Imagine this scenario. You wake up one morning to find that Amazon has taken down half a dozen of your product listings. They don’t tell you why. For now, all you know is that your listing has been removed. You contact Amazon trying to figure out exactly what happened. They tell you your product is restricted.
You’re at a loss. You’ve been selling this product for months. Why is it suddenly causing a problem? Maybe you don’t have to imagine this scenario. Maybe it’s already happened to you.
The most likely reason for your sudden ban is that Amazon has done a random sweep and found restricted keywords in your listing. When that happens, Amazon takes down your listing immediately and without warning.
Restricted keywords on Amazon
There’s no point in looking for a list of Amazon’s restricted keywords. Amazon hasn’t published one. However, sellers can make some educated guesses based on Amazon’s list of restricted products. The list includes some items that might seem obvious, like drugs and drug paraphernalia, and some that are less obvious, like cosmetics and skin/hair care.
Clearly, cosmetics are sold on Amazon all the time. This is where the details become important. Amazon “restricts” the sale of cosmetics to those that are new, sealed in the manufacturer’s packaging and have not been tampered with. On the other hand, no illegal drugs or paraphernalia associated with them are allowed on Amazon, period.
So while the keyword “shampoo” is fine, keywords related to drugs might get your listing banned. This is true even if the drug is legal in your state. One notable example is CBD Water. Although CBD is legal and contains no psychoactive substances, it is derived from cannabis. So the word CBD can get your listing banned. Even if you’re only using the word for context or as part of the general description, the keyword will trigger suspension of your listing. These types of products exist in a gray area. They’re not expressly banned, but they’re associated with restricted products.
Other products that commonly fall into this gray area include self-defense products like pepper sprays, stun guns, and batons. These can be sold on Amazon, but only by sellers with a history on the platform. New sellers are not allowed to sell them, and no seller can advertise them. Amazon has restricted these products from promotion through coupons or ‘deal of the day’ promotions as well.
Hazardous materials, or those that might become hazardous if stored or shipped improperly, can also cause your product listing to be taken down seemingly at random. Batteries are one common example. Many sellers have found their listings taken down because their product is marked as hazardous as a result of the type of battery that is shipped with the device, such as Lithium-Ion. Combatting this particular problem is usually fairly simple. All you need to do is provide documentation that your product meets health and safety standards.
How to avoid the problem
If you use a restricted keyword, Amazon will take down your listing. It doesn’t matter where you put the word. Whether it’s in your title or hidden in the back-end, Amazon bots will find the word and take the listing down.
Synonyms may help you avoid banned keywords and keep your product listing live, at least in the short term. For example, one of our clients was selling self-defense batons. Unfortunately, the word “baton” was restricted by Amazon. We solved the problem by using the word “nightstick” instead. While synonyms will prevent your product listing from being removed, they also hurt discoverability. Shoppers are much more likely to type in baton than nightstick.
Sometimes, completely innocent products are caught in the restricted keyword net. For example, a listing for a children’s twirling baton might be taken down because it uses that restricted keyword. In these cases, Amazon may be willing to reinstate the listing as long as you can show that the product is a toy and not a weapon of any kind.
Sidebar: Despite some information shared online (and even sometimes by Seller Support!) there is no such thing as “whitelisting” a company or Amazon Seller account for a restricted keyword. If you use a restricted keyword, your listing will be taken down. There are no exceptions to this rule. Once you know that a term is blacklisted or that Amazon doesn’t allow it, don’t even bother trying to sneak it in, it’s not worth it.
Make sure you always have proper documentation and safety data sheets to show that your product has met current safety standards.
What to do when your listing is removed
Amazon bans particular keywords in an effort to protect both the customer and Amazon. They don’t want a dangerous product in their warehouse, and they certainly don’t want to deal with negative publicity resulting from a customer buying a dangerous product.
However, Amazon does want to meet the needs and expectations of shoppers. If you can prove that your product is safe, or if you can remove the banned words, Amazon may reinstate the listing.
When a listing is removed, immediately follow up with Amazon. They may tell you that your product is flagged as hazardous material or that it is a restricted item. Provide them with material safety data sheets, product declarations and other relevant paperwork to show that the item is safe.
If they still reject your listing, you may have a keyword problem. Unfortunately, Amazon won’t tell you which specific keywords are causing the issue. You’ll need to do some trial and error to find out which word or words caused the problem and delete them.
Keep in mind that the initial flagging was done by a bot, not a person. Bots don’t understand context, so they can’t tell the difference between a child’s toy baton and a self-defense baton. When your case is reviewed, it will likely be handled by an entry-level person examining the case based on their knowledge and opinion. Don’t assume they have any prior knowledge of your product or its safety. Provide them with as much information as you can to help them make an informed decision.
Weigh the opportunity against the costs
Amazon represents a wealth of opportunity for many sellers. By listing their products on Amazon, sellers reach more people while simplifying sales, customer service and fulfillment. Now and then, your listing might get flagged - for example, Amazon might need you to prove that the children’s pajamas you’ve listed are suitably fire retardant. You provide the paperwork and go on selling your product. At least, that’s how it works for most brands.
For sellers in the gray area: self-defense products, CBD products, etc, Amazon isn’t that easy. You’ll spend a lot of time and energy on an uphill battle. While, you can find creative solutions to get around keyword restrictions, Amazon may still remove your listings. That leaves you with unsold inventory accumulating storage fees in Amazon’s warehouse while you try to somehow prove that your CBD water fits Amazon’s vision of what should be sold through their marketplace. In this case, the question becomes: Is Amazon really the best platform for your product?
Compare the time, effort and money you’ll spend to fight this battle with Amazon to the ease of listing somewhere else. For example, on Google, where your keywords are not restricted, you can rank for keywords that shoppers actually search for. You can run ads and explain the benefits of your product fully. You can’t do that on Amazon with these products.
While the team at Bobsled believes in the power of Amazon to help brands thrive, we also recognize that Amazon is not a one size fits all solution.
If you need help deciding whether Amazon is the right platform for you, or choosing non-restricted keywords, contact the Amazon experts at Bobsled Marketing.