We've all heard the scary stories: big sites just disappearing without warning, companies being fined thousands, and even millions of dollars, like this one where Skechers was fined $40 Million to settle FTC charges. They just seem like chapters taken out of a horror novel.
These things happen to both affiliate marketing sites and companies respectively, and more often than not, the common factor in all of these is "affiliate disclosure (or affiliate disclaimer)."
As an affiliate marketer, you hold a lot of power over your site's readers. Your suggestions can influence what they purchase a great deal, and it's no surprise. How many times have you decided on a purchase because of an endorsement from someone you trust?
Because you hold so much power, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates affiliate disclosure to protect online buyers.
So what does it mean, and why should you, as an affiliate marketer care about it?
In this post, we’ll introduce you to what affiliate link disclosure is and why you should use it. Then, we’ll go through the FTCs guidelines, best practices you can easily apply to your disclaimers, and lots of other good stuff. You'll see.
By the way, you can check out our no BS guide to starting affiliate marketing from scratch which will help you through all the aspects you need to become a successful affiliate marketer.
So, let's get to it.
What is an Affiliate Disclosure and Why is it Necessary?
Affiliate link disclosure in the simplest terms refers to disclosing when paid links are used on your site.
It is the act of letting your readers know that you have links on your site that could bring you benefits when they purchase through those links. Benefits could be in the form of commission, free items, and whatnot.
And it's not just affiliate marketing. It also applies to endorsements, sponsorships, and the likes.
Affiliate marketing disclosure is an FTC-mandated practice. It might seem like a hassle, but considering how much power you hold as an affiliate marketer, in swaying the purchase decisions of many buyers, it's necessary for many reasons:
1. Fairness in Business Practices
An affiliate disclosure statement evens out the playing field for all marketers and allows buyers to purchase from the marketers they trust.
2. Transparency to Your Readers.
For marketers, and more so for the FTC, trust is key. One way to achieve this is through complete transparency.
Knowing that you’re being paid for promoting a product, and not just recommending it because you like it, influences buyers’ decisions to go ahead with the purchase. Hence, these guidelines are made to protect consumers and promote transparency in online marketing.
The FTC wants product endorsements to be transparent, and for buyers to be able to distinguish products that are paid for from those promoted without any incentives at all. It protects the buyers by giving them full control over who they buy from and why they buy from them.
Why Do You Need an Affiliate Disclosure?
1. Risk of FTC Charges
As we've already mentioned, the FTC wants all product endorsements to be transparent, and to enable buyers to distinguish paid products from those being promoted without any incentives at all. And failure to properly disclose your affiliate relationships could cause you to incur huge fines from the organization.
If you think it won’t happen to you, you might be in for some serious trouble. The FTC is a large agency with over a thousand employees. They do proactive checks and continue to roll out new legislation to clamp down on bad behavior.
It could be anybody, big brands, travel bloggers, tech influencers, course creators, you name it. And what makes it even more scary is the fact that anyone can report you—your competitors, followers, readers, customers, anyone. You don’t want to risk it.
2. Risk of Ban by the Affiliate Program
Lack of a proper affiliate disclosure statement could cause certain affiliate networks to ban you from their program.
Just think about it. After spending hours upon hours creating an absolute beast of an affiliate post that ends up ranking #1 on Google for a particular keyword. You're now earning a ton of money from that one post (maybe more) monthly. You'd like to keep it that way right?
Then all of a sudden, the affiliate network bans you from their program without warning. And that's it, your sweet revenue stream gone overnight, all because you didn't have an affiliate disclosure on the post.
As much as you might think that's a little harsh, you have to understand that these affiliate networks are at risk of being severely penalized by these FTC policies. That's why they won't hesitate to boot you out of their program if you fail to disclose properly when you promote them.
3. Risk of Tainting Your Reputation
Not disclosing could put your personal reputation and that of your brand in jeopardy. People are much more sharp-witted than you actually think. If your readers see affiliate promotions without proper disclaimers, chances are, they might lose their trust in you.
You're better off not taking the risk. Properly disclose when you make use of affiliate links, and watch that trust build up between you and your readers.
What Are the FTC’s Guidelines About Online Disclosures?
An affiliate disclosure statement is simply a brief notice placed close to a product placement, explaining what affiliate marketing is, revealing that you are using affiliate links and you would be paid for such recommendation.
In fact, so long as you're living in the US or using a US-based affiliate program (even if you're outside the US), it's illegal to not include an affiliate link disclaimer when you use affiliate links in your posts or promote any products for which you'll be compensated.
And it's not just blog articles. Social media posts, podcasts, videos, and any other form of digital advertising. Though these guidelines are US-bound, countries like Canada and the UK also have laws similar to them.
Speaking of guidelines with respect to SEO, you might want to find out what Google says about making your affiliate links no-followed.
How to Write an Affiliate Disclosure
Affiliate disclosures are easy to write, and you can do so in almost any way you want. If you like, you can even get a free affiliate disclaimer generator online.
