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19 Comments

How Should You Disclose Affiliate Links?

Credit: @jbtaylor

Credit: @jbtaylor

I remember the first time I put an affiliate link on Bargaineering.

I was writing an article about online photo printing sites and I was going to use affiliate links for Snapfish and Shutterfly.

They were the two biggest online photo printers at the time (2004) and, fortunately, they had affiliate links.

The post included a lot of other options, like Costco and Wal-Mart, and I linked them all but the Snapfish and Shutterfly links were the only affiliate links.

As I copy and pasted the link, a little piece of me wondered if I was doing the “right thing.” If a reader clicked the link and made a purchase, I’d earn a small commission on the sale. Should I tell the reader I was going to get paid?

The prices aren’t higher because it’s an affiliate link, so the reader isn’t getting a worse deal, and sometimes, because of promotions, they might be getting an even bigger deal simply by using that link.

Ultimately, I disclosed on that post (I would remove it later) but it got me thinking. (this was before the FTC got involved in disclosures)

The big concern most bloggers have about affiliate marketing is whether or not you’re “selling out” if you become an affiliate marketer. Do you lose your credibility if you talk about a company but are also being paid if a reader signs up for their service? Should you disclose every link? Should you make a blanket disclosure about affiliate links?

What Is The Bare Minimum?

In 2004, affiliate marketing and online advertising wasn’t as mature as it is now. The FTC hadn’t weighed in on disclosure rules.

Nowadays, disclosure is a must.

The FTC guidance on this is clear, you need to tell your readers about an existing advertising relationship (and this FAQ has more on the subject).

I put the following at the bottom of every page (and this was confirmed by an army of well paid lawyers):

Advertising Disclosure: Bargaineering may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website.

Carrie at Pocket Your Dollars puts this note below the title of every post (even when no affiliate links are present):

This content uses referral links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

Once you accomplish that, how much more do you need to disclose? I think that’s enough and here’s why.

Individual Link Disclosure Is Unnecessary

It is only superficially open and honest. What’s the point of disclosing? Many bloggers think they need to disclose affiliate links to be completely honest and open with your audience.

I can understand that sentiment but it’s all theater, much like airport security. Putting (affiliate link) next to a link is opaque, why not disclose the terms of the arrangement? Why not say how much you are paid? How much you’ve earned?

(If really you want to be open and honest, then emulate Pat Flynn and publish income reports. That way your readers know how much brands pay you, but few people are understandably uncomfortable with that level of disclosure)

You don’t build trust on affiliate link disclosure alone. Either your readers trust you or they don’t, identifying that you might be paid if they purchase something after clicking your link doesn’t help you achieve much of anything.

For the ones that don’t trust you, you’ve failed in some other way, not because they saw the affiliate link (which few people recognize them anyway) and noticed you didn’t disclose.

Readers are smart. Fundamentally, I think a reader is smart enough to make their own decision. They can make informed decisions with your opinion, and link, as one data point.

They realize that publications take advertising and are beholden to those advertisers, they pay the bills. Whether the publisher gets paid a set fee each month based on advertisers or it’s per action, like a purchase, is almost irrelevant.

In a perfect world, readers would pay you directly and you would need zero advertising. Unfortunately, this utopia exists nowhere.

Disclosing each link is distracting. I also find disclosures visually distracting. I don’t like it when I’m reading something, see a link, and it says (affiliate link) next to it.

Why Disclosure Is Important

It’s an FTC guideline. Fortunately, the onus is on the retailer and not the blogger, so you don’t really have a choice in the matter! You do, however, have control over the level of detail since “disclosure” is very broad.

It’s important to remind your readers that you have advertisers. That any link on your site could be an affiliate link and that, despite your efforts, you’re not impartial.

You see, money creates a bias, no matter how hard you try. I know that affiliate links impairs my ability to be unbiased. To think otherwise is, honestly, not being honest with myself.

In the past, Citi paid for banner advertisements on Bargaineering. I had a direct relationship with them. They never told me what to say or do (and I would not work with an advertiser who thinks they can tell me what to do).

But I know how this works. No advertiser wants their banner ad next to an article that tears them apart.

How Should You Disclose?

My approach to affiliate links, and to life, is: Treat readers as you want to be treated.

If you want to know about every single affiliate link, you should disclose each link. I don’t care so I choose not to.

I don’t mind that a blog might make a few dollars if I use their link to purchase something. I actually prefer it, because that means the blogger will at it longer.

At a bare minimum, and merchants will demand it, put a site-wide disclosure about affiliate links and how you may be compensated.

If you want to do more, that’s up to you.

How do you handle affiliate link disclosure?

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

19 responses to “How Should You Disclose Affiliate Links?”

  1. What is your opinion on plugins such as “pretty link”?? I typically just shrink my affiliate links and leave them as is.

    • Jim says:

      I use Pretty Link now, I find it to be a very useful tool that helps me manage the links from a central location. Back in the day, I did it with a series of redirects. 🙂

  2. Spencer says:

    I too get annoyed with the constant “disclosures” many authors feel they need to put whenever they use affiliate links. If you dint assume everyone online is trying to sell you something, that’s quite naive of you. I think many authors put in the multiple disclaimers so they appear to be honest and transparent, but it’s pure window dressing. No one publishes exact affiliate details because then they would be cut out of the affiliate program for violating the terms of service. Not many online sites are willing to bite the hand that feeds them.

  3. I was guilty of the over disclosing individual links when I first started. I thought, for some reason, that it would make me seem more genuine or something like that and came down to seeing that as a reader I just see that as window dressing. I have the FTC disclosure, of course, but other than that not a whole lot more other than Pretty Link :). At the end of the day, I think most readers are smart enough to know you may be getting income off of it.

  4. Honestly, if it’s a site that I really like, I’ll actually seek out their affiliate links and use them when I need to make a purchase (or open an account, etc.). Given this, I don’t think disclosing affiliate links is necessarily a turnoff to readers and would-be clickers, though over-disclosure can get annoying.

  5. Eric Moeller says:

    Hi Jim,

    This is an interesting question, how to disclose affiliate links. I have a blog and the only affiliate links (at the moment) are for books I reference (links go to Amazon). As you say in the article, giving notification of affiliate links in the content can be distracting.

    Where would be a better place to tell people about the use of Affiliate Links? On the About page? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Cheers,
    Eric

  6. I believe I have read that you need to disclose BEFORE the link according to the FTC (unfortunately I don’t have a source to reference). The logic is that the person may not scroll to the end of the post to see your disclosure and so therefore it’s reasonable to require bloggers to disclose before the link to cover that possibility.

    I usually put a notice at the top of the post or briefly right next to the link. I figure it’s not going to dissuade loyal readers from clicking and may even encourage some (as noted by Michael above).

    • Jim says:

      I have to do some more research but everything I’ve read says that the disclosure needs to be “reasonably close” and the examples have violations always been where the publisher put the disclosure on another page. I figured that if I put a disclosure on the page, I was safe. That said, if you put it at the start of the post, there is no argument that you aren’t disclosing or that it’s not reasonably close. So your approach is much safer and, yes, it might lead to more clicks from loyal fans hoping you get compensation so you keep sharing great stuff!

      • Reichal Winn says:

        Hi Jim,

        I am doing so much research right now because someone mentioned that I need a disclosure since I am now doing more reviews and I am an Amazon Affiliate Associate. I feel like I am going around in circles. I did enjoy reading your information and it was quite helpful.

        I did want to extend what Sarah Mueller says above about the disclosure having to be before the link. I just read about it. I found it on the FTC .com disclosure pdf example 21. It states that the person received the paint for free that she was reviewing but her disclosure was at the bottom and the reader might click on the clink and never see that disclosure. They say it can be misleading if the reader does not see it at the bottom of the page so they want it at the top.

        I think the disclosures are in a very grey area for bloggers really. I am going to stick with just saying the post may contain affiliate links and point them to my disclosure policy on the other page. Hope they do not throw me in prison for that. 😉

  7. I have only recently started to use affiliate links, so this post came at a great time! I’m not sure how I feel about them, overall, either, but if they make me money someday, then I guess they are not all that bad.

    I didn’t realize there are so many rules for disclosure. Thanks for this info. 🙂

    • Jim says:

      No problem! Yeah the FTC rules are (relatively) new, they were more in response to marketers who made fake blogs to promote products and famous people who tweet/share stuff. Now, they impact everyone but I think that’s a good thing.

  8. Jon says:

    Bit of a late comment. There is a lot of unclear sources about these FTC rules. My only concern is that I use a lot of banners or images that are used as affiliate links (provided by) and therefore I don’t have any actual “links”. Do you think a disclaimer is still required?

  9. Jason says:

    Jim, your article doesn’t recognize that the FTC punishes those who don’t have a clear disclosure on every page with a link. The example with “Pocket Your Dollars” website is an example of a wrong disclosure! They require you to write a Clear disclosure on every page and it must be at the top or first screen of the page. If the user has to scroll or click to see the full disclosure, it is considered a violation.

  10. Nicolas says:

    Very helpful article, thanks Jim! However, I do have a question. Is it bad for the credibility of a blogger if (s)he uses affiliate links in their blogs from the moment they start blogging. I read somewhere that a first-time blogger must work on building readership and once enough reader base is achieved, affiliate sales can be helpful. But is it true, though?

    If I am placing affiliate links strategically in my blog and with the sole intention to help my reader get better at something, would that be considered wrong in the mind of a reader? And, also, will I need to disclose my intention to make a few bucks in a separate part of my blog?

    • Jim says:

      No, I think that if you provide value, readers won’t care if it’s an affiliate link. In fact, most won’t even notice.

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