How to Get Reviews on Amazon in 2018

As you know, Amazon has been cracking down on reviews. It used to be that you could get incentivized reviews, but that’s no longer the case.

However, it’s still important to get reviews in order to be successful with your products. What’s a seller to do then?

Today, I brought Mike Jackness from EcomCrew.com and Jeff Cohen from SellerLabs.com on to talk about Amazon’s terms of service for sellers and what we can do to keep afloat.

We chat about:

  • Strategies for launching a product today on Amazon
  • Amazon’s crackdown on incentivized reviews
  • The best strategies for getting reviews on Amazon today

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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com, Mike Jackness of EcomCrew.com and Jeff Cohen of SellerLabs.com)

Andrew: Welcome to the “eCommerceFuel Podcast,” the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey, guys. It’s Andrew here and welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. And today on the show we’re talking Amazon reviews. A lot has changed in this area in the last 18 months or so.

Little over…more than a year ago, Amazon ban incentivized reviews which is one of the big ways people used to, especially early on, get those first reviews for a product. It’s gotten a lot harder to get real legit reviews and the risks for not getting them legitimately have also gone up in terms of Amazon cracking down and banning accounts.

So I wanna talk with a few people. How do you get reviews legitimately in 2018? And talking with 2 people, one, Mike Jackness, longtime friend of the show, has a great podcast at ecomcrew.com along with David Bryant, and he has a lot of thoughts on this and has been doing this successfully over the last 12 plus months. So I chat with him about how his strategy has changed and what he has working from the store owner side.

And then also, chat with Jeff Cohen from sellerlabs.com. Seller Labs, they put out and produce a lot of software for Amazon sellers, and so they see this from the other side as well, chat with a lot of different merchants and want to get his thoughts as well on getting Amazon reviews today. So stick around for that. That’s what we’re chatting about.

Quickly, before I jump into that discussion with those two gentlemen, I wanna thank our sponsors who make this show possible. First, Liquid Web. If you’re tired of your WooCommerce store going really slowly, if you were emotionally crushed when you unexpectedly went on Oprah and your site just completely crashed under the load of the traffic, you need to move to Liquid Web, managed hosting for your WooCommerce store.

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And then, secondly, thank you to Klaviyo who offers email marketing design specifically for eCommerce. A lot of different email marketing platforms out there, very few are designed with eCommerce in mind from the ground up.

And, actually, Mike Jackness, the one in the same I will be chatting with here, just a few minutes, gave a talk, great talk, at the last year’s ECF Live about how he generates or generated more than 50% of his revenues from email marketing using the flows that he built out in Klaviyo, 50% plus, which is just mind boggling.

And the way he did that was building highly automated flows that went out automatically to his list. So if that sounds like something you’d like to do, check out Klaviyo. You can start it with them and see what you can do with their platform with a free trial at Klaviyo.com.

All right. Let’s go ahead and jump into my discussion with Mike and then with Jeff on Amazon reviews in 2018.

Where Has Mike Jackness Been All Our Lives?

Andrew: Mike, welcome back to the show, sir. I think the last time you were on was at the episode that we did about living in an RV and traveling around and big ticket domain names and trolling motors and treadmills. Was that the one that we did last?

Mike: It’s been so long, honestly, I forgot what the topic was. But now that you mentioned that, that sounds about right because I do remember talking to you about that.

Andrew: Long overdue, and since then, man, you’ve got an amazing podcast and a whole community over at EcomCrew. If people aren’t listening, I’ll mention it again at the end, but if you’re not listening to Mike and David, their podcast, and reading their stuff over there, phenomenal stuff, man.

I read it regularly and listen regularly. You guys are doing an excellent job. So if you’re not listening, make sure to check that and that’s the EcomCrew Podcast. But I wanted to have you on today to talk about…as part of the conversation on Amazon reviews, because you do this really well and we’ll get into a lot of the nitty-gritty, but what…how did we get here?

So maybe we can…as a quick refresher for people who maybe aren’t in the space or it’s been a while, when was it? Was it last fall when Amazon came out and lowered the boom on the incentivized reviews and that kinda changed the entire landscape of how people think about reviews on Amazon?

Background Into Amazon’s Review Landscape

Mike: Yeah. It was about last fall and it was a tough day for me because up to that point, it was so easy to not just get reviews but launch products on Amazon and, let’s just be honest, game the system, let’s call it what it is.

Going from having one of these situations in your entrepreneurial life where it’s so easy to make money to, the next day, it not being that easy to make money which I’ve been through before. It’s tough, right? I mean, it’s not the easiest thing to deal with.

And for me, my thing is the only thing causing this change, and one of my favorite books is “Who Moved My Cheese?” so I was able to think about how I’m going to deal with this moving forward relatively quickly. But it was still a pretty big blow. I mean it was definitely not a great day.

No More Freebies for Reviews

Andrew: Because in the old times you could just go on something like SnagShout. You give away a bunch of products and they really facilitated…

You give people products and more or less it was, “I give you a product, you give me a good review,” on Amazon. And when the terms of service changed, they… Can you talk to just quickly about where they are today? Because what exactly is off limits now?

