Standard disclaimer: none of the advice in this or any other blog post I make, is intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer or law firm that specializes in the legal field you need legal advice on.
NOTE: This applies if you have a blog, a website, post an affiliate or endorsement link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
There is no right or wrong answer on to deciding to add, or not add, affiliate links to your blog or any other form of paid endorsement. Many bloggers add them. However, in my review of numerous bloggers, the vast majority of bloggers that add them do so in direct violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines on adding them. While the FTC is an American federal agency, the rules to apply to non-Americans who reach American readers of their blog. When in doubt, the FTC‘s basic advice is better to disclose to be safe. Be warned that if you ignore the FTC guidelines and get busted by the FTC, you may be subject to fines.
If you are going to add affiliate links or endorsement posts, check out the FTC guidelines before doing it.
The sad thing is some bloggers who have referenced the FTC‘s guidelines in blog posts don’t appear to have read the FTC guidelines as they are in direct violation of the guidelines. I am not going to call any blogger out who violate the guidelines, but I would encourage all bloggers and future bloggers as well as anybody who uses social media or the Internet to post affiliate links or endorsement links to learn and follow the FTC guidelines. In a few cases, some bloggers have stayed mostly within the guidelines, but strayed a bit as they leave out a key ingredient. If you make a lot of money from a company’s affiliate links, saying something like “I only get a small percent (maybe 5 – 10%) from you using this affiliate link” (the quote is one I made up as I am not trying to out any blogger who may be violating the guidelines) is misleading if you are making a fair amount of money from the affiliate link. A better quote would be something along the lines of “I only get a small percent (maybe 5 – 10%) from you using this affiliate link, but I make $1,000/month from those who use this affiliate link.”
Here are several FTC links that should clearly explain how to use affiliate links and other endorsements in ways that fall within the FTC guidelines:
https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking#how (FTC website, kind of a FAQs)
https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-publishes-final-guides-governing-endorsements-testimonials/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf (PDF, so you will need a PDF reader to view it).
The following is one I have read before; she’s a blogger who also passed the bar (i.e., she’s an attorney, don’t know if she still actively practices law):
https://www.tricia.me/2013/03/14/affiliates-take-note-new-ftc-disclosure-guidelines/ (original post was 2013, but last updated in 2018)
As affiliates, we have already been advised that disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous.” The new document goes even further. In fact, it specifically states that disclosure at the end of blogs posts is not acceptable. Here are some of the highlights from the guidelines:
- Consumer protection laws such as the FTC’s prohibition on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” apply to all media, including mobile devices.
- Disclosures must be placed “as close as possible” to the claims.
- If there is not room on the ad to disclose, it may be acceptable to make the disclosure on the page to which an ad links.
- Scrolling should not be necessary to find the disclosure.
- If it is too difficult on a particular platform to make disclosure clear and conspicuous, the platform should not be used for advertisements.
- Advertisers should review their ads in the mindset of the “reasonable customer” and assume that customers do not read the entire page.
- Pop-up disclosures should not be used.
There’s a lot more to her blog post and I encourage all bloggers to read it as she does a great job of giving examples and ways to stay in compliance.
Here are some key take-aways, and you can find them, and a lot more, on the FTC website link at the top of this blog post:
- “Would a button that says DISCLOSURE, LEGAL, or something like that be sufficient disclosure?” No. A button isn’t likely to be sufficient. How often do you click on those buttons when you visit someone else’s site? If you provide the information as part of your message, your audience is less likely to miss it.
- “If it’s clear that what’s on your site is a paid advertisement, you don’t have to make additional disclosures. But what’s clear to you may not be clear to everyone visiting your site, and the FTC evaluates ads from the perspective of reasonable consumers.” (This would likely mean banner ads and maybe widgets?)
- “an endorsement would be covered by the Guides if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays a blogger or gives a blogger something of value to mention a product, including a commission on the sale of a product. Bloggers receiving free products or other perks with the understanding that they’ll promote the advertiser’s products in their blogs would be covered, as would bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them or working for network advertising agencies.”
Tricia included several FTC updates at the bottom of her post.
I don’t currently use affiliate links too often in my blog, but have a plan on adding them in the not too distant future. However, I will always make it clear when it is an affiliate link even if it’s an affiliate link that benefits somebody other than me, and when possible (not always possible as some discount links only work if you use the affiliate link), I will include a non-affiliate link. The same applies if you get a free product or great deal on a product that isn’t available to the general public. I routinely get access to free ebooks as I signed up to a number of mailing lists, but the ebooks are free to anybody. As I also have my blog tweet to Twitter, I will do my best to put #ad near the start of any post that I believe falls under what I think would qualify as needing it.
In other cases, I will continue my unpaid reviews, both good, bad, and indifferent, to products and services I use or have used.
My goal with this blog post is to help bloggers realize you can’t simply do this: https://upsdownsfamilyhistory.wordpress.com/disclosures-and-disclaimers/ (this is my Disclosures/Disclaimers page, which is good to have, but it’s not enough) or post a disclosure at the bottom or side of your blog post and expect it to pass the FTC guidelines. If you use YouTube, Vimeo, Twich, or other video/audio platforms, you need to make it clear when you are using affiliate links or other endorsements – below is from the FTC link above – https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking:
What if I upload a video to YouTube that shows me reviewing several products? Should I disclose that I got them from an advertiser?
Yes. The guidance for videos is the same as for websites or blogs.
Another pertinent consideration if you aren’t in the U.S., but some of your audience is:
’m a video blogger who lives in London. I create sponsored beauty videos on YouTube. The products that I promote are also sold in the U.S. Am I under any obligation to tell my viewers that I have been paid to endorse products, considering that I’m not living in the U.S.?
To the extent it is reasonably foreseeable that your YouTube videos will be seen by and affect U.S. consumers, U.S. law would apply and a disclosure would be required. Also, the U.K. and many other countries have similar laws and policies, so you’ll want to check those, too.