Are Affiliate Links Unethical Without Disclosure?


Time to break out our ethic sticks!

Jeremiah Owyang says that when it comes to affiliate links on Twitter it’s all about intent. To make sure you’re playing inside the lines of what’s “ethical” in social media, you need to exercise of strategy of disclosure, full transparency and yet even more disclosure. Over at Econsultancy, Patricio Robles agrees, dropping the words “disclosure” and “transparency” a dozen or so more times for good measure. Personally, I don’t care what they think. I want to know what you think.

And I’m asking you: How do you feel about affiliate links in blog and Twitter posts? Do you want full disclosure that the link-dropper is getting something out of it or is your trust in the person enough?

My thoughts? If you don’t trust me, then you can unfollow me and unsubscribe right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If you don’t trust me not to throw BS in your face, then what are we doing?  I don’t want you clicking on my link. Whether it’s clean or affiliate, it doesn’t matter. I value real relationships and if you’re questioning my intentions then we’ve already failed as a couple. Stop wasting your time on me and go find someone you do trust. Because that’s the point of this whole “social” thing.

I’ll be real. I have never included an affiliate link in a blog post or on Twitter. But I’m not against doing it. And if I did do it, I wouldn’t feel the need to surround the link in flashing lights or set off the sirens. Instead, I’d hope that you’d trust my intentions because you trust me. That you know I value my followers and my readers more than I value the couple bucks I’d get from a referral and that I’d never attach my name to something I didn’t believe in.

click affiliate linkBoth Jeremiah and Patricio tried to liken affiliate links to the whole Magpie disaster. To me, they’re completely different. I don’t support Magpie. That’s using your Twitter followers to shill products you know nothing about. You sell a set number of your tweets and allow third-party companies to do and push whatever they want with them.  The issue there isn’t an affiliate link. It’s whether or not it’s okay to openly sell out people who trusted you.

I suppose I could play by Jeremiah and Patricio rules. Before I throw out an affiliate link I could:

  • Be “sincere” by making a quick PSA that I’m about to tweet an affiliate link.
  • Write a post explaining how affiliate links work, how to identify them and how to remove my code.
  • Get transparent about the rising cost in cat food and how my cats are hungry.
  • Apologize for finding a viable way to use my brand to support myself.

Or, I can choose to believe that you’re not stupid and never take advantage of your trust.

If you feel the need to disclose that [!THIS IS AN AFFILIATE LINK!], then I’m worried for you and the reputation you must have with your community. Because it clearly needs work.

Personally, I choose to act transparently so that my links speak for themselves. I think it’s pretty well established that I wouldn’t vouch for something I didn’t believe in and that when  it’s a choice of “being truthful” or “not burning bridges”…I often have to invest in a new boat.

But tell me if I’m missing it. Do you mistrust recommendations that come with affiliate links? What are the rules for proper disclosure? It’s Friday. You’re allowed to get outspoken.

Your Comments

  • Kandi Humpf

    I agree completely with you! I’m following you because I trust you (and you’re funny). If you put out a link to something I’m interested in, I don’t care if it’s an affiliate link or not. Good for you if it is. You don’t need to tell me. I agree that Magpie is a whole different story. That’s shady; but that’s the great thing about Twitter and blogs and social media – I don’t have to follow people that do that!

    Nice blog post!

  • Vinny

    I’m ok with affiliate links if I like, trust, and follow the person.

    If I like you, I’m rooting for you to succeeed. I want you to make money.

    And if I can help you to do that by using your affiliate link for something I’d normally buy anyway (or by clicking on a few adsense links on your blog), then all the better.

    Its not like using an affiliate link is going to cost me more money than usual.

    And its not like I’m going to buy something I don’t need just because someone I trust tells me to.

    I think everyone needs to stop trying to police other people’s links so much.

    Good post Lisa.

  • Dr. Pete

    I tend to agree with you, and would answer with a big “It depends”. Here’s a personal example: I have a recommended usability books page on my company website. All of the links on it are Amazon affiliate links, and yet, despite the fact that I’m generally a pretty straight-and-narrow kind of guy, I don’t generally disclose that. Why? – because I don’t really think it matters. The books are all books I’ve personally read and that I sincerely recommend. They aren’t on the list because I’m an affiliate; that extra few bucks is just gravy.

