Surviving an Audit by Amazon Associates

I was having a beer on a Sunday night, after a fun weekend of hiking and exploring my new neighborhood in Boulder, CO.

I managed to avoid checking my email all weekend long, which is a feat, but I try to carve out screen free time over the weekends.

I’m glad I checked it when I did.

I saw this subject line:

ACTION REQUIRED – Your Amazon.com Associates Account

Then, the first line said this:

Your Associates account is at risk of closure.

I thought:

Expletive. Expletive. EXPLETIVE.

The email was sent on Thursday morning and I knew that I only had 5 business days to reply to the email.

Here is what the email said:

Hello,

Your Associates account is at risk of closure.

Why?
As part of our ongoing monitoring of the Amazon Associates Program, we’re reviewing your account. To complete our review, we need you to provide more information about how you’re referring customers to the Amazon Site.

What’s next?
Within five business days please provide a detailed description of the methods you are using to refer traffic to the Amazon Site by providing:
• A list of the Sites on which your Special Links or banner ads are posted,
• advertising services you are using,
• links to 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 your compliance with the Operating Agreement, which can be found here.

Please send the requested information to us as soon as possible by using the Contact Us form available here. Please choose the subject “Warning/Information Request Response” from the dropdown menu, and be sure to reference Issue Code 83441-US in the comments field.

If you do not respond with sufficient information within five business days, we will close your Associates account and withhold fees.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Amazon.com

Warmest Regards,

Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/associates

I finished my beer and got to work. I’ll share:

  • What I learned
  • What I did and how I responded
  • What happened after the Audit (including the Amazon Response)
  • My answers to reader questions
  • What I submitted (including free templates you can have)

Five Figure Niche Site, my premium course, is launching later in May. Look out for fresh success stories & testimonials from 2019.

Lessons Learned From My Audit from Amazon Associates

  1. Set up an alert so when you get an email from Amazon Associates, you don’t miss it or lose time. I lost a few days. You could set up a text message to be sent if you get an email with that subject line so you’ll know right away.
  2. Fix anything you can BEFORE you get an audit notice. If you aren’t sure, then I advise you to choose the most conservative option. I had a number of edge case issues that I had to fix using some ninja database skills, phpMyAdmin, and regular expressions (regex). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you really don’t want to know. You can quickly destroy your site in a few keystokes.
  3. Having a portfolio of sites would make the audit a nightmare. I have a few sites and it was a lot of work to do in a short time. If I didn’t have to fix anything, then it wouldn’t have been too bad.

Want My Audit Templates?

Get all the materials that I submitted to Amazon

See screenshots at the end of this post

  1. Cover Letter: Addresses all 8 items that you need to provide.
  2. Keyword List Template
  3. Plugin Template for Each Site
  4. Links to Duplicate Clicks Template for Each Site

** If you’re already a Niche Site Project email subscriber, then go check your email because I sent you the templates already.


Disclaimer

I’m not associated with the Amazon Associate program from any administrative capacity, just as an affiliate.

So use this information at your own risk.

  • You should consult your own legal counsel if needed — so talk to a lawyer.
  • You can use it as a guide.
  • These are just templates and the real audit is on your sites, not the templates.
  • I’m not making any claims that if you use these templates that you’ll have a successful audit.
  • I’m just sharing my specific experience which you can read here.
    If you’re being audited, good luck! I can’t help you fix issues — I’m sorry. But there’s just not time to help everyone. Go get a large coffee or a full pot of coffee and get to work.
  • In other words, proceed at your own risk.

My Rant Before We Get Started:

Some people think Amazon is too controlling with the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement and their Program Policies.

Maybe some people think the rules are unfair or complicated.

It’s a bad approach.

Life is unfair and complicated. 

I think it’s great that you can start a business from your computer for about $200 with a website. If you don’t like Amazon for some reason, I can respect that opinion.

There are other endless business models that you can execute.

I can guarantee that things are unfair and complicated everywhere. There will be different issues, but they’ll show up.

Feel free to vent below in the comments. Other folks in the audience will be able to relate to you and care about you.

So if you don’t like the Associates program or think the commissions are too low, then you should definitely seek a different business model.

Pick your poison…


What I Did To Fix Issues

I had a few things to fix, but not too many. The violations were generally edge cases that potentially didn’t follow the Operating Agreement not flat out violations.

However, across all my sites I have over a thousand posts so that’s really too much to review on my own by looking at individual pages.

Here are the three simple issues that I had, and they are some of the most common mistakes people make with Amazon Associate program.

  1. Image Usage
  2. Price References
  3. Amazon Brand Usage and Call-To-Actions

1. Downloading Images From Amazon

You can’t download images from Amazon and upload to your site. You need to use the Site Stripe or use the Advertising API. See all the Image Usage Guidelines from Amazon Associates.

I know this…so why did I have this issue?

I had one site that used an old plugin called Easy Azon. I hadn’t kept it updated properly and it was running an old version on my install.

In the version I had, Easy Azon pulls an image from the Amazon Advertising API, and it saves it on your site and serves it from your WordPress install.

