#85 – Getting Banned and Re-Instated By Amazon Associates

What you will learn

  • How to make sure you don't miss Amazon warning emails
  • How to avoid a warning in the first place
  • How to react if you do get a warning from Amazon
  • What you should do with pricing, images and links to avoid breaching the ToS.

In the last two weeks, a fire in an apartment block in Dubai is the second scariest thing to happen to the Authority Hacker team (don’t worry, no damage done).

So, I suppose you are wondering what the scariest thing was?

An email…

…From Amazon.

In this special postcast, Gael, Mark and Perrin will be talking about our run-in with Amazon Associates and how we came out the other end alive and kicking. This postcast accompanies Perrin’s Ultimate Guide to Amazon Associates.

We will also touch on a special case from the AH Pro community where one of our members was banned by Amazon. This wasn’t the end of the story, however. After analysing the issues and communication openly with Amazon, the member was pretty quickly unbanned and able to make money from Amazon again.

What Did The Email Say?

So, as you can probably tell by now, we freaked out a bit.

But, then we took a deep breath and tried to approach the problem with clear heads.

Here’s what the email actually said:

Hello from the Amazon Associates Program,

While reviewing your account, we have been unable to verify that the means through which you are referring customers to the Amazon Site are in compliance with the terms of the Associates Program Operating Agreement. Therefore, we request that you provide us with a detailed description of the methods you are using to refer customers to the Amazon Site in accordance with the Operating Agreement, which states: You must provide us with any information that we request to verify your compliance with this Operating Agreement.

The description you send should include, for example, identification of the websites on which your banner ads are posted, advertising services you are using, screenshots of your Site’s analytics tools that show your Site traffic and its sources, the keywords you are using to drive referrals, any plugins or browser add-ons you use, live links to your Sites, a sequence of links that allows us to duplicate the clicks the majority of your customers make to get to the Amazon Site via your special links, and any other information that would be relevant to confirming the your compliance with the Operating Agreement, which can be found here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement.

Also, take this time to update your account information, including all the domains you own that you are sending traffic from.

Please send the requested information to us within 5 business days by using the Contact Us form available here:

https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/contact

If we do not hear from you regarding the above, or, based on your response, we will be unable to verify that your methods are compliant with the Operating Agreement, we will close your Associates Account and may withhold fees.

We appreciate your understanding and hope to hear from you soon.

Warmest Regards,

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/associates

Breaking the email down, the main point was that Amazon couldn’t tell where the traffic our links were sending to Amazon, was coming from. They asked us for a whole bunch of information:

  • Methods you are using to refer customers
  • Identification of the websites on which your banner ads are posted
  • Advertising services you are using
  • Screenshots of your Site’s analytics tools that show your Site traffic and its sources
  • The keywords you are using to drive referrals
  • Any plugins or browser add-ons you use
  • Live links to your Sites
  • A sequence of links that allows us to duplicate the clicks the majority of your customers make to get to the Amazon Site via your special links
  • Any other information that would be relevant to confirming the your compliance with the Operating Agreement

The final thing is that we had 5 days to pull the information together and send it to Amazon.

What Do We Think Happened?

The clues are in the email if you read between the lines.

The fact that the email mentions Amazon have been “unable to verify that the means through which you are referring customers to the Amazon Site” is quite clear.

To us, this suggests that something is wrong with our tech set-up that is restricting Amazon’s visibility of the traffic from our site to theirs.

The next step was to analyse the tech.

The only thing that made sense to us was that we were using the geni.us plugin. Genius is link management software. The idea behind it is that links don’t need to be static but can be intelligent.

So, by putting in a genius link, someone from the USA will be sent to amazon.com, whereas, someone from Germany will be sent to amazon.de.

However, in the terms and conditions, they make a point of saying that you must be clear that the link is taking them to Amazon.

Geni.us Links
Geni.us Links

As you can see here on shutupandtakemymoney.com, geni.us links do not make it clear in the bottom left hand corner that they are taking users to Amazon.

On top of that, however, there seems to be an issue where Amazon is unable to track the traffic passing through Genius links correctly.

What Did We Do?

