Updated November 30, 2017
Are you an Amazon Associate? Do you put Amazon Associates links in your emails? Do your blog posts (with Amazon affiliate links) get sent to subscribers via email? Do you share your Amazon Influencer Program URL in emails? If any of those are true, it’s very, very likely you are violating the Amazon Associates Program Policies.
To put it another way, Amazon Associates affiliate links are not allowed in emails. Any email. This includes affiliate links you manually paste into your emails and affiliate links in blog posts that get sent automatically to email subscribers.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase or sign up for a program, I may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you.
Let me back up a bit and break it down.
Do people get your blog posts via email?
You have a blog or website. (If not, here’s how to start one.)
You are part of the Amazon Associates program.
In your blog posts, you promote Amazon products using your Associates affiliate links because this is one of the ways you make money on your blog. (Read What is Affiliate Marketing? if you’re unfamiliar.)
As long as you are disclosing properly in your posts, there isn’t a problem so far. Sharing your Amazon affiliate links on your blog is all good.
Here’s where the violation occurs for many bloggers…
Can your blog readers subscribe to your posts via email? In other words, is your blog set up so people can enter their email address and get your blog posts sent to them via email? This is a common option many bloggers offer their readers. Some set this up through their ESP (Email Service Provider), some use a plugin, some use FeedBurner, etc. (Read What is RSS? What is a Feed? if you’re not sure. And if you use FeedBurner, you’ll want to read this post.)
If your blog posts containing live Amazon affiliate links end up in your emails you are almost certainly violating the Amazon Associates Program Policies you agreed to when signing up for the program.
But it’s not just blog posts via email
If you are manually putting your Amazon Associates affiliate links in your emails, you are in violation as well.
If you are sharing your unique Amazon Influencer Program URL in your emails, that is also a violation.
Amazon Associates are not allowed to share their affiliate links in emails or any other offline manner.
How they say it in legal jargon
Amazon says in the Associates Program Participation Requirements (emphasis mine):
5. You will not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities on behalf of us or our affiliates, or in connection with the Amazon Site or the Associates Program, that are not expressly permitted under the Associates Program Operating Agreement. For example, you will not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities in any offline manner, including by using any of our or our affiliates’ trademarks or logos (including any Amazon Mark), any Content, or any Special Link in connection with an offline promotion or in any other offline manner (e.g., in any printed material, mailing, SMS, MMS, email or attachment to email, or other document, or any oral solicitation).
How they said it in real English
Associate links can only be used on approved websites and are not permitted to be used in e-mails, newsletters, or in any off-line manner.
How they said it in email
I emailed them to clarify. I linked to the above and asked them if it “applies to Amazon Associates links that I post on my blog, but then are sent via my RSS feed in an email to my blog subscribers?”
The answer was clear. We cannot use Associate links in, emails, newsletters, RSS feeds or anything else that’s offline.
How they said it in a live chat
And then I chatted with them because it never hurts to ask multiple times. Here’s the summary of the conversation, though not a direct quote:
Amazon Associate links cannot be included in email, only on your website or blog, not even in the emailed version of your RSS feed. Any product link in any email would be a violation. Amazon does not have a standard recommendation for bloggers in this instance. They simply want any Associates link you share to be on your site only.
What about so-and-so blogger who frequently has Amazon affiliate links in their emails?
I said to Amazon, “I can point to many bloggers who have affiliate links in their emails. Are there exceptions once you hit a certain level?”
The answer was a clear no. They stated there are no exceptions. (Also, see Jenny’s comment in which she explains asking the same question.)
But everyone’s doing it. Will Amazon really go after bloggers?
I think it’s worth noting Amazon has taken legal action against site owners who have failed to abide by the rules regarding accepting monetary compensation for reviews. Will they do the same in the case of affiliate links in emails? I have no idea of course, but is it worth the risk?
As an example or affiliate links in emails, listen at minute 29:30 in this episode of The Self Publishing Formula Podcast. Mark Dawson, an author, accidentally included his affiliate links in emails sent to his book’s launch list. Amazon figured it out, emailed him and gave him 5 days to fix it or risk getting his account shut down.
So, will Amazon come after you? Well, they did him.
More importantly, this is a matter of integrity. Do the right thing.
So, what’s a blogger to do?
