Let’s talk about what’s cool to do and what’s not with your affiliate links. The bottom line is, you’re making money off those things, and money can be a touchy subject with a lot of people. When it comes to links that make you money, think about how you want to yield that power, and what feels right and wrong to you. Here are some things I’ve seen bloggers doing with their affiliate links with some thoughts on etiquette.
Here’s something to think about: your readers are savvy and will notice if you’re getting greedy with your links. Dirty affiliate link practices will get noticed, so only do with affiliate links the things that you would feel comfortable explaining if someone calls you out on it.
Disclose how you’re making money
FTC regulations (opens as PDF) state that you must disclose relationships between advertisers and endorsers. This means you can’t get paid to talk about or endorse something on your blog without telling your readers. This includes receiving a product for free (the free product would be your payment for promoting it on your blog), and promoting a product that earns you commission sales (being affiliated with the brand). The laws are still sketchy and not enforced, but being transparent about how you’re making money on your blog is only a good thing. Readers generally appreciate it, and don’t feel like they’re being duped into making you money.
How you disclose on your blog is up to you, and I’d suggest looking at some of the bloggers you enjoy and admire, and see how they disclose on their blogs for ideas. Some bloggers put a small disclosure statement in their sidebar, while others disclose in every post that includes an affiliate link or free product. Some bloggers have dedicated an entire page to their disclosure statement, going into in-depth explanations. For my blog, I choose to be as transparent as I could without getting technical, by listing all the ways the blog makes money in a separate blog page, which is linked in the footer, as well as on affiliate link heavy posts. You can read my disclosure statement here.
Keep your affiliate links to yourself
In legal jargon, websites are called “properties”. If you place your affiliate link on someone else’s website, you’re essentially trying to make money off of someone else’s property. Don’t do it. It’s rude and greedy, and the owner of the other blog or website won’t be happy about it. I know because I’ve had other bloggers try to do it to me.
This also goes for referral links that earn you money or bonuses (like sample sale sites), pay-per-click links that pay you by the click (like Shopsense), and “stylist” links that earn you commissions off company products you promote as a business (like Avon or Stella & Dot).
If you think a link that earns you any kind of reimbursement would be a really wonderful thing to leave on another person’s website, it’s always a good idea to ask the owner of the site if you can leave the link first.
Getting sneaky with pay-per-click affiliate links
It’s easy to go a little link crazy when you’re getting paid by the click (like Shopsense), and you start seeing all those pennies add up in your account. More clicks, more money, right? So you add more links and start to come up with clever ways to make (or force) your readers to click them.
Experimenting with how to earn money off affiliate links is fine, but keep it honest. Tempt readers to click your links, but don’t trick them. Give them an idea of what they’re going to get on the other end of that link, so they can choose if it interests them or not. Peppering posts with cryptic links attached to non-descriptive words like “this” or “that” in a sneaky way to get more clicks may work, but it will also get noticed.
I know, because I got greedy with my Shopsense links, and you know what? Commenters called me out on it. And I felt bad. They were right and I learned my lesson. Your readers are the reason why you’re even blogging (after all, what’s a blog if it doesn’t have readers?)…don’t make them feel used.
Affiliate links and social media
This is a weird one that you’ll have to feel out for yourself. A lot of affiliate programs are encouraging it, and it’s up to you to think about how you feel about earning money off your social media accounts. Some things to think about:
- If you tweet or post to Facebook an affiliate link that earns you commissions (like RewardStyle), should you disclose in your tweet that it’s an affiliate link? How about if it’s a pay-per-click link (like Shopsense)? Is one type of affiliate link more honest than the other?
My thoughts: I feel better about (and currently do) posting commission earning affiliate links (ie. RewardStyle) on social media accounts. Since it’s a product I’m loving or recommending, and I only make money if someone agrees with me and decides to purchase. It feels more honest to me than posting pay-per-click (ie. Shopsense) links, which feels (to me) more like tricking the readers who like you enough to follow your blog on social media into clicking links for pennies.
- If you pin an item to Pinterest, should you link it to your affiliate link? If you do, should you disclose it? Currently, RewardStyle has encouraged this by integrating the Pin-It button to their product feed. But does that mean you’re making money off of someone else’s website? Or are you creating content for this website, making their website more valuable, thus making affiliate earnings a small payment for your activities? How about only pinning affiliate links exclusively to a specific board, so users can choose to follow it or not? Should you disclose there are affiliate links in the board description?
Some reading for you: Pinterest tried to monetize using Skimlinks, only to take it down after users get angry (further proof that people don’t like feeling “used” to make you money), and an Amazon affiliate user who “spams” Pinterest with products linked to his affiliate links. By pinning items linked to your affiliate links, does that make you a spammer? Why can’t Pinterest make money off it’s own website, but you can? Interesting stuff, huh?
Tip: by placing the price of the product in the description, Pinterest adds the little price banner to the pin.
My thoughts: Once again, I feel better about (and currently do) posting commission earning affiliate links on Pinterest pins than pay-per-click affiliate links. But I’m conflicted. I’m trying to make money off Pinterest, but when they tried to do the same thing, they got in trouble with their users. Seems a little unfair doesn’t it?