An unusual email from Amazon

I got an unusual email from Amazon today:

Domino subscription

I’m sure that Domino is a fine magazine, but I told Amazon not to send me anything promotional. So I checked my communication preferences on Amazon. Yup, they’re not supposed to send me any emails like this:

Amazon email preferences

What’s up, Amazon? Ian, tell Amazon folks that they burnt a teeny bit of my goodwill this morning. And that I’m still hoping Amazon implements a couple of these suggestions. ๐Ÿ™‚

I want to do a constructive post, so I’ll add one more Amazon suggestion: provide a way to see the sales rank of a product over time. For example, if someone recommends a photography book, it would be really neat to see if that changes the sales for that book at all.

Update November 19, 2007

Someone from Amazon actually contacted me a couple days after this post went live, and I’ve been lax on posting their reply. I’m adding the email that I received (with permission):

Hi Matt —

My colleague Ian McAllister showed me your recent blog posting asking why it was you received an email from Amazon letting you know you were eligible to receive a free 12 month subscription to Domino magazine, even though you had set your Amazon privacy controls to not receive any “promotional” emails.

The email you received was not a promotion. It was a follow up e-mail that we promised we would send to you when you made your purchase. As stated on the site, customers who made qualifying purchases in Amazonโ€™s Home & Garden store would receive an email with instructions letting them know how to opt-in for their free, one-year subscription to Domino.

I hope this answers your question, and thanks very much for your feedback.


Patty Smith
Director of Corporate Communications

On one hand, to a regular user like me, it still felt like a promotional email. On the other hand, I give Amazon props for replying to my blog complaint promptly, and I understand why they didn’t consider the email to be promotional. Now, if I could just convince Amazon to implement some of the tweaks I’d like them to do. ๐Ÿ™‚

62 Responses to An unusual email from Amazon (Leave a comment)

  1. Matt,

    There are a couple thrid party sites providing sales rank over time information, I’m partial to Charteo – but they only track items starting when somebody requests it by entering the ISBN

    If you want an idea of what the sales rank actually translates into in terms of sales,

    If you saw Chirs Anderson present at Googleplex, ‘m the source of the “crappy quality” graph he apologized for:-)

    It’s tough to recalibrate these days since they eliminated LSI ebooks, which ran pretty much one-to-one. For a quick check on any given bookor ASIN, see Aaron Shepards rank checker


  2. Amazon increased their sales by at least one customer due to your recommendation. I just bought the The Digital Photography Book as a gift for my dad.

  3. Amazon are often beating the drum about Permission Based Marketing. I always used to feel that they were good at it. Is this an isolated incident? Is it different by nation?

  4. Matt – Why are you offering a free SEO tutorial to that already ranks in the Google algorithms for everything from ant farms to diapers? Look what happened when Wikipedia removed the nofollow tag and followed your advice, complete domination!! You guys planning to buy Wiki and Amazon sometime?

    Is this the way it will go, Wikipedia for information, Amazon for products? What about the rest of us? If I sell a new garden rake will Amazon some day outrank my individual products website?

    I do appreciate the lesson, user voting systems gives the power back to the people. How about just coming out and saying it without being so snarky? Hmm? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. By the way, to give props where they’re due, someone from Amazon contacted me just now, so the blog-post-to-initial-response time was under an hour. That’s really impressive.

    Aaron Pratt, Amazon has succeeded in becoming synonymous with books in my mind. I don’t fight that association at this point. ๐Ÿ™‚ For lots of other products (and some books), I do try to find the manufacturer/author page.

  6. Amazon increased their sales by at least one customer due to your recommendation. I just bought the The Digital Photography Book as a gift for my dad.

    Two more here – I bought one for me and one for my thirteen year old godson who is just starting out in digital photography. Just came yesterday.

  7. Matt – Let’s just hope your algorithms continue to find the manufacturer/author page and place them before in Google Search.

    As you can also see from the response time, people take Google employees very seriously and your words influence changes (if they are smart).