    Now, if someone were blasting affiliate links night and day without disclosing, I’m sure I’d unfollow them in a heartbeat, but I’d probably find that annoying even with disclosure. I don’t want a Twitter stream that’s just a bunch of product links, just as I personally wouldn’t read a blog that was nothing but product reviews or recommendations.

  • giedrius

    If I would pass same information with affiliate and non-affiliate link for someone, I would do this with anyone everywhere without any need to disclose it prior the publishing. I would not hide that fact. In some cases affiliated product solves particular need of your followers/blog audience, and sometimes you can provide affiliated product cheaper than they would get it otherwise.
    As long as you believe in the product you promote, there no moral difference
    if you get money or not for doing so (for me). Now its a bit different if you promote lots of products when you can not vouch for each of them, or it would involve some risks. Then I would disclose how I get money. Example of sites in such category are financial ones, gsmarena, etc.
    Also, using url shorteners might make the issue a bit complex due to hiding the link.

  • Brian Carter

    Completely agree, Lisa Barone :-) I think your reputation is key- that’s your social capital. And you gain or lose it daily with your words and actions.

    I wrote something similar about my contentious view on transparency, authenticity, and paid social media… I’ll drop the link if you want, but not otherwise- it’s on Search Engine People.

    And we just opened the closed beta for tweetROI which is pay-per-tweet with brains, control, authenticity, personality etc….

  • Rob Woods

    I agree that you don’t need to be explicit with them. If you drop the occasional link that’s in some way relevant to your subject material it’s not a problem. If your blog or tweets are full of links I’m likely to either ignore the links (if the content is outstanding) or just leave the blog or unfollow you. I think I’m likely smart enough to decide for myself without you having to hit me over the head with it.

  • Chris Hooley

    I used an SEO service that worked wonders for me, and ONCE TIME tweeted an affiliate link to it. I even put (aff) in front of it. I lost like a dozen followers.

    That IMO is pure bullshit. Now if you are a bot, a flog, or some other entity on social media that is not really social, then yeah let me know you’re spamming me. But if you’re pure hotness like Lisa Barone or Chris Hooley then who cares. In fact, if I was reading your tweet and you popped an aff link for something I was interested in I would be MORE motivated to buy knowing that you got your well deserved commission for a good referral.

  • Tom "The Practical Nerd"

    Yeah, it goes back to trust – the whole point of this stuff is to build relationships with your audience. It’s not that you are taking advantage of that relationship. You are responsible for the relationship that you build and you need to foster it in the right way. If a blogger is just putting out affiliate links all the time to make a buck – without being sincere about its worth to his/her audience – people will see right through that. Otherwise, you’re still trying to help your audience, even if you are making a couple bucks.

  • Christina Gleason

    I’ll say it. I’ve thrown affiliate links out on Twitter. Heck, I’ve even set them up on for easy reference.

    I don’t think it’s dirty. When I see a product plug on a blog, I assume one of three things: 1) it’s an affiliate link, 2) it’s a compensated review, 3) someone actually liked the product so much that they are promoting it for free. In that order. And usually only #3 if I see something like “I bought this” or “I got this for Christmas.”

    Jaded? Maybe. Half the mom blogs I read are populated with review posts, and half the marketing blogs I read are populated with affiliate links. I see nothing wrong with this.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would have to disclose an affiliate link. Aren’t we all smart enough to figure that out?

    Like you said, if people don’t trust you, then why are they bothering with you? Sure, we don’t want to be like those dirty spammers who do nothing but cram links down our throats with nothing but hype to back them up. If I tweet about how much I like playing games on WorldWinner, I’m not lying. I’m pretty addicted to Cubis and Spider Solitaire. Should I not get a referral fee for turning you onto them, too? If I tweet about my love for my Web host, why shouldn’t I get the referral fee for hooking you up with a great deal? (And in 140 characters or less, how am I going to fit in affiliate link disclosure? The links already have to be shortened!)

    It is about trust. And I always make sure to talk about the negatives as well as the positives when I use affiliate links in my blog posts. (i.e. Yeah, this sweater looks awesome, but it’s a little scratchy, so you’ll want to wear something underneath.) Keeping it real. I don’t trust something that’s surrounded by hype, and I don’t expect anyone else too, either.