An affiliate disclaimer generator aims to ease the task of coming up with a disclaimer for your site. You might be asked a lot of questions about your site, the affiliate programs you're enrolled in, and whatnot.
The affiliate disclosure generator then puts the information together to automatically bring up a note for you. Although you can just as easily come up with something yourself. Plus there are many templates out there you can use.
Just make sure you're making it known that you use affiliate link, and explaining what that actually means (don't assume that your readers already know—doesn't cut it for the FTC)
Here's a good and straight to the point affiliate disclosure example:
“This post contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission when you use these links to buy something, at no additional cost to you.”
If you have a full disclosure on another page, you can also link to it after your short notice, in this manner:
“...Read my full disclaimer here.”
On your full disclosure page, you can go into details, explaining what affiliate programs are all about, and why you choose to partner with them.
Do note, however, that this does not replace the need for a brief disclosure on any page containing affiliate links.
It's one thing to know that affiliate disclosures are important, but how do you implement them?
There are a lot of dodgy affiliate link disclosure examples out there—hiding them, shrinking them, just doing anything to make them either difficult to see or obscure them from sight. This might seem like being smart, but you could be in for some serious trouble if you go that route.
Affiliate disclosures are quite easy to implement. So, here are some best practices you can employ to include and optimize them on your site, without risking any potential trouble:
Best Practices for Implementing FTC Affiliate Disclosure Guidelines
1. Place Disclosures in Obvious Areas
What does 'obvious' mean? Basically, the disclosures on your site should be in open view and easy for visitors to see.
A good affiliate disclosure example is to place a (basic, if you like) note at the beginning of your post. It's out there and open for all to see.
So what are the ways you can place your affiliate disclaimers on your site?
- Add your disclosures to the top of blog posts. It saves you the trouble of any possible accusations of deception. Plus, if a reader isn't big on affiliate links, they can bounce from your page ASAP.
- Place the disclaimer near your affiliate links. You could place it just above or beside your link. This is the preferred placement, but either works fine.
What disclosure placements are unacceptable?
- Page Footers or conclusions: You don't want to hide your disclosures in page footers or conclusions, as most customers would already be far into your links before they even get there.
- Sidebars: Placing affiliate disclosures on the sidebars is a bit of a tricky one. Sidebars are collapsed in mobile views, and your visitors would hardly see them. So you want to avoid that too.
- Separate pages: Placing your affiliate disclosure on a separate page and assuming your readers will see it also does not comply with the rules, and it won’t fly with the FTC. You can have a page dedicated to explaining your values, despite using affiliate links, to build more trust with your customer. However, you must also include a mini disclaimer on posts with affiliate links.
Though you can still place your disclosures in sidebars and footers, you still have to include them near your affiliate links.
In summary, whatever you do, just make sure your readers don't have to do any additional legwork to see your disclosure. Keep this in mind, and you should be able to easily determine the best placements on your site.
2. Be Proactive with Disclosures
There are times when you may be unsure about disclosing affiliate links—if you should or shouldn't.
On a general note, you should disclose:
- If you’re being paid. This includes paid reviews, sponsorship, and of course, links to affiliate products.
- On every page you include an affiliate link, regardless of whether you already disclosed a particular link. Each affiliated page must have its own disclaimer.
- If you're not sure, then you should disclose anyway. There's no harm in it. Just saves you from any possible legal issues.
The main takeaway is that proactive disclosing is best. You should disclose whenever possible, and be open about your practices from the start. To avoid legal troubles, it’s best to be proactive and disclose.
3. Use Clear Language
Using clear language ensures that your visitors understand what affiliate marketing is as well as your relationship with affiliate networks.
Clear language also shows transparency and respect for your readers. For the best clarity:
- You want to be direct and keep your disclosure short.
- If you choose to place disclaimers beside links, you want to use trigger words that convey the message to your readers immediately, like "compensation" or "commission."
- Also, don't use words like "pay to click" or "affiliate" and assume your readers will know what you're talking about. If you use such words, then convey the meaning as well. You should also avoid using niche jargon.
- It's also criminal to format your disclosure to make it inconspicuous. For example, you can't make it a tiny text (smaller than what you've used in your post) or make it very faint in color.
You can also create an affiliate disclosure template, which you can use with all your posts or affiliate links. It also ensures a consistent experience across all pages on your site.
A simple Google search will give you a free affiliate marketing disclosure statement template. You can then tweak this free affiliate disclosure template to add a touch of your personality and brand to it.
Affiliate Program Disclosure Guidelines
There are general disclosure guidelines, as outlined by the Federal Trade Commission, which we've already described. But away from that, affiliate programs also have their specific guidelines.
While affiliate program disclosure guidelines are usually in sync with those of the FTC, some programs do add specific requirements that you must abide by to remain enrolled in their program.
Failure to comply may risk you being removed from the program, and all commissions ceased—and sometimes, it could be without notice.
Let's take the Amazon affiliate program as a case study.
