Affiliate Disclosures: Why and Where to Add Them to Your Site

Many content curators and webmasters think that affiliate disclosures, privacy policies, and terms of use are only necessary for the big sites. You know, the ones that make money hand over fist and attract millions of monthly hits.

That’s not the case.

There are several types of statements or disclosures that websites should have. These include

  • Privacy and Data Collection Policies
  • Terms of Use
  • Affiliate Links and Third-Party Relationships1

Some of us will find that we’re legally required to make such declarations. In other cases, the requirement comes closer to an ethical obligation or just good business practice. We’ll cover privacy policies and terms of use in the upcoming weeks; this post will focus on the financial relationship disclosures that we need to make on our sites.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be a general resource only and is not intended to be, nor does it constitute legal advice. Any recommendations are based on personal, not professional, opinion only.

Third Party or Affiliate Relationships and the FTC

When U.S. Americans refer to website disclosures, they’re normally referring to affiliate disclosures. That’s because here in the USA, it’s the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) requirements that most website owners are familiar with.

In a nutshell, the FTC requires site owners in the USA to disclose any financial benefits they’ve received from an organization that might influence the opinions they express online. The purpose is to create transparency between websites and users. The Introduction of The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking states it well:

Suppose you meet someone who tells you about a great new product. She tells you it performs wonderfully and offers fantastic new features that nobody else has. Would that recommendation factor into your decision to buy the product? Probably.

 

Now suppose the person works for the company that sells the product – or has been paid by the company to tout the product. Would you want to know that when you’re evaluating the endorser’s glowing recommendation? You bet. That common-sense premise is at the heart of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides.

Affiliate Disclosures: The Fine Print

So, what exactly does the FTC require of bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and social media users? (Yep, it includes social media posts too.)

You can find both the fine print and straight talk in the FTC’s guidance document, .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising. If that document’s 53 pages of straight talk and tons of examples isn’t enough for you, their 23-page “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking” provides additional summaries and clarifications.

.com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising

One thing that comes as a surprise to many is that the FTC doesn’t think it’s enough to have a hyperlink in your footer leading to a blanket disclosures statement. The statements should be “clear and conspicuous,” meaning your disclosure(s) should be:

  • close to the claims to which they relate
  • in a font that is easy to read
  • in a shade that stands out against the background;
  • for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.2

When you need to make a disclosure statement

Do you make money off products sold on your site? For your endorsements? Do you have affiliate links? Do you (or did you) get something for free?

If you answered yes to any of the above and you’re located in the USA, the FTC rules are legally mandated. (Remember the I’m-not-a-lawyer disclaimer.)

That final question can sneak up on those of us that act as ambassadors for conferences and genealogical and historical societies. Last year, RootsTech Ambassadors were lucky to have Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, in our midst.  Ambassadors aren’t paid to give positive reviews of RootsTech, nor do they receive any kickback on registrations. But, we did receive free entry into the conference and special benefits, like VIP seating. Which meant, when we published articles about the conference we had to disclose that.

What about sites outside of the USA?

Though I (by which I mean Google) couldn’t find any legal requirements for sites based outside of the USA, all content curators should consider at least complying with the FTC’s intent of providing readers with transparency. Bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters build relationships with their readers. This means building and fostering trust, even if you’re monetizing your site.

The Guardian’s SE Smith opined in Why bloggers need to be upfront about sponsored content that because readers tend to trust bloggers more than other journalists, they need such disclosures.

… the waters become even murkier when they [bloggers] mention specific products in posts that, on the surface, don’t contain anything that looks like an obvious advertisement. Is a stated brand preference genuine, made at the behest of a sponsor, or influenced by some other factor? Is a casual mention of a specific brand really so casual? Such posts can be offputting for readers, who do not appreciate attempts to dupe them.

She also argues that readers also appreciate knowing when our opinions are completely free of sponsorship. Which makes sense. It’s one more way of making our content easy to digest and understand.

There’s also the question of professionalism. Just as none of us would copy an unsourced Ancestry.com tree and publish it as confirmed fact, we don’t want to disregard our readers’ interests. We take care with our content and with our users.

How to write concise, effective disclosures

As my friend Chris says, “It’s not rocket surgery.”

Because the FTC stresses that disclosures should be stated in plain English (if that’s the language your site uses), they’re not hard to construct—especially after reading the FTC’s guidelines. State what you got for free or who is paying you. If you’re struggling, check out Chrissy Watson‘s Best Practices: Blogger Disclosure Examples and Tips article which includes some great examples of disclosure wording to insert in blog posts.

Contributed by Laura Hedgecock © 2017

  1. Eric Lambert, “Are Your Website and App Legal Disclosures Saying Enough (Or Too Much)?” LinkedIn.com, May 2, 2016, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-website-app-legal-disclosures-saying-enough-too-much-lambert.
  2. “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking,” Federal Trade Commission, accessed July 23, 2017, https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking#about.
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