Correction: EasyAzon confirmed that when Amazon introduced language in their terms that said images should not be stored, EasyAzon was updated shortly thereafter to comply with this change. That update was on September 26, 2017. If you have any questions regarding EasyAzon you can reach out to support at easyazon.com

I’ll share a little more on image usage in the question section since it’s such a hot topic.

What I did to fix the problem with images

I ripped out every single usage of Easy Azon on every post. Easy Azon uses shortcodes so that’s what I needed to remove.

The site in question had hundreds of posts so I couldn’t have done this manually. I used phpMyAdmin and regex and it took about 0.25 second to remove the Easy Azon shortcodes.

So that means that there aren’t product images — Yes. But I use primarily text-based affiliate links and don’t really care if there are product images.

2. Listing Prices or Price Ranges

You cannot list the prices unless you pull the data from the Advertising API. That ensures the data is accurate so the customer has a consistent and positive experience.

A customer might get upset if the pricing on a site doesn’t match the current price.

Again, I know listing prices is against the rules so I didn’t have any prices listed. But I was in a gray area.

I have some content that targets keywords like this:

Best [product-type] under [price]

Example: Best Guitar Pick under $10

I’m never mentioning a specific price for an item, but it’s unclear if this is against the rules.

I’ve called the support team three times in the past and never got a clear answer. So I have no idea if you can do it.

I make a lot from the Amazon Associate program so it’s important to not violate any of the Operating Agreement guidelines. I prefer the conservative, low-risk approach. If you like to gamble, I respect that, but it’s not my thing.

What I did to fix the problem with price ranges

I ripped out all the references to price ranges.

Again, I used my trusty, powerful friends: phpMyAdmin and regex.

I didn’t have all that many posts with “under $xxx” — maybe a few dozen. However, there are a lot of internal links that might reference the price range. It’s not a direct price reference, but I cannot afford to mess up on a small, possible issue, especially if I know how to fix the problem.

There were thousands of references to “under $xxx” across all my sites. The only way to make the fixes in a reasonable amount of time was by editing the database (DB). Again, you can edit thousands of data points in the DB in microseconds.

The WordPress Editor is ridiculously slow for editing en masse.

3. Usage of the Amazon name, branding, Call-to-Action (CTAs) including button usage

Amazon has specific rules about using the brand name. They outline it all and give specific examples in the Amazon brand usage guidelines.

  • They give examples for the Call to Actions (CTAs) for text links that you can use. These are explicitly allowed:
    • Shop now at Amazon.com
    • Shop now
    • Pre-order now
    • Learn more
    • See details
    • Watch now
  • The font, styling, color, and more are all noted as well. For example, it’s preferred to use “Amazon” over “Amazon.com.” However,  “Amazon.com” is allowed.

What About Using Buttons For Amazon Affiliate Links?

They have a whole section called Amazon Branded Button CTAs with specific examples of buttons and text that you can and cannot use.

For example, you can’t use buttons that mimic the branding, look, and style of an Amazon Button.

They give examples of “Approved” and “Not Approved” usage and explain exactly why there is an issue.

While some people might find the guidelines too strict, I’m not here to argue the validity or merit. I don’t care — I’m working in the Amazon Associate ecosystem and I’m happy to play by the rules. However, feel free to vent in the comments at the end! Your voice can be heard here — by your peers, not Amazon. 🙂 I’m pretty sure they don’t care.

My issue with branding was this little tiny word:

“on”

CTAs should say:

“Get Product X at Amazon” not “Get Product X on Amazon”

I mostly use text CTAs and have some buttons on sites. Sometimes the CTAs say, “on Amazon” others say, “at Amazon.”

It’s a small issue in my opinion, and I have a feeling that I could have left it as “on Amazon.”

But it was easy enough to fix, so I did.

What I did to fix the problem with Amazon Brand Usage

I updated all the “on Amazon” to “at Amazon.”

By now, you should realize that I didn’t do this manually.

phpMyAdmin and regex’s helped me find the thousands and thousands of instances and fix them in seconds.


What Response Does Amazon Provide?

This is the concise response I received. It’s pass-fail — I passed.

Dear Associate,
Thank you for your prompt response to our request for information. We appreciate your cooperation.
If we have any further questions or concerns, we will contact you again by email. Thank you for your continued participation in the Associates Program.
Warmest Regards,
Amazon.com

So as you can see, there isn’t much to it. You basically get no real indication of what they look at or not look at.


How And Why Do You Get Selected For An Audit By Amazon Associates?

It appears to be 100% random. There’s no indication why accounts are reviewed.

It appears to not be triggered by:

  • Earnings
  • Traffic
  • Time in the program
  • Or anything obvious

This is the most common question by far. Unfortunately, I have no idea and it’s impossible to find out unless you have the inside track to someone on the audit team.

What Do You Need To Provide?

There are 8 main pieces and they are noted in the email. You really don’t get much other information or details. I asked — and more on that in the next section.

Here are the 8 things and my interpretation of what the auditor is looking for:

1. A list of the Sites on which your Special Links or banner ads are posted.

Just the list of URLs and this should match up with your sites in the Associate account.

2. Advertising services you are using.

If you’re running ads to your site, what services are you using. Eg. Google Adwords, Facebook, etc…

3. Links to screenshots of your Site’s analytics tools that show your Site traffic and its sources.

Screenshots from whatever analytics tool you use. It’s to verify that actual traffic is going to your site.

