What are Amazon Black Hat Tactics?
Now imagine this, you just bought a product on Amazon. Came in the mail, tried it out and just didn’t do what you thought it should do, it’s pretty bad quality, whatever it is, and you give them a bad review. And then suddenly within a day or two, you start getting emails. You start thinking, maybe phone calls, maybe even a postcard in the mail from someone who didn’t think he even knew who you were asking you to change that review maybe incentivizing you to do so, bribing you to do so.
That’s really happening right now. So the wall street journal just a few days ago, announced that sellers have been seen going to great lengths. Now, a lot of times, overseas sellers are engaging in what are called Blackhat tactics to try and get people to change negative views to positive reviews.
Now, as we’ve all seen from people looking to buy business on Amazon reviews are one of the number one things we’re looking for right now. So it makes sense that sellers are doing whatever they can to get more positive reviews and take down any negative reviews. But what we didn’t know is the lengths these sellers are going to.
And so the wall street journal had interesting report showing how they’re using the reviews, whatever information they can get from your profile in Amazon to determine who you are, who you might be, because they don’t really know Amazon does not give this away.
They’re able to do some investigation of their own and try to track down who you are. So it’s more important now than ever to make sure you don’t put any kind of personally identifiable information in your profile on Amazon, in your review, because you don’t want not, they’re gonna do anything too bad, but you don’t want them tracking you down trying to incentivize you to re to give, you know, to change your review or anything, but it is happening out there. Uh, and that’s just one of the many things that we’re seeing people do now with all these black hat tactics, Matt. Yeah.
So I feel like maybe the first thing we go into is like, for people that aren’t familiar, like what the heck does black hat even mean? I actually have no idea where the term comes from. Do you know the original? I do not know either. So like the first, uh, my first exposure was when I was first getting started, internet marketing, uh, doing like black hat. SEO was a big thing.
Legitimate SEO would be like, okay, uh, building a great business that people want to talk about reaching out to big publications. Maybe you get an article in a local newspaper, maybe a big publication. People are linking to your website, you’re building infographics and stuff that people want to link to. That was the right way to do it, or what people would call white hat, creating good content, stuff that Google would like.
For example, on the other side of things, there was what people would call black hat SEO, which was maybe like using a piece of software that would spin up like thousands of sites that would all be linking back to yours to try to get better rankings, lots of weird tactics like that. There was other ones that would go out there and would maliciously, you know, hurt other sites. It would send a lot of bad links over there to get them delisted.
What We’ve Found and Why We’re Telling You
So it’s kind of like back in the day with Google, it was like, you can either do things to push yourself up in the rankings, or you can do things to eliminate the people above you. So then you’ll automatically be pushed up and there was big, uh, a variety of these kinds of things. It’s not, you know, kind of like everything in life.
There’s not just like a hundred percent good, a hundred percent bad. There’s a lot of gray area in the middle. So that was kind of my first exposure to this concept of like black hat and the same thing definitely applies now when it comes to selling on Amazon, the same kind of concept, and that’s why people call it, you know, black hat tactics on Amazon.
Those tactics that can lift up your product and give you more sales. And then those that can take down your competitors. And I know the ones that we see that the ones that really upset sellers the most, of course, the ones where someone just goes out and attacks you and tries to take down your business.
There seems to be, if you’re trying to lift up your sales, maybe say that more gray hat depends on where you stand on this stuff, but they range from all over the place here. And so we actually went out and talked to a lot of sellers before this podcast allowed them mentors from amazing ask them, what are they seeing out there nowadays, and came up with a pretty extensive list.
And you might wonder, you know, why the heck are we telling you this? If you followed any of our stuff for any period of time, you’ll realize pretty quickly we’re not about this kind of stuff. We think it’s very, short-sighted, unethical, probably in most cases, but also just as like a general business strategy, very shortsighted, uh, even if you took ethics or morality out of the way, and think that kind of like cheating is not the way to go. If you could call it this, cheating.
In most cases, it’s kind of hoping that you don’t get caught so that you can make as much money as quickly as possible. And, not really worrying about the long-term. We’ve seen all the best results come from building a good, solid long-term business because where people are making a ton of money is building businesses that they can sell.