It’s not giving away products. It’s not even giving away products and asking for a review. Or is that? Where is the line today in 2017?

Mike: I mean, for me, this is actually one of the scariest parts because Amazon has never been black and white about this, and depending on who you ask and what their agenda is, they might have a little bit different opinion on it.

But the generally accepted thing out there is that you cannot ask for a review in exchange for anything. So, yes, you can still theoretically give away a product at a discount, but not ask for a review as long as there’s no exchange there of, like, “I’m gonna do this for you. You have to do this for me.” Theoretically, that is allowed.

The downside is if you do offer a discount of more than 49%, then you don’t get a verified review and you can bet your butt that Amazon is definitely tracking this somehow, some way, and it does worry me. So we’ve actually even moved away from doing those types of coupons and offers almost entirely.

There’s a few exceptions, but it’s not the vast majority of our strategy even moving forward. It’s just because I’m worried that the next ban hammer that Amazon comes out with will be not very obvious today because if you think about what they did before, it was perfectly within their TOS.

And then they changed their TOS, and then closed a bunch of people’s accounts and completely rewrote the rules overnight. So I’m trying to be at least one or two steps ahead of that curve.

The Importance of Reviews for Amazon

Andrew: What reviews such a huge part of getting…not ranking a product, but part of ranking a product perhaps, but also I’m in the conversion side especially when I shop on Amazon, I always look for the reviews. I think most people do.

So how…hugely important, what are you doing today…what does your new strategy look like? Maybe we can do kind of a high level overview and then dig into the individual pieces.

But what…if it’s not giving away products to jumpstart that, especially the jumpstart part, going from 0 to 10 oftentimes is the trickiest part, that you can kind of ride some of that momentum. But what is your strategy launching a new product today look like in terms of getting reviews?

Mike: So, our thing that we’ve been focusing on since the day that this happened, I sat down. I was like, “Oh my God.” What I saw was actually the same thing that happened to me in the land of Google.

I don’t know…you and I both, as SEO guys, you’ve been through Panda and Penguin and all of things before that. And I just equated the Amazon landscape exactly to that and I have been hit with the ban hammer with Google and know what that feels like.

And I was like, “Number one, I’m gonna now swing to the other side of this pendulum. I’m gonna be beyond the old-shirt-white-hat. No matter what happens, no matter what everyone else is doing, I don’t care. This is the strategy I’m gonna be doing moving forward to make sure that no matter what, I don’t get banned.”

So that’s just so everyone knows where I’m coming from because I don’t wanna be doing the “in thing” today or what works today strategy because that’s constantly changing and you’re constantly having to deal with that.

I was like, “I’m gonna take a much longer term, harder road approach to this moving forward.” So I just wanted to kinda throw that out there first.

So that strategy was to really work on brand building, work on list building, work on social channel building, work on making the best possible products because…and the only thing that helps get reviews is having really high quality products that people genuinely love.

And that’s the root of the whole strategy. And we can talk about the specifics of that as we kinda go through this, but the main strategy is really legitimately having an asset off Amazon that we can use to help drive the Amazon sales in the form of an email list, a pixeled audience, many chatbot list, Facebook bot list, push crew, pixeled…

I think I said pixeled audience already, and an email list, I don’t think I’ve said that yet. So all these different components, and making sure that when we launch a product, we can create a bunch of excitement around it to that pretty substantial list.

Removing Amazon’s Power

Andrew: So how does that work mechanically? Because it’s…let’s say, like for email, for example, you’ve got a great product. How does it work on the nitty-gritty? Maybe you can walk me through the steps. Because it’s one thing to have a…to think to the mechanics of, let’s say, like a feedback chain email going, asking for review after some advice on Amazon.

How do you do that when you have a group of people with an asset? A lot of those you’ve probably built up, not exclusively, but largely maybe through your own site. They’re used to buying at colorit.com on your own properties.

How do you move the power from there over that to Amazon? Because they’re not used to buying or reviewing on Amazon. They’re probably used to you on your own site.

Mike: So it’s frustrating, obviously, because I’d rather them buy from me. But I also look at the Amazon fly wheel effect, and I look at the macro economics of our business which is that, no matter how hard I try to grow off Amazon Business, Amazon always grows faster.

And I look at the amount of searches that are happening, generic searches, for something like coloring book or whatever it might be, depending on what brand we’re looking at. Like I would never get those sales if I didn’t have people buying my stuff on Amazon.

So I had to look at that as a part of the whole overall equation. So when we launch a product nowadays, we basically say, “I’m sorry, but our inventory arrived at Amazon first. It’s not available at colorit.com yet.

But if you’re really excited about this product, you can buy it on amazon.com right now. We wanna give you guys a head start if you want it now. It’ll be in stock at colorit.com in the next few weeks if you wanna wait, but you can buy it at amazon right now.”