    Great lessons in “SEO” coming from you and Mr. Adam these days, I should be outside making barrels but I am glued to the internet! ;-(

  8. They don’t look like SEO suggestions to me, mere enhancements an end user might like to see to enhance their shopping experience.

    Wouldn’t afffect their rankings much IMO.

  9. Hey Matt,

    Are you sure it came from Amazon and wasn’t a phishing attempt? I see the odd attempt that looks just like this (although nothing for Domino magazine specifically.)

    It’s probably a goofy thought on my part, but anything’s possible and the dumber the idea is, the more likely it sometimes is to be true.

  10. Hey Matt,

    I forgot to mention that I actually did buy Kelby’s book on your recommendation and thought it was a good (albeit quick) read. So, there’s a least a little bump thanks to you!


  11. I received the same email from Amazon, even though I had the following checked in my communication preferences: Receive no e-mail (Excluding transactional e-mail)

    Let’s hope whatever they did to fix your problem will stick, and they learn from this mistake.

  12. Matt,

    Just wanted to let you know that I ended up purchasing the Digital Photography book you suggested after seeing how good your fireworks pics turned out and how crappy mine did.

  13. They donโ€™t look like SEO suggestions to me, mere enhancements an end user might like to see to enhance their shopping experience.

    Wouldnโ€™t afffect their rankings much IMO.

    Doing things the “end user might like to see” is and will be highly rewarded in universal search algorithms.

  14. Hey Matt. I was just talking with my dad (your old adviser) about it, and he mentioned that Amazon would probably never provide a sales ranking tracking system. It would become too easy to game the system by knowing that kind of information, as people occasionally try to do.

    I’ve got that book you recommended on my wish list; your fireworks photo was great!

  15. this seems to be a fairly widespread act in the industry – oftentimes the site owners will actually BELIEVE what they’re sending is NOT spam or promotional.

  16. Morris Rosenthal, thanks for the pointers! Looking at I think I see a bump in SalesRank (and that’s a logarithmic chart) from 99th most popular on July 4th to the 53rd most popular on July 9th. But I could be reading too much into it, or maybe the book got mentioned somewhere else. I’m glad that someone is tracking this data though. Interesting stuff!

    Erich, good to know. I figure it wasn’t just me getting that email. If it helps Amazon find something that was slipping through the cracks, that’s better for everyone. Possibly at the slight annoyance of Ian from Amazon. ๐Ÿ™ When Scoble calls me out by name I grumble a little bit in my head sometimes, so I try not to ask other people by name that often.

    DeWitt Clinton and Lew, glad to hear it! If I recommend a book, it’s because I think it’s good, and for a newbie at photography like me, I thought it was pretty nice (esp. for $12). If you ever see an affiliate link in one of my Amazon links, it’s an accident, so lemme know and I’ll prune it.

    igor, if you can keep it to 1-2 comments *total* per post, I think we would all be happier. But just to re-emphasize it, if I see tons of comments over and over, I will start deleting them.

  17. Rank over time is a great idea, it would be really interesting to see how ads, buzz, major blog posts, etc affect sales.

  18. If you bend the rules a lot (A LOT!), you could say that this is a transactional message and not a promotion.

    They are not promoting anything, but rather offering you a free gift. And that gift offering is based on a previous transaction you’ve made, thus the message can be seen as “transactional”.

    In fact they probably have a rule in their CRM / ESP system saying: “If a customer has shopped in Home & Garden, and haven’t made another purchase within x months, send them this “free gift” e-mail to see if we can’t lure them in again”. Thus, the message can be seen as transactional ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Dave (original)

    I have had the same problem with Amazon sending me stuff I have chosen to NOT get. Seems like once you have spent over a certain amount with them, you get on their spam list whether you like it or not.

    IMO they are weighing up the risk/reward ratio of spam:$

  20. Gee, one little Mattvertisment and people are snapping up books faster than Ron Popeil ship a veg-a-matic.

    Every considering switching careers Matt?