When it comes to managing our business, one of the most sensible things we can do it work to reduce risk. Whether Genius links are a problem or not, we thought that the sensible move was to eliminate the risk and stop using them altogether. Instead, we put the naked Amazon links back in.

Naked Amazon Links
Naked Amazon Links

We felt that this was the main issue but there was no guarantee it was everything.

All we could do was take a long hard look at ourselves. The best thing to we could do was audit ourselves.

We complied with all the request, provided screenshots, recorded screencasts to ensure that we were providing everything that Amazon needed and more.

The main things was that we were honest. After we audited ourselves, we found a few minor compliance issues.

We told Amazon about these. But, not only that, we provided them with an action plan that outlined how we were going to resolve these issues and the timescales involved.

After deleting the Genius plugin, a few things broke. This doesn’t usually happen but the combination of Thrive Architect and Genius doesn’t work all that well together. Where the links usually revert back to normal Amazon links, there were still Genius links.

To make sure we were send no traffic to Amazon through Genius links, Gael wrote a rule to redirect all Genius links to Google rather than Amazon. It wasn’t the perfect but it was a quick fix while we got round to fixing the 250 or so pages with Genius links on them.

Is It Normal to Get Warnings from Amazon?

Yes.

There are a lot of rules and regulations within the Amazon Associates terms of service that are easy to break.

In the past, Amazon have been very ban happy but the anecdotal evidence suggests that this is changing.

Ok, they still hand out bans like candy but at least they give warnings these days.

Warning

Amazon Associates warnings occasionally end up in SPAM. Make sure that you whitelist Amazon Associate emails so that you do not miss any warnings.

Why Do They Do It?

Amazon need to cover their own backs. Really.

The thing is, the are such a big company that everyone is gunning after them – the FTC, various bodies in the EU and probably in other regions as well, as you can hear about in our recent legal podcast.

Amazon probably run the largest affiliate program in the world. They are effectively paying affiliates to drive traffic to their site. As such, the could be found liable for any offences that their affiliates commit.

An example as such may be when reviewing a juicer, an affiliate may claim that the juicer is the cheapest on the internet and can be purchased from Amazon for $20. Then, when a competitor brings out a cheaper juicer, the affiliate could legitimately be accused of deceptive marketing by the FTC. Amazon could bear some responsibility for that.

Amazon Associates Disclaimer
Amazon Associates Disclaimer

This is why they are so strict about their terms of service, so as to be seen to be doing as much as possible if any legal issues were to arise.

What Do You Need To Be Aware Of?

  • Amazon Associates Disclaimer – You need to include the exact Amazon Associates disclaimer from the terms of service.
  • Images – You cannot host Amazon product images. You must get them from the API. This has drawbacks in terms of editing, spacing, etc. but the bonus is that they automatically update when the product owner updates their branding.
  • Prices – You cannot mention prices unless you pull them from the API and update the cache every 24 hours.
  • Email Promotion – You cannot include Amazon Associate links in emails.
  • Pop-Ups – You cannot include Amazon Associate links in pop-ups.

What Should You Do If You Get A Warning From Amazon?

If we were to get a warning email tomorrow and we could not decipher the real problem from it, we would bring everything back to the bare bones.

This means:

  • No images
  • No prices or pricing information
  • Proper, clear and prominent disclaimers
  • Only raw Amazon text links

The thinking behind this, is that with the very bare minimum, it is very difficult to break any rules.

Go as safe as possible. From there, after Amazon have approved your audit, you can slowly begin building up the features of your site.

It is possible for your site to get banned for life from Amazon, make sure that if you do get a warning that you take all possible precautions to ensure that you are in full compliance with the terms of service.

Final Tips

We have seen that, if you have been banned by Amazon, you can still be re-instated. Let’s be on the safe side though and try not to get banned in the first place.

However, If you do get banned from Amazon, anecdotal evidence suggests that you will get one chance and one chance only to reinstate your account.

If you don’t get approved then, they basically ghost you and stop answering your emails and calls.

You’re dead to them.

But, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.

There are hundreds of ways to monetize your site and there are literally thousands of affiliate programs out there. While Amazon is a great place to start, there tends to  be niche specific programs that can end up being a lot more useful than Amazon.

