How to Turn Disclosure Into a Selling Point

How to Turn Disclosure Into a Selling Point

Reader Comments (129)

  1. Thank you for this post. I’ve long felt that disclosure regarding affiliate links and paid recommendations should be more commonplace, and I’m glad that the FTC is finally addressing this issue.

    I’m actually more inclined to purchase something when I know that someone I trust (and who has provided valuable recommendations in the past) is benefiting from the sale. However, when I discover I’ve clicked on an affiliate link when it wasn’t advertised as such, I’ll immediately click away. That just makes me mad.

    • That’s true Laura, it’s been like the prime rule in sales for a long time. You buy from those you like, trust and give you value.

      I’ve done the research and people really will click more on your affiliate like if you tell them it’s an affiliate than when you don’t.

  2. The only reason people should be bothered by an affiliate link is if they feel misled into clicking on it. If they are going to make the purchase anyway, what should they care if the person who recommended it gets compensated some? It’s not like it affects their buying price.

    The key, it seems, is to find a way to disclose the affiliate link in a way that fits naturally (and I agree confidently) within the text.

  3. While a lot of affiliate marketers are wondering about testimonials and disclosure, they are missing the bigger picture.

    And I will repeat the comments I made earlier.

    Affiliate marketers are also in the business of selling jobs – or business opportunities, which is regulated by the FTC and almost 30 states. See:
    for a short explanation.

    None of the affiliate marketing programs that I have looked at over the past year, which are designed to give people tools to make money online, are compliant with either state registration laws, or the new FTC Rule on Business Opportunities.

    Not being compliant with the FTC Rule on Business Opportunities is going to kill a number of affiliate marketers because the FTC is primed to litigate unregistered business opportunities. The FTC Rule on Business Opportunities has not passed yet, which is worse because the disclosure requirements under the old Rule are draconian for most marketers.

    Do a google search for “inadvertent franchise” for more information.

    Trust me, testimonials and affiliate disclosure are the least of your problems.

  4. Re: “Sure, you’ll have a few vocal readers with an enlarged sense of entitlement who expect you to work for free, but ignore them.”

    Yup, I see that, but actually the vast majority of my readers are HAPPY that I get a commission. I have had several people say they bought through my link as a kind of reward, like a tip.

    I know Alex Mandossian often says in interviews “you could go here and I get nothing, or you could go this other place and buy and pay no more but I get a commission, up to you” which is a nice way of doing it too.

    The days of “oh noes this guy is making money from blogging” is waaaaay gone. And good riddance to it 🙂

    It is super important to build and protect your reputation, but simply reviewing “warts and all” or recommending something you 100% stand by should help rather than hurt that.

    {I am Chris Garrett and I endorse this message. By recommending Brian Clark related products and services my waist line expands. Please keep me in curry and beer by buying through my links}

  5. I always show my affiliate link to my readers and I’m not afraid to hide anything… I even say “If you like me buy through my affiliate link.” and “If you don’t like me here’s the direct link.”

    Sounds weird but that’s how I got sales from affiliate marketing…

  6. I’ve never hid anything, and I’ve been sure to point out anything where this is significant income – for example, I sell Kerio Mailserver so whenever I write about that, I prominently disclose that I sell the product.

    I did not bother for affiliate links but have started doing so with a general notice at the end of each post.

    I hope that’s enough. I have thousands and thousands of pages and only some of them have any financial kickback to me – often I recommend things that I get nothing in return for doing so. It would be a tremendous amount of work to find the specific links that might mean income to me.

    This is what I said:

    “Many of the products and books I review are things I purchased for my own use. Some were given to me specifically for the purpose of reviewing them.

    I resell or can earn commissions from the sale of some of these items. Links within these pages may be affiliate links that pay me for referring you to them. That’s mostly insignificant amounts of money; whenever it is not I have made my relationship plain. If you have any question, please do feel free to contact me.”

    Should that be enough or do I need to do more?

  7. Hmm, I must be different. I just go ahead and assume every link is an affiliate link. People gotta eat.

  8. Honestly? That old saying ‘honesty is the best policy’ holds true. When people don’t disclose that they are reviewing or recommending something that they will receive compensation for, it undermines my trust in them & whatever program or service they’re recommending.

