If you include affiliate links on your website, or promote them on social channels, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires they be accompanied by an online disclosure. From integrating your affiliate statements to being upfront about promoting products on social media, here's a quick rundown of what you need to consider to ensure compliance.
What are affiliate programs?
Affiliate links are custom hyperlinks that you put on your owned online properties, such as your social media accounts and website, that act as advertisements for another business. When clicked, these take users to a third-party website to introduce them to products and services that are generally in line with your topic or market. When you set up affiliate links, you establish a business relationship with that third party that allows you to profit off the traffic you send to their site through the links on yours.
If site visitors follow your link out and a sale is made, you receive a predefined commission. Sometimes it is a dollar amount per sale, while other times it is a percentage of that sale. In some cases, you are awarded points or discounts that can be used to purchase the company’s products or services. Each affiliate program is different.
When you consider becoming an affiliate for any product or service, you need to make sure you follow the FTC's rules. These are guidelines that govern how you disclose yourself as an affiliate when promoting others’ products online.
Using affiliate statements
The FTC wants you to make clear to your site visitors or social media fans/followers what your relationship is with the product you are promoting by having a visible or audible disclosure. The FTC's Native Advertising: A Guide for Business describes 17 common scenarios in which bloggers and website administrators need to clearly state that content is being used for marketing purposes.
Basic rules of affiliate statements
You can review the FTC guide for specifics, but, in general, affiliate disclosures must:
- Have clear and straightforward language
- Use a font that’s easy to read
- Stay on the screen long enough to be seen, read and understood (for video ads)
- Be prominent on the page and as close to the ads as possible
- Utilize a color that stands out on the page
- Speak at a cadence that’s easy for listeners to follow, using words they will understand (for audio disclosures)
Additionally, any advertisements you use on your owned properties must be truthful, not misleading, and have evidence to back up their claims (“substantiation”). Most importantly, affiliate statements must be obvious, relevant and comprehensible. For example, the ads you see on search engines are marked by green “Ad” boxes (see below) placed before the URL. It’s hard to miss this, and users quickly know it is an advertisement.
Including affiliate statements in blogging
When you craft blog posts in which you review or write about a product or service from a company you have a relationship with, you must also disclose that affiliation. Include a special clause on your posts denoting your compensation. It could say something similar to this:
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are "affiliate links." This means we may garner a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to make a purchase. Read our full Affiliate Disclosure Statement for more information.
Then link to your affiliate statement page where you explain in more detail your methodology in regard to affiliate program participation. For example, you may explain your stance to users in the following way:
I am not an affiliate of any product or service that I do not trust for use in my business or on my own websites. If I don't use it, I do not promote it. This is the only way I can jury product quality, service and support levels, which are so important to those who trust my recommendations.
As study after study suggests online browsers scan and don't read, you might take an extra step. To make sure affiliate links are clearly identified, and to meet the FTC guideline (“as close as possible to the native ads to which they relate”), consider starting to add “<= AffLink” inline right after an affiliate link in your content. If your disclaimer is not read, visitors can't miss that declaration after the embedded affiliate link.
Personally, I also include a link to my affiliate statement in the primary navigation on my websites.
What about social media?
Social media posts are not excluded from affiliate statement rules. If talking up a product or service and then providing a link to its third-party website for possible compensation, you need to be transparent about your intentions. The best way to include a disclosure on any social network is to use “Ad:” or “Sponsored:” before your text. You can also use the hashtags #ad or #sponsored afterward.
Affiliate program requirements
When you sign up for affiliate programs, it is wise to take the time to read the Terms of Service to be clear about what the product or service provider requires of you. Providers make it clear how, when and where you will be allowed to promote their products, including their specific disclosure requirements. Not following these terms can cause your partnership to be terminated.
Affiliate programs commonly include the following rules:
- Affiliate links cannot be used in spam emails
- Disclosures must be clear and easy to see — they should begin with the word “disclosure”
- Your disclosure link must make it clear you are being compensated without the user having to click over to your disclosure page (which is for additional information)
- Link and disclosure fonts must be the same size and color as the rest of your text
Key takeaways for using affiliate disclosures
Participating in an affiliate program can be an easy way to benefit from your online presence, but make sure you follow the rules of the program and maintain transparency with your users. Always be upfront about your relationships when it comes to writing, posting, tweeting or pinning something in return for a free product or service, discount or potential commission. Before adding any affiliate links to your website or social accounts, review the following basics:
- Proximity, placement and prominence matter.
- Be clear and obvious when including affiliate links in your website content.
- Include a formal Affiliate Disclosure page where you note the details of your partnerships.
- Use hashtags on social media to note you are posting ads or sponsored tweets/posts.
- Read an affiliate program’s Terms of Service before publishing links.
By following these guidelines and having a detailed affiliate statement on your website, your visitors will appreciate your honesty while you get to establish some credibility.
The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.