The Amazon listings police strike again. Prime Day has put them in overdrive. Last week many Amazon sellers saw the following notice in their Seller Central Console:
Our research shows that ASINs with titles that do not meet Amazon requirements result in a poor customer experience. Your business is important to us, and we want to make sure that both your business and the customer experience are not compromised by products whose titles do not meet Amazon’s FBA product title requirements. Amazon currently requires that titles for non-media products meet the following requirements:
- Titles must not contain promotional keywords and phrases, for example “free shipping”, “100% quality guaranteed”.
- Titles cannot contain non-readable characters, such as HTML characters.
- Title length must not exceed 50 characters.
- Titles must have product identifying information, for example: “hiking boot”, “umbrella”.
To provide a better customer experience, starting July 22 we will begin suppressing ASINs from Amazon Search that violate Amazon’s title guidelines. When an ASIN is suppressed for any of the above reasons, you will be notified through the Manage Your Inventory (MYI) screen in Seller Central, with the specific reason for the ASIN’s suppression. You can fix the product title through the edit title link in MYI. Once the issue is fixed, we will remove the search suppression and the ASIN will appear back on Amazon Search.
This startling announcement has created a fair amount of consternation in the community. After the Memorial Day weekend ASIN creation bloodbath, sellers are understandably twitchy. Luckily, you have time to prevent having your listings suppressed, and it won’t affect Prime Day sales. Here’s the questions we are getting the most:
- Does this mean my listings will be suspended?
No. They are suppressed which means there is no buy box. If a buyer wants to see your offer, they must click the “see all offers” link near where the buy box usually is. It also means you can’t advertise (your offer must be in the buy box for your ad to be displayed to buyers). Your listing is also suppressed from Amazon’s search. So…all the horror of suspension without the policy violation. This is an improvement over most Amazon takedowns.
2. Are they serious about a 50-character limit on the title?!?!!
No. That was obviously a mistake because they changed it a day or so later to say 200 characters. This is still a problem for some sellers who have long titles full of keywords, but most sellers can say what they need to say in 200 characters, especially when you consider all the words that are not allowed.
Amazon hasn’t quite cleaned up all its language about title limits in Seller Central Help. On one page I saw that 60 characters was recommended, but I feel confident about the 200 characters in general. Sellers also need to see the rules for their categories (insert hyperlink from below).
3. What does Amazon mean by “FBA Product Title Requirements?” Does this mean that MF listings are exempt?
No. All listings need to meet FBA requirements. The rules apply to everyone because an MF product could be FBA anytime the seller wants.
Let the Amazon Kabuki Interpretation Dance begin. The original message seemed to be talking about two different things – making sure the product title on your FNSKU label matched the listing product title (for the first 50 characters which is the limit of characters that can fit on an FNSKU label) and following Amazon’s listing policies which they’ve recently begun to enforce with a vengeance.
One of the reasons Amazon wanted to tighten up title length, then, was to make sure that the FNSKU label on FBA packages told the warehouse workers what the product WAS. Some titles were so long and chock-full of unnecessary words that the Amazon workers couldn’t be sure the label matched the product without looking it up which takes time and effort. So, the 50 characters thing was to make Amazon worker’s lives easier, save time and money and be more efficient in the warehouse. All about Amazon. No surprises there.
They fixed the announcement to say 200 characters AND they added new requirements to their Title guidelines, but they didn’t make it clear that they had updated other title requirements too. If it has been a while, you should read the guidelines right away.
To better understand what Amazon is looking for, here’s what it says in its FBA Product Title guidelines (You’ll need to login to Seller Central to see the information – you can also do a search for “product title” in Amazon help)
Here are the category exceptions/additions:
Depending on when you last reviewed the title guidelines, the new parts are specifically stating that you cannot use promotional language in the title like “Best Value” or “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” You also MUST use the product identifier early on. If it is an umbrella, for example, you must say that up front – within the first 50 characters.