    I realize that for those who make all of their money online, affiliate links is a part of the deal. And I don’t mind affiliate links. (I don’t use them myself. But I don’t mind them necessarily.)

    But when someone makes a recommendation that they are *not* being paid for? That carries much more weight with me.

    Regardless, I prefer those I’m listening to be straight up with whether they’re being paid for the referral or not.

    All the best!

  9. I like Bad Blogger’s approach.
    Give them both links: direct link and your affilite link.
    Lease it up to them to choose. When people realize the price is the same, they would very likely let you earn the commission than someone else (who knows who!)

    I am for disclosure.

    I have even asked friends to give me their affiliate links for the products I had already decided to buy.

    Great post. Thank you.

  10. FTC trying to regulate affiliate marketing may be a good thing, but my concern is that they may have a very lopsided view of how it really works. Internet marketing is vast, and there are MANY ways in which affiliate products are promoted within a blog itself.

  11. I have always liked the way Steve Pavlina does it. He really investigates the affiliate and then he writes about what he finds in detail. When I bought from SBI, it was 8 months since I had read about it on Pavlina’s site so I went back there and made sure I used his affiliate link so he would get paid.

    Class and honesty pays off. Not that I like the FTC much, but doing the right thing is what builds a good brand.


  12. The end of this article was the clincher for me. If a reader is insulted by the fact that we bloggers are actually attempting to be compensated for the countless hours we spend in front of our computers delivering value, they are the wrong customer for us. We need to think of who our ideal client is and attract that person, because they would be more than happy to buy what we have to offer.

  13. I’m in the building value and trust phase of my blog and will soon be going into the monetizing side of it in much more depth. This post has been a great help because I’d already made the decision to disclose (in the interests of honesty) but wasn’t sure how to do it in an effective way.

    Seeing as humour is central to my blog, I’ll use that. Pity I didn’t think of “If you buy this from me, I get some beer money (not enough for a pony)” first though. Love it.

  14. Will international affiliates be affected as well?

    For example i use products from an affiliate network of my own country and promote them through my blog…Is it dangerous with the new regulations?

    If i use products from companies who are in US but i live in Europe?

    I doubt they will manage to achieve something with this meter anyway

  15. This is great to hear. I think that this is long overdue. It really shouldn’t be a problem disclosing affiliate links, if you do things the right way to begin with. Nice.

  16. i’m glad to see this lively discussion going on about the topic. disclosure is a good thing. it’s uncertain how far this disclosure policy will go – like does a blogger have to disclose if the product was given to her by a company to review? or just disclose affiliate links?

  17. Jennifer, free gifts of any kind are covered. I’m not sure about temporary review periods (where you have to send it back) but it just makes sense to reveal that anyway.

  18. So I have some affiliate links on the 125×125 ads at the bottom of my blog. The links are not masked. Does this new law mean I have to explicitly state they are affiliate links?

    If so, I was thinking of adding a simple blurb like the following…

    I use the following products on a daily basis and fully endorse each of them. The ads below will take you to their site and also compensate me if you decide to purchase from them.

  19. Jason, we won’t know for sure what’s acceptable until the guidelines are released. My guess is for banner ads, things shouldn’t be any different from other kinds of ads. Maybe a heading of “Sponsors” should be enough.

    I think what the FTC is really worried about are reviews, recommendations and endorsements (i.e. the content of a post) that may confuse people who don’t know it’s compensated.

  20. I don’t see the need for a blanket rule that all affiliate links should be disclosed. I don’t see how it really matters. People buy based on a combination of factors and even if they click your link they read the sales page et al to make a decision.

    Disclosing that I’m linking to an Amazon book when I recommend it seems a tad overdone and takes away from the content. Yeah, you could say that your readers won’t mind, but that still doesn’t mean I should disclose it. It isn’t a matter of hiding something, it is a matter of being smart in a business sense.

    Should I disclose profit margins on my digital products or coaching packages too?