So nobody’s going to want to buy your business. If they know you’re doing tactics that could literally have that business taken away overnight. And so we just want you to know, not because we want you to do these tactics, but we want you as an informed e-commerce entrepreneur and informed Amazon seller to know what other people are doing. So you’re not caught off guard. You’re not wondering what happened to my product. What happened to my listing? How is this other person ranking above me? Do they know something I don’t know?
They just may be playing a game that you don’t want to play, and eventually it’s going to catch up with them. And so we want you to know what’s out there so that you know, where the lines are, what lines not to cross in case you hear anybody talking about these kinds of strategies and also so that if you want to play the long game that, you know, stuff that maybe you shouldn’t be doing that other people are doing so you can produce the most success long-term.
So let’s start getting into it. We’ll start with reviews similar to the story that I talked about in the wall street journal. One of the tactics still being used by a lot of sellers right now are creating these re review clubs in order to just give free reviews. Well, not free. They’re paying them to give them reviews. So they’re actually a bunch of big Amazon Chinese sellers. Not that there’s nothing wrong with Chinese sellers, but these brands happen to be all from China.
We’re engaging in these review clubs. One of their servers was left, open. Amazon got word of this from another company that I guess goes out there and does these kind of like data security, investigations found the server that was open and found all these clubs and these transactions actively taking place where these brands were paying people to give them positive reviews.
You can literally go on there and see conversations. “Hey, I need 25 star reviews willing to pay 20 bucks.” They’re openly doing this. And if you knew how big these brands were, they were doing tens 15, $20 million a year, easily, sometimes more, for these brands, it was working. That’s why they were doing, they spelled those in there. It was in their best interest, but these brands got taken down. As soon as Amazon got word of this, did a little investing in themselves.
And these multi-million dollar brands selling on Amazon were taken down because of using these review clips. Now again, we’re still people out there doing it. This is just one that they found out, but definitely any time you’re paying someone to give you a review, especially give you a positive review. That is definitely against Amazon’s terms of service and definitely something you want to avoid.
These brands that had, you know, been doing that stuff over in China. And, you know, they’re having to lay off like 70 people and the is filing bankruptcy because they built up all these expenses based on this thing that got taken away overnight, because they were doing stuff they shouldn’t have been doing, which is not a good situation.
Using Inserts To Offer Incentive For Review
Obviously a next black hat tactic that we recommend not doing, is using inserts to offer to pay people for positive reviews. So we are big proponents of using package inserts. This is where it’s like possibly gray area, but it’s like the way we kind of justify it, I guess, is pretty much every major brand out there has some sort of marketing material or package insert or something on their packaging that tries to get you to go to their website, to register a warranty, to be part of some club, uh, enable some digital content or something like that.
And so we don’t see it as a big problem about you being a smaller brand, doing the same exact thing. So we think that’s totally okay. We do think it’s fine to incentivize people to get on your email list, for example, text message lists. So you can contact them because they are somebody who’s bought a product that you sell just happens to be on Amazon, but that’s about where we draw the line.
Maybe in the future, if you want, you can follow up with them. Did you like the product? And then maybe ask them to leave review at some point that’s probably okay as well where people really cross the line. It’s blatantly against Amazon’s terms of service is they’ll have a package insert in there that says, Hey, I’ll give you another free product.
If you leave a review of this one, and I’ve seen this stuff recently, I thought this stuff stopped years ago. But no, I’ve literally got one the other day. And it was from a product that I bought on Amazon that I was going to use personally. And they had a thing in there that was basically would not give me the free product until I could prove that I wrote a five star review on Amazon. That’s not good. That’s the kind of thing that will get your product suspended very quickly. So we definitely don’t recommend doing that.
I mean, Amazon just kind of looks at this stuff. I think at a, at a macro level, a lot of times, and they’ll kind of see different, weird trends happening with their product. Like, oh, there’s just getting a crazy number of five-star reviews, way faster than they should be. And it’s just very unnatural. And so I think Amazon can sometimes spot that stuff and then they probably go do the kind of like secret shopping, like you’re talking about, or a lot of times your competitor tells on you.
So next thing is using bots to upvote and downvote reviews. This used to be a popular tactic was like using mass Amazon accounts or having other people. Cause you know, if you get a bunch of Amazon reviews and say, you get a negative one-star review, that’s that’s at the top, you can actually get people to vote up another review as most helpful.
Then it kind of buries that, and it makes the product look good and potentially can increase sales. And it probably will increase sales. Amazon, obviously doesn’t like that. If they, if you’ve gotten a whole, whole lot of natural votes for a review that may not be super good, uh, they think that’s a more accurate representation of your product. And so some people use bots or, you know, just massive numbers of counts to vote, uh, up and down reviews. And that’s another tactic that is probably not worth the risk.
How Competitors Can Take Down Your Business
Now let’s start getting into some, like the really nasty things. What competitors will do to take down your listing. You know, though what you talk about there, helping them reviews, maybe using inserts to get people, to give reviews, uh, uh, upvoting their own reviews kind of helps them their own case, but some tactics are to take down, be very malicious towards the competitors.
One way is to have a product, get categories as adult. So if you don’t have brand registry and something that I’ve seen this happen, even if you do, anyone can go out there and attempt to recategorize a product, they can add that product to their account and then say that this is an adult product. Uh, and it kind of flows over to that same product that you may be selling yourself.
And if that happens, then you can no longer advertise. That’s the down part of being categorized as, as an adult doesn’t mean you can’t sell on Amazon, but you can’t advertise anymore and advertise it. The critical part of this business. Also your product won’t show up to anyone. They can’t verify the age of them, unless they’re at least 18 or over, they’re not going to see any adult products. So your it’ll dramatically limit the number of people that can actually view your product out there.
That’s one pretty bad tactic that I’ve seen. Now, another one as well, similar to that, to getting products categorized as an adult is adding trigger words to your competitors listings. So this is especially rampant during the whole coronavirus epidemic. So as people were selling all types of hand sanitizer and foaming soap and, and face masks, uh, Amazon wanted to control those because they want to make sure that only authentic valid products like those were, were being sold. So they weren’t liable in case the face mask didn’t do what they’re supposed to do.
So they limited there were people selling them. And the way they did that is by reviewing all the products that are listed as base mask or hand sanitizer. And unless they knew you were a trusted seller, your listing could be suppressed. Well, people got a hold of this. And so what they would do is try to get their competitor’s products listed as a disinfected or as hand sanitizer, or they could get it actually listed as something completely different, uh, putting drugs in there.
I’ve seen people go to another marketplace and list and put something like drugs, heroin, cocaine in a listing. And as soon as Amazon sees it, like, we’re not gonna let anyone advertise these drugs on here. So then they take that listing down immediately. And it’s usually not the seller doing that. Of course, it’s one of their competitors doing that. So that’s a really, really nasty tactic that they’re doing and they can do this again, even if you’re selling the U S if they make that change to a version of your product in Canada or Mexico, it tends to flow over and gets your product taken down in the U S market.
Definitely not a good tactic. Uh, now another way to do also affect your competitors listings is to be at insight connections in Amazon. I know it’s kind of a stretch. You might not think this is happening, but there was a case, uh, early this year in New York were several big sellers were caught paying off Amazon employees to either get their accounts reinstated if they had issues.
So they would sell their services saying, Hey, if your account was taken down, pay us thousands of dollars. We’ll contact our contact on Amazon and they’ll get it back approved. Well, once they were able to do that, they found they could just as easily take down competitors. So if someone’s out doing, you pay us thousands of dollars, we’ll go into our Amazon contact and have their account restricted and taken down really nasty tactic. The FBI is actually not investigating them, the cases still going on, but that’s how serious Amazon takes things like that.
If you ever, ever, ever offered to have something, Hey, I’d have a contract in Amazon to do anything for you, runaway. You’re not only messing with a listing, you’re risking your business pretty much putting yourself in legal jeopardy as well. Again, going back to reviews, one tactic is to go look at some old products that hadn’t stopped being sold.