Amazon Affiliate Disclosures
Amazon's affiliate program requires you to use a similar disclosure, indicating that you’re being paid by Amazon. However, Amazon adds a few extra terms of its own.
First, Amazon Associates requires you to identify yourself as an Associate, and here's the standard disclaimer:
“[Your website name] is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to [replace with an applicable site name (amazon.com or whatever)].” -(Section 5)
Later, Amazon Associates sent an email to members of the program, hammering on the need to place your affiliate disclaimer before your affiliate links (and on every page that may contain an affiliate link).
Amazon then stated that you are allowed to, and should keep your disclaimers simple. Here's the sample disclaimer they released:
“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
And again, the terms mandate that you must include the statement or something similar. Here's the quote:
“You must clearly state the following, or any substantially similar statement previously allowed under this Agreement…”
What this means is that you can pretty much write your own disclosure, but just make sure it says the same thing. That is, identify yourself specifically as an Amazon Associate and inform your readers that you earn a commission if they make purchases using your link.
And it's not just disclosures, there are non-disclosures too. For example, you’re not allowed to mention your role in Amazon's affiliate program or to say that Amazon “sponsors, supports, or endorses” you.
Can I put the Amazon Associate Disclaimer in the Footer or Sidebar?
Simple answer, you shouldn't do so. Like the FTC's guidelines, tucking away your disclosure in an about page, a terms of service page, or in the sidebars doesn't cut it. You must place it at the top of your blog post or near your affiliate link!
That's because many visitors would have long clicked the affiliate link before seeing your disclaimer in the footer of your page. Also, when viewing on mobile phones, the sidebar gets shoved below the main content, making it difficult to see.
Where should I put the Amazon Affiliate disclosure?
You should place your disclaimer at the top of any posts with affiliate links.
And don't forget to mention that you'd earn a commission if your readers purchase through your links. Because, it might sound weird, but not everyone knows what "affiliate links" means.
As a side note, Amazon is super strict with their disclosure policy. If you’re found in violation of any of their rules, they won’t hesitate to remove you from the program. So you want to make sure your disclaimer is prominent and uses similar wording to what they've specified.
Disclosing Affiliate Links: Should You?
Do I have to disclose affiliate links?
Yes and maybe not (didn't say no).
Legally, affiliate disclosures are a necessity, especially if you're in the US, UK, or Canada. Even if you don't reside in the US, using a US-based affiliate program or targeting a US-based audience also requires you to include affiliate disclosures in your blog posts.
So yes, in this case, undisclosed affiliate links could create a legal nightmare or an outright ban.
In many other countries though, there aren't strict rules concerning affiliate disclaimers. So, you might get away with not adding them to your posts. However, it's advisable that you make sure to check for regulations specific to your country, just in case. Although, if there are, they probably won’t be too different from those of the FTC.
But whether there are country-specific guidelines or not, you should make sure the affiliate program itself does not require you to include them.
Away from the legal aspect, we have to look at the situation from the point of view of building a relationship. When trying to establish a rapport with your readers, do you really want to be shady?
Contrary to what you might think, experiments have shown that disclosing affiliate links doesn't bother most buyers. In fact, if you're providing highly useful content that provides solutions to their problems, affiliate disclosures will only go a long way in cementing that relationship further, by promoting transparency and building trust.
Just remember that disclosures aren’t punishments. They’re simply a measure put in place to protect the interests of consumers and marketers alike.
1. What is an Affiliate Disclosure?
An affiliate disclosure is simply a short notice placed near an affiliate link (for a product recommendation) that mentions that you're part of an affiliate program and explains what that means (that you'll be paid if purchases are made through your links). It is criminal to not include disclosures when you use affiliate links or promote products for which you have been, are, or will be compensated for.
2. How Do You Write an Affiliate Disclosure?
When writing an affiliate disclosure, the main thing is to mention that you're part of an affiliate program and will earn a commission if purchases are made through your links.
Keep your disclosure short, direct, and straight to the point. Add it to the beginning of your post or very close to your links.
Placing it in the sidebar, footer, or on a separate page, obscuring it (by making it faint or shrinking it), or using words like affiliate link (without explaining what that means) or niche jargon just don't cut it. They might even earn you a penalty.
Note that you can place disclaimers in your sidebar, footer, or on a separate “disclaimer” page, but they do not replace the need to add a notice either at the top of your blog post (if affiliate links are used) or near the links themselves.
3. Where Do You Put Amazon Affiliate Disclosure?
According to Amazon’s affiliate guidelines, a clear disclosure could be as simple as "paid link" or "#CommissionsEarned." It should be conspicuous and placed near your Amazon affiliate links in a location that buyers will notice easily, and not have to hunt for it.
Simply put, a disclaimer near your links or at the beginning of your post should work just fine (though the former is the better option). Placing it solely on your sidebar, footer, or on a separate “disclaimer” page is not enough.
4. Why is an Affiliate Disclosure Important?
A proper disclosure that meets the guidelines of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the affiliate program makes your readers and buyers aware of pertinent information. Oh! It saves you from legal headaches too.