  21. Nathan, I hate to say it this way, but it doesn’t really matter what your opinion is on the matter. This is Federal law, and if you want to duel with the FTC, you do so at your own peril.

  22. “The ads below will take you to their site and also compensate me”

    And if you did that with Google ads, they’d complain that you are calling attention to the ads..

  23. I couldn’t agree more, Brian. When I find a blog I like, I want them to make money. I will feel better buying something they recommend knowing they make money.

    More than just pointing out an affiliate link, I’d like them to tell me exactly how much they make if I buy. This is a great way to build trust.

  24. Does this law apply to bloggers selling ebooks with affiliate links?

    Maybe “they” should make bloggers disclose all their marketing strategies also so we can all go broke.

  25. Brian, not trying to debate the legality…as we’ve seen many IM’ers have fallen to the FTC smackdown, but I just wanted to share my thoughts in comparison to some other commenters. I just never understood the feeling that marketers should disclose their links, especially on a legit blog.

    Kind of funny really, because I disagreed with Naomi’s post that portrayed an opposite of the “touchy feely” form of relationship marketing, and yet the “touchy feely” link disclosure puts me off a bit.

  26. I was having problems getting readers of my reviews to buy the product that was best for them through me UNTIL I clearly stated that if they liked my review, please buy through my link. (They would go to the company’s site and buy without going through my link)

    My sales immediately jumped 400%

  27. Does this apply to all of the Twitter tweets that are little more than affiliate links disguised by and 120 characters of gibberish? If so, Twitter’s traffic will drop by about 98%…

  28. For most of you, disclosing your affiliate status will improve your ROI.

    I wrote about why this is here:

    But the basic idea is that when you disclose your potential conflict of interest, as an affiliate, you will tend to be more aggressive in your pitch; and the purchaser will tend to be more trusting because you disclosed your potential conflict.

    See the Cain, Lowenstein, and Moore study in the above article for more details.

  29. Thanks for all the information. I did not know about this and am glad to have found out about this because I’m in the middle of considering whether to have links to Amazon. Furthermore, I agree with you that building trust is the key.
    Once again, thanks.

  30. I guess I’ll put a statement over the banner ads I use. Something like, publisher is compensated for running these ads. I’ll be selling more products of my own design from now on. My sites are largely public service with ads to cover costs, for God’s sake.

  31. This article and the comments help with a perplexing problem. I blogged ad-free for two years. In February, I started using Google Adwords to defray the costs. No one seems to mind. I probably over-analyze.

    I just started a 4-part how-to series on sending email newsletters. Next week, I’m selecting an Email Marketing service which I’ll recommend to readers. An affiliate link would help offset the additional costs but I don’t want to look self-serving or biased. Credibility is too precious to squander.

    To give readers choice, I like the idea of using two links: direct and affiliate.

  32. I don’t have that big of a problem with the disclosure policy. What I do have a problem with is all the millions of dollars that is going to be spend finding offenders, finding who they are (FTC can’t touch non US bloggers)researching if they got paid or not, and then fining them or giving them a warning. Let’s just add millions more of debt to our country when we have so many other things that the money and time could be going to.

  33. Its really fitting that you have written this post after I recently wrote a post about cloaking and my thoughts on whether it should be done or not.

    I have always told my users where an affiliate link is being used and tried to make light of it, like the Frank Kern example. I think my community respects that much more that cloaking a link or hiding behind illegible url extensions.

    I wonder whats going to happen to all those review sites out there promoting ‘the best reviews’.

    Fascinating news and I think its for the better. The Internet needs to be more transparent in my opinion.

  34. Interesting developments for sure. The biggest thing I see coming from this is that a large number of the top “A” list bloggers will finally have to disclose that 90% of the garbage, no real value posts they write are paid posts 🙂

    Oops, did I just say that out loud???? AND no, copyblogger does not fall into the list… I’m sure everyone knows who these bloggers are.

  35. Many people don’t know, think about or understand affiliate marketing, as it’s been said above, I think telling them is the way to go.

