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Affiliate Programs – Transparency and Disclaimers

I’d like to see some discussion around the topic of transparency in using affiliate programs.

When you link to one do you indicate that you are benefiting from the link in some way?

I’ll kick us off here and say that I do – and I don’t.

I probably need to come up with a better policy on this – but in general this is how I approach it.

If I’m recommending a product that I’m linking to with an affiliate program then I generally indicate that it is an affiliate link in some way. For example – regular readers will know that I’ve been talking up Chitika’s eMiniMalls recently. I’m obviously very happy with the product and am recommending that bloggers give it a go. In doing so I link to Chitika with an affiliate link. I am part of a group testing an affiliate program that will be launched publicly to all of their publishers shortly.

At the end of each post that I link to Chitika with I place a disclaimer that reads:

Disclaimer: the links to Chitika in this post are affiliate links – if you sign up using these links I earn a small amount as a commission. It does not impact what you earn from Chitika but rather is paid by Chitika. While these links are affiliate links I genuinely believe in the product and have pointed out both its benefits and weaknesses.

I do this because I want people to know that I am genuinely excited by the product – but also that I have some vested in interest in getting them to adopt it. Everyone has seen sleazy examples of people talking up average products in order to make a commission – I don’t want to be seen to be taking this approach so when I make a recommendation I choose to reveal my interests in it.

Of course it’s not always this easy. Some of my blogs have affiliate links deeply linked into the text of my content – more often than not they are with Amazon’s affiliate program. I’ve decided in 99% of these cases not to include a disclaimer. This is largely because the links are not part of a recommendation that I am given – rather they are more informational in function (I usually link to it with the words ‘get the latest price on this product’).

To be honest I’m not completely comfortable with this approach but at this point have decided that the line for me is about whether I’m recommending a product or not. Complicating the problem for me is that I have close to 12,000 posts on my blogs at present – making changes to deep links is a serious job.

The only place where I am stricter on this is here at ProBlogger. I always put a disclaimer on affiliate links here these days. I do this because of the nature of this site – it’s about making money and I want people to know exactly what my interests are here.

I’m very interested to hear other’s opinions on the topic of transparency in affiliate programs

I’m aware that many bloggers take different stands on this. As I surfed the web this morning looking at different blogs I noticed that most have no disclaimers at all. For example the majority of people in the Chitika eMiniMall affiliate program don’t acknowledge that they stand to make money from those who sign up. I’m not wanting to impose my own standards on others – it’s a matter of personal choice – but I’m interested to hear people’s thinking on decisions around it.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Stuart says:

    Darren

    Toni and I believe that linking to affiliate programmes with links than include an affiliate code is something that should be decided by the individual. There are definitely pros and cons that should be considered carefully.

    As I’ve mentioned to you via email, over the years we have had (much to our surprise) a lot of influence with new comers in one area of online marketing. At first we did use affiliate links to programmes that we thought would benefit others but about three years ago we stopped including our affiliate codes.

    There is so much in online marketing that depends on the individual. Some are easily identifiable while others are less tangible and almost impossible to identify so what works for us may never work for anyone else.

    That made us uneasy about adding our affiliate code to any programme recommendation. We did not wish to be seen to be encouraging people to join a programme where they may not succeed simply because we wanted to make money out of them.

    By saying that we are not trying to take the high moral ground here. As I said before, whether or not to include affiliate links is a matter for the individual and we don’t judge anyone who chooses to include their code in those links.

    We do however reserve the right to laugh out loud at those people who are often found on message boards crying loudly about programmes that are not converting for them but who continue to promote those programmes in glowing terms in their sigs.

    And for the record we had no problems following the link you posted when we wanted to sign up with Chitika.

  2. james says:

    I put a disclaimer on one of my popular posts last week. It read:

    Buy ********* from Amazon (support Retro Thing & get free shipping)

    It resulted in double the average click-through rate. This could have been because the product was interesting, but I suspect reader genuinely want to support their favourite blogs when given the opportunity. I’m happy about that. Their financial support helps to ensure that my blog will be around in the future, since I don’t have to pay ongoing hosting expenses out of my own pocket.

  3. JSLogan says:

    If I’m making a recommendation to pruchase something, I always mention the affiliate link and offer the reader to buy it from somwhere else if they don’t want to buy it through me. My interest is honesty in the recommendtion and the reader loyalty resulting from it.

  4. aaron says:

    If someone is giving the impression that they are giving an unbiased review of a product/service, I think they should tell the reader it is an affiliate link. Otherwise, it just interrupts my thought process to read that in the text. Any webmaster knows that another webmaster needs to make money for the time he puts into the site.

  5. I don’t bother to spell out that it’s an affiliate link. If a person cares, all they need to do is look at the URL. When I write reviews, some are positive and some are negative. That simple fact ought to prove to my readers that I’m unbiased (at least as far as earning money off sales is concerned). I really don’t feel its neccessary to tell them every single time.

  6. Paul Short says:

    I simply keep affiliate links out of the content itself on my blogs and provide a detailed disclaimer on a separate page explaining why. There are ads between the posts on my main pages, in the sidebars or leaderboards, and above and below the content on individual posts.

    Any more than that would make my blogs explode ;-)

    I mentioned somewhere before that I view my blogs as being similar to TV shows with commercial breaks, rather than infomercials where the show is the ad.

    But that’s just me.

  7. ~Dawn says:

    I use a (aff.lk) item after the link, so people know, I that if they click on purchase I get some money. I also have an (affiliate links) on my left side, like you do.

    I feel better doing it that way, thus people know I am not pulling something over on them. Also my site is primarily info and based on my readership they are trying to NOT spend money- so a very difficult fence to walk.

    I have a loosely based criteria for using ads, most have to provide something to the clicker at little or no cost. But I still would like to get some money for the time I put into my site. Anyway, that is how it stands now… who knows how it will evolve.

  8. Jim Kukral says:

    I’ve been writing about this for years, before blogs came on the scene even. One of my biggest arguments from that past discussion was that the vast majority of people do not know what an affiliate link is, and/or do not even know how to look for what the url is, and most importantly…

    They simply don’t care.

    This is still true even today, however I’m sure a lesser majority of them who don’t have a clue.

    It’s your personal preference Darren, but in my opinion, why should you care if nobody else does?

    Deep down, do you spend time writing this blog to be a good person who needs to share with others, or is it simply because you want to make money? Decide that and you’ll know the answer to your problem.

  9. Rose Tacher says:

    Ads are a way to monetize SERP crowd. You don’t really have a mile high disclaimer saying that if you – dear search engine visitor – click this ad here, I make money. Not only that, the whole game is about finding the best earning placement for ads. Is this somehow less dubious than having affiliate links that you don’t declare as such?

    Affiliate programs are the best way to monetize repeat visitors. Frequents are usually aware of affiliate programs and therefore disclaimers tend to carry a holier-than-thou image.

    I recommend dropping either affiliate links or disclaimers. Please don’t make this kind of a number out of them, just focus on helping likeminded and optimize revenue.

  10. Sandra says:

    Jim said: “One of my biggest arguments from that past discussion was that the vast majority of people do not know what an affiliate link is, and/or do not even know how to look for what the url is, and most importantly…They simply don’t care.”

    I agree. I find that bloggers are more sensitive to this issue because of the history of blogs – they were originally a purely non commerical medium and some in the blogosphere are purists who still want it to be this way. I’ve been doing affiliate marketing for two years and none of the affiliate marketers I know creating websites use disclaimers near affiliate links.

    Personally I think sometimes it good to identify that you are sending visitors to another site and the nature of that relationship, but it should be brief. Something such as “Products are offered by partner merchants” or having a separate page that lists all of the partner merchants, and then within posts do not identify the links as affiliate links.

    In regard to Chitika, most web surfers assume images and banners are some kind of advertisement so there’s no reason IMO to label them as ads. Text links in a sidebar can be labeled as sponsored links or partner merchants and that should suffice.

  11. Athomemama says:

    Like you, Darren, I do and I don’t. If I am saying ‘buy this product’ or ‘use this service’ I will spell it out, but otherwise, no. I am in the Chikita aff. program too. If I review it, I’ll say it’s an affiliate link, but if I just stick the banner up or even a text link elsewhere I won’t state the obvious.

  12. NIck W says:

    We had a big discussion on this over on TW a while back, upshot was, although lots of people in the thread said i should do it – i didn’t in the end, mostly on the basis that quite a few felt that there would be a loss of integrity to reporting and recommending.

    Im curious as to how Darren can do it, and I cant. And I wonder if actually, I can heh..

    Perhaps its just the different nature of the sites.

  13. It gets bothersome to me to always see (affiliate link) next to everything in a post or some other demarcation of such. It interrupts the flow of the text and its readability. A disclaimer at the bottom of a post as Darren does here at ProBlogger is preferable if you feel you need to overtly make known your affiliate links. For me on the two blogs I started recently I just put the following on the About this Blog page:

    Whether I loved it, hated it or could care less about it, if they have an affiliate program then it is probably an affiliate link.

    It gives me a place to point, should anyone question my affiliate linking policy.

  14. mac says:

    When it comes to affiliate links or advertising, I always go for transparency. With my sites I’m far more interested in building a long-term legacy and pattern of success. Whenever I see sites do the “soft sell” with embedded and non-noted affiliate links I know that’s *exactly* what I don’t want to do.

  15. Ruby says:

    Eoghann Irving, that is assuming that your readers are web savy enough to know what a URL that is an affiliate link looks like. I think you’re assuming something that the average web user has no idea about. I know I didn’t understand what these links were until I got into affiliate marketing myself.

    I think it’s deceptive to send people to a link if you are going to gain from it without letting them know before hand. These days i put my cursor over links before clicking them and if there is no disclaimer I avoid clicking them. If there is a disclaimer and I’m interested in the product I will click them.

    In fact I have had readers go out of their way to buy products from my affiliate links from time to time just because they want to support me. So transparency can actually pay off.

  16. NIck W says:

    “Whether I loved it, hated it or could care less about it, if they have an affiliate program then it is probably an affiliate link.”

    I LOVE that! heh…

  17. If it’s a site that I like, I’m actually more likely to go through their link if I know they’ll get something for it. That being said, I’m savvy enough to mouse over the link and determine whether or not it’s an affiliate link without being told.

  18. HART says:

    I think I am with the majority on this issue.

    It’s no secret that SOMEBODY benefits from every product or service sold on the internet. It’s not really important who sells it – people KNOW that and (i.m.h.o.) appreciate when we do this because they become more informed at what the real price or value on something is and can comparison shop. So, if I happen to casually mention something in my blog I will just try to offer an affiliate link if I can – if that’s what they are looking for – better through me (if I can compete)

    however, if I mention that a particular product is BETTER than others or recommend that people try or buy something – I will go out of my way to mention that I am affiliated and do get a commission. I also mention that it is a very small commission because its true …

    I also think what “james” said is true .. if you recommend something and people like and appreciate what you recommend, I think they might be loyal and click on your link BECAUSE you recommended it and they want to support you either as a reward or thank-you for the ‘heads up’.

  19. Darren — As evidenced by the comments here, there are many different schools of thought on this issue. I don’t think it is necessary to reveal that you are an affiliate. I recently wrote a post on affiliate marketing that sums up my thoughts about affiliate links.

    Here’s the heart of my message: “The bottom line for me is that I love to see a small business owner get a commission for recommending a good tool that I can use. After all, the responsibility for deciding to purchase is still on my shoulders whether I’ve gone to a site via a direct or affiliate link.”

    If you’re interested in the entire post, Affiliate Marketing Is Not A Dirty Word, you can read it here — http://www.allbusiness.com/blog/JustForSmallBusiness/3357/003185.html

    Thanks for the opportunity to see others opinions on this topic!

  20. Ruby, I’m not assuming all readers know how to recognize an affiliate link. I’m assuming that those who CARE know how to recognize one. Most people don’t care.

    There is nothing remotely deceptive to sending people to a site where they can buy something I’m talking about. They don’t have to follow the link, they don’t have to buy the product. There is no deception involved.

    It would be deceptive if I was hyping up products to encourage people to buy them. But I don’t, I give my opinions (some good, some bad) and then provide a link where they can buy. I see no need to pat myself on the back and tell people who wonderfully honest I’m being. If they care they can see it. Most won’t care.

  21. David says:

    Darren,

    Clearly there are a number of points of view on this topic. I think that much of this largely depends on the nature of the blog. As a small business advisor, I offer a healthy mix of business start up advice. Some of the advice or recommendations I give , I would like to monetize. I have spent years researching and appling much of what I know. Therefore, I do place a monetary value on my time.

    David

  22. Hey Darren, this issue you’re talking about is Trust, not so much affiliate links.

    Here’s the deal. If you have an affiliate link within the text of your article, without any identification as such, I’ll tolerate it because you’ve already won my trust through your valuable and useful content.

    At this point, I don’t care if they’re affiliate links. I trust that you’re not trying to take advantage of anyone. So, it’s not disclosure that matters. It’s the trust.

  23. Andy Beard says:

    I suppose it depends on the site and the product.

    My blogs on niche marketing I don’t worry about it. My readers know I include affiliate links.

    It get more interesting when you use a registered domain name to redirect a link in a frame, even more so when you include it in an article bio that is submitted to article directories.

    Then the windfall when the article gets picked up by a mailing list….

    It is nice when you receive an email from the owner of a product or service asking “what did you do?” as your sales just explode for a day or so, especially when the article was actually published 2 months previously.

  24. jim says:

    On my blog I will mention that I’m an affiliate if I’m actively reviewing something, whether I like the product or not. When I’m just writing about a topic in which an affiliate’s name appears but isn’t really suggesting readers signup then I’ll add in the affiliate link at the first mention of the vendor, not link the subsequent mentions, and not disclose I’m an affiliate.

    I think many readers are savvy enough to realize what links are affiliate links and those that aren’t. The ones who can’t tell the difference probably don’t care.

    The only situation in which I see disclosure being important and absolutely necessary is when you review a product and strongly advocate for it, such as your recent reviews of Chitika’s eMiniMalls.

  25. Sandra says:

    Quality content is the most important issue. Shoeblogs is a great example, many of his posts contain affiliate links to products. And the posts are surrounded by ads. So what, the blog’s loyal readers keep coming back, probably purchasing from the affiliated merchants.

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