We’ve all seen this for many bus if you’re selling and it was on, you’ve probably seen this where if you pull up a product and you see the reviews for it and they don’t match up with the product it’s product could have a thousand reviews. If they’re selling a baseball cap and it’s talking about a plunger, the way that happens is sellers go look for old products that have been discontinued, but happen to have a lot of reviews.
And they repurpose that listing for their own, given a new title, new pictures, and so forth. And they immediately start selling with a whole bunch of reviews because reviews are hard to come by nowadays. One of the tactics still being seen, and you know, another one kind of similar to that is to do the exact same thing to existing listings. So if I’m selling my product to Amazon, it got a lot of reviews.
if I don’t have brand registry to protect my account from getting taken over by someone else, then someone else could simply change my listing and not only take advantage of my reviews, but my sales velocity. Everything I built up for that product, getting in the rankings and so forth. Uh, that’s definitely one of the tactics we’ve seen happen, not as much anymore, but still taking place out there.
Now I just heard about this. One of my mentors is that with Amazon being so concerned about the safety of his products, we probably heard about hoverboards exploding or the, uh, the bear spray, I think, uh, going off of one of their warehouses and kind of burning people. Uh, there was just a generator that caught on fire and Wisconsin I believe.
So product liability is becoming a big issue, safety. And in particular, if you buy a product and then you submit a safety complaint about it, that can get a product taken down as well. So if you buy some kind of kid’s product, all it takes is for a competitor to write a bad review and submit a complaint. Hey, this burnt my kid or broke his arms. I’m like that, that can immediately get Amazon’s attention.
Again. Amazon tries to do the best, tries to investigate it somewhat. Uh, but more times than not, they’re trying to be more reactionary just to limit their liability. So that is another way again, be negative and take down your competitor’s listings.
So there’s a couple more, uh, one is, you know, some people, especially back in the day, but still now will essentially create hundreds of fake accounts to byproducts. You know, doing keyword searches. For example, you search for a keyword, you buy a product, it’ll help it rank higher, and then going even a step further and using that to leave reviews.
Now, you know, there’s kind of always a cat, the cat and mouse game where Amazon kind of catches up to the tactics. They get a little more clever with the tactics, but this kind of stuff still does happen, which is why sometimes people think that they’re getting negative reviews from competitors. You know, people will buy products and then, you know, do like a to Z guarantee claims and stuff like that to kind of hurt you as well. And the last tactic is kind of similar, but they’ll either use accounts or bots.
That’ll do different things on Amazon that seemed to push you up in the rankings. So a very well-known one is, you know, going out there, searching for a keyword and then buying a certain product like I was just talking about, but there seems to be other signals that Amazon looks at even adding it to the cart. So you don’t even have to, uh, buy the product.
You can basically, if you had, for example, like a hundred accounts that took some product that was relatively, uh, uh, not well known or not well ranked on Amazon and they all added it to the cart that could push you up and rankings for certain keywords, especially if they searched for those keywords first. And there seems to be, using some of the social sharing features from what we’ve heard, you know, back in the day, heard a guy that I knew that was very into these kinds of black hat tactics.
I wasn’t really sure how black hat they were at the time to be honest. And he was like, yeah, he’s like, I’ve created this like whole software development team. We’ve got the super cool software that we want you to promote to all your people. And, basically he wouldn’t really tell me what it did. Sure enough. I had a keyword ranking software that was running on this product.
And for the keyword that I gave him, uh, the product basically went from, you know, nothing say, you know, number 20 or so to within seven days, it just, flat-lined a number one. And it stayed the number one ranked product for that keyword like clockwork. And literally there was no extra sales, no nothing. It was just using some of these social signals and adding to cart. Needless to say, I didn’t pursue a deal with this guy.
I was like, this is super shifty. I don’t feel like this is going to last a long time. And that’s what ended up happening. He basically went out of business, stopped doing this stuff because pretty much anybody in summary that’s doing this stuff are not the people that we talk about that have built super successful businesses. They sold, it changed her life. Now they’re financially free.