And so that’s part one of the key there is like we’re driving people away from our own website to Amazon, which is kind of a gross feeling in some ways. But, again, if you look at the macroeconomics of what that means over a long period of time, it’s way better to get a profitable Amazon product that’s just kinda running on its own.

That means a lot to the profitability of your eCommerce business, in my opinion. And we don’t do that all at once because Amazon, when you launch a brand new product, if you fire all of your ammunition at one time, you get this huge spike in sales and it looks great and then you can go high five around the office, but it doesn’t mean you’re gonna get organic rankings.

So what we do is we kinda drip that out over a three-week period. And so we’ll…instead of sending out like 100,000 emails all in one day, we’ll send out 5,000 or 10,000 a day and we’ll, say, PushCrew it to like the fourth day.

And we’ll then do a ManyChat broadcast few more days into that and just kinda stagger that over a longer period of time to help get the sales because the sales is part A of that. And the part B of that is we’ll send follow-up messages asking for a review outside the Amazon system, not in a…this is…

I don’t believe against any types of terms of service. We’ll see a lot of excitement on social media, for instance, we’ll make a post about a product launching on social media.

And the great thing about Amazon is they get the product to the customer quickly, so the person will then respond, “Oh, I got my widget,” and we will, very gorilla marketing tactic, go and ask them individually, “Oh, please, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon.”

And usually that will help get them to do that. And just to give you an example, I mean, the newest product we just launched was nine weeks ago. And we have 111 reviews on that product already as of recording this podcast. So it’s worked pretty effectively.

Following Up With Customers

Andrew: Wow. And do you follow… Because one thing with Amazon is you can…maybe you can cross reference, Amazon will tell you where you’re shipping to, but it won’t give you the contact details in terms of an email address to follow up with people.

Do you follow up individually with everyone who buys one? Or, for example, let’s say you email your email list. “Hey, inventory is at Amazon. If you wanna buy it really, head over there.” People go there for a buy.

Do you follow up with a blast email, let’s say, four or five days later, knowing that most of them pick Prime, and just say, “Hey, if you happen to have…” Because you can’t tell who bought, who didn’t. Do you just re-hit the whole list and say, “Hey, if you happen to buy, we’d really appreciate a review. You can leave it right here?”

Mike: We do.

Andrew: You do. Okay, nice. What about with… And I’m guessing you’re also hitting it from the SnagShout/JumpSend, one of those services that follows up on Amazon side as well. I’m guessing you have those in place, too?

Mike: We do. But we only send one email now because this was another part of the gray area within Amazon because they were saying you can only follow up with one email, which was all new as a part of that like last November update.

And it’s still not 100% clear to me what is allowed or not. So we just follow up with one email and it’s basic. I forgot the exact verbage of it. I can even share it with you, part of the show notes.

But we made…we’ve got rid of the basic template that comes with the Snagshout or Jumpsends of the world and replaced it with something that’s much more fun. It’s kind of humorous. And what you aren’t allowed to do anymore is just say, like, “If you had a bad experience, email us. If you had a great experience, leave us a five-star review.”

So you gotta be very careful with the way that you word the email so you are TOS-compliant, which we are. Again, and we err on the side of caution. We just basically say, “Your feedback…no matter what your experience, your feedback is pivotal in making decisions for future customers.

Please leave us your honest review.” And don’t ever say anything in the email about, “If you had a bad experience, contact us. If you had a good experience, leave a review,” kinda swaying people to do that. But that’s a very important part that you gotta be careful with as well.

Where to Send Traffic: Amazon Vs. Your Store

Andrew: When you’re driving all that traffic to Amazon, your email list, your existing customer base sounds like they’re the core push of that.

Do you…when you think about your funnel strategy and just everyone coming in, let’s say, you’re trying to get opt-ins on Facebook or build up your list size, do you ever…do you look at driving everything to get everyone onto your email list or onto your ManyChat and then…or onto the push notifications, and then using that big iron you get to push to Amazon?

Or do you ever have any campaigns that you set up where you are actually advertising on Facebook to immediately try to drive people directly to buy on Amazon? Or do you find that that direct approach as opposed to coming through kind of your ecosystem first doesn’t work as well?

Mike: So when we’d launch a brand new product, we do send traffic directly to Amazon for a short period of time, but it’s not with like a coupon offer. So we usually will make like a really nice video about the product and highlight the product.

And the last video that we did with this…we got the number one new best seller badge on Amazon, like the first day we launched, was we… It’s not very hard to do that, if you can generate 30 or 40 sales depending on what niche you’re in.

Sometimes even significantly fewer than that, you can get the number one new bestseller badge pretty easily. And we incorporate that into our video. We’re like, “Hey, check out this new number one bestselling product on Amazon.”

And we’re sending it to a generic audience on Facebook, hoping that the outside traffic has a positive effect on our rankings and generates a couple of sales here and there. So it’s not like we’re looking to generate immense amounts of profitability off of that campaign.

It’s just a part of our launch strategy. But the bulk of what we’re doing is capitalizing on the list that we’ve built to that point. It’s like one of those things where you spend all this time preparing and now it’s time to launch this product.

