My Amazon Associate Account Closed Cost Me 100k And How You Can Avoid The Same

Sometimes I believe I write a little too much about successes and don’t provide a realistic picture of all the ups/downs associated with an online business.

Today in this painful post I will shed some light on a recent failure which will ultimately cost me up to $100k!

Plus I share the process my team built to ensure this wouldn’t happen and had finished it just days getting suspended!

Also, if you have been suspended I do still have one strategy up my sleeve I can’t reveal publicly but if you have had your Amazon associate account suspended please contact me and I would be happy to share.

 

My Amazon Associate Account Has Been Suspended Again Losing $100k!

The irony… I had just hired a full time employee in house whose first job was to prepare a set of procedures for us to audit all of our Amazon associate sites and confirm we were 110% compliant!

I will share all of those procedures with you in this post and everything we have learned to help ensure you avoid getting your Amazon Associate Account suspended.

 

NOTE – IF YOU HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED PLEASE CONTACT ME – I DO HAVE ONE TRICK UP MY SLEEVE NOT REVEALED HERE PUBLICLY!

 

Want More Help?
Losing my Amazon Associate account sucked! We had just finished doing a TON of work to try and make sure we were bullet proof in terms of staying compliant with all of our sites in the eyes of Google. In order to help others I decided to make my entire audit process public so others can do their own audits or if you want help provide access to my in house project manager who studies all the TOC’s from Amazon and built the audit process.

  • See the top 7 reasons why your sites might be out of compliance! – Click Here
  • Have Me and My Team Audit Your Sites – Click Here
    • My new project manager read every single document from Amazon and built the audit process. She has reviewed over a dozen sites and can review your site providing images showing exactly what she recommends you change to stay compliant.

start-your-audit-now

 

The story of my associate account getting suspended goes back to when I sold 2/3rd of my FBA business.

The purchaser also purchased another site which had been associated with a suspended account and therefore when Amazon reviewed his accounts they suspended his personal account, our partnership account and then eventually (months later) my personal account.

Amazon seems to follow a policy of “guilt by association” even if there is nothing wrong with your account or sites you can receive a message saying…

During our research, we have determined that an account belonging to you (or a person affiliated with you) has previously been closed for violations of the Operating Agreement or one of the other Associates Programs operated by our affiliates.”

1-contagin-spread

What was odd was that my personal account remained un-suspended for a much longer time!

 

My Strategy – Go Stealth:

With a substantial chunk of money on the table and after some unsuccessful attempts at getting any information out of Amazon I setup a plan to go very stealth in the creation of another account. My plan I thought was bullet proof! Here are the steps I took…

  • New Entity
  • New Address
  • New Email
  • New Phone Number
  • New Contact Name
  • 301 Redirected Website to a NEW website URL
  • Logged in via a VPN I ONLY used to login to my Amazon associates account
  • Used a browser, in incognito mode, I ONLY used for logging into my Amazon associated account

However, a couple months later it was shutdown with the same message… how I do not know other than they may have physically followed the URL.

To see how a very succesful Amazon Affiliate handled this problem check out Brent Hale.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t buy a site that has been associated with a banned account
  • Don’t connect someone to your account unless you absolutely have to!
  • Don’t connect yourself to an account unless you absolutely have to!
  • Ensure your sites are 100% compliant (easier said than done!)

 

Why This Pisses Me Off:

Other than the financial loss which will likely close at around $100k!

For every site I am trying very hard to be compliant with Amazon TOC’s, we are not doing anything sneaky and are simply trying to play by Amazon’s rules.

Amazon’s unwillingness to work with their associates/affiliates to resolve small issues drives us to take all kinds of strange actions!

 

Avoid This Pain – How to Ensure Your Amazon Associate Websites are 100% Compliant!

Like I said I hired someone full time in house to help systematize my business and had her spend a week doing the very not fun task of reading every single part of the various Terms and Conditions with Amazon associates accounts and turn it into an auditable process.

The plan was to ensure that every single one of our websites was 100% in compliant and before we could roll it out my account got suspended.

 

5 Steps I took to create an Amazon Audit Procedure for my Amazon Affiliate sites

 

  1. Reading of the Amazon Associates Programs Operating Agreement
  2. Creation of the “Associate Program Requirements Form”
  3. Creating a Standard Operating Procedure
  4. Hiring a Virtual Assistant and Giving Great Instructions
  5. Execute our Audit Procedure Yourself

 

Reading the Amazon Associates Programs Operating Agreement

Reading the Amazon Associates Programs Operating Agreement was probably the most challenging part of this task. You probably are not familiar with this piece of “literature”, but the Agreement is broken into about four different sections that are only accessible via a clickable in text link on the first page of the Agreement. These sections consist of the “Participation Requirements”, the “Trademark Guidelines”, the “ Linking Requirements”, and the “License Agreement”.