4. The keywords you are using to drive referrals.

Keywords that you’re targeting for your content or any ads that you’re running.

5. Any plugins or browser add-ons you use.

A list of all plugins in use (for me, that’s all WordPress plugins). I don’t use any relevant browser extensions.

6. Live links to your Sites.

This one is easy — It should be the same as number 1.

7. 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.

Provide a set of links that allow the auditor to recreate clicking a link on your site to get to Amazon. The choice of words is poor. “Sequence of links” isn’t the right phrase. I provided a list of URLs that had my “Special Links,” i.e. my affiliate links to Amazon.

8. Any other information that would be relevant to confirming your compliance with the Operating Agreement.

This is the one item where you can explain more things if you’d like.

My goal was to provide all the information they needed to verify compliance in the shortest way possible.

That means:

  • No fluff.
  • No bullshit.
  • Leave out the story and narrative because the auditor doesn’t care.
  • Just the facts with relevant details.

Who Can I Ask If I Have Questions?

You can contact the Amazon Associates Customer Service. They have great availability: EVERYDAY from 5 AM – 7 PM Pacific Time.

By the way, people often ask me about the Amazon Associates rules. I know some common violations, but there are many nuanced details that I just don’t know. So the best thing you can do is just contact the support team.

The truth is that some of the rules in the Operating Agreement aren’t explicit.

There are gray areas, and in the gray, you may get different answers from different customer support representatives (CSR). That’s frustrating, yes. I’ve heard people get very upset about not getting consistent answers, but I don’t blame the CSRs because they aren’t given the information.

I suggest contacting them by email (or chat if available) so that you have the whole interaction in writing.

I had a few questions so I called in. The CSR was very supportive and nice. She explained:

  • It’s very important to submit the information within 5 business days.
  • She didn’t know what they wanted for the 8 bullet points because the audit team is totally separate from her team.

It would have been great to be able to interact with the actual auditors and find out what they really cared about.

But this isn’t a collaboration with the Amazon Associate Audit team. This is a Request for Information and they tell you:

If you do not respond with sufficient information within five business days, we will close your Associates account and withhold fees.

So the consequence is high.

How Long Does The Audit Take With Amazon Associates?

It took a pretty long time, about 14 business days.

A day after submitting my response, I contacted the Associates Support team to make sure they received my reply.

Nick: Hello, my name is Nick. I’m here to help you today.
Me: Hi Nick, I sent an email via the Associate contact system and I wanted to confirm it was sent.
Me: I didn’t get an email confirming the message and it was for the “Warning/Information Request Response” request
Nick: I do see that it was sent and we have forwarded it to our account specialist team
Me: Perfect – That’s all I need to know. Thank you.

I expected it would take one week, 5 business days. I asked the Associates Support team what the status was after the week and when they’d be done.

The CSR said he has no visibility about the status, but it could take 7 – 14 days.

What If I Have A LOT To Fix?

You should get some coffee and clear out your schedule. Then, fix it.

A large part of my income is from Amazon so it was extremely important for me to get everything in order. My stance was to be conservative for ANY and ALL of the Operating Agreement guides that weren’t clear.

There are two schools of thought, though. You can gamble and maybe you can get away with it.

But the more money you make, the bigger the gamble.

Luckily, this exercise is just a problem to solve. There’s nothing really all that complicated about fixing the problems.

Remember This

If there is a guideline that is unclear, if you can’t get a definitive answer from the Associates Support, then you should assume the most conservative approach.

You don’t know how the auditor will be approaching the guidelines, so the lowest risk approach is to make everything easily identifiable as within the rules.

Can I Download Images From Amazon and Upload Them on my Site?

No. You can’t download images from Amazon and use them. You need to get the images from Amazon via the Site Stripe or via the Amazon Advertising API.

You can use a tool or plugin that uses the Amazon API.

Further, Amazon says this:

Product Imagery

  • All imagery used must be owned by the advertiser or cleared for use in the ad unit prior to campaign launch. Any Amazon.com product imagery including Amazon products such as the Kindle must be approved by Amazon and non-Amazon vendor products not owned by the advertiser must also be cleared by the company who holds the rights.
  • Product imagery provided should not be downloaded from Google or any other search engine site.
  • All advertisement imagery is subject to approval by Amazon.

The main idea here is about copyright and following those rules, at least, that’s what Amazon is looking to oversee.

So you can use images that you own, that you have rights to use or images from Amazon used in the correct way.

If you use images from Amazon, you have to link to Amazon with your affiliate link.

Why Are Sites Declined For The Amazon Associates Program?

If your site violates any of the points in the Operating Agreement, then your site might get rejected or kicked out of the program.

The Operating Agreement is dense and there are many, many rules.

So here are some common issues…

What are the MOST COMMON violations for Amazon Associates?