    And seriously… do people think you take pictures of your kneesockz for your health? You took the time to hunt down, purchase, and model those bad boys for your site visitors. You deserve to get something for your time when people want to buy those socks. I think I deserve the same when I hunt down affiliate programs for the products and services I approve of.

    Sorry for turning this into a mini blog post here.

  • Lisa Barone

    Dr. Pete: If someone was blasting affiliate links 24/7 then they’re probably a douchebag you don’t trust anyway, so it’s moot anyway. :) But I agree with your book example. Those books are there because you genuinely endorsed them. Why should you have to hold a press conference that there’s an affiliate link there?

    Rob Woods: Agreed. I like the “people are idiots” stance myself. :)

  • Scott Randolph

    I’ll be honest, this doesn’t particularly make sense…”You trust me, so I don’t need to tell you that it’s an affiliate link, but I would never do that anyway, because you trust me”… that logic, there is some indication that you believe that affiliate links are non-trustworthy.

    Affiliate links need disclosure – why? Because not disclosing them not only erodes the trust I have for you, it also limits your credibility. For example, if you tell me that AWeber is the best email service, and link to it – and don’t tell me that you’re making money if I sign up – I feel like your opinion/advice was tainted by the fact you were profiting from your recommendation.

    A large percentage of internet users don’t even know what affiliates are, much less how to ID a link, so don’t kid yourself that everyone understands this process. For someone that is a trusted provider of information, separating “ads” from “content” is vital to credibility and trust.

    Also – I may trust you – but I don’t know you, and probably will never meet you – which means that the trust I have for you and your information is much more fragile than, say, the trust I have for my dog.

    But – it’s not a question of ethics – you can do whatever the hell you want and I’d consider it ethical (within reason, of course). I suppose my take is that it is the right thing to do from a maintaining your credibility as an expert without selling out or being a shill.

  • Scott Randolph

    you can reference Chris Hooley’s experience as an example on my previous comment. It’s not wrong, and it’s crappy people react that way. But, if you post affiliate links too much, or don’t disclose, you WILL lose credibiilty, trust, and followers…that’s why I say you should do it every time.

  • Mikey Bee

    I’m totally with you on this one, Lisa, although it took me a while to decide the best way forward.

    Initially I thought it was only fair to disclose using that ridiculous (aff) option. Why did I stop? Because I forgot to keep adding the ridiculous (aff) option and because some of my blog posts were starting to rank for (aff) in Google…

    Next I thought about creating a css class which turned all my affiliate links into bold green links and adding a disclaimer text in my footer.

    I guess the moment of truth came when I read Shoemoney’s disclosure statement which basically says that if he links out to something, assume he gets paid. It makes total sense to me. Ultimately it comes down to trust. Do I trust the person linking out or don’t I?

    Twitter is opt-in. If you follow me on Twitter, which is an exceptionally good idea I might add, then it’s because you’re interested in what I have to say and you trust me. Or you’re a droid with an avatar featuring a girl with big tits. Regardless, if I drop the occasional affiliate link into my tweet then it’s because it’s something I believe in and just happen to be making a few dollars if you make a purchase.

    You don’t have to click the link, you don’t have to make a purchase and if you do it’s because it’s something you want to buy. If you’re only buying it because I’ve recommend it then I need to find an affiliate program for Lamborghini and get tweeting pronto…

  • Skitzzo

    Lisa, I completely agree.

    If you link to crap, I don’t care whether it’s an affiliate link or not, I’m not going to trust you as much next time.

    If you link to something of quality, I’ll trust you more next time, again whether the link is an affiliate link or not.

    To me, this goes back to the whole paid link controversy. I mean say you drop a link that’s not an affiliate link but the company did sponsor your webcam the day before *cough* TechCrunch *cough* is that something that you need to disclose with the “flashing lights” you describe?

    Personally, I don’t need, expect, or use disclosure for links. For me, it’s all about quality.

  • Jamie Varon

    You got it right here. I trust YOU and until you give me a reason not to trust what you’re putting out there, I’ll continue to. You have established enough credibility that even if you do put out an affiliate link, it’s probably for something I am interested in.