Now we’re gonna execute at that point and not feel bad about it. Here’s this new product we have. Here’s an opportunity, go buy it. Be first in that whole fear of missing out, or people wanting to be first. If they love your products, definitely works. It’s crazy.

Increase in Opt-Outs

Andrew: We were talking before, we have done about deliverability, about follow-up services from Amazon. So, again, Snagshout or Jumpsend, something like that, where you get that automatic email that ties it with Amazon.

How… I’ve been seeing, in the tiny amount that I do, a lot more of those messages saying like, “Hey, we were unable to deliver your follow-up message to a customer, meaning, they opted out, I believe.”

Are you seeing a ton of that and are you getting around it? Or are you just accepting it as this is the new normal, where I’m gonna plan on this, just continuing to decrease in effectiveness over time?

Mike: It’s really frustrating because, first of all, to answer your question, yes. I mean, it’s…I think that maybe 10% to 15% of the emails we send are getting through now, which is pathetic.

And it’s frustrating from the perspective of like…from my perspective, I understand Amazon’s position on this and where they’re coming from, if I’m like a fly on the wall for them, because there’s so many dishonest people, so much crap and interference that they’re having to deal with.

I mean, I can’t begin to imagine the scope of that. It’s hard to even get your head around. But from my perspective, legitimately, and you know me personally, I wanna make the person that’s buying my product happy, no matter what. I really do, legitimately.

And it’s somewhat self-serving because I know that happy customers are going to tell other people and word-of-mouth advertising is important and etc. But at the same time, I like to treat people like I like to be treated.

And as a consumer, if I get something crappy and I have a bad experience, it doesn’t feel good. And I don’t want someone that gives me money to be in that situation. And Amazon has made it very difficult and near impossible to actually correct those situations.

And that’s, I think, I’m probably the most frustrated with. I mean, there was a time where you could figure out very easily who left a review and who had a problem, and be able to reach out to them.

And then there was a time up until very recently where with some software tools, you could on a little bit more difficult basis be able to find out who left that review.

And now Amazon has completely shut that off. So I mean, we’ll get a review of something like our ice packs, for instance. I bought a five packet ice packs, only three showed up, one star review. Obviously, we wanna correct that for somebody.

The thing that’s frustrating is like Amazon is the reason that they’re pissed because we sent five in to begin with, someone else probably returned them and kept two because they’re dishonest. The person processing the return allowed that to happen then that got sent back up with somebody else.

And there’s no way to fix it. You got this one-star review that’s crushing your ranking, and Amazon doesn’t give you any way to actually make the customer happy.

And that’s probably the thing that I’m the most frustrated with, and you couple that with all the black hat tactics that Chinese sellers and other people that have no scruples are doing, and it’s become very difficult. No doubt about it.

Convincing Customers to Leave a Review

Andrew: Any other thoughts? I mean, I’ve got a good sense of your strategy. I think you covered it pretty well. But one thing that just keeps coming back to me is, even if I have a life changing product, I will tell people about it and probably like write a review about it, especially if the company reaches out and asks in a tactful manner.

For products that are they’re like seven, eight, maybe even eight-and-a-half range, people are busy. Everyone’s got tons of stuff going on. Convincing someone to sit down and write a review for two or three minutes, it sounds like it’s not that much time, but in practice I’d delete review emails almost probably 95% of the time.

Again, unless I’m madly in love with something. So any other ways that you are… I understand the outreach and the channels and the mechanisms you’re doing it, but any other ways that you’re able to really convince them to spend and invest the time to do it?

Or is it really just as simple as owning the assets, making an amazing product and following up at the right time?

Mike: I definitely think that having an amazing product is a very important part of that because, you’re right, if it’s a 7 or 8 kinda out of 10 product, there’s lots of those out there.

We have products on Amazon that are legitimately 5 stars, and if you’re like a statistics person or sell on Amazon, you realize how difficult that is because you’re allowed so few 4-star reviews even to maintain that 4.8 or higher ranking.

And I think that we do that by legitimately spending more time into the design phase and trying to make as good of a product as we possibly can to give people that “wow” moment when they get the package and the product and make it that much better than the competitors where we can.

I mean, some products, there’s only so much you can do. So, I mean, you can’t… And, obviously, price is important, all these other things. You gotta be careful with the delicate balance, but that’s definitely a big part of our strategy, without question. We put more and more effort into that all the time.

And the reality is, is that most people are like you and me. I mean, the only time I really ever leave a review is when I’m mad. It’s like you get a product that you’re not happy with, and that’s when you leave the review, right, which is…that’s just how the average person is.

And so it’s tough. And you have to constantly strive to keep quality up and have that five-star product. But it’s definitely difficult.

We have some boring products. I mean, you know, kind of like what we also…we sell other things besides coloring supplies. We have other things that are kinda boring products and it’s become really impossible or very difficult to get reviews on those products because Amazon has made it difficult.

