Last updated August 3, 2017
Are you an Amazon Associate? Do you put your affiliate links in your emails or newsletter? Or, do your blog posts (with Amazon affiliate links) get sent to subscribers via email? If so, it’s very, very likely you are violating Amazon Associates terms of service.
To put it another way, Amazon Associates affiliate links are not allowed in emails. Any email. Including the emails automatically sent to subscribers of your blog posts which contain Amazon Associates affiliate links.
Let’s break it down. Is this you?
You have a blog or website. (If not, get one here.)
You are an Amazon Associate.
You publish posts promoting Amazon products using your Associates affiliate links because this is one of the ways you make money on your blog.
Related: What is affiliate marketing?
Those posts get sent to your blog readers via RSS, to their emails or RSS readers.
Are you violating Amazon’s Terms of Service?
Well, very possibly yes.
Because according to the participation requirements all Amazon Associates must agree to, you cannot share your affiliate links in email (or any other offline manner).
How they said it in legal jargon
Amazon says in the Associates Program Participation Requirements:
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?”
Summary: 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 asked this question of 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 for an example regarding affiliate links in emails specifically, 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.
So, what’s a blogger to do?
Well, 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 Amazon Associates links in ebooks, Kindle ebooks, PDFs or other documents?
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 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.
Update: aStores will be retired in 2017
Amazon has decided to retire their aStore feature in phases and ending entirely in October 2017. Read the details here. (Thanks for the heads up, Heather!)
I have kept the following information live in this post for reference.
This requirement also applies to an aStore
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, an aStore is one of the options you can use to promote Amazon products.
Here’s how an aStore works
This isn’t the best analogy, but think of an aStore like your own Amazon vending machine. You walk around the Amazon warehouse and you pick out some Amazon products you love. Then you put those products neatly in your vending machine. Whenever someone buys a product from your vending machine, you get a percentage of that sale.
According to the requirements, you may not link directly to your Amazon Associates aStore in any emails (including RSS to emails) and you may not link to any individual product in your aStore.
However, if you create a page on your website with your embedded aStore, you may include a link to that page on your site in emails.
- Option 1: Let Amazon house it for you. Amazon will let you keep your vending machine in their warehouse. It’ll be safe there, you don’t have to find a spot for it and they’ll let you house it there for free. You still get to display your own collection of things you like. If you meet someone, you can say to them, “Hey, I’ve got this cool collection of things I love in my vending machine. You should check it out!” Then you give them the address to the Amazon warehouse. Your new friend goes there, buys something and you get paid. Yay!
- Option 2: House it yourself. But you also have the option of taking your vending machine and putting it in your own warehouse. Of course, it’s a bit different now because you have a few more things to think about (where you’ll put it, paying for the space, etc.), but there are advantages too. You can decorate it to match your own warehouse and it’s never far away from you. And if you meet someone who wants to see the collection in your vending machine, you give them the address of your own warehouse.
The location of your warehouse is the key. The reason is, a warehouse is like a website.
In Option #1, you are sending people directly to the Amazon warehouse (i.e. website) using an Amazon URL (web address).
In Option #2, you are sending people to your warehouse (i.e. website) using your own URL (web address).
According to Amazon’s Operating Agreement, you may not include the direct address to an Amazon aStore in any email. However, you may include the address to your own site…which has your aStore embedded.
Should you get an aStore then?
It’s up to you. I’m not a fan of them in this instance because I’m not a fan of embedding things when I don’t have to. Embedded things tend to slow down your site and they aren’t always mobile responsive. But it’s up to you.
How to embed an aStore
If you have a website, and you want to go this route, here’s how to embed an aStore. (If you don’t have a website, you can get one easy as pie.)
- Go here. Click Build an aStore now. (You’ll have to login or sign up.)
- Once you’ve built your aStore (too many details for this post, but you can get tips here).
- Once your aStore is created, go to Manage Your aStores (you can also click the “aStore” tab at the top of the page when you’re logged in to Amazon Associates).
- Click the Edit button next to the name in of your aStore.
- In the left column on the next page, you’ll see a section titled “aStore” and an option underneath called Get Link. Click that.
- You’ll get to this page.
On that page, there are three sections:
- Link to your aStore as a stand-alone site – This will give you a direct URL to your aStore on Amazon’s website (i.e. warehouse). This URL may not be in any email you send (RSS to email included).
- Embed your aStore using an inline frame
- Integrate your aStore using a frameset
The last 2 options (#2 & #3) you may do because they embed your aStore on your own site (i.e. your own warehouse). You may only link to the page on your site where your aStore is embedded.
If you include Amazon Associates links in your posts + you send those posts to email subscribers + those Amazon Associates links are live and clickable in your emails, you are violating Amazon’s terms of service.
If have an aStore and your link looks like this:
…it can’t go in an email.
If your link looks like this:
…it can go in an email.
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: