I should start with the usual disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, and the following article is just an amalgamation of my personal "Nuttie" thoughts. Actually, this article is all about what I plan to do/am doing in order to comply with the FTC’s "guidelines". Tell me what you think!
I have been pretty busy in revamping my old affiliate sites to comply with FTC rules. This explains why you didn’t receive a NuttieZine issue last Saturday, the relatively small size and less boring nature of this article, as well as the reason you keep receiving only "FTC-related" articles from me all the time! :D
Actually, I have been reading a lot of blog articles and forum posts on this "FTC" thingy, and this is what I understand about the way these "guidelines" would be affecting affiliate marketing (in this connection, please don’t forget to read the part starting with the red text "UPDATE" in my last blog post).
So, what to do: Generally speaking, these guidelines came up because of the rampant rise of blogs that are "paid to post", "paid to review", etc. Then there are of course the "[less-than]honest" affiliate review sites to blame too. As a matter of fact, "affiliate reviews" are not by themselves a cause of concern - even if your site has nothing more than a bunch of affiliate product reviews, you maybe able to save your a** as long as the product reviews are well researched and honest.
If you are promoting a product you have already purchased and found helpful, your own experience is enough to back up your review of the respective product; however, if you have not purchased it, you may need to gather the review materials from external sources, such as message boards, forums, answer boards (such as like Yahoo answers), etc. I would like to add that the "fake" affiliate review sites indeed make it very difficult for me to find real reviews on a given product, esp. if it happens to be a Clickbank™ product; almost always you will find these review sites at a position they don’t actually deserve – the first page of Google™!
Truth to be told, I would be the first to become happy in case those sites disappear from the web, but only time will tell how far FTC would be able to purge the web from these scums.
I do know one thing: if you want to blow up the neighboring country with an atom bomb, your own country would also get scarred, since both countries share the same border. Similarly, when the "bad" guys are slapped, the "good" guys, at least some of them, are going to be affected by the slap too! Right now the best we can do is to "comply", "diversify", and hope for the best! :)
Ads vs. Affiliate Links: There is a difference between ads and affiliate links. What are ads? Ads look like, say – Adsense™! :D Now, if you are a publisher of any of the large ad networks, make sure that the company complies with FTC rules by fully disclosing the identity and origin of these ads. Google already does it by tagging their ads as "Ads by Google" or "Sponsored links"; Amazon.com does it with their logo and a link to privacy information; eBay too does it in a similar fashion.
However, if YOU maintain your own in-house ad inventory, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure that your ads are complying with FTC guidelines. You can do this by making the appearance of the ads as distinguished as possible. This means
a) Giving the ads a color and layout completely different than that of your site content!
b) Distinguish the ads from the rest of the content on your site with a tag like "Sponsored link", "Ads powered by Yourdomain.com", "Recommended by YourDomainname.com", "Approved by YourCompanyname/Websitename", etc.; usually the link to these "tags" should lead to a full disclosure page where you would disclose the nature and origin of these ads, your advertising policy, nature of the compensation received by you, etc. As you might already know, you can draft a basic disclosure policy from the PPP guys themselves!
Affiliate links are a different game altogether, since a novice online surfer can hardly distinguish between an affiliate link and a general link (add to that the fact that most savvy affiliates nowadays "cloak" their affiliate links to save their commissions from being "hijacked" by fellow affiliates, as well as to make the affiliate links "SEO friendly".
Affiliate Links vs. General Links: FTC does not seem to have any problem with general links (and why would it, as the whole web structure is based upon links). However if you are using affiliate links you need to make yourself clear. Like say, I am promoting Angela’s backlinks. Now, the FTC may not mind the following link: Angela’s backlinks
But it might flag this link (even though only a savvy internet surfer would know that it is an affiliate link, as it is "nicely" cloaked ;) ) : Angela’s backlinks
So, after I include an affiliate link of Angela’s backlinks in my blog post, I may have to add the following disclosure:
"Even though I am affiliated to Angela, my assessment of her backlink service is accurate and honest to my best knowledge. As a matter of fact, I seldom promote anything if I don’t it find useful!"
Now, if I add more than one affiliate links, say, for promoting BOTH Angela’s and Paul’s backlinks, then I would need to modify the above disclosure as follows:
"Even though I am affiliated to both Angela and Paul, my assessment of their backlink services is accurate and honest to best knowledge. As a matter of fact, I seldom promote anything if I don’t find it useful!"
Will you lose a sale or two as a result of adding the above disclosures? Yes and no!
If you are operating in the IM niche, you need to remember that while many IMers are happy pitching their own affiliate product before your nose, they hate it if you pitch an affiliate product to them; some would try every possible ways to make sure that you don’t get the credit for the affiliate sale, including hijacking your affiliate ID, "sniping" off your affiliate ID from your link, etc.; in fact, besides SEO concerns, this was one of the foremost reasons why affiliates started "cloaking" their affiliate links so as to make them "less obvious" than a naked affiliate link!
However, it is also true that if you teach your followers by offering them with good quality content and resources, and embed an affiliate recommendation or two within your content in an unobtrusive, "contextual" manner, I don’t think many people would mind it or mistrust you as a result; if it were the case then I would not be making some decent $$ by promoting Angela’s and Paul’s links (and to think, I mainly write long boring articles :D ).
Point to be noted: I don’t promote just about every linking scheme or service available under the sun; I promote only Angela’s and Paul’s backlinks because I am still their paid customer and as such, know how good/bad they are. This certainly does not mean that you need to buy each and every product you want to review! :D
As Linda rightly puts it, if a person does not trust a blogger, he has no business reading it in the first place, much less clicking on any affiliate link the blogger might have included in his posts!
In non-IM niches, most people don’t know how to distinguish between ab "affiliate link" and a "non-affiliate link"! Being ignorant of affiliate marketing, they don’t have a valid reason to hate affiliate links IMO; so, as long as your affiliate recommendation is honest and the content helpful, you are OK!
Note to Self: Hmm, now I need to inculcate the habit of adding disclosures every time I add an affiliate link in my looong, boring blog articles. In case I do forget it, please do me a favor by reminding me of the same (hopefully the FTC guys would be too bored to even notice the affiliate links, but I don’t want to take any chances here ;) ). Thank you! :D
Oh, and…a nice comment please! :D