Michael Hyatt on (Inaccurate) Bestseller Lists
Author Wants Out of Amazon

Amazon: Why No Embedded HTML in Reviews?

AmazonAnytime I review a book here on my blog I also try to (remember to) cut-and-paste that same review on the book's page on Amazon.  One of the biggest frustrations I run into when doing this is Amazon's policy against embedding HTML in customer reviews.

I figure there are two reasons why they don't want you to embed HTML in your review: loss of traffic and dead links.  Neither one of these are bad enough to warrant Amazon's policy against them.

The primary reason I'd like to embed HTML in my reviews is to offer links to related sites/pages.  Yes, those links will cause customers to visit pages outside the world of Amazon.  Big deal.  Is Amazon really that concerned that they'll lose a customer because of an outbound link?! If so, I think they're really underestimating the power of their own brand.

The dead link issue is equally lame.  Dead links exist on just about every site.  Would I think less of Amazon because I found a few there in customer reviews?  No.  Plus, Amazon tends to be pretty innovative with services and features -- couldn't they harness some of that energy to write a tool that periodically crawls their own site, stripping out dead links in customer reviews?

Embedded links in reviews will only serve as another feature for Amazon's customers.  These links will help customers with their purchase decision by providing additional information, much more than can possibly be squeezed into the actual review.  I think Amazon should consider these customer benefits and rethink this policy.


Morris Rosenthal

They're afraid of spam. Any system that opens itself to embedded HTML links always comes under attack by people looking for free links to up their profile in search engines.


Allowing user-supplied HTML is a whack-a-mole game.

One month, the rules you had to filter out various onfocus / onload / onclick attributes and nasty JavaScript constructs seems perfect. The next month comes the arrival of some new and strange arrangement of characters that browsers recognize - yet your filter doesn't - and the fun begins anew. Meanwhile, in-page exploits have access to visitors' cookies and can perform other actions on the user's behalf on amazon.com.

Links, in particular, are a hot spot for these concerns because people click on them - thereby initiating the exploit. I'm not sure whether this is a particular concern in Amazon's policy against embedded HTML, but I know it's a headache I've had repeatedly.

In the end, it's the sort of thing that someone in some meeting put a foot down and decided that the risks didn't outweigh the expressive power offered to users.

Michael A. Banks

The first thought that occurs is that Amazon doesn't want to be a venue for spammers. I'm sure there are many who would buy a book for the right to post.

Registered authors get to use HTML for adding links and formatting to blog postings. But you have to use Amazon's editor, which defines what you can do. Oddly, you can add links as naked html, though you still have to use the editor to embed a link in text. But few writers are going to spam, except for their own books on Amazon.

Amazon staff do monitor the postings. And I assume Amazon tracks the sites when a user clicks on an outside link in a blog. They may filter them, too.

Joe Wikert

I can see where the fear of spam would be a big consideration on this too, but I think the penalty of not being able to include links far outweighs the potential problem of including them. Why not let the readers and customer base help police this? Add a button to let readers flag bad links and/or spam to call attention to the problem and then the folks at Amazon can manually remove them. Once someone gets busted for adding spam links lock out their IP address so they can't make any posts in the future; I started doing this awhile back on my blog and it makes a *big* difference. Yes, I still get the occasional spam post, but never twice from the same address. And yes, I realize Amazon's traffic levels are zillions of times higher than mine but this sort of solution can work without being too taxing on any one at Amazon. Again, I think the benefits need to be considered.

Michael A. Banks

I like being able to flag spam posts. Kind of like a feature eBay offers, where you can click a link on a given listing to report a violation of listing policies or questionable whatever.

I wasn't aware you had that capability here at Typepad. I just haven't look into it enough, though I am considering putting a blog here.

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. Don't bother with Typepad. I'm not at all happy with the service. The features are very limited and you never know when the server is going to be down. Plus, every time I log in I get an error; I used to send their tech support e-mails about this and they completely ignored them, so I stopped sending them. I would have switched earlier this year but I don't want to go through the hassle of getting folks over to a new URL.

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