    I hear QVC is hiring ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. You can just send that magazine my way. I love it!

  22. Matt, I love when people in positions of power can call others out to force changes for better, but I’m with Aaron on this one.

    Shouldn’t you be promoting a book vertical search engine like addall dot com? That site in particular includes amazon prices in their comparison search results.

    “Amazon has succeeded in becoming synonymous with books in my mind”

    Just because they’re really really big? Makes sense you crazy Googler! They don’t always have the best prices, even in the used marketplace.

  23. I hear QVC is hiring

    You know, Matt does kind of look like former Shop at Home spokesman and current TNA shill Don West (toward the bottom of the page, see the pointing guy.)

  24. “If you ever see an affiliate link in one of my Amazon links, itโ€™s an accident, so lemme know and Iโ€™ll prune it.”

    What is wrong with affiliate links? Following Google policy (from the Google AdSense Helpcenter):
    “we encourage you to endorse referral products by calling attention to the button or text link. If you believe in the quality of the product that you are referring, feel free to let your users know!”

  25. Matt, I wrote the code behind and maintain it as a hobby project. I am glad that it was able to satisfy Matt’s curiosity about how his recommendation impacts sale at As per Morris’s work on correlating Sales Rank and Sales Volume and zipfs law, I tend to think that a halving of Sales Rank roughly implies doubling of Sales for a particular item.

    Morris, Thanks for giving Charteous some extra visibility by mentioning it in Matt’s blog. Going by my referrer log I can safely say that mention in this highly visible blog, even buried within comments, translates into good traffic.

  26. DeWitt Clinton and Lew, glad to hear it! If I recommend a book, itโ€™s because I think itโ€™s good, and for a newbie at photography like me, I thought it was pretty nice (esp. for $12). If you ever see an affiliate link in one of my Amazon links, itโ€™s an accident, so lemme know and Iโ€™ll prune it.

    Hang, Matt. There may be something to the affiliate idea.

    Just a random thought from left field, but I remember when the discussion of putting Adsense on this blog for charitable purposes came out. What if something like that were set up for say Amazon affiliate links, where the money went to a worthy cause? People who want to buy books can buy books, and your affiliate earnings can help someone out.

  27. For me, the Amazon prime service is what makes them the only place I turn to for books.

    As somebody who buys a lot of books frequently, the $79/year shipping cost adds up to great savings.

    I’m with Matt on this.. I’ve never looked anywhere but Amazon for books.

  28. Can anyone confirm if the sudden increase in rankings on charteo is due only to this blog post or is there someplace else plugging the book for that date. If it’s solely because of this blog, then WOW.

  29. Whilst we are putting Amazon to rights — SPF – just say no!

    Seen loads of email bouncing recently due to the SPF records on the domains they send emails out under.

  30. I have received a spam email as well….I never used one, and it sent me one entitled “Password Update Information” or something like that ๐Ÿ™

  31. Matt,

    what I think about you shouldn’t bother you,(i’m just a small fish :D) but …
    to be honest … many times I think that you make posts on your site to get a kick from the huge amount of value the internet community gives to it ( especially from the one’s who really hate you, lol, those guys are so funny, they hate you, but they give you tons of links at the same time … too sad they don’t mean it to be funny, whatever) ….

    but … this time, I’m impressed, really !
    ok, I was also impressed with your 4th July fireworks pictures ๐Ÿ˜€
    while I’m going to use that right now as an example why I think you seem to post to post … it didn’t revealed any big thing, still, it was 4th of July, so you just had to post something … never mind … great picture!)

    so, back to topic …

    damn right, slap on the hands of Amazon !

    but I like your comment somewhere here in between the other comments the most … damn right on spot again, yes, they should have some respect for their ‘friends’, sure, we know why they don’t tell, a link is a link these guys think, after all most affiliate links don’t have rel=”nofollow” ( makes me wonder, you’re into blocking the paid links now, what about the affiliates?, that’s a big problem also)(meaning, that I’m one of those few exceptions who totally agree that you should exclude paid links and same same affiliate links from having any value to get ranked in the SERP’s)

    but the main reason why you got my respect is because you seem to care … com’on … amazon want links, they don’t give a shit about the affiliated one’s … so cute you care ๐Ÿ˜€



    by the way …


    … why don’t you ever say hello in the [url=]forum that shows up at #1 for the search term : SEO-forum[/url] ?

