Should I Disclose My Affiliate Links?

The question of whether or not to disclose your affiliate links came up in an article I read on Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger blog today.

It often generates discussion, and the FTC recently got into the act by saying it thought that on-line advertisers should adhere to the same standards as off line advertisers.

It will, by all accounts, become mandatory for US based on-line advertisers to disclose their interest when they’re reviewing a product for which they’re an affiliate.

I have no problem with that at all.

But why does it evoke such emotion?

It comes down to the way business on the Internet has developed over the last 10 years.

The Internet has been largely un-regulated, except in those territories where the government controls access by deciding what you can view.

But for the rest of us the Internet has been free.

That meant there were zero barriers to entry and led to a disproportionately high percentage of people doing business on-line who are fly-by-night.

You should see what my Junk folder looks like each morning: I get hundreds of promises a day of being able to make $000’s by this time next week (usually ‘guaranteed’) if I just buy this book or follow that system.

People have been able to advertise and promote stuff on the web by making outrageous promises and there’s been no come-back when the promises turn out to be false.

Sure, they may need to make a few refunds – but the percentage of people who don’t ask for a refund is insanely high so, for the most part, the advertisers get away with it.

Of course, not everyone is a scammer. I’m not, for example.

But I was a beginner once. And one of the first things I learnt was that one way of getting people to buy whatever I was promoting was to write a review of it.

But as a beginner, and also being new to the entire concept of marketing, I didn’t grasp the fact that reviews should cover the downsides of any product as well as the upsides.

So I only wrote about the upsides.

I think I instinctively knew this wasn’t right, because I also made no attempt to declare my interest in the sale. In fact I tried to make my review sound as though I was an impartial reviewer.

Which, looking back on it, was a bit silly. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb.

But what’s the big deal with revealing that you’re an affiliate for a product you’re reviewing?

The popular answer is that it will lead to people saying your review is biased, so they’ll click off somewhere else and you lose the sale.

But I dispute that. Strongly.

Provided you do a professional review.

If you’re reviewing a product and you do so properly, discussing the bad as well as the good and relating your own experience from using it, whether or not you’re an affiliate is irrelevant.

The quality of your review is what’s relevant.

And if you’re also able to add some additional value, so much the better.

What’s the downside for your buyer? There is none.

They don’t pay any more by buying it through your link. They pay exactly the same price whichever link they buy it through.

And if you’re able to offer some value added service they may benefit.

Here’s an example:

I’m an affiliate for the Thesis theme for WordPress and I run a special offer: If someone buys Thesis through my affiliate link I will install and customize it for them free of charge.

They don’t pay a penny more than if they bought it direct from the Thesis site, but they get a free customization and installation – provided they buy it through my affiliate link.

And I’m totally up-front that they have to buy through my affiliate link if they want to benefit from my offer.

So, again, why not disclose you’re an affiliate?

No reason at all, as far as I can tell, provided you’d be proud to tell your Mother about your business and how you run it.

What do you think?