Amazon tagging circles. What are these? Well first an explanation of tagging.
On Amazon, below the reviews is the section on tagging (pictured above). Basically, this is a set of keywords that are assigned by users to various items. Other users can “vote” on them by clicking on the checkbox next to each. You also have the option to vote “no”. The number in parenthesis next to the tag indicates the number of “yes” votes, minus the number of “no” votes.
So what good does this do? People can search by tags, bringing up a selection of all the products that have that particular tag. Some have only a few, others have thousands. The order in which they appear is calculated by the number that item has in parenthesis after the tag. You can probably see where I’m going with this. Naturally, it’s in your best interest as an author to have a lot of “yes” votes on popular tags (like “Romance”, “Science Fiction”, etc).
Enter tagging circles. These are arrangements set up among a group of authors, usually through chat rooms, groups in social media sites, or even by publishers. The agreement is that all of the members will vote on the tags of each others books in order to boost the numbers and have the books move up on the list. Strength in numbers.
I want to start by saying there is nothing ethically wrong with doing this. Tagging is something that SEO (search engine optimization) professionals do all the time. It’s actually a good idea. It’s not like they’re faking reviews or something like that. Hell, I had a bunch of people I know tag my book (and it didn’t do a thing for me by the way, even though a bunch of people I know said tagging circles helped them).
Well, Amazon decided they didn’t like this behavior. They discovered Tagging Circles active in the discussion forums on their main site, CreateSpace, and Shelfari. The first thing they did is post responses like this one here:
For this reason, we are locking this and all threads that organize this type of tagging, and future threads of this nature will be deleted from our Community. We encourage you to share your work with each other and discuss marketing and promotion ideas, but organized manipulation of any feature is not something we will permit on our boards. Website features and tools should be used as intended.
We understand that you have put a lot of time and effort into this thread and that it can be quite a challenge to increase the visibility of your work. We hope you will check out the tips we provided which may help improve your titles’ searchability on Amazon.com and continue to support each other’s success.
The next thing they did was lock those discussions. I wanted to figure out if they were taking it any further. LinkedIn had a discussion group that was focused on tagging circles. I joined and decided to start tagging those books. After the first few, Amazon stopped counting my tags. I decided not to push it further, nor list my book in there because I didn’t want them to go so far as to delete the tags on my own book (and after the fiasco with deleted reviews from internet review publications, I’m glad I made that decision). The fact is, they can track it if they choose to do so. I no longer participate in arrangements like that, simply because I don’t want to risk that, nor my status in the Amazon Vine program.
Does this mean you can’t tag anymore? No. First of all, you can tag anything you buy. That means, if you’re part of a group of authors, and you all buy each others books, Amazon is not going to stop you from voting on each others tags. They made money. Tag away. If you pop onto an item here or there and decide to tag it, I doubt it will be a problem. If the system shows patterns of use, that is when there might be trouble.