  32. Ahh, Amazon. I’ve bought over $2000 worth of books from Amazon in the past year and that’s coming to an end. Why? Because they annoy the hell out of me with that stupid little Amazon Blog notice. Ok, if I hadn’t run out of books to buy I’d never leave, but I have and since I can get all other items elsewhere this annoyance is a dealbreaker.

    Every single time I visit, which is at least once a day, it’s telling me there are xx posts since yesterday. This despite the fact that I’ve unchecked every single blog they’d auto-checked for me AND posted tirades on many expressing my displeasure with the feature. I’m not the only one I might add, and from the look of it most who visit the blogs are giving bad reviews to each post.

    I’ve written them time and again. Left feedback. Complained in their blogs and others. Still they are intent on not giving me a way to turn off ALL Amazon blogs. So they’ve turned me off to Amazon.

    At least I haven’t got spammed by them though – if that happened I’d have left immediately without bothering to write and try to change things.

  33. I like your suggestion of ranking on Amazon recommendations, and thereby monitoring what could be gouging by buzz. It leads me to think that this empowered dominance really has a bad station in the scheme of all things – from politics, to sales, to your company’s algorithms. Maybe your algorithms should balance relevant competitors more evenly… the number one product in a market doesn’t make it the best, and what I really want from my search results are options. I want to make sure I’m not falling into a listing (or purchase) purely based on it’s buzz. I want to see like content without the hype. Dig? Lately, I find some of my best values on SERP pages 6-10, and some of the worst on 1-5.

  34. I have to agree with Aaron Pratt regarding the “snarkiness” in serps and the fact that Wikipedia dominates everything from aardvark to zygote (search Google for both of those terms and notice I didn’t say > which has become synonymous drippings on the tounges of the same people who think AOL is the internet – oh God, even *synonymous* has first ranking in Google serps… no offense, but it took me half an hour to find the Costa Rican government’s department of corporation registrations today, and I ended up having to search Google in Spanish using “Registro Pรบblico”. God forbid people stop learning to be bilingual because they think Babelfish is the answer to their linguistica (btw, I think the jump on the name Babelfish for a translation engine is pretty Ford Prefect).

    As far as Amazon is concerned… Nah, I’d rather search a dusty old used book store owned by real human beings. Same with music, I buy at the indie record shops (but I’m not into pop music, prefer the unknown punk bands from the 70’s and 80’s who only released on this really old technology called vinyl)… and an iPhone – God forbid someone like me would fall for that sales extravaganza… Good ole PT Barnum was right ;->

    btw, Matt – shutter speeds and F-Stop’s on an digital SLR are no different than on an old 1964 Leicaflex (my camera of choice will always be Leica), so you can buy a dusty old book for .99 and get as much out of it as any book you’ll find on Amazon.

    Just offering a different opinion !!!

    Otherwise, Love ya Matt, but please, please, pretty please with sugar on top… more SEO and less gadgets and Amazon junk. I know how it is waking up in the morning and before my first Gatorade (I detest coffee and the smell of it which is why I chose to leave my position at IBM to work at home) anyway, that first thing in the morning, getting up, checking your e-mail (e-spam) boxes and deleting 497 spam messages (on a light breakfast spam obliteration).. The first ones that hit you, make you want to hit back… but from *YOUR* blog, *YOUR* blog has higher expectations, and myself being a baseball fan, a heavy hitter has to step up to the plate.

    btw, My 13 year old daughter used the “F” word with her mom because we refuse to buy her an iPhone and she saw you have one and said we’re being hypocritical for not having one in the family… we work from home as a family and my daughter who will be starting high school after this summer knows who her daddy likes as bloggers, etc… So, I told her she can write you about the reason the $300 cellphone she got for Christmas has been taken away for a month. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  35. Sorry for a second post, but was this post of yours about “Spamazon” ? I just delete any messages from them… takes 1 second to press delete, an hour blogging about them, well… some Mathematician’s spend their lives computing PI while others do this…

    pretty snarky stuff…

    LOL, the first result in Google for “snarky”….