The most common violations that I see are:

  1. Downloading images from Amazon, then uploading to your site.
  2. Listing the price of products without pulling the data from the Amazon API.
  3. Listing the rating of a product without pulling the data from the Amazon API.
  4. Listing the number of reviews without pulling the data from the Amazon API.
  5. Quoting or using content from the User Reviews from Amazon.
  6. Not listing the affiliate disclaimer in a clear way. I list the disclaimer near the top of any review posts or just before the links. Check out my Resources Page at the top and bottom.
  7. Having poor quality content. This can take a few forms, including but not limited to:
      • Having all or mostly affiliate review content.
      • Poor grammar and spelling.
      • Short length.
      • Spun or re-used content.
      • Inaccurate information.
  8. Inaccurate or misleading CTAs, such as:
    • Get the best price
    • Save 25% Now
    • Buy now: Only 2 LEFT

Does Amazon Audit All Your Sites or Just One?

Amazon will check all the places you use and share links.

I have some affiliate websites and share some links on YouTube. So I listed all the sites plus my YouTube URL.

This can include social media and other platforms that you share affiliate links on.

Does Amazon Let You Know What They Are Looking For?

No. They ask for a set of 8 pieces of data.

The data is primarily for them to review and audit your sites. The data doesn’t have much substance and the actual sites are what you really need to focus on.

Where Should The Amazon Disclaimer Be Displayed?

It’s not explicitly stated by Amazon where to have the disclaimer. The rule is there to follow the FTC Guideline for affiliation and earnings.

I advise placing the disclaimer at the top so that all visitors (desktop and mobile) can see the disclaimer.

If you have a disclaimer in your sidebar, go check on your phone. Can you click an affiliate link before you see the disclaimer? If so, I’d say you’re in a gray area at best.

Please consult your lawyer… but you can say just about anything in the spirit of:

This is an affiliate link so if you make a purchase, then I make money.

It should be clear and easy to understand so use plain language, not legalese and jargon.

Is Amazon Just Looking For Generic Things Like an Affiliate Disclosure or That Affiliate Links Are Noted As Such?

I can’t comment on exactly what Amazon is looking for during the audit.

I can’t comment on how rigorous the audit is.

I, personally, treated the audit like Amazon was putting on latex gloves and getting down to serious business.

I expected that Amazon was going to look at every single word on every single post on every single site.

Other people might not react like me which I can respect.

Does Amazon Associates Give You Any Tips About What Is Allowed or Not Before, During, or After the Audit?

No, not that I experienced. I got no information from the audit team during the audit. I got this:

  1. The notice to send the information within 5 business days.
  2. The notice that stated Amazon appreciates the information and my participation in the program.

I went through the Successful Use Case I passed the audit so I don’t know what happens when you fail the audit.

I know that you can be re-instated — that’s possible — after being kicked out.

I assume it’s based on the level and severity of the violation. So if you’re doing shady things, then I don’t expect it’s easy to be re-instated.

I think that you could form a company, get a new EIN, and restart things if you really screwed things up.

Can we voluntarily ask Amazon to audit site so that we can make any changes, or unintentionally breaking any rules?

You can contact Amazon Associates on this page. It’s not clear if you can ask for a full audit.

You should ask specific questions on specific URLs. General questions get general answers that aren’t very helpful.

So I would NOT send in a message to ask, “Can you review all the URLs on my site and let me know what to fix?” That’s an unreasonable request.

You care more about your site than the CSR so take the time to review Operating Agreement and your own site.

Then, ask smart, informed questions.

If Your Site is Violating Amazon’s terms, What Are the Consequences?

You can be kicked out of the program. You may also lose commissions that have not yet been paid out.

Want My Amazon Associate Audit Templates?

Get all the materials that I submitted to Amazon

** If you’re already a Niche Site Project email subscriber, then go check your email because I sent you the templates already.

Do You Get a Report With What Needs To Be Fixed?

I don’t know since I didn’t get any other information after the audit. You can interpret that in two ways.

  1. I didn’t have any issues on any of my sites so I passed with no notes.
  2. Amazon doesn’t give you report.

I don’t think Amazon gives you much information. I suspect they just tell you that there are violations and that you are no longer in the Associates Program.

Please let me know if you’ve been audited and got a report, details, or other information.

Are Some Operating Agreement Violations Worse Than Others?

Possibly. I don’t have any visibility on how Amazon views the set of guidelines.

I assume if you have 1 or 2 mistakes, e.g. Improper Usage of Images, that’s not as bad as making 6 other mistakes, too.

So minimize the mistakes as much as you can.

Is it even worth it to be an Amazon Associate anymore? Is Commission Junction, ClickBank, or Share-a-Sale better?

Amazon Associates works great for me and many other people. For other people, like Ron Stefanski, ad-based sites are great.

So I can’t answer that for you. Other affiliate programs will often pay higher commission rates, but the volume of sales will be lower.

For example, I’m an affiliate for a few software products that I personally use and the commission rates are 10% to 50%. It’s a great percentage, but the sales are few and far between.

However, people buy a LOT of products on Amazon so I appreciate the volume.

My overall answer isn’t all that helpful:

You have to pick some business model and they all have downsides. They all have upsides too.

  • You pick your poison.
  • You have to live with the consequences.
  • You also get the riches of your business model.

I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars with the affiliate business model, so I like it.

You can literally pick any of dozens of online business and they can all work for you. They all have pros and cons. Nothing is perfect.

What If Amazon Ends The Affiliate Program?

I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I have two positive things in place.