    They are only going to buy something they are interested in (whether you stimulate/introduce that or not), and especially with reviews, they will go elsewhere to read second, third, fourth and perhaps more opinions. This is especially the case if it is anything substantial that you are promoting.

    By telling them that buying through your link helps fund you, they are far more likely to click your link and complete the transaction. People like to know they’re helping support blogs and such that they enjoy reading, and if it was a product they wanted anyway, it doesn’t cost them anything.

    Trying to conceal affiliate status is trying to use luck, many sales will get lost from genuine followers.

  36. It’s interesting… I presented a paper at a university conference back in 2005 about blogging and ethics. At the time, people said “blogging is too big and too widespread for the FTC or anyone else to go after every individual person or business”. Obviously they don’t know how far the long arm of the law really stretches!

    Personally, I’ll be looking forward to a lot less flogs and ads showcasing how a (insert my local city) mom lost copious gobs of belly fat following Oprah’s rules. *rolls eyes*

  37. Hi Brian,

    I wonder how will they implement these laws effectively as there are millions of blogs with millions of affiliate links. I don’t think everyone will follow these laws as there will be some people who will find a way around it.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Mani Raj
    Havoc Marketing

  38. This is a terrific post, but not only for the obvious reasons. What makes it special as a learning tool is that it walks the walk, it teaches by example. Something to which we all should aspire. Absolutely the content was timely and necessary, and presented clearly, which is precisely what the teacher should demonstrate to the class. The writing was clear and efficient, proving you don’t need to be a clever or edgy writer to do this well. Clever and timely has its place, and this ain’t it.

    I particularly appreciated the advice, in this case something that rises above the generic and could only come from someone who knows, which is the essence of blogging: to reveal our affiliate links using the tone and personality of the site itself. No legal jargon or hesitant obligatory disclosure, say it loud and proud.

    Brian, you did that. Thanks for sharing what you know.

  39. This is great news! I don’t have any affiliate relationships right now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future. That said, I recommend products, services and people all the time that I think will help my readers. I would have no problems with saying something is an affiliate link. But, I always felt like I needed to say “this is not an affiliate link” because people want to know. Now, at least, everything can be clear and readers can make their own judgements.

    All the best!


  40. Great post, Brian, and the final 2 paragraphs make it so – if a blogger is attempting to make money online, they should be targeting people who SPEND money online – and those people understand that most links are affiliate links.

    For an in-your-face Type-A personality marketer like myself, it’s already obvious to anyone reading my blogs that I’m in this for the money. Why anyone hides this is beyond me.

    I do notice though that you only refer to affiliate links. These days there’s a trend in the niches to produce a product or convert a PLR product, then set up a blog specifically to push sales of that book. Since both the book and the blog are owned by the same person, no affiliate relationship exists – will this be covered too, or will the new FTC rules give those sites the advantage over other blog promotions?

  41. I really liked this post. I think it stated the facts quite well. But I still think we may all be jumping to some conclusions. And without know the make-up of who will be deciding and what input will be given to them we may be prematurd with our thoughts and expectations. Thanks for sharing and will be checking back for any updates.

  42. Timely post. Thanks. I couldn’t agree more that clicking on a link that I “think” is going to provide me with additional information, only to be taken to a commercial site, really PO’s me. I, like others above, simply immediately abandon the site.

    Going just on my personal feelings, I set up an Affiliates page on a site I have under development. I’d appreciate your feedback on it (re compliance and confidence.). Thanks in advance. []

  43. It’s so funny how technology is ultimately coming back around to the basics: communicating with people, as a real person, and telling the truth. Amazing.

  44. L think Bill Romer really hit the essence. It is that simple. Do the right thing for your customer, and for yourself. They are both the same thing when looked at in the broader perspective. Being straightforward honest and proactive works… lots feet on the street details, but that is the essence.


  45. I routinely go out of my way to find out a person who recommended a service to me has an affiliate link to that service. Why not? It’s just like any “friends and family” type referral incentive.

    Similarly, if I’m getting ready to recommend a product I use personally, I’ll check first to see if they have an affiliate program. If they don’t, I’ll still recommend the product of course, but like anything, it’s nice to get that little extra incentive.

