Episode 15: Updates on Keywords and Reviews

There are some changes happening around keywords and reviews at Amazon, so we take a few minutes this week to talk about them.

Amazon recently changed their keyword requirements again. It is unclear how broad this change is, and whether it will even stay in place, but Amazon started restricting the Keywords field to 350 characters a few weeks ago for some titles at some publishers. Because this is such a new change, I recommend publishers who send ONIX to Amazon take a look at recently updated titles and make sure the changes they sent were not suppressed.

Amazon has also recently changed how it handles review quotes and endorsements, again at least for some publishers. Their system now apparently only shows the last quote or endorsement provided in the ONIX record, instead of showing all of them. This is problematic for many reasons, but it mainly means that ONIX files sent to Amazon now have to have these elements combined into one field, instead of in separate fields.

Hopefully we will see some more consistency on these issues, and better compliance with the ONIX standard, in the future, but as always I recommend every publisher check their titles on Amazon and watch out for issues.

If you don’t have a title performance monitoring tool in place, you should really take a look at Eloquence on Alert. It makes watching for changes on your titles much easier, and provides a unique mechanism that can help you quickly review your Amazon (and other) product pages. Take a look at https://www.eloquenceonalert.com/


So I’d like to start off the podcast this week by offering a little bit of an apology, I usually try to get these out every other week. I think I missed one during the summertime because of vacation. But every two weeks is kind of my preferred schedule for these trying to get them out, so you guys can get new information or hear great interviews as often as I can make it happen. But this week’s been pretty tough. Monday was a holiday, so I didn’t have that day, and then just a ton of other things going on. So haven’t had time to really dig in and do a full podcast. This is going to be a shorter one, I just have a couple of things that I wanted to talk to you about, and let you know about that I’m hearing so that you can be aware of them as you work on your data and try to, you know, make progress here in the fall.

So the two things that I want to chat about one is about keywords. And the other is about citations, or review quotes and endorsements. So let’s talk about keywords first. I received a report this past week from a publisher that we work with here a Firebrand about keywords and how Amazon had kind of randomly stopped accepting keywords more than 350 characters for certain titles. It was kind of a weird situation, it didn’t actually apply to all titles, it was only for certain title, it was kind of a weird thing. And apparently what happened was there seems to have been a change somewhere behind the scenes at the Amazon system, and they now have this 350-character limit. Now if you’ve been following any of the keyword stuff for any amount of time, you probably know that Amazon back in May of 2020, had told the BISG Metadata Committee that I also serve on, had told us that the limit was going to be 210 characters for total—or bytes technically, but characters really—so 210 characters of data, but that they would accept up to 2,000 characters of data. So, if you give them up to 2,000 characters—or 2,000 bytes—of data than they would, they would truncate that at 210, or at the word boundary closest to 210. So that was the standard as of last year. But as we know, things change. So I just want to make sure you guys are aware of this. If you’re sending ONIX files to Amazon, you might want to go double check and make sure that your keywords are still being accepted, your data changes are still being accepted if you’re sending them more than 350 characters of keyword information.

Now, there’s been a lot of changes at Amazon over the last couple of years, because they’ve been moving to ONIX 3, and there’s also a lot of kind of invisibility here. We don’t really know what’s happening, what’s going on. When changes like this happen, I tend to hear about them from clients, I tend to hear about something, you know, something broke, something happened and somebody says, Hey, do you know about this? A lot of times I don’t, because I haven’t actually, you know, it’s it’s a brand new, something changed, there’s no documentation. So anyway, hopefully, in the future, Amazon will release some documentation to make it easier for those of us who send ONIX data to them to you know, just more easily understand what the standards are, what the boundaries are, so that we don’t run into these issues on future titles.

So this kind of leads into the second thing that I wanted to make sure everyone is aware of, and that is the way reviews and endorsements are being utilized at Amazon as well. So again, this is another change that’s happened, I think, as a result of the move to ONIX 3, there’s varying reports from different publishers, there was a conversation on the ONIX group a couple of months ago—I think a month or two ago—and we’ve had some clients here that we work with at Firebrand, you know, running into the same situation. So basically what it appears to be is that the best way to now deliver your citation data, your review quotes and endorsements, to Amazon is to just combine them all into one field, into one section. The most appropriate way to do this in ONIX is actually to break it out—each and every review code or endorsement has its own its own composite inside the ONIX code. You’ve got, you know, the text of it, the date that it was published, the person that wrote it, the source where it came from, you know that that core information is really helpful to be able to itemize these things. But what appears is happening is that if you send the data broken out in that way, some publishers have run into situations where Amazon is only taking the last one that’s provided. And so basically what it comes down to is that publishers that are sending a lot of review quotes and endorsements for books are finding the best way to do is concatenate all of that into one into one field and allow that to just go through in one composite into, into the Amazon system.