One detail that is designed to get rid of bad actors will likely be overlooked which is that you CANNOT use your merchant name for the brand or manufacturer unless you are a registered private label seller. For those of you honest sellers who just said, “duh,” let me explain. This clarification is specifically targeted towards sellers that list on a hot generic product and change the brand or manufacturer to their storefront name. Then they try to kick off the other sellers by claiming their product does not match the listing exactly. This is a shortcut way to take down sellers without using Brand Registry. Amazon does not approve of this tactic and they are sick to death of breaking up squabbles between sellers selling the exact same generic product and trying to pretend they are the brand or manufacturer of record.
You probably don’t pore over the guidelines as often as we do so you may not realize that they’ve added details like “use numerals instead of spelling out numbers” and that you can’t use High ASCII characters (like the “TM” symbol). Nor can you use exclamation marks, question marks or dollar signs. These have been true for a long time, but Amazon used vaguer language and/or not enough examples. They are getting very clear now.
4. What about product features like “100% Natural” or functions like “targets cellulite?”
If you can fit features and functions into your 200-character limit you should be OK if you FIRST abide by what they want in the first 50 characters. You will want to carefully read the requirements for your category because those rules override the general rules.
The tricky part of this question is does Amazon see “100% natural” as a feature or a promotional keyword? I wish I knew. This is controversial in the best of times because “100% natural” is not a regulated term. There is no problem including “100% natural” in the description, bullets, product description, keywords, etc. and when in doubt, I suggest doing that. Amazon searches the title, listing, description and keywords to bring up options for buyers. You don’t need it in the title. Your search is unaffected by where the word is in the listing.
But…. that brings us back to the feature value. If your product is 100% natural and your competition is providing a chemical cocktail worthy of Three Mile Island, then you might argue that it is imperative for this to be in the title so health-conscious buyers will click on your listing over the other guy’s. My advice is to carefully look at all the keywords in your titles and decide if they are critical to a buyer choosing to look at your listing.
As far as “targets cellulite” and similar health claims, I’d be careful about that in general. That could be a truth-in-advertising federal violation. There is no supplement, cream or drug that has been clinically proven to reduce cellulite. Cellulite is fat. It responds to diet and exercise. Some medical techniques like surgery and the new fat freezing device can physically spot-remove fat, but not a pill or cream or sports girdle.
You CAN say things like “supports…” but “targets” is a red flag. It sounds like a drug. Amazon works with the FTC and FDA to avoid violations and – when necessary – join or participate in lawsuits. If your product makes any kind of health or well-being claim, be sure to read what Amazon has to say about prohibited claims HERE. (You’ll need to login to Seller Central to see the information). In your title you only have 200 characters and it is tempting to “short-hand” your product’s abilities in such a way that it accidentally violates the law. Amazon takes down sellers all the time for false claims that they did not realize were misleading.
As we all learned recently with the pesticide, medical devices and hazmat takedowns, sometimes the algorithm is zeroing in on a keyword like “sanitize,” that is used for “clean” in your listing and not indicative that your electronic device screen cleaner is a pesticide. Or medical device (our poor client was double-whammied there). Choose your words carefully. Check out our earlier blog if you want a list of the pesticide trigger words.
5. Can I still put keywords in my title?
Yes, but make sure they are very specific to the product. “Brand X Queen-size sheets, 1000-thread count, white with 2 pillowcases” is good. “Linen Queen-size sheets, white with 2 pillowcases” isn’t because you did not include the brand. If “linen” is a crucial product feature, then say: “Brand X Queen-Size Linen Sheets, 1000-Thread Count, White with 2 Pillowcases.” You want to avoid marketing claims like “softest,” “most durable” in the title. You can put that in the listing. “Easy clean” and “wrinkle-free” are also best for the listing bullets unless that is a crucial decision point for opening the listing. Think about tablecloths for example. “Easy clean” could be crucial. There are special fabrics out there that are virtually stain-proof which is important for a tablecloth. If one of your products is stain-proof, then it is worthy of the title.
If it isn’t clear by my wording, you must be prepared to defend your title choices to Amazon. There will be many false positives as they roll out this new algorithm/tool. If you are willing to go to the mat for your keyword being in the title, then go for it.