3-amazon 2-amazon 4-amazon

  1. To read the Associates Program Operating Agreement click here
  2. To read the Associates Program Participation Requirements click here
  3. To read the Associates Program Linking Requirements click here
  4. To read the Associates Program Trademark Guidelines click here

As you can see, these guidelines are not easily accessible, but if you have the time to read through the ten (10)  thousand word document of legal gibberish (took me about 7 hours to fully understand what the heck they were talking about), then your account MIGHT not get shut down.

 

Creating the “Associate Program Requirements Form”

To make sure that all of our sites were compliant, I decided that an “Audit” process should be performed on every Amazon Affiliate site by an outsourced Virtual Assistant (VA). After I read through the Operating Agreement and felt confident enough with the legal content, I starting building an Audit questionnaire based on these Requirements. I wanted to make sure that the questions were asked in a clear and simple way so that someone with little knowledge of Amazon Affiliate sites could understand and answer these questions accurately. The questionnaire allows you to also insert some images so that you can help guide the Virtual Assistant on where they can find certain website elements.

See example here:

5-question

 

I used Google Forms because I like that the form produces a Google Sheet where I can view all of the Audit Responses. I standardized the questions on the questionnaire so that if the Auditor had to answer “Yes”, it would mean that the question failed the Audit. This way, If I take a quick look at the responses, I’m able to see immediately which sites needed the most work based on how many “Yes” responses I got.

6-form

6-form

Creating a Standard Operating Procedure for the company

Since we have about 70+ sites, I knew this would be a gruelling task so I decided to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which would allow me to outsource this work to a Virtual Assistant.

The SOP essentially provides a step by step guide and a clear process for all actions taken by the VA while executing the audit on our affiliate sites. The SOP also provides a clear process for how to remedy breaches of Amazon’s Terms and Conditions which, if done properly, will result in a compliant site. Check out the table below which shows the 15 steps we take to Audit and then make any necessary changes to make our sites compliant.

Action By:Step:Action:
Virtual Assistant1The VA must go to the Master List of Amazon Affiliate Sites
Virtual Assistant2The VA must select a URL and go to the site
Virtual Assistant3Once on the site, the VA must open the Associate’s Program Requirements Form and answer all questions
Virtual Assistant4If YES has been selected on the Form for any question, the VA must make corrective changes to the site for that question
Virtual Assistant5If the VA is unable to make corrective changes because the changes are Out of Scope, the VA must notify the Portfolio Manager
Portfolio Manager6The Portfolio Manager must review Out of Scope changes in conjunction with the site and create instructions for the WordPress VA
Portfolio Manager7Once the instructions are complete, the Portfolio Manager must send the instructions to the WordPress VA
WordPress VA10WordPress VA to implement all remaining  Out of Scope changes and alert Portfolio Manager of changes
Portfolio Manager11Portfolio Manager to inform VA of changes and instruct a Re-Test
VA12VA to re-test the site to ensure that all questions can be answered NO in compliance with Amazon’s Terms and Conditions
VA13VA to report status and completion of audit process to Portfolio Manager
Portfolio Manager14Portfolio Manager to look over all approved sites to confirm approved status
Portfolio Manager15Portfolio Manager to collect and reporting on status of progress and completion of Audit for each Amazon Affiliate site to the CEO

 

Hiring a Virtual Assistant ( VA) and Giving Great Instructions  

If you read my blog regularly, you might have read my post about hiring a VA. You can find it here if you want to read in depth.

What I like to do is hire a few VA’s via Upwork, give them a test (or in this case a site to audit) and see how they do. Since I want the VA to have the ability to not only find the issues on the site, but also to fix them, I’m going to look for a VA who has experience with wordpress sites.

Two things I like to look for is speed and quality. I can generally get a fast VA who outputs good quality work within a few hires. Once you find a great VA, send them lots and lots of work and great instructions!

Giving great instructions to the VA is absolutely necessary if you want them to produce the desired outcome. I have an instructions template that is specific to the Amazon process. If is broken up into 4 sections.

  1. The Purpose: Here I explain WHY the job needs to get done by providing a blurb about the purpose they are serving by executing this job.
  2. Responsibilities: Here I explain WHO is responsible and WHAT the responsibilities are
  3. Procedure: Here I explain HOW to execute the procedure step by step. I have included this 15 step procedure above.
  4. Table: Here is where I ask the VA to fill out the table if they have answered YES to any of the questions on the form

Example:

Login credentials for the wordpress site

  • Login:
  • Username:
  • Password:
Question number (#): Question:

(Copy and paste from form)

Why did you answer yes? (Short explanation)  
#
#Screenshot of BEFORE change:Screenshot of AFTER change:
#

 

Use My Audit Process & Don’t Get Your Account Suspended!