    The people crying over affiliate shit are the people who are collecting followers and subscribers like it means something. You and I both know the only thing that means ANYTHING in marketing is building relationships and maybe the follower collectors will strike rich for a bit, but let me know when they establish longevity. You need loyalty in order to keep a business running, otherwise you’re wasting profit by trying to trick more people into buying into your bullshit.

    Like you, I invest in people in this social media space. I’m not collecting numbers. And, I’d venture to guess that you and I will have long-lasting success, not ADD-like profit spikes because one of our schemes worked out.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>Because not disclosing them not only erodes the trust I have for you, it also limits your credibility.

    Disagree… I’d be linking with or without the affiliate link. If someone thinks I’d lie to make 20 dollars, they can get the hell off my blog (speaking for myself and the Sugarrae blog). That’s what building a good reputation is about – not having to defend yourself at every turn and getting the benefit of the doubt.

  • Jamie Varon

    Scott – For example, if you tell me that AWeber is the best email service, and link to it – and don’t tell me that you’re making money if I sign up – I feel like your opinion/advice was tainted by the fact you were profiting from your recommendation.

    See, what you’re not getting here is that you need to trust that Lisa is pimping out AWeber’s email service not because she’s profiting off of it, but because she likes it. And, she joined the affiliate program because she thinks it’s the best. THAT’S the trust she’s talking about.

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae – you’re speaking to the way things “should” happen. If you’re fine with people “getting the hell off your blog” – then do whatever you want.

    I’m telling you how the world works – and non-disclosed affiliate links will erode your credibility with a large portion of the audience. You can tell that whole audience to screw off, and be completely right.

    The question is, is taking a strong stand on this worth alienating a lot of your followers to make a point, whether they are right or wrong?

  • Scott Randolph

    Jamie –

    For all I know, Lisa is a dude somewhere in Nebraska. Unless I know you personally, I don’t trust you enough for for it not to hurt.

    I “should” but I “don’t”

  • Tim Staines

    It’s all about context and abuse. If you use aff links in context and don’t abuse them, they’re OK by me. I see people pimping their blog posts on Twitter all the time. Same thing there, yes it’s in their interest, but as long as every tweet doesn’t contain a link to one of their own posts, it’s all good.

  • Scott Randolph

    Basically what I’m hearing here is that this blog’s readers are too stupid or misinformed or paranoid, and they should take everything that comes out of Lisa’s keyboard as gospel?

    nah – you have to work really really hard to earn trust, one misstep takes it all’s the internet people, we’re not dating here.

  • Lisa Barone

    Scott Randolph: Hmm, maybe I wasn’t clear. I would absolutely use an affiliate link, there just hasn’t been an appropriate situation for me to use one yet. I don’t spend much time tracking down affiliate programs. :)

    Why does not disclosing an affiliate link erode your trust in me? Because you don’t know me personally? For me, I trust you until you prove that you can’t be trusted. If I get to know someone via their blog or through Twitter and I like what they’re saying and I think they take good stands, then I don’t care whether they’re making a few bucks on a link they dropped. I trust them because I trust their voice. I trust that they’re sharing that link because they like it, not because someone’s paying them to do so. And like other people have said, if I like you, I’m rooting for you. I actually look for opportunities to buy things through friends’ affiliate links.

    You mentioned a few times that your trust for people you don’t know is fragile, that’s what it comes down to then. You want links disclosed because you don’t trust people. That’s fine. But if you *did* know me and trust me, would you still want the affiliate link disclosed? I think that’s the heart of the issue. I’m genuinely interested and I don’t want you to feel like you’re getting jumped on as the lone dissenter. You can tell Rae (and me) to shut up. :)

    And I do respect you for putting so much faith in your dog though. And I promise I’m not a dude. :)

    Skitzzo: Love the TechCrunch example. :)

  • Rae Hoffman

    Scott – if you build a strong enough reputation, then my point is, with the people who believe in that reputation, you won’t lose credibility. I don’t disclose I am an affiliate of Thesis every time I blog or tweet about it. The opinions that matter know I wouldn’t be recommending it if it wasn’t good because I value my reputation more than the 20-50 dollars I’d earn if they purchased it. And by opinions that matter, I mean people who will buy based on my recommendations. Because at the end of the day, I have bills to pay to be able to bring folks that great content. The people freeloading on my bandwidth aren’t my concern. I’ll take a small audience that listens over a large audience that reads any day. And yes, I am fine with telling (and often do) people to get the hell off my blog if they don’t have any trust in me.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>they should take everything that comes out of Lisa’s keyboard as gospel

    If you didn’t believe Lisa is honest, intelligent and cares enough about her audience not to make false recommendations, then why the hell would you be reading her? Not saying everyone needs to agree with her opinions, but if you believed they weren’t made with honest intentions and were still reading every day, then how much do you value your own time?

  • Scott Randolph

    Lisa –

    Sorry if I came across a petulant on my previous comment – a previous commenter got under my skin a bit.

    I haven’t been a follower/reader for long, but, I’ve been in the marketing business for a long time, and worked with a lot of affiliates. As a result, I typically don’t trust most things until that is earned.

    If I don’t know you personally, or haven’t been a follower for a long time, undisclosed links would erode my trust for you. For me though, it’s not a trust thing as much as a credibility issue – folks who are “experts” peddling affiliate stuff in general (unless it’s a “store” situation, where, for example, you’d sell marketing books) reduces credibility because you don’t know if opinions are being influenced.

    Again, I personally don’t care. I consider myself savvy enough to not need the disclosure. My point was that not disclosing WILL alienate a good percentage of the population, and I’m not sure what the benefit of doing that is…

    Jesus – I should have just posted myself.


  • Mike Dammann

    It´s about long term credibility so feature what you yourself are using and what works for you.

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae – because I don’t know her. I know a blog and a couple tweets. However, I know that many things she writes are of high quality, and are interesting to me.

    Lots of people produce high quality, interesting content w/out any concern other than selling their products. Not implying that it’s the case here, but it’s the truth.

  • The Mules

    Several foals are biting at our withers, please excuse a lack of proper structure and concentration.

    Our take is that each of us arrives on the social scene with a small and finite measure of trust capital. Most of us have an agenda, and just as ice becomes water becomes steam, how different is a link to a blog different from a link to unaffiliated services — or a commissioned buy-me widget?

    We can build rapport or lose rapport in our social interactions, online and off… and with each straight link, silent ad link, or graphical banner off to a product or service, we risk expending — seldom gaining — credibility. Timing and frequency is as important as the rest. Televised and radio advertisements are seldom discussed as unethical. True, TV ads are inherently well-disclosed, but the point is, an overload of any commercial sort in any media, affiliate-specific or not, will reduce credibility, or overall value of the stream, and the channel will be turned and followers lost.

    It does not, in our opinion, matter overmuch whether the link is a commission-generating affiliate link or not, provided the price is lower or equal to the product as we’d find it elsewhere. What matters is that the trust loop is not damaged in the process of presenting the call to itself.

    The only time we feel lightly betrayed is when the presentation feels out of keeping with the provider’s usual persona or interests. Similar when there is a perception of a forced “answer” of some kind to a question that is better answered by another product or link.

    We’d expect kneesocks, chocolates, or kitty litter links from Lisa, for example. If she benefits? Good for her. Rae referencing one of her other company interests or social accounts? It’s typically both true and applicable when she does so. Good for Rae.

    If Lisa were to begin follow-unfollowing a thousand Twitter users per day to grow brownie counts, spewing and hawking baby clothes thrice a day, we’d reconsider our position. But that is, we feel, a key portion often ignored in the ethical debate on affiliation… if it is a relationship, the marketer knows it pays to know their audience.

    Should those clicking in that audience not also be reasonably expected to either invest enough into the relationship to know when to smell fish? Else they have little right to complain.

    As a disclosure, our web site contains no Thesis affiliation links. Yet we’re very aware most who arrive there would expect it to. Funny old world.

    Miss Varon, you are especially fetching in glasses. For a human.

  • Rae Hoffman

    Ok, Scott – so let’s say that a person links to an affiliate and discloses it… how does that prove that they aren’t recommending the company simply to make money? What, are they somehow more trustworthy because they said “it’s an affiliate link”? No, they’re not. Lisa could still just as easily be a man in Nebraska even after saying “and hey, I’m not a man in Nebraska!”. Disclosing affiliate links changes nothing about the potential motives of the person linking to them.

  • Tony Spencer

    I don’t need disclosure. If you post the link I trust you won’t risk your reputation by recommending crap much the same way I won’t refer someone to an expert unless I know they can do a good job.