  1. If you have a site with traffic, you can usually figure out a way to make money.
  2. I developed a lot of marketing and general business skills like:
    • Keyword Research
    • Copywriting
    • Hiring and Working with Freelancers
    • SEO
    • Email Marketing
    • Content Marketing
    • Building and Selling Businesses

Here are the Materials That I Submitted

You can get your own complete copy here. I show screenshots of the meaty parts of the information to give you an idea of what you can provide.

Here is my cover letter:

Here is the list of sites.

I provided a folder of screenshots showing my analytics. I shared a few years of data, but you can share whatever you think is relevant.

I shared several hundred keywords, but it was just a sample.

I shared every plugin that I actively use, even if they weren’t relevant.

I shared hundreds of links to my sites, again it was just a relevant sample.

 

Finally, I wanted to make it clear that I want to make things right if any issues arise. I’m here to work with Amazon!


 

Now, It’s YOUR TURN

Want to have YOUR voice heard?

Feel free to vent here in the comments. Amazon probably doesn’t care what you think, but I know readers will be able to relate to your thoughts and feelings.

  • What questions do you have?
  • Let me know if you’ve been audited and how it turned out.
  • Help others in the comments!

I expect this post to be a work-in-progress, a living document, as people ask more questions. I’ll add to it in the future.

Thanks to the DOZENS of people that sent in questions from the Niche Site Project email list. If you’re not on the email list, you can sign up below.

About the author: Doug Cunnington is the founder of Niche Site Project. He shows people how to create Affiliate Sites using project management and a proven, repeatable framework. Doug loves creating systems, using templates, and brewing beer (but usually not at the same time).

45 comments… add one
  • Julie McBride

    Doug, thank you so very much for this honest and very down to earth account of what must have been a harrowing experience!
    I feel so lucky to have read this just a few weeks into my Amazon journey.
    Being armed with this info right now as I am just starting to post content and solidify the foundation of my website means I can go forward doing as much as I can to stay within the terms of service. Conservative just became my middle name!
    Thanks again for sharing..this is a very valuable learning experience.

    Reply
  • Julie McBride

    Ooops..forgot to mention in my last comment..in the latest Amazon Affiliates operating agreement dated 1 May 2019 ( https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/help/operating/agreement ) in section 5 “Identifying Yourself as An Amazon Affiliate”..it looks like the affiliate disclaimer has been modified to only state ““As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” I have been afraid to use this shortened version as the older version is quite lengthy by comparison. Whats your take on this…it seems like all we need now or is there further clarification somewhere else?

    Reply
    • Brian L

      Good post. Curious what plugin you use for amazon or do you just use site stripe. I wish amazon had consistent sizing for images as posts look bad when use different image sizes for each product when listing multiple products.

      The link in the post above I noticed was for Amazon “brand” image rules.

      I need to figure out using php to convert old easy azon code to amazon urls

      Reply
      • Doug Cunnington, PMP

        I’m using Site Stripe primarily, and AmaLinks Pro as well. I’m an affiliate for AmaLinks Pro so I get a commission if you buy via my link.

        Generally, not using a plugin gives you flexibility. Like EasyAzon created an issue, even though it wasn’t an issue in the past.

        Reply
  • Marty McLeod

    Nice post Doug.

    By the way, on a side note: You can use testimonials if they’re not from Amazon’s content. I checked with them previously and was told it’s fine.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Steve Blundon

      Thanks for that Marty – appreciated!

      Reply
      • Neo

        You should have told Amazon that you are the great mind that invented keyword golden ratio.

        Reply
    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      That makes sense thanks for the clarification. There could be a minor chance that the review is posted in multiple places if a reviewer posts the same material in other places. Probably a small chance.

      Reply
  • Adrian Diaz

    WOW! What an experience. Do you check your emails like every 2-3 days now?? 😃

    This is an amazing resource Doug! Especially for people who are already making some money from the program.

    For beginners, it’s good to know this but in my opinion, they should just focus on making things work first and not worry TOO much about the rules. (at least don’t worry about the details and different nuances of the agreement)

    Thanks a lot for this detailed process though.

    I hope I’ll never have to go through it … but if that happens, at least I know where to go to save my ass (or at least try to save it by following your recipe 😃)

    Reply
  • Websiteowner

    You mentioned you removed easyazon. Can you explain why? I’ve checked my copy of the plugin and it uses the api for images and doesn’t store images – they are all amazon urls for the images to be pulled from amazon servers? Also CTA buttons – amazon has a page of « buy from amazon.com » graphical buttons which it says associates can use (page G202094750) – presumably this has not changed?

    Reply
    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      Hmm, for the EasyAzon images — 100% of mine were stored locally. So I can only comment of my experience. If yours are pulling via the API, then you are good.

      About the button and usage: I’d trust Amazon, yes. I don’t really use buttons so I didn’t look hard on that point. In general, always go with what Amazon says over me (or anyone). 🙂

      Reply
    • Matthew Allen

      [Doug’s Note: EasyAzon put out a fix after Amazon made the change to the Operating Agreement. It appears that EasyAzon doesn’t fix the old images, though. I’m checking with Support team.]
      I can confirm that EasyAzon somehow uploads and stores images in your Wordpress database. Here’s how you check…

      I use Google Chrome browser. Hover over an image (on a live post) inserted by EasyAzon then right click and select the ‘Inspect’ option (bottom of the menu that opens). The right side of your screen will now display the inspection window and the code for that image will be highlighted. You’ll notice that the URL for the image will include …/wp-content/uploads/…

      I just did this for one of my old sites that still has EasyAzon images on it and, sure enough, the image is stored in my Wordpress database. And yes, I have EasyAzon Pro installed on that site – the latest updated version.

      If you check your Media Image files within Wordpress – you WILL NOT see these images. EasyAzon somehow uploads them to your Wordpress in the backend.

      Reply
      • Chris Guthrie

        Hey Matthew, you may be using a version of the EasyAzon plugin from before Amazon made a change to their terms.

        Per my other comment on this blog post, image links created with the latest version of EasyAzon do not upload images to WordPress but rather link to Amazon. We released this update back in 2018 in line with Amazon’s terms when they were updated around that time. (I don’t have exact date off hand). But we’ve released several updates since that one.

        One final comment. If you’re an EasyAzon customer and do have questions just reach out to support at easyazon.com and we can help out.

        Reply
        • Matthew Allen

          You’re right Chris. I actually don’t use EasyAzon at all anymore… but I checked one of my old sites that still has a bunch of EasyAzon created links on it.

          This, along with Doug’s post, confirms for me that I do need to go back and find all of my past posts that have EasyAzon images and replace them. I still have quite a few lingering out there since I had been using EasyAzon since 2012!

  • Steve Blundon

    Great article Doug, and timely.

    I’m actually in the middle of an EasyAzon purge ’cause I wasn’t a fan of how it handled images – confirmed!

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      Thanks for checking it out, Steve.

      Reply
    • Pat

      This is interesting because I just checked an old site of mine and EasyAzon is using images pulled from the Amazon servers and not storing them locally. I do have EasyAzon Pro so I wonder if perhaps that’s the difference?

      Reply
      • Doug Cunnington, PMP

        I had the Pro Version too. Pat, how are you checking?

        Reply
        • Mario Bynum

          You could look at the inspect page and see if it has amazons code widget or api

        • Doug Cunnington, PMP

          That’s what I do – look at the source code.

        • Pat

          I’m looking at the page source to see where the images are coming from. They all show the amazon images server as the src. Plus I made sure that I didn’t have any Amazon images in my media library.

          These days there are better options then EasyAzon anyhow but at least on my site I’m not seeing any locally stored images (thankfully).

          But all of this is definitely a good “excuse” to audit everything Amazon related on my sites which I started doing tonight.

  • Quinton Hamp

    Good post. Glad you kicked butt.

    The reason for the audit may be hidden in the clue “Show your site’s traffic source”

    One of the huge no-no’s is to use Amazon paid advertising to run traffic to your blog which then sends cookied traffic back to Amazon.

    If your site has a big percentage of traffic (I got flagged at 16% back in 2015) in Alexa.com (Amazon owns Alexa) as coming from Alexa, then they investigate.

    In my case, I changed every link to open in a new window. This solved the problem of customers hitting the “back” button when after they view a product on Amazon, and reduced the amount of traffic that I had “coming from” Amazon

    Reply
  • Matthew Allen

    Doug!

    Sounds like you got a whole lot of nothing-burger from Amazon in response after you went through all the work and hassle of giving them what they requested. That part sucks. You’d think – if they have an audit team in place who apparently spends time to look at this stuff that they could at least spend 10 minutes to write you an email and tell you what you did right or wrong and why you did or didn’t pass the audit.

    Glad you seemingly got through it though. I can imagine the panic you felt after opening that email a few days late.

    Reply
  • Matthew Allen

    Post correction: Under “What I Did to Fix the Issues” – point #3 – you referenced and linked to an Amazon Brand Usage Guideline page.

    That page is NOT relevant to the Amazon Associates program or rules whatsoever. That page is in the “Amazon Advertising” section and is intended as guidelines for users who create ads (for example, advertisers who place ads with Google).

    Rules and guidelines for Amazon Associates are totally different than what is displayed there and, unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t have a clear guidelines page like that one for Amazon Associates brand guidelines.

    During my many, many hours of studying Amazon’s Policy pages – I made this exact same mistake and almost implemented these rules and guidelines into AmaLinks Pro. I’m glad I caught the mistake… as some of those guidelines are far too restrictive for a typical Amazon affiliate page.

    I’ve found that CTA buttons are 100% compliant, in any form, as long as they are actual buttons and NOT images that just look like buttons.

    Same thing with the “on” vs “at” – this rule/guideline is for advertising purposes only. It’s totally fine to have CTA buttons on your affiliate site that say “Buy on Amazon.” Amazon’s biggest concern with its affiliates and the way they link is that they want it to be super clear that links are leading over to Amazon. Note: the graphical buttons that Amazon provides say, “Buy from Amazon.”

    It’s frustrating and irritating – I know. Amazon has so many different sets of rules and various policy pages for every different subset of their massive business. It’s nearly impossible for guys like us to decipher everything. I consider myself as somewhat of an expert (about as expert as anyone can get) when it comes to Amazon’s Policies for Amazon Associates just because I’ve spent SO much time studying them in order to be 100% certain that everything built into AmaLinks Pro is compliant. I didn’t set out to be an expert… it just sort of happened while I was building out AmaLinks Pro.

