Are You Disclosing Properly in Your Posts?

If you are a blogger in the U.S. and you are making money in any way, or if you are receiving free products or services for giveaways, reviews or the like, you should be concerned about this issue and you should make sure you are properly disclosing in your posts.

are you disclosing properly
Things I’ll cover in this post:

What is a disclosure?

A disclosure provides a reader all necessary and relevant information regarding a purchase or promotion so they can make a well-informed decision. It’s “the fine print.”

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice. You should seek appropriate counsel for your own situation.

And please note, this post is directed toward readers in the United States. If you are conducting business outside the United States, I highly encourage you to seek out and understand your obligations regarding disclosure.

I wrote this post after reviewing more thoroughly the .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising released March 2013 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

ftc disclosure

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A couple of things you should know

  • I will not address every point covered in the document and it’s very possible some of them will apply to you (like guidelines for Twitter) so I highly encourage you to read the whole document yourself.
  • There are multiple examples of proper disclosures in the Appendix of the report that are very helpful. For example, Example 21 describes a common blog post in which the disclosure is included at the end of the post but is not sufficient. According to this example, bloggers are disclosing incorrectly all the time. Take a look and note the commentary at the top:

    The blogger in this example obtained the paint she is reviewing for free and must disclose that fact. Although she does so at the end of her blog post, there are several hyperlinks before that disclosure that could distract readers and cause them to click away before they get to the end of the post. Given these distractions, the disclosure likely is not clear and conspicuous.

blogger incorrect disclosure

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Why do we have to disclose?

The FTC wants to make sure business is conducted fairly.

The FTC has enforced and will continue enforcing its consumer protection laws to ensure that products and services are described truthfully online, and that consumers understand what they are paying for. These activities benefit consumers as well as sellers, who expect and deserve the opportunity to compete in a marketplace free of deception and unfair practices.

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My takeaways from the FTC’s report

Overall, disclosures must be “clear and conspicuous” both on a computer screen or on a mobile device. You must disclose on microblogging sites like Twitter as well (see Appendix for specific examples.) There is no set standard or format for disclosures but here are some general guidelines:

  1. Your disclosure should be obvious and unavoidable.
  2. It should be placed in close proximity to the “triggering item” (such as an affiliate link).
  3. It should not get buried in or covered up by text, banner ads or other graphics.
  4. It should not get separated from the “triggering item” by unrelated information or graphics. For example, a standard disclosure in your footer may not be sufficient if your footer is separated from your post. Or, if your disclosure is placed in another section of your site (say your sidebar), many times it will get separated by unrelated information when it’s being read on a mobile device.
  5. “Disclosures must be effectively communicated to consumers before they make a purchase or incur a financial obligation. Where advertising and selling are combined on a website or mobile application — that is, the consumer will be completing the transaction online — disclosures should be provided before the consumer makes the decision to buy, e.g., before clicking on an “order now” button or a link that says “add to shopping cart.”
  6. It should not be placed apart from links that might take the reader away from the site before seeing the disclosure. (See Example 21 above.)
  7. If getting to the disclosure requires scrolling (on mobile devices too), you should “use text or visual cues to encourage consumers to scroll” to find the disclosure.
  8. It should not be located in a place that readers typically do not look on a screen.
  9. Simply including a disclosure somewhere in the post does not necessarily mean it meets the “clear and conspicuous” standard. If there’s a reasonable chance the reader won’t see it, it’s not sufficient. (Again, see Example 21 above.)

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If you cannot reasonably include your full disclosure near the “triggering claim,” you may link to a page where the full disclosure is displayed. However:

  1. The link to the disclosure page should be near the “triggering item.”
  2. The link to the disclosure page should be obvious & unavoidable.
  3. The link to the disclosure page should not be an icon, symbol or abbreviation.
  4. “Hyperlinks that simply say ‘disclaimer,’ ‘more information,’ ‘details,’ ‘terms and conditions,’ or ‘fine print’ do not convey the importance, nature, and relevance of the information to which they lead and are likely to be inadequate.”
  5. The link should look the same as all the other links on your site (i.e. the same color, font size, underlined or not, etc.).
  6. The page containing the full disclosure should be easy to navigate and the disclosure itself should be immediately visible.
  7. Do not use “blockable pop-ups” to house your disclosure.

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Conclusion

I want to say again that I am not a lawyer nor do I claim any expertise in this area at all, so if you have specific questions, I will probably refer you back to the FTC report. :)
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Comments

  1. says

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.

    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  2. says

    Yep, i think with affiliate marketig, your viewers are much more likely to use your referal link if you are up front with them regarding your AFF link and letting them know you get money for it.
    HOwever if you are sing adsense, its best to just leave that kind of information out otherwise people may click o your ads thinking they are helping you, but in actuil fact, they are just going to get you account banned.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this info, Amy. I’m slowly editing my posts with affiliate links, following your example in the post about the ebook bundle. So helpful, thanks!