    I’m happy to disclose the link and I really like your recommendations above on how to do this. They’re not clunky–they don’t interfere with the reader’s flow.

    This is really important information to get out, so thanks for sharing it.

  46. LOL! I just saw BadBlogger’s way of dealing with it! I like that, BadBlogger. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow that for my links.

  47. Great post and agree with your view on it maybe now being serious business. I don’t like regulation but our new startups and take this into consideration and that most will want to write for their own brands and protect it while at the same time are fully disclosed as to who is the writer and sending traffic and reviews and to where.

  48. As a former journalist (where a lack of full disclosure was a firing offense), I say it’s about time. It may be hard for some of us “old-timers” to remember, but most newbies have no clue about “affiliates,” or realize that money is changing hands. I have no problem w/ affiloiatre marketing, but I think it’s only fair that readers know the score. Besides, an affiliate link is an implied endorsement. So unless you’re endorsing junk just for the money, why not make it clear? Brian’s example (and several others) are ideal ways to do it.

  49. Wow – I’ve been struggling with this for ages.

    In addition to my blog, I have a ‘fun’ site with book recommendations for my clients – been trying to decide if I put Amazon affiliate links or not.

    Thanks for the clear advice.

  50. I found this post interesting simply because I assume any links to products on a website or blog are affiliate links unless otherwise denied.

    I guess with that mindset, I think it is odd to tell people they have to actually say it. To me that’s like walking into Wal-Mart and every product having to have a notice that says, “Wal-Mart makes money off of this item.”

  51. …that’s like walking into Wal-Mart and every product having to have a notice that says, “Wal-Mart makes money off of this item.”

    Sorry, but no, it’s not like that. An ecommerce site is a better analogy for Wal-Mart… everyone knows it’s a place where stuff is sold.

    Blogs are viewed more like newspapers or magazines by the general public… where commerce and editorial have traditionally been separate (ok, not really… but that’s another story). I think the realities of online content *require* that commerce and editorial be combined, but that means you have to have disclosure according to the FTC.

    Edwin, you’re a savvy online user. Most people are still unbelievably clueless. Whenever I forget that, I go talk to my mom. 🙂

  52. If there was a difference in the price from the affiliate link to the retail price (straight from the source) I would think there would be a problem, but there isn’t. Right? So what *real* difference is there? Educating consumers of this one point is the hardest thing to do – and by disclosing the affiliate link it just makes it harder. imo

  53. I’m a tad late commenting on this post, but this is RIGHT ON Brian… great post. I’m usually retardedly in-your-face about my affiliate relationships and say it so often to my readers (but especially clients) that it’s probably obnoxious.

    Because I refer companies as part of services I provide, I’ve found that one good way to turn affiliate links into a selling point is to refer to my commission as a subsidy. Kind of like, “The commission I get is what keeps this service cheap for you.” The client is buying either way, so why not let the advertiser pay me so that they don’t have to pay me as much?

    We all know people want to make money. Being honest about it isn’t revealing anything people don’t already know… but it can build trust.

  54. It’s not everyday I read an article that gives me hope that all mankind is not crazy. This is a fantastic idea that I will research and put to use.
    Thanks again,

  55. I didn’t know that you used to be an attorney!

    I fully support this move, as a consumer I think it’s only fair to know when someone is being paid for their opinion. It will be interesting to see how this plays out though as the constant, quick nature of social media can make things murky. For instance if you tweet a link to a post that mentions Izea do you need to add the info about your relationship in that tweet? Seems like overkill, but could be a big loophole as well.

  56. Michael, be careful there. It’s a compensated relationship tied to content that’s the trigger (paid reviews are covered too), not the structure of the relationship.

  57. No one wants to be the fool.

    All I ever want to know when I’m purchasing something is who is scratching who’s back. When I know, I don’t feel like a chump anymore, I just want what I want then. It becomes about the sale again when a customer’s paranoia is relieved. .

  58. I think I see what you mean. In other words, if I were to write a review for a product of my own business, but failed to disclose that relationship, that could be bad.

