Affiliate marketing is the small business of the internet age. It’s a legitimate and popular way of making money online. However, some people still feel there’s a stigma around admitting you’re an affiliate marketer. Whether it’s fear of coming across as inauthentic, or simply not knowing the appropriate way to disclose it, there are some website owners who try to skirt the issue, or address it in ways meant to distract the audience from really understanding what’s going on.
The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with being transparent. According to the FTC, you have to disclose when you’re receiving compensation from a recommendation. That doesn’t mean you need to tiptoe around the issue, as if it’s something to be ashamed of. Embracing transparency not only makes you look more honest, but it helps encourage a culture of honesty throughout the entire market.
If you’re just starting out, it can be a bit confusing to keep all the rules straight. We’ll review some of the fundamentals of transparency, and let you know why it’s actually better for your website to be as transparent as possible.
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1. Choose your level of transparency
While the FTC lays the ground rules for what you need to say, it’s ultimately up to you, the website owner, how clear you are about your affiliate marketing. It’s becoming more popular for website owners to reveal straight out when their review or recommendation of a product is incentivized by a commission.
Some website owners still try to find ways around this by sticking an affiliate link on their webpage and labeling it “(aff),” without clearly explaining what the link does, or that they’ll get a small profit from the use of that link.
Again, this boils down to stigma. There’s no reason to hide the fact that you’re an affiliate marketer, because making money online is a legitimate business practice. Let’s say you bring your car to a mechanic. The mechanic recommends a product that will make your car drive a lot more smoothly. You think it over and decide to buy it. Does the mechanic charge you? He absolutely does! He recommended a product, and you decided to buy it.
Affiliate marketing is similar. You’re providing a service, spending your time and energy researching and writing articles, and finding products to promote. You should be able to earn income for the work you put it.
2. Transparency can only help you
Disclosing that you’re an affiliate marketer will only help you build and keep your audience. As integral as the internet is to our day-to-day lives, users know that there are still plenty of scams and questionable activities out there. Telling your audience up front that you’re working with affiliate partners actually makes you more trustworthy in their eyes.
Being up-front about your commission—quite frankly, about your small business—tells your audience that you don’t have a hidden agenda. It signifies that you’re an honest businessperson, someone who is open and accountable. If your audience trusts you and values your opinion, they’re more likely to use your affiliate links and buy commission-bearing products. It’s a cycle of profitable trust that starts with you.
3. What the FTC wants from you
If you haven’t already, you should look at the FTC’s disclosure rules, linked above. These spell out best practices for how to disclose your affiliated partners. We won’t cover all of them here, but we’ll give you a few of the highlights to help you get started.
- You don’t need a lawyer
The FTC isn’t looking for fancy language or over-complicated explanations. Just say up front that certain links you’re hosting connect back to your affiliate company, and you could earn a commission if anyone uses that link to make a purchase. Put your personality into it. A disclosure doesn’t have to break the flow of your page. Use your own language to shape your disclosures to make them as unique as your website.
- One disclosure won’t cover it all
Just putting a general disclosure on your home page isn’t enough. Your audience can access your blogs or articles without looking at your home page, so you really need to put individualized disclosures into every page where they’re appropriate.
- On the other hand, you don’t need to disclose every single detail of your working relationship with the affiliate company
You don’t need to say what your commission is or talk about the details of your payment. All you need to do is establish that you do have a working relationship with the affiliate company and that you’re being compensated for your promotion.
- Proximity and clarity matter
Don’t hide the disclosure behind unreadable fonts or in huge blocks of text. Keep your disclosure in close proximity to the affiliate link. The FTC states that the consumer needs to easily notice and comprehend your disclosure, so use clear, direct language your audience will understand.
Again, since working as an affiliate marketer is a legitimate way of doing business, there’s no reason not to have your disclosure placed prominently next to the product you’re promoting. Be open and honest, and your audience will value your services even more.
Making money online is the digital way to start your own business. Just like small businesses need to follow certain rules to remain legitimate, so do bloggers and website owners. Your income stream depends on your audience trusting your word. It’s up to you to maintain that trust. By adopting more transparency into your affiliate marketing strategy, you make yourself trustworthy, keep your customers happy, and ensure that your digital small business thrives.