Every single one of the people I know that’s focused a lot on these kinds of tactics. Uh, now they’re still trying to find some new tactic or they’re doing some other business and they just keep going from short-term thing to short-term thing to short-term thing. And they never build something lasting because they’re constantly trying to, you know, ah, game the system instead of build a good solid business.
What You Can Do To Combat These Tactics
So we talked about all these black hat tactics, uh, can sound pretty scary, uh, knowing that other people out there doing this. Luckily we know that they’re all short term. They eventually get caught. Amazon is very good at, they have too much invested in this, but if you’re a, you know, a seller and you hear this podcast, you’re like kind of freaking out about all these things here. What can sellers do in order to combat against these kind of things?
I mean, it all starts when we say to sound like a broken record, but starting with a good product, which is crazy because, it sounds super simple, but why is somebody buying your product to begin with it’s because they want a good product. And so if you give them a good product and ideally something that’s better than what’s already out there, which is not super complicated, it just means you have to do a little more extra work upfront.
So a great product, will help get you a large part of the way. I mean, that’ll help you get more positive reviews, less negative reviews, more referrals. So I would say good product is number one, doing good marketing intentionally saying good as a, not super aggressive, not black hat, not, not kinda shoot for the moon kind of marketing, but good marketing, meaning you’re measuring your performance.
You’re running Amazon ads. You’re saying honest things about your product and you’re still out there actively promoting it, but you’re not trying to lie or game the system, uh, also providing good customer service, which isn’t as big of a deal on Amazon. But I know with our e-commerce business that sells a lot on Shopify customer service is a big thing for us because we’re constantly dealing with shipping issues like everyone who does their own shipping is just Amazon kind of does that for you. So you don’t have to worry about it as much, uh, but providing good service.
The thing we always recommend, it’s just kind of the gold standard for a physical products, business and customer service. If somebody has an issue, just give them their money back. Very, very seldom are people really trying to screw you over? Occasionally maybe once in every 10 years you’ll get somebody that’s like, you know, they’re on their fifth free product and you’re kind of like, okay, this is getting a little weird here, but I would say 99.9, 9% of people they’ve just had some issue.
I would default to trusting them and so give them a good product, give them a free product, refund them, whatever you have to do free shipping. Doesn’t matter in the longterm. The positive benefits far outweigh the negative consequences of a little bit of cost. And also just run a good business, meaning, uh, keep your costs as low as possible. And we just interviewed somebody that’s actually coming up in the next episode, I believe.
And she never hired anybody. She went from starting from scratch to selling her business for multiple seven figures, did everything herself. Now she kind of managed people in her job and, you know, didn’t want to have to manage more people outside of her job. So that was kind of part of her reason, but it also helped keep, keeps your costs low.
Whether you do that strategy or find another way to lower your costs, the more profit you have the less you may feel tempted to do these kinds of black hat strategies.
Last thing, and maybe you have something on your own. But last thing is, if you see some of this bad behavior, report it to Amazon, it doesn’t mean that it’s always going to work and they’re immediately going to solve all your problems. And you may get frustrated that people are doing this kind of stuff and not getting caught for it in the long run.
It all catches up with them. In the long run, if you’re doing these things to build a good business, growing sales, doing good marketing, good product, keeping your costs low, providing good service. It may take a little longer to get to a certain point of success, but it’ll all be worth it in the longterm thing
I’d add is protect your brand. Um, that’s one thing you talk about these negative tactics where people can affect your listings and your products on Amazon. Uh, get a trademark when you can. It doesn’t have to be right away and it can be six, 12 months down the road.
If you start selling, get Amazon brand registry and a whole host of protections. Come along with that. Uh, some that you have the ability to enact yourself to find these other products, stealing sales from you, and some have just come along with it that Amazon’s watching has your back in the background. That’ll also
Thanks everyone for listening. Uh, we hope to see you in the next episode. If you have any questions, feel free to send them to amazing.com/branded. There’s a little form on there that you can fill out. And Mike, and I will try to answer those on the upcoming episode. So thanks for listening and we’ll see you in the next time.
Matt Clark is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Amazing.com, a serial entrepreneur, and investor. He’s been featured on Forbes, CNBC, and Entrepreneur.com.