Now that obviously, just like, this is not the only Amazon’s not the only company retailer trading partner that takes the data that way. A couple of years ago, I did some studies of metadata for different partners, and what would they accept, and how would they accept it? This was in Fall 2019. And at the time, Indigo was doing exactly the same thing. Just you know, the last one in the list, whichever, you know, whatever you provide to them. So it’s not an uncommon thing, it’s just something that again, kind of makes the process a little harder for people who are making ONIX files or, or having to figure out how to deliver ONIX files to partners.

So for those of you who are publishers, or, you know, people who create ONIX, for publishers, whatever else if you’re, if you’re in that kind of business, I would recommend you look at these things, go double check, and just make sure the titles that you’ve been sending recently, that the keywords are being accepted that your title data is actually being updated for those titles that may be that they got locked, and check your review quotes and endorsements and make sure they’re coming through as well.

My hope at some point is that trading partners and you know, and publishers, and those of us who send the data out for publishers, that at some point, we’ll be able to find a nice common happy medium on some of these things, it would be really great if there was more consistency in the supply chain and how the data gets delivered and how data needs to be delivered. But I think, you know, this is that the “flavors of ONIX” issue that we always run into, and we’ve been running into for years and years, since the very beginning of the whole metadata process back in the ’90s. It’s been a constant battle to ensure that data that you’re providing as a publisher, to an end trading partner, whatever that happens to be, is being accepted and pulled in. And in a way that makes sense. And so you just end up with a bunch of different formats a bunch of different files you have to create for different places. So hopefully, you know, the vision of ONIX will be fulfilled at some point in the future. And we’ll be able to have those, the One Ring to Rule Them All, you know, the one, the one ONIX file to rule them all, that would be great. There’s, there’s obviously some limitations happening in the supply chain. And so hopefully we can fix those.

I will say on a positive note that it’s really great to see, retailers starting to move more and more toward ONIX 3 starting to accept ONIX 3 files, publishers starting to create them. That’s been a long time coming. As an industry, I think it benefits us a lot to move towards the newer standard. You know, and standard changes are hard to do. There’s time involved, there’s money involved, there’s people involved, there’s work involved. And so it takes a lot of effort to do that. So I appreciate all the work that’s been done over the last couple of years to really start moving that direction. So those of you who are doing that, thank you very much, congratulations. It’s been it’s great. And that forward progress is really beneficial to us as an industry. So I really appreciate that.

So that’s my little spiel for this week. Sorry, it’s so short, hopefully something interesting here. And again, if you if you’re doing this kind of work, I do recommend you go double check things and make sure they’re good to go.

I have some great conversations coming up in the coming weeks, an interview with a security expert to talk about security and some other interviews coming as well. So really great stuff happening here, the BookSmarts Podcast, if you have any suggestions for this, these issues, if you’ve seen these problems yourself, you know what the keywords or the or the review quotes, I would love to hear from you. If you wouldn’t mind, just drop me an email, let me know, Hey, I ran into this. And here’s what I see. And if you run into other issues in the future that you want to make sure other people are aware of, you know, this podcast is hopefully reaching a lot of people who do this kind of work. And I would love to be able to be a source of information for people to know, hey, these things might be happening, you might want to double check an issue that other people are reporting that kind of thing. So feel free to email me if you have those kinds of reports, or you just want to want to commiserate a little bit I’m happy to commiserate, too. My email is joshua@firebrandtech.com. So you can send me those emails there.

Also, if you have suggestions for the show, you have recommendations for, you know, people that I might want to interview, or just topics that you think we should cover, let me know through that as well.

And if you haven’t already, please go take the survey, I’ve had 16 people, which is a very small number right now. I have 16 people who’ve responded to the survey. Thank you so much to those of you who have, it’s actually really interesting to see the responses and to see how broad the listenership of this podcast is because it’s not heavily weighted toward any one part of the industry, and that’s great. I love that! I love to see that we’re reaching people who are, you know, professionals in book publishing at all places in the industry. So that’s great. So yeah, if you take a moment, you can go to the BookSmarts Podcast website and take the survey there. Just go to booksmartspodcast.com/survey.

Thanks a lot for listening. If you have suggestions or ideas, let me know. And we’ll see you guys again in a couple of weeks.