Sellers have few barriers to creating multiple seller accounts, running all of these unapproved tactics through one, while leaving the other completely pure.
This scenario reminds me of the Tour de France, where blood doping is against the rules, but the ones who are winning are doing it.
Amazon is NOT Regularly Reviewing Posted Content:
In Amazon's Conditions of Use: Under Reviews, Comments, Communications, and Other Content, Amazon specifically states that they do "not regularly review posted content."
Instead, Amazon hopes the community will monitor it for them. Amazon states this in Community Guidelines: "We encourage anyone who suspects that content manipulation is taking place or that our Guidelines are being violated in any way to notify us. We will investigate the concern thoroughly and take any appropriate actions." When you actually click on notify us, it takes you to Amazon's standard Customer Service Form Submission.
How Do We Stop Black Hats?
Amazon has put the burden on the community to monitor black hats. Use tools such as ReviewMeta to find listings with potential fake reviews (screenshot below.) Use Keepa to tell you how long a product has existed and monitor BSR.
Submit Customer Service tickets. Submit Vendor or Seller Case Support Tickets. Email your VM, SVS, CL or other contacts at Amazon.
3. Hold Amazon Accountable
Continue to follow up until the offenders are punished.
Above policies are accurate as of 12/1/2017.
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If you’re in the global ecommerce space, you are most likely aware of Amazon, and probably selling your products on the marketplace. With over $470 billion in sales in 2021 alone, Amazon stands as the third largest company in the world based on revenue. The ecommerce giant is a household name in the U.S. and working hard to grow its market share across five continents worldwide.
Having your products available on Amazon and being competitive there, though, are definitely two different things. If you want to really succeed on Amazon, you’ll need specialized insight into how Amazon works and how to make it work for you. So, for many brands, it’s a great idea to work with an Amazon Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency.
At Pattern, Amazon SEO optimization service is one of our key competencies. We understand that technology, data-driven insights and expertise are the most important tools brands can leverage to win top listing spots on digital marketplaces. With expert teams and years of experience, we help brands conquer the Profitability Death Spiral as they compete with other products and sellers online. We offer Amazon SEO agency services as a core solution to brands that need more resources to get ahead.
An Amazon SEO agency serves brands by improving their products’ rank and listing performance on Amazon. They make strategic decisions about ad spending and placement that lead to higher traffic, conversions, and revenue for ecommerce brands.
A great Amazon SEO Agency partner will:
Unfortunately, many Amazon SEO agencies profit in unfair ways from your brands’ perceived success based on the ROAS numbers they provide. This is done through including branded search terms in ROAS reports, which naturally skew listing performance.
Let’s say, for instance, your brand is called “Annie’s” and you sell lollipops. Your brand has a very high likelihood of winning the top listing spots on Amazon for lollipop search terms that are paired with “Annie’s,” your brand name. So, SEO agencies will spend your ad money on those terms and report a very high ROAS.
To avoid scenarios like these, it’s best to look for an agency that either calculates their profits on metrics other than your ROAS scores or weighs branded search terms differently in the performance metrics reports. Regardless of your Amazon SEO agency’s cost structure, you should align onbranded search terms before committing to a scope of work.
A great indicator of a high-quality Amazon SEO agency is the level of insight they can provide into your competitors’ listing positioning and how it compares to yours. Data fanaticism is so important at Pattern that we’ve developed proprietary technology to display this exact information with precise detail for every brand we work with. In fact, you can find our free version here to see how you compare to some of your top competitors based on ASIN.
It’s certainly possible to improve your Amazon search performance with blind spending strategies. But a truly great solution will help you to know where your dollars are at their most powerful and competitive.
Amazon’s A10 algorithm prioritizes customer satisfaction—it wants to show consumers the best products that align with their search intent to improve conversions and sales. So, the best way to gain momentum on Amazon is to work on incremental wins.