I’m sure there are several things one could do, but here are the things that immediately come to mind, that any beginner could do right away:
- Option 1: Don’t be an Amazon Associate. That’s an option, but for many of us, it’s a sad one and one we wouldn’t seriously consider. So moving on…
- Option 2: Truncate your feed. By that I mean, use a partial feed for your blog, not a full feed. That way, if you do have Amazon affiliate links in your posts, someone will have to click through to your blog before seeing the live affiliate links. This of course assumes the links are not in the first part of your post included in the snippet of your post. (So maybe put them towards the end?) To truncate your feed in WordPress, you can switch to a partial feed by going to Dashboard > Settings > Reading > For each article in feed show: Summary > Save Changes.
- Option 3: Use a plugin. Phil McDonnell and Gretchen Louise emailed me about a plugin Phil wrote that aims to deal with the problem. If you offer a full feed, this might be something you’d want to look into. The plugin automatically takes out any Amazon links in your emails, but keeps them in your blog post. If that sounds like a good fit for you, you can find the plugin here. (Not sure how to install a plugin? Here’s my tutorial on the subject.) Update July 23, 2016:
This plugin has not been updated in over a year so use at your own risk. I probably would not recommend it at this point.Update July 29, 2016: Phil McDonnell has updated this plugin (see his comment here).
Can I put my Amazon Influencer Program unique URL in emails?
No. Your unique Influencer URL is considered part of the Amazon Associates program. Including it in emails is not “expressly permitted” per #5 in the Associates Program Participation Requirements I quoted above (and quote here, in part, with my own emphasis):
5. You will not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities on behalf of us or our affiliates, or in connection with the Amazon Site or the Associates Program, that are not expressly permitted…
I have received emails from some saying they were told they could link to their Influencer page in emails. After extensive personal inquiry with Amazon Associates support (3 different reps) and a representative in the Influencer Program directly, I can confidently say, if you heard it is permitted to include your Influencer URL in emails, I think you are mistaken.
FAQ: What is the Amazon Influencer Program?
The Amazon Influencer Program was introduced in 2017. It’s a way for some Amazon Associates to increase their affiliate revenue. Initially the program was open to a select few, but in late 2017, it was opened up to many more Associates. It’s free to join. Read more about it and/or apply using my referral link here. If your application is accepted, you are given a unique URL which acts as a landing page for your favorite things. If you want to see an example, here is mine.
How I wrongly included my URL in an email (and what I did about it)
I violated this policy myself. It was carelessness on my part and I have no excuse. Because my unique URL is a landing page, not an affiliate link, I assumed it fell outside the Associates guidelines and included it in the November 25, 2017 issue of the Useletter®. I should have been more thorough in my research before doing so. I’m grateful to Jenny from The Littlest Way who asked me an excellent question about the Influencer Program, eventually leading me to realize my mistake.
I had a long, back-and-forth email exchange with Amazon Associates support. When they confirmed an Influencer URL is not allowed in email, I was forthright, admitted my mistake and sent them a copy of the offending Useletter issue for reference. They were understanding in their response, but emphasized the importance of not doing it again in the future. Instead of keeping them, I will donate all my Associates commissions the week following that Useletter issue.
Can I put Amazon Associates links in ebooks, Kindle ebooks, PDFs or other documents?
No. Amazon Associates links cannot be included in any offline manner. “Associate links can only be used on approved websites…”
Can I cloak Amazon Associates links, like with bit.ly or the Pretty Link plugin?
No. It goes against their Participation Guidelines. See 8(v) under “Associates Program Participation Requirements.”
Can I put affiliate links for other products (not Amazon) in emails?
It depends. Different affiliate programs have different restrictions. We are each responsible for knowing the terms of service for every affiliate program we participate in. There are plenty of affiliate programs that do allow affiliate links in emails. But remember you are still required to include a disclosure of your affiliate relationship. Read more about disclosing properly here.
Can I link to my aStore in emails?
This is no longer relevant since Amazon retired aStores in October 2017 and they no longer earn commissions. Read the retirement announcement here. (When aStores were still functional, the answer was no.)
This is one of the most common mistakes I see affiliate marketers make. Given the popularity of email marketing, I’ve long wished Amazon would change this policy, but so far, no dice. It’s important to be aware of it and make adjustments accordingly.
You might also be interested in other issues concerning what you should and shouldn’t do from a legal perspective. Here are some other posts worth reading: