Identifying affiliate links: Have I discovered a best practice?

Bloggers do all sorts of things that earn money or products. Reviews, giveaways, contests, and product mentions are among many common blog post types that may result in the blogger either getting a free product or making some money somehow.

Bloggers get pitched by PR firms to try out products and write about products all the time. Sometimes they get something for doing this, sometimes not. The FTC has decided that bloggers need to disclose/be transparent about where products come from and what is being given in exchange for a mention.

I’ve published a review policy for this blog. It explains how I choose the books I review and the occasional app or software post I write.

I have an affiliate account at Amazon.com. If you buy a book with a click from this site I might make a few cents. I’ve experimented with various ways to identify links in order to achieve transparency and let readers know that a link is an affiliate link.

I’ve used alt text with images that are affiliate links. The last book I reviewed, Create Stunning HTML Email that Just Works, had this alt text:

<img src="image.jpg" alt="get HTML Email at Amazon">

Sometimes I use:

<img src="image.jpg" alt="buy this book at Amazon">

If you go back far enough into the archives of my book reviews you find non-transparent alt text like this:

<img src="image.jpg" alt="HTML Email cover">

Recently I decided to add a title attribute. That way people who aren’t seeing the alt text will see the title information in a tooltip popup. I’m working on a review for later this week that will do the following:

<img src="image.jpg" alt="affiliate link to Amazon" title="affiliate link to Amazon">

The thing I like about adding a title attribute is that you can use it with a text link as well.

<a href="somewhere.html" title="affiliate link to Amazon">Book Title</a>

I don’t know that there is a best practice guide anywhere online about how to identify affiliate links in a way that is open, honest, and unobtrusive. I think my idea for disclosing with both alt and title attributes with images is a good rule of thumb. I think adding a title attribute to text links is a good practice. I nominate these two ideas for best practices for affiliate links.

Best Practices for Affiliate Links

  1. Use both alt and title attributes in image links to disclose the fact that the link is to an affiliate site.
  2. Use a title attribute in a text link to disclose the fact that the link is to an affiliate site

What do you think? Are these, in fact, best practice? Should my ideas be modified, expanded, laughed at? Is there a better guideline somewhere?

6 thoughts on “Identifying affiliate links: Have I discovered a best practice?

  1. Virginia, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I had seen another blogger recommend something similar a few month ago. I’m really uneasy about it. The goal of disclosing an affiliate link isn’t to protect readers from inadvertently benefiting you while going through your link, it’s to be open about what may be influencing you to recommend the item in the first place. That’s information a reader should have whether they mouse over the link or not. Then they can make of that information what they will. I’m a little bewildered by the idea that a short “this is an affiliate link” bit of text is so ungainly that it cannot appear in the post.

    • You raise a good point, Skye. A plain text explanation in addition to the code I talked about within the links should be part of full disclosure. Just a single sentence somewhere in the post should do the trick. How are you doing this?

  2. Oh I’m far too lazy and/or disorganized to use affiliate links. :)

    Overall, I think the thoughtfulness of the blogger’s writing itself is what’s going to influence a reader more than anything else, especially since I can’t imagine affiliate links being a big moneymaker for most bloggers. If someone is slathering their sites in affiliate links and gushing about all the products (or not saying much of anything), it’s pretty easy to spot. On a blog like yours, I can’t imagine any reasonable person would say “Oh well she only wrote this long, detailed, balanced review to get me to buy something through her affiliate link.”

    • Skye,
      After your first comment, I wrote a disclosure statement that I think I will include with every future review. (Even though I have posted my review policy elsewhere on the blog.) Here’s how it reads.

      Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not paid to write the review, and the opinions expressed are entirely my own. If you choose to follow the link to Amazon.com to buy the book I will make a few cents as an Amazon affiliate.

      Combined with the link code I already talked about, that pretty much covers every concern. The FCC and I thank you!

      You’re right, the money involved – at least for my blog – really is mere pennies. Amazon pays on a quarterly basis and I often don’t come up to the $10 minimum for disbursement for the quarter. But you know, Philadelphia recently wanted bloggers who made even pennies from a blog to purchase a $300 a year business license for the blog. The FCC aside, that seems like overkill to me.

  3. I’m venturing into the world of Amazon affiliate marketing but I have heard you need many sites to make a living from it as you only receive 5% from each sale, which can go up slightly if you do well. I’m trying to narrow down my first niche for this sort of site but most ‘expensive’ products have high competition judging by adwords keyword tool so still trying to find one that I feel I can profit from. ^

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