    Reply
    • Marcel

      Thanks for the useful info.
      I’ve always wondered if the exact wording (“at” vs “on”) was an issue.

      Sorry, off topic, but I’m wondering if you know the answer to the following since you designed AmaLinks Pro:

      If you are using your plugin (or any similar one that uses the API) to pull in images, can you link to websites other than Amazon under the product image for price comparison?

      I see this often on sites, a product image pulled in from Amazon with two or more CTAs underneath (i.e. one to check price on Amazon and a second button to compare price on another site)

      But this part of the operating policy is what confuses me:
      ——-
      https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/help/operating/policies
      Content on your Site
      (z) You will not display on your Site, or otherwise use, any Program Content to advertise or promote any products that are offered on any site that is not an Amazon Site (e.g., products offered by other retailers).
      ——-
      The image itself is linking to Amazon and I link a CTA to Amazon but another CTA underneath links to a second site…is that a violation of using their “Program Content” since I’m using the API to pull in the image but “promoting” another retailer?

      Thanks-

      Reply
      • Matthew A Stelter

        Good question Marcel! This is something I’ve never really paid attention to because I never link to other retailers on the same page that I promote Amazon products.

        That policy doesn’t look confusing at all to me. It looks very clear. You absolutely cannot use any of Amazon’s ‘Program Content’ to promote products for other retailers. I would say that this absolutely includes doing a price comparison – as you described. I think it would be totally fine to do price comparisons – as long as you aren’t using anything from the Amazon API on that page or as part of that comparison.

        I’m sure people get away with doing this all the time. But if you want to go 100% by Amazon’s rules to avoid the risk of getting banned – I would steer clear from promoting products on other sites on the same pages where you use Amazon API data to promote Amazon products.

        Reply
    • Dana

      Epic post Doug, thanks for sharing your experience.
      My question is for Matthew…
      I purchased amalinks pro but since I’m not approved by Amazon yet im only able to use stripe.

      I do use the template your gave with ALP and in it there is an area for quoted comments from Amazon users, which I do not use verbatim. However, Doug referenced not using using reviews from Amazon, even if spun.

      Can you please give me your thoughts on this matter?

      I cant wait until I’m approved because stripe is so limited.

      Reply
      • Matthew Allen

        Hey Dana,

        Cool to hear that you’re using the template we give away at AmaLinks Pro!

        Within the template – here is how I describe how I use Amazon reviews to add to my product review articles… “DO NOT Copy & Paste! Rewrite (in your own words) pertinent information found in Amazon reviews”

        Admittedly – I may not have always done this exactly correctly. Just rewriting reviews in a ‘spun’ fashion is probably okay – but might be drawing a fine line. The better way to use reviews is to simply rewrite (in your own words) the pertinent information you find within the reviews. For example: a bunch of reviewers may all mention the same or similar issue about a product. Certain reviewers might have specific things to say (good or bad). Just rewrite those points in your own words.

        Here is my example product review post that I published where you can see exactly how I’ve done it – https://amalinkspro.com/coleman-classic-propane-stove-review/ref/5/

        Reply
  • Chris Guthrie

    Hey Doug, I’m sorry to hear about the Amazon audit, but I do want to provide some clarifying information as I see some folks in the comments may be confused.

    The current version of EasyAzon does not upload images to WordPress. We specifically made an update back in 2018 that changed this behavior right around the time we saw Amazon make changes to their terms. (I’ve reached out to our lead developer to get the exact date and can comment back when I have more information).

    As you noted, what may have been ok in the eyes of Amazon in the past can change and so when they make changes we watch for those updates and make changes to our plugin as well as we did here in 2018.

    I tried to message you on Skype but didn’t get a reply before you went offline, so I’ll comment here for visibility.

    Reply
    • Matthew Allen

      This makes sense Chris. As some users are saying that their images are sourced from Amazon and others (like myself) have proof that they were uploaded to Wordpress. Thanks for the clarification.

      Admittedly – the image I checked was on a really old site where I had added the images WAY before your 2018 update. I haven’t used EasyAzon very much at all since 2018 – for obvious reasons. 🙂

      Reply
      • Chris Guthrie

        To further clarify, I spoke with our lead developer and the update we pushed out to make this change was back in September 2017 so we’ve had this in place for nearly 2 years back when Amazon made the change to their language about this.

        If someone is using a much older version of EasyAzon from back before the terms were changed then, of course, the plugin functioned differently at that time.

        Best of luck with your plugin Matthew.

        Reply
  • Kyle

    Hey Matthew, if you happen to see this maybe you can answer.

    You noted:
    “as long as they are actual buttons and NOT images that just look like buttons.”

    If I’ve created a featured image in Canva that shows the product, has some text speaking to the benefits and within the image it has a button that says Buy On Amazon…but the entire image is a link – do you think that is in violation?

    By the way I’m loving Amalinks!

    Reply
    • Matthew Allen

      Hey Kyle – cool to hear that you’re loving AmaLinks Pro!