If you want to use my audit process for your own sites, click the google doc link below and make a copy of it in Google to have your own copy with your own spreadsheet:

Associates Program Requirements From for the Public:

 

Don’t have time? Let us Audit your site for you: Contact me if you would like my team to Audit your Amazon Affiliate site for you.

About the Author Jon Haver

I am a 31 year old husband, father of 2, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours. I am not a GURU but just a regular guy who is grinding out 12+hr days to build a life for my family on terms.
Jon Haver, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

38 comments
Matt says October 4, 2016

Jon – you didn’t say why you got banned, or maybe I missed that part. Was it because they associated you with a banned account?

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Matt, correct I was associated with a person who had been banned.

    Reply
Emeka Madusha says October 4, 2016

Sites like amazon , google and facebook make it so difficult to use their platforms.

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Agree, they get to a certain size and then little fiefdoms within their company go on some serious power trips.

    Reply
Anisul says October 4, 2016

Sorry to hear that Jon. It’s really a warning sign for other affiliates. You said your new entity was taken down as well. So how would you use the existing sites again? ( considering you are 100% complaint after the audit)

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    No I definitely think Amazon has made it clear they don’t want me working with them directly… I of course have taken additional steps but I won’t be using the URLs within Amazon associates.

    Reply
      Zaheer says October 12, 2016

      Hi Jon,

      Sad to hear this has happened. I had this happen to me too this year. Initially I thought it was a COPPA agreement which I failed to declare in time. My Associates account said clearly in the dashboard that this was the case.

      I then subsequently setup another associates account as per their guidelines. A month later when it came to payment time my new account got closed too.

      There was a lot of tooing and froing with the Associates Team who are absolutely useless in my opinion. When I spoke to them, they are only available via email and even then they just copied and pasted some very vague message over and over again. I ensured that I did everything to conform to their TOS. A bit of a steer in the right direction would have been helpful to fix the issue.

      Anyway, I haven’t had my account reinstated as like yourself they do not want to deal with me any longer. The positive side is that it made me look at alternative Affiliates. The good this with this is that commissions are much higher. The downside is that the conversion rates are atrocious compared to Amazon. If you can optimise your landing pages and A/B Test them to improve your conversion rates then there is an opportunity right there.

      I wish I had my Associates account back but no point in crying over spilt milk.

      All the best
      Zaheer

      Reply
Chris says October 4, 2016

Wow, this is a great post. I appreciate the transparency. That google doc is really helpful, thanks.

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Thanks Chris, glad it was helpful!

    Reply
Robert says October 4, 2016

Hi Jon,

I have an affiliate account that I use on several web site.
One of them was owned by a user that recently got all his sites and accounts banned.
Lucky my account is still intact.
What shall I do to avoid repercussions?

Robert

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Robert, I would suggest getting that one site out of your account ASAP… the contagin spreads through the sites and this is exactly what got my partner banned which then spread to me and my accounts. I sent you an email with a suggestion.

    Reply
Gowtham V says October 4, 2016

This happened to me once. Its always better to be 110% sure that our sites comply with the affiliates rules.
So having 2 accounts with different names and address will give us some hope that both accounts won’t be shutdown.

Hope you get your account back. Do you know somebody who get their old amazon associate account back ? Is there a way ? Kindly let me know

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Gowtham… I don’t know anyone who has gotten their account back… if you hear of someone I would be very interested in hearing!

    Reply
Eugene says October 4, 2016

I do not agree with 23.
“Does the site display or otherwise use any of Amazon’s customer reviews or star ratings, in part or in whole?”

This is from “Associates Program Participation Requirements”:
“28. You will not display or otherwise use any of our customer reviews or star ratings, in part or in whole, on your site unless you have obtained a link to that customer review or star rating through the Product Advertising API and you comply with the requirements set forth in the License Agreement.

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Eugene, if you are using native ads from Amazon Associates that pulls the reviews with their API than great… but a lot of people and some of my sites had parts of reviews/star ratings so this question is to ensure that cleans it up.

    Reply
      Tim says October 5, 2016

      So Basically this doesn’t mean that you cannot use the product rating, but it means that you cannot rate the product? Let’s say I have a review about samsung s4 and I want to place my rating with stars say I give it 4/5 , I don’t have the right to do that?

      Reply
Eugene says October 4, 2016

Thank you for the questionnaire and Google doc. Very-very useful.

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Thanks Eugene, glad it was helpful!

    Reply
Art Manville says October 4, 2016

Great post. But I didn’t see the obvious. Maybe I missed it:

XXXX is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

We have that on our about us page as I don’t think it needs to be in the footer or more obvious. Thoughts?