Improving your performance on more obscure search terms that align with your customers’ search intent is a great way to increase ROAS for the long term. A10 will reward your success with better rankings on higher-volume search terms and the virtuous cycle can help you conquer your most-coveted listing spots. And the best part? This process of gaining momentum, if done right, will naturally decrease your ad spend over time as Amazon recognizes your value and works with you to keep your products at the top of consumers’ search results.
As an Amazon SEO specialist, Pattern knows how to help your brand win better success for long-term profitability on Amazon. With our data-driven tools and brilliant teams of ecommerce experts, we help brands with listing management, content optimization, Amazon ad strategies, and more.
Contact us to learn more about our SEO optimization services.
Entering the ecommerce landscape is a huge undertaking for any brand—it usually requires a large investment in resources and expertise to really be successful. Any brand can quickly get in over their heads trying to navigate the nuances of SEO, fulfillment and logistics, distribution control, listing optimization, and meeting the numerous other requirements and administrative tasks to show up well on marketplaces.
Unfortunately, because it’s so easy for third party, gray market, and unauthorized sellers to obtain and sell products online, many brands find themselves pressured to execute an ecommerce plan without the right resources to succeed on marketplaces and their other channels.
So, for brands looking to enter the ecommerce space or improve their current and future performance, it makes sense to partner with an ecommerce consultant.
Pattern’s global presence and proven success with hundreds of brands has allowed us to develop highly effective ecommerce consulting services. We can guide your brand to navigate issues both large and small in marketplaces worldwide. To maximize your ecommerce efforts, you’ll need to understand what an ecommerce consultant does and how to select one who drives the right value for your brand and products.
An ecommerce consultant is a specialist in the ecommerce space who can give you personalized guidance on how to market your products and grow their presence on digital marketplaces.
An ecommerce consultant should be able to analyze your brand, audience, category, opportunity, and current roadblocks and help you understand how to utilize your resources (or what resources are missing) to be most effective in capturing your opportunities in the ecommerce space.
Not sure how to evaluate a consultant? Here are 4 key attributes to look for as you make your choice.
At Pattern, we prioritize brand obsession for a reason—we know that a brand-centered mindset makes a crucial difference in the outcomes and results our partners achieve. So in our experience, when you begin your search for an ecommerce consultant, it’s important to look for a partner who is specialized in ecommerce, invested in the product, and passionate about helping brands build and improve their strategies. Typically, this means finding someone that consults exclusively for ecommerce marketplaces, rather than choosing a consultant who offers many different services.
It’s also important to avoid choosing a consulting partner who can’t deliver the right experience for your brand. The best indication of whether your potential consultant can do that is to review their history, data, and results with other brands. Ask if they’ve helped others in your selling category, if they’ve solved specific issues your brand is facing, and why they feel you are a good fit. The key is to leave the conversation feeling confident that you understand your consultants’ capabilities and whether or not they match up with your needs.
It’s best to pick a consultant who knows how to guide a brand onto and through multiple marketplaces worldwide. You’ll want to take a look at your long-term strategy and think about the regions and platforms you’re currently on and where you might want to take your brand in the future. If your consultant is truly great at what they do, they’ll be able to help you perform well enough with your current product roadmap that it’ll be a no-brainer to expand your presence at the right time.
The most effective partnership with an ecommerce consultant will be able to give you both recommendations and point you to solutions for making those changes in your planning, processes, and execution. Your time and money is valuable, so you want to make sure that you’re spending it as efficiently as possible as you follow your consultant’s advice. So, before you commit to an ecommerce consultant, ask about the resources and concrete solutions they typically recommend to the brands they work with.
Finding an ecommerce consultant that checks the boxes can be a difficult task. At Pattern, our entire focus and drive centers around giving brands the tools and resources they need to succeed on domestic and international ecommerce marketplaces.
With over 100 global ecommerce consultants across 10 global offices, we have the right tools to partner with brands across the world to achieve better ecommerce success. We give specialized advice, then make sure our partners have all the adequate SEO, social media, CRM, Amazon multi-channel fulfillment services, and ecommerce outsourcing services they need.
Interested in ecommerce consulting services? Set up a call here to learn what Pattern can do for your brand on global marketplaces.