Gurus over the years have taught sellers to fill their titles with many keywords because they believe it increases conversions. If it does, it is most likely because they caused the buyer to open the listing in the first place. It is not about search. Their listing would come up regardless of where the keyword was in the listing. If you can carefully edit to keep the meaningful words and clear out the marketing clutter, you can please Amazon and keep your sales up.
6. They say they will quickly reinstate listings after they are corrected. Do you believe them?
No. They have zero credibility with me on this claim. My educated guess is they have automated part or all the process of relisting after a product is suppressed. This makes it more likely that most listings taken down WILL be reinstated quickly. However, if we are relying on the guys in Seller Support or Seller Performance? It could be a nightmare. Sellers already know that ASIN and Account reinstatements are hugely and unfairly affected by the person who reads (or does not read) the appeal.
Additionally, if the automated system says “no” and this is a crucial aspect of your title like “stain proof” then you will have to take your case to the Listing team. I hope these will be the exceptions rather than the rule.
7. How can I prepare for the Listing Apocalypse?
This announcement is part of a series of moves Amazon has been making to clean up the platform and get conformity on listings. There’s more to come. Here’s what we are advising our clients to do to reduce problems:
- Audit your listings. Print off all of Amazon’s rules not only about titles, but the entire listing. They are coming after your pictures and descriptions next; I guarantee it.
- Fix your violations.
- Close imperfect listings. Any title/listing not corrected by July 21 should be closed until it is fixed. If you take the “wait and see” approach, you could be spending days to weeks to get your listings un-suppressed. Better that you control the process than them.
- Make the first 50 characters count. Get the Amazon-required information in the first 50 characters for that all-important FNSKU label.
- Avoid health and other claims that could be FTC or FDA violations. Be sure you’ve got the proof behind the claim on your products. “Veterinarian Approved” is unsubstantiated. “Approved by the American Veterinary Association” with their seal is substantiated.
- Check your images. Did you know Amazon has a particular white they want as background for the main image? Most sellers are crazy enough to think “white is white.” Not in Amazon’s world. It has a name and number. We see sellers taken down for their images all the time. Check the rules about words and infographics in your secondary pictures as well.
- Audit all your variation listings. This has been a real thorn in our clients’ sides lately – variation violations. This new announcement about titles also specifies the titles for variations so read those carefully.
We conduct audits for our clients all the time – usually during the stress and drama of a listing suspension. You can avoid the stress by acting in the next couple of weeks. My team thinks I’m crazy to give it away, but if you do-it-yourselfers want our proprietary audit spreadsheet, just sign up here. It will act as a checklist for you. We customize it for each client’s situation and category.
Please note this a copyrighted document. Use it. Share it. Don’t present it as your own to anyone. It kills me to have to say that, but eGP’s IP is frequently stolen and appears on competitors’ websites. Our attorney relishes a fight, but let’s just avoid it in the first place.
If you want to hire us to do it for you, prices start at $500. It depends on how many ASINs you need us to audit. Contact us here to talk about your situation.
8. Is this worldwide or just the US?
It will be worldwide eventually. Usually Amazon launches in the US, makes all its mistakes and corrections and then rolls out on the other platforms. Technically, you are supposed to be following the listing rules already. What’s different in the international platforms is that there’s no set date yet for the suppressions and the relisting – which I assume has an automated component. That doesn’t mean they won’t take you down until they have the new algorithm in place if you are currently violating the rules. We got plenty of ASIN suspensions and suppressions before this new announcement about titles.
Moreover, while some things are the same worldwide, there are other laws, regulations and Amazon policies that affect foreign platforms too. I strongly suggest that those selling on international platforms get their ducks in a row now before they are under the gun to meet a deadline. Be sure to read all the country-specific policies.
If you are selling in Germany, for example, did you know it is illegal to list any products before your product recycling program is set up and verified by the German government? Not against TOS, illegal. This only affects certain types of products like batteries and anything with a plug so you may not need to worry about it, but if you list so much as a toaster without your recycling certification, your entire account will be suspended until the process is complete – usually 4-6 weeks.