What Else To Expect from Amazon

Andrew: Any final wrap-up thoughts on how the review landscape for Amazon is gonna potentially change in the upcoming year? Obviously, I’m asking you to make some predictions here, but anything you see coming on the pipe?

Mike: Yeah. I mean, I think that the things I’m gonna say here are things I’m hoping will happen, not necessarily I think that will happen. I do think Amazon has to do something about the black hat stuff.

I mean, there is a lot of really nasty black hat Chinese type sellers that will come in and leave a bunch of…just carpet bomb you with unverified reviews, one-star, unverified reviews, up vote all your bad reviews, too many things like that.

So I do, in a predictive sense, think that Amazon will do some things about that. And I guess the thing…I hope that they come up with a channel or a mechanism, at least for brand registered sellers at a minimum, to be able to reach out to customers who had a bad experience and hopefully be able to correct that for them in some way.

You know, Amazon, at the end of the day, I mean, they’re…they claim that the customer comes first. So if they really mean what they say, they’ll come up with a way in 2018 for people to…that one that’ll legitimately help the customer be able to legitimately help the customer.

Andrew: Mike, I’ll make sure to get this transcript forwarded over to Jeff at amazon.com, see if we can see help you take care of that. Mike, this is awesome. Thanks for sharing your strategy.

And I mentioned at the top, but it bears repeating, check out Mike’s stuff and David’s stuff over at ecomcrew.com, and the EcomCrew Podcast is making me scramble to keep up to try to match them in terms of quality. It’s really good stuff. So, Mike, always good talking as always, man. Thanks for coming on.

Mike: No problem. Thank you so much.

A Provider’s Take

Andrew: So I got the seller’s perspective from Mike on reviews in 2018. Like I mentioned at the top, checking with Jeff Cohen from Sellerlabs.com to get his thoughts from a slightly different perspective on the review game today. So let’s go ahead and jump into my discussion with him.

Jeff, good to have you back on. We had talked, I think it was back in the summer of 2016, so 18 months ago or so, about Amazon reviews and given how much has changed in the, you know… Since that time, I wanted to do kind of a revisit.

And you know it well. Obviously, you’ve got some great software, you know, for that world. So, maybe we can just kinda talk about what’s happened since then. The big thing, of course, most people know and alluded to already in the show, is that, you know, in the fall of 2016, Amazon killed incentivized reviews. So we’d love to get your thoughts, you know.

Here we are, a year after that. How heavily has Amazon actually cracked down on removing historical reviews that were incentivized? Has it been pretty brutal or mostly have you guys seen that they’re just really restricting the ones that are placed going forward?

Jeff: So one human year, that equals about 12 Amazon years, right?

Andrew: Maybe 25, yeah.

Jeff: Right.

Andrew: Yeah, somewhere in there.

Crackdowns Come in Waves

Jeff: This world moves so fast. So we’ve seen a few waves, and that’s typically what we’ve been seeing is that Amazon has been kind of cracking down on the reviews in waves.

To be totally honest with you, I haven’t really seen one of those waves for a few months, but they definitely were happening after October of last year in very large waves where you would wake up one morning and you’d have a whole bunch of reviews gone.

So it wasn’t a trickling effect. It was, you know, a waterfall effect. I haven’t seen or heard of one of those as of recent, but it makes a lot of sense. Amazon cracked down on the process, and then they went and they cleaned up the backlog.

And so today it’s definitely harder to get verified reviews. And Amazon has also taken some significant steps to just stop reviews from happening in general. They’ve put a lot of restrictions on how many reviews can be left by a buyer, right? So how often they can leave a review.

They’ve put restrictions on the types of buyers that can leave reviews. So now you have to have an active Amazon account with, I think, it’s $50 in purchases.

A year ago, you could have an active account with no purchases. So Amazon has taken several different steps to curb the seller behavior as well as the reviewer behavior to really help solidify their review system.

Bye, Bye Incentivized Reviews

Andrew: The big change, of course, was that you couldn’t go and incentivize people to leave a review by giving them a free or heavily have like a discounted product.

How much of that are you still seeing? Are you still seeing a lot of kind of a black and grey hat activity going on? How much of it is still happening despite the change? And how hard is Amazon cracking down and catching those people that are doing that? Or, you know, is a lot of it kinda sliding under the table and not getting caught?

Jeff: So, it’s definitely not as prevalent in discussion as it has been in the past. I would say that as you talk to a lot of Amazon sellers, it’s not part of their launch philosophy anymore. And the reason why it’s not part of the launch philosophy is because the value isn’t what it used to be.

So Amazon has algorithmically made some changes, meaning that if you sell a product at a very heavy discount and you get a review, they’re not showing up as verified reviews. They’re not being weighted into the star algorithm. So it’s much harder to combat a negative review with positive reviews unless they’re verified.

And so what you’re seeing from a lot of sellers is if they’re using that tactic, they might be using that tactic to get the first couple of reviews, but they’re not using that tactic like they were before where they’re trying to get hundreds of reviews because the value of those hundreds of reviews don’t help them.