    1. snarky

    A word that should be googled to find the definition as per direction from Dane Cook. It means short tempered or irritable.

    “He was being very snarky with me. Yeah, snarky. Its a word, google it.” -Dane Cook

  36. google's worst enemy

    i have just 3 suggestions for amazon (although i think amazon probably already have these features already; i don’t frequent amazon much):

    1/ make all the books, songs, movies that i’ve bought available online so that i can access them anywhere and on any device. which leads to suggestion number 2…

    2/ make my (selective) content available online for LIMITED sharing with friends and family. it’s free, viral marketing. also, it’s marketing by the people i KNOW and TRUST.

    3/ enable users who love the same books, songs, or movies to interact and social network. again, it’s free marketing, cuz if you and i really, really love the same book, there’s a very high probability that i’ll want to explore other book(s) that you also really, really love. and vice versa.

    matt, do u think i’m very smart? (google can use these suggestions, too.)

  37. Dave (original)

    Looks like many read MUCH more into Matts posts than is there. I have heard of reading between the lines, but not making lines up.

  38. It is not a special offer. It is a free gift, a bonus, a reward! Basically just an Amazon catalog/ad. I have repeatedly refused this gift. Why don’t they just send it as junk mail like everyone else? Do they think people will actually get excited and read it?

  39. Dave (original) – that’s the problem of being a “rock star” – People always read between, upside, and downside and sideways.. If you want to be big, you have to learn to cope with all aspects of fame…

  40. Amazon in my opinion has big problems lately with their recommendation engine and also with badly designed pages (especially preferences pages that are cluttered and almost hidden). My story with amazon suckiness:

  41. Matt, please rack up your seo brains and tell me: does full post in index of wp blog affect search rankings, or does google algorithm understand and comply blogs?

  42. Matt

    Is it possible to invite Dan Crow, director of crawl systems at Google, to your blog for some Q&A?

    May be we can prepare grab-bag questions in advance.


  43. Dubai asked

    “Can anyone confirm if the sudden increase in rankings on charteo is due only to this blog post?”

    I don’t see how anybody can eliminate all other possibilities, but I’ve been addicted to watching Amazon ranks for nearly 10 years (ie, when they started) and I’d pronounce that sales bump a “Cutts Effect”. Mid-summer isn’t exactly the high season for book sales, but I’d guess that Matt’s reccomendation sold a couple hundred copies.

    Matt, if a bunch of authors start sending you books to review now, please don’t hold it against me:-)


  44. Igorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    Be nice. Try to make some friends ๐Ÿ™‚

  45. You don’t need a book to learn digital photography, I learned pretty easy in under a year with dedication. ๐Ÿ™‚

  46. I just bought the Digital Photography Book also. I am making sure to check the do not to send me anything promotional, I think I’ll take a digital picture of that screen for future reference.

  47. Amazon, hmmm they are at it again. One has to wonder what they are thinking.

  48. Amazon increased their sales by at least one customer due to your recommendation. I just bought the The Digital Photography Book as a gift for my dad.

  49. Dave (original)

    igor, this nofollow attribute is beyond your comprehension I think. A lot of blogs use nofollow on all links by default. That way, users (even you) can post links and the blog owner is not held accountable IF the site turns out to be a bad neighborhood.

    This is nothing new igor, so perhaps you spend less time voicing your same opinion over-and-over and start reading!