      In the example you described above – it sounds like that absolutely would be in violation. What you are describing is an image and even though that image has something that looks like a button on it (or on top of it) – it is not a button – it is just part of an image.

      Here is my interpretation of the actual rule… “It is okay to use other images in your review post (Ex: your own pictures or images provided by the manufacturer) – but you cannot hyperlink such images using your Amazon affiliate tag. It IS suggested that you link images to Amazon using your affiliate tag – but you can ONLY do this with product images accessed directly from the Amazon API”

      Credit: https://amalinkspro.com/top-5-reasons-an-amazon-associates-account-will-get-banned/ref/5/

      Reply
  • Artem

    Great article, Doug. Thank you!

    One thought: by “live links to your Sites” I would think that they mean all the backlinks your websites have. Because if it’s URLs of the websites, it’s basically the same as point 1 “A list of the Sites on which your Special Links or banner ads are posted”.

    Of course, I may be wrong and you’re right 😉

    Reply
  • Marcel

    Doug- Thanks for the very useful article, it will definitely come in handy if I ever face an audit.

    I’ve always wondered about the “Under $xxx”. As you say, it’s unclear what Amazon’s policy is on this. Until recently I didn’t use this format but on my newest site these articles are working well so I plan to add a lot more of these.

    I’m curious if anyone else has gotten a definitive answer from support or maybe had this come up in an audit?

    I don’t quote any prices and have a disclaimer at the top of each article stating that prices were under $xxx at time of publishing and may have increased since, but still not 100% sure that’s enough.

    It’s a shame that you had to strip all references to this but as you say, probably not worth the risk… just wish I knew what the rule was.

    Reply
  • Neo

    Some of the information here is misleading.
    For example the CTA texts. The Amazon brand usage guidelines is for advertisers on Amazon itself. Not for associates.

    Reply
    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      Yes, Neo, you are correct. That appears to be the case though it’s not specified anywhere.

      And that’s exactly why when I was trying to interpret the guidelines most of that page didn’t make sense and clearly didn’t apply to Associates.

      I’ll be making corrections to reflect that. Did you find similar guidelines for Associates?

      Reply
  • Shane K.

    Thanks for the comprehensive run down on your experience and what you did to fix this.

    You mentioned that your audit didn’t appear to be triggered by anything, but I had a similar experience that I believe was triggered by a large spike in traffic.

    I have a highly seasonal niche site that gets the bulk of its traffic in a single month. At the peak of traffic for that site, I got an email from Amazon saying they shut down my account. It wasn’t even an warning/audit email, they straight up just shut it down.

    But they did provide me 5 days to fix the issue and dispute it. They provided a very vague explanation of the issue and I did my best to figure it out. The best I could think of was that the plugin (AAWP) I was using to display Amazon Associates links had a feature to anonymize traffic to Amazon to comply with European data privacy regulations.

    I untoggled that option in the plugin, and a few other tweaks to how the listing were being displayed (I removed the buttons for example, even though they weren’t branded in any way) and sent my email to Amazon in order to try to reinstate the account.

    Within a few days, they responded with an email very much like the one you received saying that my account had been reactivated but with no explanation as to what changes I made that led to the account being reactivated.

    I remain in perpetual fear of Amazon shutting down my account, especially as my site is highly seasonal. If it got shut down again, I believe its permanent, and if it got shut down around peak traffic, that means most of my earnings for the year are gone.

    I’ve tried to diversify my affiliate links a bit, but nothing comes lose to Amazon for this particular niche.

    My question would be, if my account did end up being permanently shut down again, would I still be able to sell the site so that someone else with an account in good standing could make the required updates and be able to monetize with Amazon again?

    Reply
    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      Shane, that’s crazy! Why do you think the traffic triggered the audit? Just a hunch?

      Could you sell it? I’m not sure and this is all speculation… I’ve heard that Amazon could effectively blacklist a domain. I assume that a new owner could figure out how to redirect the domain and be re-instated.

      Reply
      • Shane K.

        The reason I think it was triggered by traffic is because it just so happened to be shut down the exact same day as my largest peak in traffic to my site.

        My site is highly seasonal with the bulk of traffic coming in a single month. So the rest of the year the traffic is pretty low in comparison to the peak month.

        I assume they saw the very large boost in traffic, and that the referrals were being obscured by the privacy related functionality of the plugin that I toggled, probably triggered something for the Amazon team to investigate.

        Reply
  • Yogi

    Thank you for creating this article to help everyone who has/will receive the warning notice.

    I am quite sceptical on the images should be on Amazon’s server part as I have seen some huge sites which shows images which are as same as Amazon’s product page but hosted on their own site instead of Amazon!

    e.g. goodhousekeeping.com
    nymag.com
    thespruce.com

    Do they have some kind of privilege to have images on their server instead of Amazon’s?

    Reply
  • Chris D

    How long after you received the email notification from Amazon thanking you for your info did it take for the “Important Notice, Your Account is at risk” warning to not show up anymore on your Associates login page?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Simantz

      I am wondering this answer as well Chris!

      Reply
  • Elizabeth Simantz

    Doug- quick question on your audit process, after you submitted your docs and were in the waiting period, did the warning message go away from your affiliate dashboard or did it stay until you were emailed and in the clear?

    Reply

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