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The Dos and Don’ts of Affiliate Disclosure: A Comprehensive Guide (+ Examples)

The Dos and Don’ts of Affiliate Disclosure: A Comprehensive Guide (+ Examples)

If you're considering starting affiliate marketing, check out this post to be transparent with your audience while generating revenue.

Affiliate marketing is an extremely lucrative way for businesses and individuals to generate more revenue

With the right application, affiliate marketing can give your business an additional source of income or create financial freedom. 

However, many consumers perceive the use of affiliate marketing as questionable. People may feel you are promoting a product simply for your own financial gain. This perception can hurt conversion rates and damage your brand reputation.

The key is disclosing affiliate links properly. This post covers the dos and don'ts of affiliate disclosure to maintain your reader’s trust while maximizing revenue. Let’s dive in.

How Affiliate Marketing Works

Knowing how affiliate marketing works is critical to understanding why affiliate disclosure matters and how best to do it. Here’s a breakdown. Affiliate marketing is: 

  • A performance-based marketing strategy is one in which businesses reward individuals or other companies (affiliates) for each customer brought by the affiliate's own marketing efforts.
  • Affiliates use special, custom links to products and websites to promote products or services.
  • They add these custom links to their content on social media posts, blog content, and other platforms. 
  • When someone clicks these links and makes a purchase, the affiliate earns a commission. Commissions range between 5-75% of the sales value of the product or service. 
  • This technique is popularly applied through product review posts, where affiliates provide their audience with an in-depth analysis of a product, accompanied by an affiliate link to purchase it. 

As you can imagine, customers may mistrust a website if they suspect a product recommendation is made only to sell the product that gives the highest sales commission as a reward. 

Hence, when using affiliate marketing, transparency is crucial to retain your audience’s trust. 

By clearly disclosing your affiliate relationships, you assure your readers that your reviews and recommendations are genuine and not merely influenced by the potential for profit. 

This trust is foundational, as it not only complies with legal requirements but also fosters a positive relationship with your audience, enhancing the effectiveness of your affiliate marketing efforts.

The Dos of Affiliate Disclosure (6 Best Practices to Follow)

Here are simple but effective steps to take that keep your audience informed about your use of affiliate marketing while allowing you to earn passive income the right way. 

This is obvious, but you should first let your website visitors and social media followers know you use affiliate links. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that it is a requirement that you disclose there’s a material connection between you and the product you’re promoting. This is because your support of a product could influence a person’s choice to buy something. As such, it should be clear to the potential buyer that you stand to gain from making a purchase. 

Disclosing that you use affiliate links is the foundational way to build trust with your audience. It shows you have nothing to hide and also ensures you’re in compliance with the law. 

Check out the clear disclosure to the left of this VPN review page by CNET

Even if the FTC rules don't require disclosure in your case, you should still be upfront about affiliate relationships. Readers want transparency. Disclosing affiliate links demonstrates you value your audience. You want them to make informed choices, not feel duped.

2. Do Disclose Early and Often

Disclosing affiliate links early and often throughout your content is one of the most important dos of affiliate marketing. Rather than mentioning a disclosure just once, aim to remind readers periodically that affiliate links are present.  

One way to do this is to add a sentence in the introductory paragraph that you use affiliate links.

Wirecutter by The New York Times places its affiliate disclosure at the very top of its review post

Another good idea is to add a disclosure in the form of a simple statement to the footer of your site. You could explain your affiliate relation in detail on a specific page under the About section of your site, too. 

IsItWP has a dedicated disclosure page addressing affiliate marketing practices

Doing so helps build reader trust by ensuring the disclosure is not buried. It also meets FTC and state guidelines that require disclosures to be conspicuous and hard to miss. 

Readers and users can make up their minds if they still want to trust your review after they’re aware that you have an affiliate relationship with a brand or product. 

3. Do Use Visual Cues

When disclosing affiliate links, it's important to make the disclosures visually stand out so they are impossible for readers to miss. Here are some tips:

Use larger, bolded fonts or text formatting** like asterisks to highlight affiliate disclosures. Readers tend to skim content, so using bolding or increasing the font size will make the disclosures more eye-catching.

  • Place disclosures in colored boxes or with icon borders. Boxing your disclosures in a contrasting color or adding icons around the text will make them pop on the page. It’s enough for the disclosure to stand out a little - you don’t have to go overboard making it large and distracting. 
  • Add images or buttons when adding links. They only need to be noticeable. Using a button or image that says "Sponsored" or "Affiliate Link" makes it clear the following link is an affiliate connection.
  • List disclosures in bulleted or numbered formats. Breaking up disclosures into bullet points or a numbered list separates them from your body text.
  • Use footnotes or sidebars to emphasize disclosures. Pulling disclosures out into sidebars or footnotes removes them from the main flow of content.

The key is ensuring that your readers can easily identify affiliate disclosures easily and early in your article or social media post. 

The more visual formatting used to highlight disclosures, the more transparent and ethical your affiliate marketing practices will be and the less likely your customers will feel unhappy or duped. 

4. Do Follow FTC Guidelines

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides guidelines on how to properly disclose affiliate relationships to avoid misleading readers. These rules apply specifically to businesses and publishers based in the United States but it’s generally a good idea for everyone to follow them. 

We’ve already covered the main points of the requirements. However, you should explore these guidelines in detail later. 

