In July of this year Amazon announced changes to their data feed (the API). Since then, additional changes have been revealed, and overall there will be an impact for AOM. How much it affects you will depend on which features you use, and how much traffic your sites get. Since many people will have questions about what the impact will be, let’s take a look at what’s been announced, and how it will force changes in the software. Version 4.5 will be an interim upgrade that allows us to get used to the removal of the various items discussed below.
Be aware that there are two deadlines; the first will be October 15th, 2010 for guidelines, and items #1, #2 & #3 below. The second (only for #4 below) will come into effect on November 9th, 2010.
Basically, it breaks down into two areas: Features that will no longer be operational, and for the first time, usage restrictions. Let’s start with:
FEATURES TO BE REMOVED
1. The Auto Parts Finder – A recent addition to Associate-O-Matic in v4.4.0, the auto parts finder is to be scrapped by Amazon. An odd choice, since it was only available in the API for a short time. It may never have gotten the chance to prove itself. Removal of this feature will mean needing to update the mod_rewrite rules, since they were just changed in v4.4.0 to accommodate this ability. Amazon’s auto parts finder widget will probably also no longer function, since it uses the API as well.
Note that this will not affect the Automotive category itself, only the parts finder.
2. The Order Status Link – Another relatively new option (v4.3.0), this allowed customers to enter their order number and review basic information about that order from within the AOM site. This feature was accessed from a link in the search bar:
Probably not a commonly-used feature, many sites may have elected not to display it anyway, so the loss will probably be minimal.
3. The Tag Cloud Box – A surprising choice, as this appears to be a popular feature in many AOM sites. However, outside of AOM and any other applications that utilize it, it’s possible that this feature did not provide enough of a return for Amazon to continue supporting it.
Support for tags in general seems to be withdrawn. Amazon may see tag clouds as a fad that has run its course. It may continue to enjoy popularity with bloggers, but it’s difficult to envision what use a tag cloud would be anywhere else. Since the vast majority of Amazon affiliates use text links and/or widgets, clouds for any other application seem to be fading away.
So, if you are using a version of Associate-O-Matic that contains these three features, they will no longer function after October 15th, 2010.
4. Customer Reviews – The feature that will affect the most people. Amazon has decided to remove the reviews from the feed, replacing them with a link that opens an iframe containing the reviews (an iframe, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is like an embedded frame, or box on the page containing the information). There are several disadvantages to this approach:
- There is no SEO benefit to using an iframe. The information within the frame is hidden from search engine spiders.
- Customer ratings (and the associated stars) will also be contained within the frame. Consequently, the stars will no longer be displayable on store category pages.
- Information in an iframe will not be affected by site CSS, so it may not match the style settings for your store (colors, fonts, etc.).
Below is an example of how the iframe will appear, coming after the editorial reviews:
As you will notice, the review stars are also located within the iframe. You will have the ability to change the width and height of the display box the reviews are contained in.
Customer reviews in their current state will no longer function after November 9th, 2010.
Amazon is calling it “Efficiency Guidelines”, but it does signal the end of ‘unlimited’ usage of the API. Or does it? There have always been restrictions on how many times you could call Amazon’s servers for information, known as the ‘one-second rule’ for obvious reasons. This is partly why AOM has a cache system in place. The new “Efficiency Guidelines” will supposedly speed up server response time by cutting back on associate IDs that call for a lot of information without any sales. And at first glace, they seem pretty generous.
To start with, you will allowed a maximum of 2,000 server requests per hour. A server request is generally a 10-item page of products. And for every dollar of shipped revenue per hour in a rolling 30-day period, you will be given an additional 500 requests per hour. The thresholds are recalculated daily, so if you land some big sales, they can help you for several weeks. Conversely, a few poor days may haunt you just as long. There is a maximum of 25,000 additional server requests.
But what does this really mean to you as an AOM user?
It’s not clear yet what will happen if you exceed your hourly request limit. It’s been strongly suggested that this may be a device that allows Amazon to punish anyone abusing the API without sending any traffic to them. If so, the overwhelming majority of AOM users may not notice any difference. Certainly it will be crucial to monitor and possibly block bad bots, such as Twicler. Besides wasting your bandwidth and causing your site to exceed its CPU allowance from your host, one bad bot could drain your request allowance in a matter of minutes.
Hopefully at some point, Amazon can find a way to provide request stats directly to users (it may depend on demand). Meanwhile, you can contact them if you have any specific questions about your own usage, or other areas of the efficiency guidelines. The contact form is located at:
Efficency Guidelines will come into effect as of October 15th, 2010.
Despite these changes, the API is obviously still a vital and important part of their business, and it should continue to be so. Hopefully any short-term pain over the loss of various features and implementing usage guidelines will be offset over the long term by smoother and faster server response times, and room for new and better features. Removing competition who are not playing by the rules is probably also helpful for all of us. We will see what the future will hold.