Affiliate links and product endorsements are a great way for bloggers to earn extra income. They provide a commission on purchases made after clicking the link. Many companies, including ProWritingAid, offer these links to writers.
While affiliate links are commonly used online, their proper and legal usage is not widely understood. I learned this thanks to Carol Tice who pointed out improper use of affiliate links on one of my posts.
As an editor for The Writing Cooperative, I went through submissions we received and saw many of the same mistakes I was making. After a little research, I’ve come up with a few question and answers based on the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines.
Note: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Further, this post discusses requirements in the United States of America. For requirements in other countries, please consult local laws. Further, there are no affiliate links in this post.
Why should I disclose affiliate links in the first place?
According to the FTC, “truth in advertising is important in all media, whether they have been around for decades (like television and magazines) or are relatively new (like blogs and social media).” While affiliate links might not seem like an advertisement, that’s how the FTC treats them.
Affiliate links are compensation in exchange for link placement. A writer might choose to feature one service over another to utilize an affiliate link. Because this can be a slippery slope, the FTC requirers bloggers to disclose affiliate links and endorsement deals. Ultimately this provides transparency and trust between the writer and reader.
Where should I place the disclosure?
The most common form of affiliate disclosure I see is a notice at the end of the post. This is not adequate and does not comply with FTC guidelines.
The FTC requires affiliate disclosures be obvious and unavoidable to the reader. This means a notice hidden at the bottom of the page is not sufficient because they are not obvious nor unavoidable.
A good practice of disclosure includes a blanket notice at the top of the post. This makes the notice unavoidable to the reader. Each affiliate link should also be indicated differently from other links. An asterisk that ties back to the original disclosure or a second, smaller explanation at the bottom of the page is sufficient.
What does my disclosure need to say?
The FTC guidelines want disclosures to be clear and concise. Language should not be muddled or difficult to understand. The text itself should be easy to read and in a color not easily obscured into the background.
The Points Guy is a travel website with affiliate links to credit cards and other items. Their affiliate disclosure is clear and concise and atop every post.
When should I make a disclosure?
Disclosures are required for all pages containing affiliate links and/or endorsements. While affiliate links are easy to define, endorsements are a little murky.
Products provided for free in exchange for review are endorsements. The same is true for meals provided by a restaurant or any other service rendered in exchange for coverage.
If there’s ever a question to disclose or not, disclose. Disclosure is not about adding legalese to your site, it’s about being honest with your audience.
When it comes to affiliate and endorsement disclosures, don’t think of them as a government mandate. Instead, look at proper disclosure as a way to build trust among your audience. Simply make sure disclosures are obvious, unavoidable, clear, and concise. Finally, when in doubt, always disclose.