In the UK you MUST have a VAT number before you can list products. This process also can take weeks and you can’t sell a thing until Her Majesty’s Royal Revenue Service says so. Forget what you read about needing a certain level of sales before VAT is required. That’s not true if you sell on Amazon. They answer to the Queen.
These are just a few examples of how sellers innocently violate Amazon’s international listing policies. Now is the time to get prepared. Don’t just focus on titles, that’s only the problem of the day. The fact is, Amazon wants you to comply with all listing policies all the time, no matter where you sell. Enforcement is coming with a vengeance. Get peace of mind by examining your listings now. Don’t wait for Amazon to bring down the hammer.
9. Will I be held responsible for listings I didn’t create?
Yes. If a listing is non-compliant, Amazon will suppress the entire listing until it is fixed. If you’re lucky, a competitor on the listing might fix it before you, but if you do it, you get additional benefits from Amazon like more time in the buy box. You don’t want your competition to have that advantage if you can help it.
10. What if I can’t fix the listing?
Amazon wants its listings to be improved but has learned that this power can be abused. The company determines who can fix a listing in several ways. The hierarchy is this:
- Amazon retail – they take priority even over the brand itself unless you can get a brand exception which is hard to do.
- Brand registered brands – a reseller can’t fix this listing, but resellers also can’t always tell if a listing is owned by the brand or not so the only way to know for sure is to try.
- The most active seller on the listing – if this was a 3P created listing, the most active seller can take priority over the original listing creator. If the change is something like the weight, size or title of the listing, it may require additional proof and approval to get updated.
- Original listing creator – If you are still active on this listing, you will get priority, but if you sell it infrequently or inconsistently; the most active seller can take priority.
You may have to work with the catalog team to get some listings compliant and that takes time – another reason not to wait until the last minute. I know you are reading this saying “Prime Day, Cynthia!!!” I know. Amazon’s timing sucks.
11. BONUS QUESTION: If I have EBC/A+ pages that have been approved, am I safe?
No. You are shocked to learn that sometimes the Amazonians get it wrong, too. Takedowns are by algorithm. The robot doesn’t care that someone at Amazon said your title or pictures were OK. The rules change quickly, and you need to make sure you are always compliant. Many mistakes ARE caught during the EBC page approval process and maybe your listings are all OK, but I’d check if I were you.
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HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?
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Contact us for specific advice on your situation:
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- DFW Meetup! The FBA in DFW Facebook group has organized its annual dinner/networking event July 18 at 6:30 PM. Mark your calendars and please RSVP in the group so the restaurant puts up enough tables. All local sellers are welcome. There’s no cost (besides your own dinner) and it is a great way to meet other sellers toiling away in Amazon’s vineyard. Howard Lee, Principal of Coral 8, an Amazon Accredited Brand Marketing Company, will give a presentation on PPC and Advertising that you don’t want to miss!
- ecom Chicago. Cynthia returns to Chicago in October (October 16-18, Elk Grove Village, IL).
- AMZ Masters presented by Helium 10 Elite – Join Cynthia and many other experts at The W Hotel in downtown Austin Texas in August (August 25-28). Find out more about Helium 10 HERE
- We are aware that many sellers are incorrectly having their products reclassified as a Pesticide product on Amazon, usually requiring the seller to have to take a survey to reinstate the listing. We have been able to get the listings of foreign-based owners of so-called pesticide products reinstated and properly categorized as non-pesticides, so please Contact Us if you need help.
- (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled against Amazon.com Inc in a case that could expose the online retailer to lawsuits from customers who buy defective products from third-party vendors through its website. This could mean a wave of lawsuits against Amazon. We’ll hare more coverage of this soon and are already talking about it at Amazon Seller Advocates on Facebook.
- Amazon Prime Day is July 15th and 16th. Get ready for a sales boost!
Our new Facebook Group Amazon Seller Advocates just passed 660 members! Join us for discussions of all things affecting Amazon sellers. Understand the context behind news announcements, changes to TOS and more! JOIN US!