A lot of bloggers are still not disclosing their affiliate links either because they don’t know about it, they don’t think they need to or they don’t want anyone to know they get commissions. Whatever the reason, here are some things you need to know about FTC affiliate disclosure.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The content on here is for information purposes only. Please visit the FTC Disclosure section for more information.
Who is the FTC?
The FTC is the an independent agency of the United States government and one of its missions is consumer protection, especially from deceptive marketing policies.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
For bloggers who are not familiar with affiliate marketing, affiliate marketing is a way to earn commissions by linking to an advertiser’s products. If a blog visitor clicks on the link and purchases a product, the blogger (affiliate) get a percentage of the product.
If you’d like to become an affiliate of a company, you go to the affiliate company or affiliate network (has many advertisers) and fill out an application. Some networks/companies accept everyone, while some are exclusive.
Once you are accepted, the advertiser gives you your own affiliate code, which is a tracking code that you can put on your website, social media or or other sites.
When a visitor purchases through your affiliate link within a time frame set by the advertisers, you get a commission for the link.
Most bloggers make very little on these commissions. However, more experienced marketers are able to make more as well as bloggers that have good site traffic.
To give you an idea of possible commissions, one of the most popular affiliate programs is the Amazon Associates program, which pays you anywhere from 1% to 10% depending on the product.
Jane recommend a $10 book on her website. Bob visits Jane’s website, sees the recommendation and buys the book by clicking on her affiliate link. Jane makes $.40.
There are other affiliate programs that pay more. For example, a course or e-book publisher might pay 40% of the sale amount.
Why Does the FTC Want Disclosures?
First let me say that these disclosure rules don’t only apply to bloggers. They apply to large sites, as well as TV & newspaper advertisers.
No one is exempt.
It might seem like common sense that if a blogger recommends a product, he or she might get a commission, but not every visitor that lands on your site understands this.
Some bloggers recommend products and are not signed up with any affiliate program, either because they don’t know how to monetize their site, or affiliate marketing is not their favorite way to monetize.
The FTC understands that some people might recommend products only for the commission and not because they use or even particularly like the product.
They also know that some consumers are skeptical whenever they know someone is being paid to speak about a product or refer a product (even if they really believe in). This type of consumer has a right to know before buying the product.
In the FTC’s own words:
The FTC has enforced and will continue enforcing its consumer protection laws to ensure that products and services are described truthfully online, and that consumers understand what they are paying for. These activities benefit consumers as well as sellers, who expect and deserve the opportunity to compete in a marketplace free of deception and unfair practices.”
What Needs to Be Disclosed?
- Freebies/Contents: For example, someone with a sneaker blog might receive free sneakers to do a review. Although the blogger might actually like the sneaker, he needs to disclose that he received the item for free.
- Links to any products for which a purchase might generate a commission for you. This includes links to clothes, housewares, mantillas, bibles, e-books courses and Amazon books (see Amazon below)
- Links to Amazon: One of the common ways bloggers get commissions is by linking to Amazon books. Although you probably link to books you own and Amazon did not ask you to review or link to the books, you still need to disclose that you get a commission, if a visitor buys through your link.
- Sponsored Posts/Influencer marketing: Sometimes brands market with bloggers, social media figures, with a lot of followers to post about their products. This needs to be disclosed.
Although the FTC’s endorsement guidelines cover a variety of endorsements, such as sponsored posts and contests (I encourage you to read about them all), we’re going to focus on affiliate marketing on sites, as it’s a very popular form of monetization.
Is the FTC Really Monitoring Bloggers?
Not specifically, but we’re not in the clear. As per the FTC,
“Are you monitoring bloggers? Generally not, but if concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus usually will be on advertisers or their ad agencies and public relations firms. Action against an individual endorser, however, might be appropriate in certain circumstances, such as if the endorser has continued to fail to make required disclosures despite warnings.”
It should be noted that affiliate networks are starting to monitor their affiliates more and more because they don’t want the liability (see Amazon’s disclosure policy below).
If I link to Products That I like, but Receive No Commissions for Purchases, Do I Need to Disclose?
How Do We Disclose?
I bet this is the part you’ve all been waiting for.