  4. says

    Hi Amy,

    Thank you so much for posting that fantastic article :)

    Would you be OK with me applying my disclosures the same way that you did on the Ultimate Homemaking ebook bundle?

    Thanks again

    • says

      Please don’t copy them verbatim (neither of us want to be dinged for duplicate content!) but if you want to use it as a guide, feel free!

  5. says

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for sharing your input on the New FTC changes. I have a question for you, I’m sometime compensated to do guest post on one of my blog and i would like to know if this would apply in this situation.

  6. says

    Thanks for this great and important information. I think most people understand that bloggers use affiliate marketing to make money. As with any business practice it is important to be upfront and honest with customers.

  7. says

    Thank you, your article was very thorough, and informative. I just started a blog and I am learning everything from scratch, so this was extremely helpful. Cheers!

  8. says

    I run into this problem many times. Sometimes when writing a post, I can’t help but feel that I am making certain claims about the content. I have several disclaimers and disclosures that I use. However, I never feel 100% comfortable, but I will not let that stop me from doing what I need to do. Great post.. Really identifies with my situation.

  9. says

    I may be incorrect, but I believe as long as the disclosure is mentioned somewhere on the page and is visible (text is not invisible or anything), it’s legal with the FTC. Most bloggers place them in their website’s footer.

    • says

      Hey James,

      Things have changed with these recently-published guidelines so it appears a disclosure in a footer is no longer sufficient. :(

      • says

        Oh wow, I can’t believe I didn’t know that! Thanks for clarifying Amy. Looks like I’ll be doing some editing on some of my websites now.. I’ve always had mine in the footer!

  10. says

    Do you know what I like about your site and posts? They are bit size. I can put the ideas into action immediately. I read a great post by someone recently with a list of 58 things I need to do when starting a blog. I bookmarked the link and I try to work through one thing a week. But it feels so overwhelming. You keep things practical and doable. Thank you! Also, you link to other posts that add to what I am working on or lead me to the next natural step. I can bookmark those links and know that when I have a few minutes I can drop by and read them. It won’t eat up twenty thousand hours of my life. Guess that’s why you wrote an ebook about time management. Maybe I should read it! Amy

  11. says

    Amy, thanks for sharing these tips as I’ve heard they did update the FTC guidelines for disclosure. Great to know. This is one to bookmark for sure. Love how you show us an example as well.

  12. says

    Yep, I’ve been disclosing since I started using affiliate links and that was way before the FTC put out their rules about it.

    I just always thought it was a good idea to let people know.. and often I thank them too. I might write something like this seen (in part) on my Resource Page and talking about the links to the resources:

    “Some are free, some are paid. Many are affiliate links. If you purchase thru the links you help support BlogBoldly.com & I can keep giving you free goodies So everyone wins! Thank you, darlene :)”

    Sidenote: There’s a new one (at least to me) beyond the Disclosure and Privacy.. it’s called DMCA and I now have that one.

    And just in case all that’s not enough, I’m currently putting my sites in a L.L.C.. Maybe that’s overkill.. but you know, it’s probably not.

    ~ darlene

  13. says

    Helpful post about the topic that is not touched upon much in affiliate marketing. I would like to add, though, that too much “legal stuff” can scare potential customers away. Perhaps elegant solutions as the use of tooltips or a one size fits all docs should be taken into consideratian as well.

    • says

      It’s so tricky to navigate the balance between being somewhat subtle and yet still very clear when disclosing! Thanks Daniel.

  14. says

    Thanks Amy for staying up on these kinds of things. I had no clue that the FTC had come out with new information. As always, you give it to us straight and easy to understand. :)

    Raki

  15. says

    Hi Amy – thank you for alerting us about the new FTC guidelines. Amazon also says in their operating agreement for associates: “You must, however, clearly state the following on your site: “[Insert your name] is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to [insert the applicable site name (amazon.com, amazonsupply.com, or myhabit.com)].” As I have just gone live on my website I’m trying to make sure that I’m doing everything correctly so your article is very helpful. (Actually you’ve been a goddess that I’ve been following to design my site)

  16. says

    Interesting. I knew about this and the tweets but I just did a review for Molly Maid yesterday and disclosed the arrangement. I included a lot of links but none of them are affiliate links. I wonder if I have to say that they aren’t? I wonder if I need to link it to my disclosure page? Any thoughts?

  17. says

    Thank you, Amy, for this very helpful post. I’ll be printing the disclosure to be sure I follow the rules, but I will be reading in sections because it makes my eyes cross.;)

  18. says

    Thanks for sharing Amy. I have not read the whole report yet, but I did see how you did it on your homeschooling post. I decided to create a small button to include in posts that kind of looks like my blog theme.
    I would love feedback and/or feel free to use the idea yourself. I put it in one post so far if anyone would like to check it out. Hope it is okay Amy for me to include this link.
    http://www.suzyhomemaker.net/2013/04/natural-skincare-face-wash.html

    Thanks!