A final, important piece of advice is to make sure you read the Amazon Associates terms of service yourself or hire a lawyer to do it and implement their suggestions. No matter how many ultimate guides you read, there is no replacement for reading and understanding the terms of service yourself.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi, great podcast guys. really useful.

    One question I have on mentioning the price – what about articles that are like ‘Best X for under $100’? Should they be avoided?

    PS. the link to ‘Perrin’s Ultimate Guide to Amazon Associates’ doesnt seem to be working

    PPS. I’m guessing AH has no Amazon affiliate links, but would using the Amazon logo in your image to promote this blog post violate their terms?

    Cheers

  2. Great post and congrats on getting things resolved with Amazon! I couldn’t agree more that reviewing Amazon’s TOS and being honest are the best policies in working through these sticky situations.

    I also wanted to thank you for the mention of the Genius Link service and share some additional details that were missed (but I think Perrin covers in our upcoming interview / podcast!), to ensure your community is fully informed.

    I want to start off by noting that we work very closely with the Amazon.com Associates team, as well as the international Amazon Associates account managers, and have dealt with a handful of our community getting a similar note and some that were even worse. In each case we’ve helped them get to the bottom of the issue and I’m happy to share that we have NEVER had a client banned simply for using the Geniuslink service.

    With your example of ShutUpAndTakeMyMoney.com, I think it’s important to further clarify the guidelines that Amazon uses with regards to using 3rd party tools with their links are as follows: “As long as it’s clear that the shopper is going to Amazon either through visuals or some other indicator.” This can mean mentioning “Amazon” in the call to action, the button or anchor text, or we’ve even seen that including an Amazon icon in proximity to the button is fine. We’ve also found that making the change from a raw Amazon link to an intelligent link after the click works.

    With your example for ShutUpAndTakeMyMoney.com, it says “via Amazon.com” right next to the button which makes it clear to the shopper where they are being directed and keeps SUATMM on the up and up.

    Later in your write up you mention “there seems to be an issue where Amazon is unable to track the traffic passing through Genius links correctly.” Unfortunately, this assumption is categorically wrong for two reasons.

    First, our redirects are completely transparent. When we first started working with Amazon this was asked of us and as a result we built out our support for Amazon with this as pillar of the service. Further, we recently tested this again as part of an application process for being an approved short linking tool for eBay (happy to show you the results that showed that Twitter/t.co DOES NOT pass this info). All referrer / header information, and most importantly the affiliate tracking information, is passed to Amazon. We used the Charles Web Proxy tool to clearly show this.

    Second, as requested by Amazon and done to ensure a seamless relationship, we’ve, for years now, sent a monthly report of users /clicks to each of the regional Amazon Associates team.

    Finally, I wanted to add some details about the unfortunate Thrive issue you mentioned. We learned about a year ago that the Thrive Content Builder does some really funky things with JS based linking solutions. From our blog (https://blog.geni.us/2016/12/19/geniuslink-thrive-content-builder/):

    “…we discovered that the Thrive Content Builder visual editor (their specialized editor) was loading the page and actually firing any Javascript within the page (including our Amazon Link Engine Plugin). This meant that when an Amazon Link Engine user was editing their page within the TCB visual editor, all of the links shown had been converted by our plugin. Thus, when the client made their changes and saved their work, Thrive was taking all of the HTML (including the original Amazon links, now converted by the ALE plugin into the buy.geni.us links) and saving it to the client’s site. This in turn was permanently overwriting the raw Amazon URLs with our converted links in their database.”

    In early December of last year we pushed out an updated Amazon Link Engine plugin and Javascript Snippet that won’t covert links if they are loaded inside the TCB so you can continue to quickly enable /disable the Geniuslink service to convert your links to capitalize on your international readers.

    Thanks again for mentioning Geniuslink, your years of support, and allowing me to share a few additional notes. I look forward to Perrin and my interview going live soon to take your community even deeper into the world of Amazon’s TOS, as well as the possibility of further working together.

    Cheers.
    -Jesse Lakes
    CEO / Co-Founder
    Geniuslink

  3. Thanks for the detailed instruction. To co-infection, I encountered such a situation. Only on your blog, I was able to find the exact information.

    Thank you!

  4. I have received the same exact email and I submitted what I could to them and waiting for their reply. How long did it take you to get a response?

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