There are guidelines for disclosure including the following:
Disclosure Must Be Clear & Conspicuous
The FTC doesn’t care about the look of your blog or whether it makes your content awkward. It wants the disclosure to be clear.
Disclosure Should Not Be Located at the Bottom of Your Content
The reason this is not conspicuous is that a visitor might purchase through a link that is at the top of your page and never actually read the disclosure that is at the bottom.
From the FTC’s website:
Proximity & Placement.
Geography matters. Is the disclosure where consumers are likely to look? An FTC settlement challenged as ineffective a key disclosure that ran down the side of a print ad perpendicular to the main text. Another case dealt with information conveyed in small type in the upper left corner of a full-page newspaper ad. And given all the talk about footnotes, the bottom of the page or screen isn’t a place most consumers will look.
So proximity & placement is important.
A good way to disclose is to put the disclosure a the top of every post, above the fold so that it is the first thing the user sees.
Disclosure Font Should Not Make the Disclosure Hard to Read or Find
The FTC won’t define which font you should use, but it shouldn’t be very much smaller than the size you use everywhere else. For example, if the body of all your posts is in 16-point font, your disclosure should not be in 8-point.
I have seen some very popular marketers with tiny disclosures at the bottom of their content. No good.
Disclosure Should Not Generally Be Only On a Sidebar
How many of us actually read sidebars? Furthermore, sidebars are often invisible on mobile devices.
It is possible to post a disclosure on a “floating sidebar”, which means no matter how much the visitor scrolls, they will still see the disclosure. However, if there are technical difficulties and it doesn’t work, you can still be held liable.
So, Where Should I Place My Disclosure?
The optimal place is before the visitor buys an item, not after. You can place it in the header of every page, or you can place it very near the product. In essence, the visitor should not have to search around or scroll down to understand your disclosure.
What Should the Disclosure Say?
There is some flexibility inf how you disclose, as long as it is clear that you are receiving something of monetary value, or even a free item for endorsing a product.
Here is my current disclosure, but I change it periodically.
Some of the links on this website are affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase.”
You can be even more brief and say, “I get paid if you buy through my link”.
As long as I write “Affiliate Link”, Is That Enough?
The FTC website say,
“Is “affiliate link” by itself an adequate disclosure? What about a “buy now” button? Consumers might not understand that “affiliate link” means that the person placing the link is getting paid for purchases through the link. Similarly, a “buy now” button would not be adequate.”
How Not to Write a Disclosure
Here is an example of a BAD disclosure that I got from this website.
Disclosure: We are a website that needs compensation to operate like any other website on the internet. We may receive consideration for our reviews but we are totally unbiased and do not accept paid reviews or fake reviews claiming to be something they are not.”
It is a bad disclosure because it’s not clear at all and uses distracting language. It also doesn’t address how the blogger gets paid.
A special Note About Amazon
The Amazon Associates Program requires you to add an additional disclosure and you have to use the exact language. Please see the Amazon Associates Program for details.
‘You must clearly state the following on your Site or any other location where Amazon may authorize your display or other use of Content: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”
So far, Amazon has not instituted strict guidelines about placement, so you might be able to add it to a sidebar.
I myself add it to a disclosure page and also to my sidebar.
Be sure to check the Amazon Associates Program Operating Agreement periodically for updated guidelines.
Amazon will cancel your whole account if you don’t include their disclosure.
Disclosing on Social Media
This is where many bloggers open themselves up for potential trouble.
If you use your affiliate link on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or anywhere else, you have to disclose it.
I might cover disclosing on social media in another post, if you guys want me to.
How I Disclose On My Websites
Right now, my FTC disclosures are ion my header. They cannot be missed.
I use the WordPress platform, so I use the FMTC Affiliate Disclosure plugin on my sites.
I’m actually thinking of moving towards disclosing closer near the products rather than in the header, so by the time you read this, I might be disclosing differently.
The reason is that not all my pages have affiliate links and when you put the disclosure in the header, it gives the impression that even a page that includes just a prayer, might have affiliate links.
I do have Amazon disclosures on my sidebars, but Amazon disclosures are a special case as discussed above.
So how do you bloggers disclose?