How Should You Disclose Affiliate Links?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.
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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