    Site owners can do anything they please with their own site(s) and Google can do what it pleases with their index and site.

  50. Dave (original) Said,

    igor, this nofollow attribute is beyond your comprehension I think. A lot of blogs use nofollow on all links by default. That way, users (even you) can post links and the blog owner is not held accountable IF the site turns out to be a bad neighborhood.

    This is nothing new igor, so perhaps you spend less time voicing your same opinion over-and-over and start reading!

    Site owners can do anything they please with their own site(s) and Google can do what it pleases with their index and site.

    Davd (original), you’re obviously a Googler (ie: Google employee) – first off, what do you care what soem idiot posts. Any decent bogger approves of their comments. Maybe Matt is too busy playing with his iPhone or running to seminars, etc to handle his blog like any other of us.

    If so, why does this “ordinary” blog have a PR7 ? Doesn’t seem like it’s updated regularly, last post going on 4 days…. no info on the Google PR update that is already under way (lol, most webmasters know that when the future PR prediction tools aren’t working and certain backlinks aren’t showing means Google is updating) … So whazzup ? Other bloggers are way more worthy of a PR7, and I’m talkig about ones who don’t work for Google… so what’s up ? Time for Matt to put up or shut up… No offense intended, but this is business and many people’s livlihood’s and their famalies survival depend on the job Matt is supposed to be doing…..

  51. Dave (original)

    No igor, I support the right for site owners to CHOOSE if they wish to use nofollow or not. Your dream of Google penalizing sites using nofollow will remain a dream…..and likely forever.

    You are WRONG AGAIN in your assumption that I’m a Google employee too.

    If so, why does this โ€œordinaryโ€ blog have a PR7 ?

    It has PR 7 on the Toolbar simply due to the number of quality links (votes) it has pointing to it. It has zip, nada, zero, nothing to do with nofollow being used in comment links. Matt likely has a few thousand links from other pages which also use nofollow.

    Time for Matt to put up or shut upโ€ฆ

    No, its just time for you to shut-up.

  52. Dave (original)

    Arrh, I see, you have no idea by PageRank or nofollow. No wonder you are so confused.

    Now Matt C. can prove me wrong by using nofollow on his topic outbound anchor links.

    Like me, I don’t believe Matt has the slightest intention of proving anything to you. You are not the type who likes facts to get in the way of a good story.

  53. i think amazon and ebay are greatest spammers cannot filter ebays mail
    ืžืฆืœืžื•ืช ืื‘ื˜ื—ื”

  54. Dave (original)

    LOL @ igor! You hollow threats may work in your School yard, but they make me laugh ๐Ÿ™‚

    To learn about PageRank, start here
    and here

    Then, after someone is able to explain those to you, move onto

    You should soon see PR is not as simple as you would like to believe.

    BTW, you may find easier to read without your tin-foil hat ๐Ÿ™‚

  55. so i hear it’s easy to ban IP addresses from your website…

  56. Dave (original)

    It’s easy to ban IP addresses from any Web site.

  57. Dave (original)

    You would be the expert on being the banee rather than the banner wouldn’t you ๐Ÿ™‚

  58. Okay…I’m confused. What exactly is going on now in this post?

  59. Dave (original)

    Not too sure myself, I’m just going along for the ride ๐Ÿ™‚

  60. I receive similar “spam” from Tesco in the UK.
    It seems big companies can do as they wish!
    Have you heard back from Amazon?

  61. Allowing consumers to interact with the brand is the first step in the process of having the consumer truly own the brand (consumer as brand manager). Which for some reason many companies fear. Instead of fearing it and on top of building the brand, companies can take advantage of the wealth of knowledge in the insights produced by these conversations. This will allow them to KNOW WHAT TO CONTROL rather than fearing having NO CONTROL.

  62. Hi Matt,

    TicTap also provides sales rank tracking, amongst other things. In addition, it gives 7 day and 30 day moving averages of those ranks, so you can see trendlines.

    Here’s the URL to a book.