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    That question is in there… and yes I think having it in the footer is the best option to be on the safe side… but don’t listen to me I clearly screwed up somehow 🙂

    Reply
Garrett says October 4, 2016

Hi Jon,

Great post, I have heard of this happening more and more recently so this is a great timely post. I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. Did you get the ban lifted?

As far as the form goes do you think that questions 24 and 27 go against using a tool like EasyAzon?

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Garrett, no I have not had the ban lifted… I have never heard of anyone getting their ban lifted! 24 & 27 are tricky… I would say that in the purest sense it does go against it so to be compliant it should be a direct link… however, many many many sites use tools like easyazon geni.us link etc.

    Reply
Quinton Hamp says October 4, 2016

I’ve often wondered if this was their way of closing down the affiliate program. Scare all of the affiliates away.

As they get bigger, I think that might happen.

Thanks for the guide.

Don’t overlook the really obvious stuff: like mentioning price or “ratings” such as # of stars, etc.

Good luck on the recovery.

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Good tip and interesting idea…I think they are dominate but to get rid of the associate program I think would open up a crack for a competitor because all of those people that make a TON of money from associate accounts aren’t going to just let that money go.

    Reply
Philley M says October 4, 2016

Very Sad News with some awesome tips to cover that.

So, what you would do now? Is there any chance to get back the account? Or you have to create a new one for all the websites you own?

And, is there any solid strategy to stop amazon by banning accounts automatically?

Reply
    Jon Haver says October 4, 2016

    Hi Philley, I am yet to hear of anyone getting their account back! If someone has I would be very interested to hear about it!

    Reply
Mr Bill says October 4, 2016

Hi Jon, I am sorry to hear that, I was banned once in the past few months, but that time I made above $300/mnth for first few months doing SEO, I was a little down because I heard that someone who got banned never get it back, just 0,01% could get the account back if they found that it’s their problems, I think you should contact they once to let they know your issues, it’s a good chance for you getting back.

Some of others recommeded me to reopen a new account and redrect old domain to new one with all different info. your ranking will lose a little bit but you can increase it quickly. or you try to find other affiliate program typing – your product + “affiliate program” . anyway, I hope you could get your account back because amazon converts well. Good luck to you Jon!

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Constance says October 4, 2016

So Amazon is also suspending accounts too, where to run too then

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Malcolm says October 4, 2016

I don’t get it, you said you got banned because you sold the site to someone who’s account had been banned? That doesn’t have anything to do with site audits or complying with amazon TOS, so I’m confused.

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Matthew Allen says October 4, 2016

As far as I can tell (without reading Amazon’s TOS word-for-word myself), parts of Amazons terms seem to be subjective and they can pretty much shut anybody down anytime they want. Unfortunately, you got on their radar by association. I’ve read about others recently and in the past who got shut down and we’re talking 5-figures per month that was lost! Were you close to the 5-figure mark with Amazon Jon? I’ve wondered if high earners get scrutinized and monitored more closely. Oh… the pros and cons of using existing platforms to generate income. More and more, I’m beginning to dislike Amazon.

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Cathy says October 4, 2016

Thanks so much for your cheat sheet and questionaire Jon and I’m sorry this happened to you. Geez, why does Amazon make things so hard?

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Hoa says October 5, 2016

Great post. Do you think : if we just use easy azon , then we will be safe 100% ?

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Timon says October 5, 2016

Hi Jon, I wanted to ask you something, you probably know the wordpress plugin – easyazon? They use the amazon API to show links and images, I recently started using the plugin and sent e-mail to amazon support to make sure that this is the right way to use 3rd party images (2 question from your form at google docs) they said it is not okay to use image, but if the plugin uses their API it is okay, now the question is since the images are uploaded to my server (because of the plugin) is that aginst the rules?

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Martin says October 5, 2016

Sorry to hear you got banned. Companies such as Google and Amazon really should provide a fair appeals process for the “small guys” who rely on them for an income.

I am considering buying an Amazon Affiliate site from someone who has recently been banned (unfairly) by Amazon, seemingly just for the country he has recently moved to. If you have any tips on precautions I should take — such as moving the site to a new url, please tell me.

I wanted to ask about hiring VAs — your tips sound good, as I have hired a few with mixed success. I wanted to ask what countries you have hired VAs from and if you have any tips related to that.

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Megan says October 5, 2016

I’m a little unclear on something – so you can’t use an Amazon 3rd party seller’s logo, which makes sense. But you really can’t use product photos? That seems weird – how could you talk about a product without photos?

Reply
    Ivo says October 10, 2016

    It IS allowable to use product photos found on Amazon. You just can’t alter them in any way. Resizing is ok of course.

    Reply
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