BuzzFeed News reporter Leticia Miranda dug into the high-stakes world of Amazon “optimization” and found consultants offering black hat tactics to “cheat the marketplace and mislead customers.”
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that some sellers would try to game Amazon’s system, legitimately or otherwise – just look at what companies have done to try and game Google’s search engine to gain greater visibility – one case we wrote about in 2003 was featured in John Battelle’s book, “The Search.” Big money is at stake when trying to get to the top of search engine results.
BuzzFeed News reported that documents it had obtained indicated that in some cases, services obtain information by bribing Amazon employees. The article follows similar allegations of wrongdoing and bribery described by the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider in September.
According to BuzzFeed News, “One black hat company charges as much as $10,000 a month to help Amazon sellers appear at the top of product search results. Other tactics to promote sellers’ products include removing negative reviews from product pages and exploiting technical loopholes on Amazon’s site to lift products’ overall sales rankings. These services make it harder for Amazon sellers who abide by the company’s terms of service to succeed in the marketplace, and sellers who rely on these tactics mislead customers and undermine trust in Amazon’s products.”
It described an a la cart menu of services by one alleged black hat service including the following:
- Get suspended Amazon account reinstated: $10,000
- Ping internal contacts at Amazon to get information about why a seller’s account had been suspended, as well as advice on how to appeal the suspension: $500
- Remove an unspecified number of negative reviews on a listing within three to seven days: $300
- Fool Amazon’s algorithm into believing a product had been added to a shopper’s cart or wish list by writing a super URL: $1.50
- Single thumbs-up on a product review: $1
If you don’t understand why sellers would be tempted to use such services, just skim the Amazon seller boards to read posts from panicked sellers whose accounts were suspended or who run into other serious problems that jeopardize their standings.
But the risks to sellers are great – if Amazon discovers you are breaking the rules, there could be grave consequences, not to mention the fact that it’s easy for anyone to make promises to sellers – can you trust a company that’s promising to break another companies terms and conditions?
BuzzFeed points out there are legitimate Amazon consultants who use approved practices to help sellers. It also published a statement from Amazon stating that bad actors who offer underhanded services, and the sellers who purchase them, do not reflect the vast majority of its honest entrepreneurs and sellers. And it promised to continue to combat them and to work with law enforcement taking such actions as “withholding funds and pursuing civil and criminal penalties.”
The article offers a fascinating read on what some online sellers are up to and why. Do the black hat services work? It’s doubtful sellers who’ve used them will step forward to offer their picks and pans. Read the fascinating details on this page – and share your own tales, if you dare.