  59. Lydia, that’s PERFECT. Exactly how I feel as a seller and as a buyer.

    I heard this radio commercial for a free laptop. Even the shipping was free. I would never get that, because I’m thinking, “This ad cost money. Shipping costs money. And most of all, the laptop costs money. How are they benefiting?” It makes me nervous not to know. I figure the laptop has a virus that is going to empty my checking account.

    If they seller/marketer were upfront and explained exactly HOW THEY WERE BENEFITING by giving me a free laptop, I might think, “Oh, okay” and get one.

    I don’t care how much is in it for someone. I just want to know what that is, and where it’s coming from.

  60. Michael, if it’s your product, that’s disclosure enough. People understand that you have a financial interest in selling your own stuff. It’s when you recommend other people’s stuff that you need to disclose compensation (even if it’s just the review product itself that you keep).

    I think I see what you were getting at before, and you’re correct. If you partner with someone to jointly form a company, etc. that sells a product (think Thesis and me and Chris) then that’s your product, and naturally telling people it’s your product is enough.

    If you have only a marketing partnership (a JV promotional deal), that needs to be disclosed, whether they have a formal affiliate program or not. That’s the part I wanted you to be careful about. 😉

  61. I think I see what you were getting at before, and you’re correct. If you partner with someone to jointly form a company, etc. that sells a product (think Thesis and me and Chris) then that’s your product, and naturally telling people it’s your product is enough.

    Exactly. I was thinking this might give you an interesting angle on Partnering Profits.

    Thanks for making the distinction clearer. 🙂

  62. Great discussion and clarification, Brian and Michael, especially after today’s developments.

    It’s also nice to have a lawyer around! 😉

  63. Does copyblogger have an affiliate disclosure section? I don’t seem to be able to find it 🙁 and i think it could be useful to many of us

  64. Sherice, Government regulations have unintened consequences. In your cited example:

    “Personally, I’ll be looking forward to a lot less flogs and ads showcasing how a (insert my local city) mom lost copious gobs of belly fat following Oprah’s rules. *rolls eyes*”

    You’ll just learn the same about the mom losing 47 pounds… and now *making money* telling everyone about it! Click here to learn how…

  65. Hey Copyblogger,

    So what is acceptable in terms of the disclosure policy? Can I have a link on the footer of my wordpress theme called ” Affiliate disclosure policy”?

    Please respond, thanks

  66. Hi Guys. Where can I get a copy of an Endorsement policy for an affiliate site please that is not an image. Any body help?


  67. Hi Brian,

    Thank you very much for this information. I appreciate your experience in this matter. I am a new affiliate marketer. Learning more about how to become an excellent and honest affiliate marketer is my top priority.

    This was all new to me, and I found out about this as I was doing my research. These clearer explanations will help me to disclose my affiliate position better.

    And you are right. Do it right or deal with the FTC. No thank you. I learned years ago not to tangle with the law. My father taught me who was a former 20 year veteran Sergeant with the San Diego Police Department.

    Its best to be honest, truthful and up front with people. That way they know you are not trying to rip them off.

    Greetings and good fortune to all fellow affiliate marketers out there.

    Have a great day!

    Steve Balliett

  68. Will this do ?

    So we make some money if you decide to by something, not a lot, but if enough people people buy one, we could buy our Dream Bikes too !

    I could have written, Bla bal bla….

    To help defray website operating costs and in accordance with FTC Guidelines please be advised that some of the links contained on this website may be linked to either my products and/or affiliate partner products. In some instances, this website receives commissions for products viewed or purchased on affiliate websites via my referral.

    Although I may receive commissions for products purchased or viewed on affiliate websites via my referral, I do not receive revenue for writing any product reviews, nor do I receive free products for evaluation. All products featured and/or reviewed on this website are chosen by me and given independent review — good or bad.

    Any and all comments, testimonials or contributing posts are the sole responsibility of the contributing author, and although I try my best to research to allow only reputable and accurate information, I can not be responsible or held liable for posts and comments for which I am not the author and encourage you to do your due diligence and follow up for any product or service recommendation contributed by guest authors or commenters, Its True…

    But I thought it better to be straight with you. x

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