In brief, they are: 

  • Make your disclosure clear and obvious.
  • Use clear language.
  • Disclose any financial or personal relationship you have with a brand or product.
  • Disclose if you’re earning a commission. 

The key is to be transparent and to give your audience the opportunity to understand that you stand to gain from your recommendations. The awareness of this information can make a difference to how your readers and followers view your content and they must have the chance to make a conscious decision before buying anything. 

5. Do use the ‘Sponsored’ Feature in WordPress and Social Media 

If you’re using WordPress to publish your blog, you can use the ‘Sponsored’ attribute when adding links to make it clear that a post contains sponsored content. This should be used especially when you've been paid to link to a site. 

You can add the Sponsored attribute to links for greater transparency on WordPress

You can also add the 'Sponsored' information to your content on social media. For example, YouTube content creators can check a box informing them that the video contains a product placement. 

Influencers like MrBeast often openly include such sponsorship details in their videos and descriptions. 

Example of disclosing product placement and affiliate relationships on networks like YouTube

Similarly, use any available option on social media and your website to state that you're gaining some benefit if a user follows a link. In addition, you can use keywords that clearly indicate the presence of affiliate links within your content.  For example, a simple "This post contains affiliate links" or "This review includes affiliate links" is all you need. 

Affiliate links tend to look ugly as they can be long and have your affiliate ID included in the URL. 

You can customize your affiliate links and make them more attractive, useful, and obvious by personalizing them. 

How? By using a plugin to transform your affiliate link into a URL with your domain name and the keywords of your choice. For example, check out the screenshot below where BlogTyrant was able to turn an affiliate link into a custom one. 

The URL even has the word ‘refer’ in it, indicating that it’s a referral or affiliate link. The footer of this page has at least two disclosures about affiliate marketing, making it clear that users understand the site gets a small benefit from purchases made via these links. 

Another reason to use this type of ‘cloaking’ ethically is so that users aren’t concerned that your affiliate link looks spammy or suspicious. 

They’ll feel more comfortable buying via your link since you’ve made the effort to customize it for their convenience. 

Now, let’s explore what you shouldn’t do when creating affiliate disclosures. 

The Don’ts of Affiliate Disclosure (What to Avoid)

So much for what to do. You should also know what you shouldn’t do when using affiliate marketing. Follow the next suggestions for practices you should avoid. 

1. Don't Assume Your Audience Knows Affiliate Marketing

While you may be familiar with digital marketing, your audience isn’t necessarily knowledgeable about online marketing practices. 

It's crucial to explain the nature of affiliate marketing and how it benefits you, the publisher.

It doesn’t have to be complicated; just tell your audience that you use affiliate links and you get a small commission every time they click on one of your links and buy something. 

To make this more palatable, let your audience know that their final price isn’t affected by any means. And the small income you make through their purchase only helps you improve your content and provide more value. 

A brief explanation can go a long way in keeping customers happy and even willing to support you. 

2. Don't Use Misleading Information

Honesty is the best policy in affiliate marketing. 

Never make exaggerated or false claims about the products or services you are promoting. Not only is this misleading, but it can also damage your credibility with your audience. 

Stick to authentic, verifiable information and share genuine experiences and reviews. 

You should always attempt to try and test every product recommendation you make. And if possible, get an expert or a third party to verify your claims. 

This post by Forbes shows that the content was vetted and edited by an expert

Such efforts not only give your readers confidence that you have their best interests at heart but also reward you with higher search rankings on Google - more so since it recently added its helpful content update and recognizes expertise as a key factor in quality content. 

3. Don't Use Technical Content or Jargon

According to the FTC, your disclosures should be simple enough for a child to understand what you’re saying. 

Avoid jargon or technical language that could confuse some readers when making your disclosure. 

A clear and straightforward disclosure ensures that all your readers can understand it, no matter their age or background.

4. Don't Hide the Disclosure

Disclosures should be conspicuously placed so that they are easily noticeable.

Never hide your disclosure at the bottom of your content or in a location that users are likely to overlook. Avoid using a tiny font or light font coloring that a reader could miss. 

An easy-to-see disclosure respects your audience’s right to be fully informed before purchasing.

5. Don't Place Your Disclosure in the Sidebar Only

While it might seem convenient, placing your disclosure solely in the sidebar is ineffective because it can be easily missed by users who are focused on the main content area. Disclosures need to be noticed in the immediate vicinity of the affiliate links. Or, at the very least, they should be at the top of a page or post that includes your affiliate links. 

For social media posts, ensure the disclosure is part of the main post content, not in a profile bio or elsewhere, and separate from the post itself.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can create a trustworthy and transparent relationship with your audience, ensuring compliance with regulatory guidelines and fostering a positive community around your brand and content.

Over to You

Now that you know how to ethically and effectively disclose affiliate links, it's time to harness the power of affiliate marketing to enrich your content and engage your audience. But of course, do so with transparency to not only showcase authenticity but to comply with the law. 

It's a fine balance between promotion and honesty, and when done right, affiliate marketing can be a significant revenue stream. 

Start incorporating these best practices in your content, and watch how it transforms your relationship with your audience!

Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. With over 10 years of experience, he’s the leading WordPress expert in the industry. You can learn more about Syed and his portfolio of companies by following him on his social media networks.

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