Estimates suggest affiliate marketing now provides 15% of the revenue for the digital media industry.
Given its ability to impact the customer shopping journey, the United States Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines since 2009 on how implied endorsements and testimonials like affiliate marketing must be disclosed to consumers.
At Skimlinks, we believe it’s critical for publishers to disclose their use of affiliate links not only to be in compliance with the FTC, but so that we as an industry maintain an honest and transparent relationship with our readers, and so your readers feel they are having an authentic experience when engaging with your content
Disclosure is not optional
If you’re using affiliate links, you need to disclose that you may be paid as a result of people engaging with your content.
It’s true that the FTC’s guidelines for affiliate marketers aren’t explicit and only contain a few paragraphs, but they include some clear expectations for publishers and merchants. While this article shouldn’t be considered legal advice, it outlines some standards you should apply to your affiliate efforts.
The FTC’s “guiding principle is that it [disclosure of affiliate relationship] has to be clear and conspicuous.” Their intent was to ensure transparency by making sure any material or financial relationship between publishers and merchants was identified to consumers. (For a more detailed overview of the FTC’s expectations read this Marketing Land article “The FTC disclosure guidelines: An in-depth exploration of what affiliates and merchants need to know.”)
Marketing Land highlights several implications of the FTC’s guidelines:
1. General disclosure links in site navigation is not enough — You must disclose on every article with product links.
2. Your disclosure must be noticeable — if you try to make sure people don’t see your disclosure, you’re probably not in compliance with the spirit of the FTC’s rules.
3. The disclosure should appear before links — You can’t bury your disclosure at the bottom of the page; it should appear on the top of any article with affiliated links. This includes all device types, so make sure to monitor how your articles appear on mobile.
4. Your disclosure must be understood by “a significant minority” of consumers — in other words, use plain, common language everyone will understand. Saying you use “affiliated links” may not be clear enough to the common person.
5. You must disclose regardless of what “medium” the content is published on — this means in addition to websites, you need to identify affiliated links in social media updates, newsletters, guides, ebooks, online courses, podcasts, webinars, videos, recipes and so on.
How do I disclose?
Again, the FTC’s guidelines don’t get into that level of detail, but Skimlinks advises publishers to disclose their use of affiliated link in two situations:
1. On your site’s “About” or “Disclosures” page —
What you exactly you say is up to you, but here are a couple of examples of Skimlinks’ customers that we think have good (and very different) approaches to their disclosure page:
Kinja Deals (part of Gizmodo): About page
Brickset Ltd: Affiliate Disclosure page
MoneySavingExpert: Disclosure page MoneySavingsExpert goes an additional step and explicitly identifies the relationship they have with Skimlinks on this page
Buzzfeed disclose on any page they earn on under their Buy Me That umbrella
2. A clear description at the top of every article or post —
Remember that a general disclosure is not enough. The FTC expects consumers to be able to see the disclosure of the relationship on every article or post that has affiliate links.
“Our website contains some affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about. See more details here .”
Another approach is the disclosure that appears at the top of each Gizmodo Deals article:
“Commerce Content is independent of Editorial and Advertising, and if you buy something through our posts, we may get a small share of the sale. Click here for more.”
Stay tuned: Disclosure requirements may evolve
As affiliate marketing continues to grow in size and importance, it’s likely the FTC will refine their guidelines — and potentially become more explicit on how they expect publishers and merchants to disclose their relationships.
For now, Skimlinks expects all of our publisher and merchant clients to follow the intent of the FTC’s guidelines and disclose the relationship in a visible, clear way.
We’ll update this article with any FTC updates we become aware of. Have a good example of an “About” page or article disclosure? Let us know and we’ll add more examples that the community can use to build their own statements.