  19. says

    I really have an issue with having to disclose right before a text link. I have always had what I consider really obvious and ethical disclosure statements, but it is sure going to be awkward to have to write something like,
    I just found a (Disclosure….blah,blah) great deal to the zoo on deal site xyz.
    Normally, the great deal to the zoo part would be a hyperlink, and I’d have the disclosure statement at the bottom. I want my readers to know I’m making a few pennies (literally) off their purchases, but I think it’s going to make the writing sooooo awkward. Also, at the risk of sounding like a total whiner, I haven’t noticed any of the big blogs I follow doing this yet, and we’re talking about gals getting probably 100x the page views I do.

    Sigh.
    I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m complaining about You, Amy. I really, truly appreciate the information. I just feel like this is an example of a regulation that makes it hard to follow the rules. I guess I may start just keeping any deal on my Deal page with a permanent statement at the top.

    • says

      I actually think it’s a valid point. As I was reading the report, I thought of those commercials that squeeze in several crazy-fast disclosures into about .2 seconds, or put the disclosure in reaaaaally tiny print at the bottom of the screen. Those don’t seem like great examples of “clear and conspicuous” to me. :)

      I know for myself, when the FTC starts cracking down, I just don’t want to be the one they decide to make an example of. LOL

      • Maegen says

        Oh, I err on the side of caution, for sure! I sometimes also think I’m the only one following Facebook’s rules! But I sure wouldn’t want to get in trouble with them, either!

  20. says

    This is great info to have! I think most of us are trying to navigate through this…your post helped make things clearer. Thanks!

  21. says

    Thanks Amy! I am in Canada and after reading this post i did some quick searching and it appears as if we do not have any formal rules like this yet -looks like the US has taken the lead with this FTC report and because the Internet has blurred geographical borders I plan to adhere to these new guidelines too. Better to be safe than sorry! If I find anything more specific to Canada I will comeback and mention here and if anyone else knows pls let me know! Great info and thanks!

    • says

      Hi Tara,
      I know nothing about the laws in Canada, but I always have tried to follow US laws since many of my readers are from the US. However, since I have absolutely no affiliate links and only receive review copies for books and homeschool curricula I review, I think I’ll be OK just leaving my disclosure at the end of each post.

      At the top of my sidebar I also note that my blog contains no affiliate links. Would it be a good idea to mention there that I do receive free copies of many of things I review?

    • says

      Hi Tara,

      Thanks so much for sharing what you know! I’ve been asked by another Canadian the same question and I don’t know the answer. If I do hear anything, I’ll try to update this post.

  22. says

    I know that a lot of bloggers were getting concerned about messing up their SEO by putting a disclosure at the top of the post, but I really like the way you changed your post where the disclosure is obvious, but not the first paragraph. Thanks for the breakdown of this!

  23. says

    Thanks, Amy! I guess I have more blog maintenance tasks to do now. :)

    What about using Amazon affiliate links to link book recommendations on a forum? I participate in a forum, and if I recommend a book, I link to it with my Amazon affiliate shortened link.

    Guess I’ll have to read that….sigh.

  24. says

    Very interesting info… So far I’ve only wrote paid posts by through Social Spark and they include a disclosure right at the beginning of the post. But as I’m planning on writing for more companies in the very near future, I will need to check this out. Thanks for the links. I’m pinning this too! Little Bit

  25. Alexandra says

    Thanks for this! I’m thinking about starting a blog and the more I know before I start it the better. I’ll be using your how to start a blog series when I do start it.

  26. says

    Thank you for this great information. I know that we have been a bit relaxed {read sloppy and lazy} with this lately. It is something that I was going to be looking into and implementing somehow. This will help me make sure that we do it correctly.

  27. says

    Thanks Amy, for showing some examples of this. I did read the report but after a while, my eyes started to glaze over. Seeing how you disclosed in the Homemaking Bundle helped give me an idea of how to do it, so thank you!

  28. says

    Thank you so much, Amy! I really appreciate this information! I’ve not done any product reviews or affiliate links but I’m hoping to do some soon so it’s good to know what’s expected of me before I dive in.

  29. says

    Thank you!! I’ve been wondering about this. I am not entirely certain what to do about this, or exactly how to apply it, but it is something I hope to see how others are going to handle it so I can get some ideas. In the mean time, might I copy what you did (basically) on the ultimate homemaking bundle?

    • says

      Absolutely, feel free to do just what I did! I think the main thing to remember going forward is to put your disclosure (or a link to your disclosure if it’s lengthy) before or immediately after the first affiliate link in a post. Or, for sponsored, review or similar posts, I would put my disclosure at the top of the post instead of at the bottom.

  30. says

    Thank you Amy for this timely and important post. I didn’t realize the rules had changed. I will most certainly be changing some things.