And those are the ones Amazon was really cracking down on. So, most of the sellers that I know that got actual policy violations or giving away a large number of units and asking for reviews.

Getting Those First 20 Reviews

Andrew: So how does it…you know, what is the best strategy today for someone, especially getting ready to launch a product? Because so often, that first, you know, 10 or 20 reviews is the hardest to get and it’s the most crucial in terms of helping with conversion.

We were talking about Mike before we hoped on here. And, you know, the first part of this podcast was my discussion with Mike on the topic. And so his…you know, his listeners will know, his kind of approach has really shifted to be more of kinda twofold.

One, building a really quality killer product, and, secondly, having some kind of asset, external asset, largely that you control. Most likely an email list, maybe, you know, something like that where you can directly own the contact information of the customers and using that asset to, A, both drive traffic to buy the product on amazon, and, B, most importantly, be able to follow up with them given that you have, you know, their contact details to ask for a review.

And between those two, the quality product, the ability to follow up on your own terms, that’s kind of how he’s really approaching it. Is that what you’re advocating or you see working for people? Or do you have kind of a slightly different approach now today in 2017 or 2018 rather?

Jeff: I would say there’s really two approaches that you have to take. One is what Mike can do, which is that he’s built out his own external channel, his external website.

It all starts with the product, right? Once you’ve nailed that, right, you’ve nailed that product, you’ve nailed that expectation, you’ve nailed going beyond the customer’s expectation, then you really have kind of two strategies: you have the Amazon cold start, and then you have the external traffic. So let’s kind of…a lot of your listeners have their own website.

If you have your own website, you have to have a hybrid approach. For you to be successful on Amazon, if you’re able to build your own database and your own email list and you’re able to engage with those customers, I like to say, like, you’ve got a gun with an extra bullet in it and you’re in a gun fight, right?

And so the other guy runs out of bullets, but you still got one more. And that’s really what you’re able to use that gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If you’re only on Amazon, you don’t have the ability to do that because Amazon doesn’t let you market to your past customers.

And what happens when you have that VIP list or that you give them, you know, a special discount code, is that you come into a competitive marketplace and you can spike your BSR using your external traffic, which creates a halo effect that generates the rest of the extra sales that you need to propel your product.

And if you look at your sales over time, what you wanna see is you wanna see these little spikes, and those little spikes are your external promotions. But every time you run one of those spikes, you wanna see the baseline rising up from what it looked like prior to the beginning spike.

Budgeting for Reviews

Andrew: And very few people I know have a, you know…one way or another, you gotta pay the piper to at least get a foothold on Amazon. Pretty rare, if ever, do I hear people just going in, put something in and without priming the pump a little bit, one way or another, getting’ a product that’s doing well.

Jeff: Right. So you have to think about this when you’re doing your budgeting for your product, right? That’s where this needs to start. And then you’ve gotta build a budget to get those number of reviews. As you build your external traffic, the cost to get those initial sales and those initial reviews goes down. So your cost of doing business in the long run gets lower.

Writing Converting Copy

Andrew: Jeff, what about templates? So you cover kind of the approach. If you don’t have an asset, you don’t have an external asset like Mike mentions, you’re doing it just on Amazon, of course, key to that is using something like Feedback Genius that goes out, connects with, you know, follows up with the people who purchased your product.

And a lot of it is, A, having a great product, but, two, having a good template that asks for reviews. And you guys know that space well. You’ve seen a lot of those templates. I’m guessing you may have even tested some of those templates.

Any recommendations for when you’re writing that copy, to try to get someone to spend a couple of minutes out of their busy day to leave a review? What works and what doesn’t from a copywriting standpoint or from an approach standpoint?

Jeff: So the first thing that I tell people is start with your subject line. Within our tool, we give you the open rate, and so you can actually see how an email is performing by looking at its open rate. If you can’t get them to open the email, you have no…you have a 0% chance of getting them to click on the link and give you a review.

So, really look at your subject line and think…this is really simple. Think to yourself, “If this ended up in my inbox, would I open it?” And if you can honestly look at that and say, “Yes,” then you’ve got something to start with. If you honestly look at that and go, “No,” then you need to go back to the drawing board to think about it.

Ideas to Steal

Andrew: Obviously, sometimes it’s gonna change by a product. But do you have any either concepts or formulas or people…you know, kind of subject lines you’ve seen work really well that people either can steal or iterate off of that come to mind?

Jeff: Yeah. So what I like to tell people is that you want to connect the user to the product that they just purchased and then give them a reason for opening it. So if you’re selling something like the coloring books that Mike sells, then you can speak right to that.

And I know that I just bought that coloring book and, therefore, I wanna know what this guy has to tell me because I have an interest in doing the coloring book.

I remember, and you’ll probably remember his name, but you have a guy who has been on your show a few times who does like custom woodwork and he has like spatulas and things like that. And I’ve given his product as a gift, too.

If I’m buying a crafted product like that and I see a subject line that talks about how to care for it, right, because I have to oil it and I have to treat it over time, I know that I bought a good quality product. And, therefore, I’m wanting to know what he is going to tell me.

The more commoditized your product is, the harder this becomes. So if you’re selling the proverbial garlic press or apple slicer, you’re in a much more difficult position because you need to get somebody’s attention within a lot of noise and within a product that doesn’t have the sex appeal of something that maybe has an emotional connection to them. But there’s still ways to do it.

And I like to…you know, from an internet marketing standpoint, it’s a “yes” ladder or a “bonus” ladder. Those are the two terms that are used. And you want to give the customer something that they weren’t expecting.

So if you’re talking about like the apple slicer, then maybe you offer them some recipes or some cleaning tips or something like that. But it’s not coming out and saying, “Will you review my product?” It’s not saying, “Here’s your order history. Here’s your tracking information.”

It’s giving them something that they weren’t expecting that makes them wanna take time out of their day to open your email versus click and delete it right away.

Segue from Content to Reviews

Andrew: I can totally make sense on that front. How do you transition to, let’s say…let’s use the spatula example with Brad. You’ve got…he’s got a subject line from his Feedback Genius email that says like, you know, “Tips to make sure your spatula, you know, lasts for the next 20 years,” something like that.

You open it, you read those tips and that helps. But how do you transition and somehow tactfully get them from opening the email, consuming that good content, to being able to segue that…not segue, sorry, but leverage that into a review? How do you do that?

Jeff: So my recommendation is that you give, give and then you ask, right? And so your first email is not designed to get a review. It’s designed to create a relationship between you and your customer. And if you give good value, then the second time or the third time that you email, you can then ask for something in return.

So the first email, I might say like, “10 tips to make your spatula last 20 years.” And I probably would lead in that email with, you know, “Customer service is very important to us as a business. If there’s anything wrong, please let us know immediately,” right? So I’d lead with some type of customer service. I would give the tips and then I would leave it at that.

In the second email, I might come back and maybe offer a bonus tip that “I forgot.” Maybe I offer a…you know, the truth about, you know, oils and wood or something else that’s kind of adding more value. I’m adding a little bit more to what I gave them before.

And then in that one I would say, you know, “Your review is really important to me. You know, please click here to leave a review for this product.” A few things have changed, so you have to…you can’t be deceptive in how you ask for that. You can’t say like, “If this was a positive experience, please write a review. If this was negative, please contact our customer service department.”

So what you have to do is you have to build that into your email series so that if they have a problem, they wanna reach out to you the first time. And then when you’re contacting them a second time or a third time, that’s when you’re asking them for the review.

What You Can’t Do in Emails

Andrew: Jeff, you’d mentioned a few things in the email that you can’t do, for example, giving the dichotomy of like, “Hey, if you had a great experience, you know, leave a review. If not, contact us.” That’s against, you know, kind of a Amazon’s terms of service for sending those follow-up emails.

Are there anything else that people need to know to not inadvertently, you know, get on Amazon’s bad side? What other things do people maybe do that they may not think about that could get them in hot water with how they’re writing those? I know adding multiple links in email can be potentially problematic. Thoughts on that?

Jeff: This is not an exhausted list but these are some of the high level ones. If your goal on Amazon is to build your own email marketing list, then you’re starting off wrong from the get-go.

Your goal on Amazon is to generate sales. If you wanna build your own list, create and generate tactics that do that that are off of Amazon because you’re automatically starting off trying to violate Amazon’s terms of service.

We had a seller who had copies of reviews inside their emails and said, “Here’s an example of what a good review would look like.” So they were actually offering the suggestive language. That got them suspended.

Andrew: “Here’s a template. Copy and paste and insert your name right here.”

Jeff: Right, exactly. Those type of tactics are done and they’re done regularly, and they do get sellers suspended. And a lot of times, the sellers don’t understand why, but it is pretty simple. There’s actually a really good video, and I can put a…

I can share a link to it, where we actually went through a seller’s account and we basically dissected their whole Feedback Genius account and we made a whole bunch of recommendations. And then we’ve kind of have chronicled that over three months where we continued to go through his account with him.

Because a lot of sellers set up Feedback Genius a long time ago, and we thank you for that, but they haven’t touched it. And you have to…the world has evolved and Amazon has evolved and sellers and buyers have evolved and you have to have your email marketing evolve with that.

The tactic that Mike does today is different than the tactic he did six months ago. And so you have to be looking at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and how you can be most effective to your audience.

Amazon Vine Service

Andrew: I’m starting to wrap things up here. One last question I wanna ask is review services on Amazon, given that, you know, it’s just gotten harder over the last 18 months to get reviews. I know Amazon has the Vine service. Are those worth considering?

Are there others? How much do they work or cost? Is that something that you regularly recommend or think as a viable option for many people or what are your thoughts on that?

Jeff: So Amazon Vine is for first party sellers, and then they have an early reviewer program which is for third party sellers. There’s rumors of Vine third party coming out. In my mind, why not do the early reviewer program? I think it costs $60 per product and that gets you up to 5 reviews.

Oh, well, go for it. I don’t know why you would not do that. I haven’t heard of a lot of sellers raving about the success of it, but that wouldn’t steer me away from doing it.

In terms of other review programs, I would say that most of them have tried to clean their act up to stay within Amazon’s terms of service. I think they work for some, they don’t work for others. Maybe it’s something that you test.

Again, if you build your own audience, what’s beautiful about building your own audience is that you don’t have to give the products away at 90% anymore. A lot of sellers who have their own audience are actually able to do the same thing with a 20% discount.

So it’s kind of like where do you wanna put your time value? And I think, ultimately, if you can build your own, the value is gonna be much greater to you in the long run.

Again, I know some people who have used those services or continue to use those services and they say they work. And I know people who use those services and say they don’t. So it’s hard for me to have a definitive as to whether they work or not.

I think it’s really gonna kinda depend on whether that’s within your budget and something that you wanna try. Again, if you can sell that product on sponsored ads and it’s at a 90% ACOS, that’s the same as giving it away at a 90% discount, except if the user ends up buying the product and leaving a review, it’s a verified review versus an unverified review.

Tools Seller Labs Offers

Andrew: That’s actually a great way to look at it. Jeff, this is really helpful getting your perspective on this. I wanna touch quickly on kind of the tools that you guys offer at Sellers Labs. I mentioned Feedback Genius, which is, of course, your tool for allowing people to build those follow up campaign emails to people who purchase.

You’ve got Ignite which is a tool for really managing, you know, Amazon advertising sponsored products, those kind of things. Some I’ve actually had the chance to use over the last month-and-a-half.

It sure beats doing it with a spreadsheet, like optimizing your paid campaigns and then scope for keyword research and quantify for inventory in financials.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, just anything you wanna add on those in terms of what you guys are doing with those in 2018 or what you’re most excited about with your suite of tools.

Jeff: I think, you know, if you’re managing your own advertising, give Ignite a try. It comes with a 30-day free trial, so there’s really no harm or cost to you. And like you said, if you’re doing it with pivot tables right now, you’ll find Ignite to be a significant time saver for you.

It’s got a lot of automation built into it, so as you become more sophisticated, as you understand advertising more and more, you can actually let the tool do a lot of work for you, which is pretty cool. Most people fail, and we could do a whole podcast on it.

Most people fail on advertising because they didn’t set up their campaigns correctly or they didn’t choose the right keywords. So that’s where you need to spend the most amount of your time and then use it, a tool like us, to manage those campaigns and kind of do the heavy lifting of the Excel macro filtering for you.

I think that, you know, where we’re going is Seller Labs has been, you know, an industry leader for a long time. We’ve been in this industry since 2013. We’re continuing to want to push the envelope in the technology that we offer.

Most importantly, we try to listen to our customers. So we just released a feature on Ignite called Ad Scheduling. Some people call it Day Partying, allowing you to turn your ads on and off based on the time of the day.

That feature was created because sellers kept asking us for it. So we wanna develop our tools based on what your needs are. So feel free to share, connect with us on our Facebook page, through LinkedIn, direct on our website.

Let us know what you like and what you don’t like. That’s really what ultimately drives our product roadmap. And, most importantly, that’s what ultimately drives our success. So we’re humbled and grateful for all of our customers and, you know, thanks for letting us share today.

Andrew: Of course. Jeff, thanks for coming. We’ll have to do this again in another 18 months on Amazon, you know, completely turns everything upside down on us once again, which inevitably is likely to happen. So appreciate it, sir.

Jeff: That’s the only change that we know is definite, that more change will come.

Andrew: Agreed. Thanks for your input, Jeff.

Jeff: Appreciate it. Thanks Andrew. Have a great day.

Andrew: That’s gonna do it for this week’s episode. But if you enjoyed what you heard and are interested and plugged into a dynamic community of experienced store owners, check us out at eCommerceFuel.com.

eCommerceFuel is the private vetted community for eCommerce entrepreneurs. And what makes us difference is that we really heavily vet everyone that is a member to make sure that they are a great fit, that they can add value to a broader community.

Everyone that joins has to be doing at least a quarter million dollars in sales via their store. And our average member does over seven figures in sales annually. So if you’d like to learn more, if that sounds interesting, you can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com.

And also I have to thank our two sponsors that make the show possible. Liquid Web. If you are on WooCommerce or you’re thinking about getting onto WooCommerce, Liquid Web is who you should have host your store, particularly with their managed WooCommerce hosting. It’s highly elastic and scalable.

It’s got built-in tools, performance test your stores so you can be confident it’s gonna work well. And it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce. And you can learn more about their offering at ecommercefuel.com/liquidweb.

And, finally, Klaviyo for email marketing. They make email segmentation easy and powerful. They integrate with just about every cart out there and help you build incredibly automated, powerful segments that make you money on autopilot. You can check them out and get started for free at Klaviyo.com.

Thanks so much for listening and looking forward to seeing you again next time.

Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit, vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com. Thanks so much for listening and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.

 

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