    But on the same note, if you begin to push a product/service too much I’m also likely to stop trusting and reading you for abusing it.

  • Lisa Barone

    Scott Randolph: It’s sometimes hard to be the one with a different opinion. I appreciate you being brave enough to step up to the challenge though. :)

    If you don’t trust someone because you haven’t met them or haven’t been associated with them for any length of time, then I think it makes total sense that you’d question an affiliate link. I’d probably do the same. However, if I DO trust someone, then I don’t question it if they drop an affiliate link. I trust that they’re not trying to screw me over for a few bucks. It depends on the relationship and how credible that person has proven themselves to be.

    If I alienate people by dropping a link without disclosing it, to me I’m not really that affected by it because that person clearly doesn’t know or get me. It’s something to keep in mind, though.

    Again, appreciate you stepping into the fire. :)

  • Alysson

    The idea that sharing affiliate links without disclosing that they’re affiliate links is ridiculous. Either you trust the person sharing the link or you don’t. If you do trust them, what difference does it make whether or not they’re recommending a product or service they’re an affiliate for?

    Some don’t seem to understand that, especially for someone like Rae, it would be financial suicide to schlep some BS product or service just because she’s an affiliate. Yes, she might make some money off the people who click through, if those people aren’t ultimately happy with their purchase, she pays a ridiculously high price because A) those people will never repeat buy that product/service; B) word will spread like wildfire that she recommended a BS product or service; and C) the trustworthy reputation she’s worked so hard to build would be destroyed and everyone would be skeptical of every link she shares in the future – thereby losing untold amounts of affiliate revenue in the future.

    If you think affiliate links need to be disclosed it’s likely because you’re of the mindset that affiliate marketing is just about matching people who want a product with someone who has the product…with you as the middle man, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever used the product, have faith in the product or . The most successful affiliate marketers have a different philosophy. To them, affiliate doesn’t just mean “marketer” – it means “advocate”, which incorporates a level of trust and reliability that the tens of thousands of dismal failures at affiliate marketing sorely lack.

  • andrew wee

    IMO if you’re a content publisher, you need to make your efforts viable as a biz, else you’re just running a charity.

    If you’re on an advertising model, you’ve got the “Ads by Google” flagging your advertising efforts, and depending on your preference, your private ad sales might be flagged with a “Sponsors” tagline.

    I think publishers who feel hung up, guilty about excessive disclosure are the same crybabies who feel the urge to ‘fess up to every date that they’ve had x number of partners previously.

    If you feel that bad about yourself, then go hang out in your shack in the woods, grow your own vegetables and have a life.

    If anything, this whining about disclosure is more a revelation about your business acumen than anything else.

    And for the minority of d-bags who pimp stuff for which they’ve no clue about, they’d soon be unmasked for the scamsters they really are too.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>If you don’t trust someone because you haven’t met them or haven’t been associated with them for any length of time, then I think it makes total sense that you’d question an affiliate link.

    Lisa – and I get that – but disclosing the link or not doesn’t change that. So what is the point in the person needing to stop their story, defend themselves in their own home, and then continue on with the story? :)

  • Angie Haggstrom


    I recently posted on the same issue. The way I see it, if you are heading to someone’s blog, particularly business or industry oriented ones, you are going there for information. You want to learn by reading or at least have the posts make you think about how you do things.

    How long should readers expect to get these big industry ‘secrets’ for free? If I were to come to you directly for this information, it would cost me. This doesn’t mean they should feel obligated to click an affiliate link (it’s sure nice when they do), but should it matter? No. Sorry.

    Besides, if you are that offended by an affiliate link, you can skip it easily enough and go straight to the main source for most things anyway.

    Also, I think the amount of time it takes for a blog to convert a visitor to a paying client says a lot here as well.

    IMHO, blogging is one of only a few industries that gives away most of their products/services away for free.

    Angie Haggstrom
    Freedom Freelance

  • Tony Spencer

    Hmmm. The more I think about it though, aff link really does feel a bit insincere. Its like putting Adsense on a quality site. Really? Are you really going to get that much $$ to justify cheapening your site?

  • Scott Hendison

    I usually assume that most links might be affiliated anyway, and disclosing each and every one is completely stupid.

    That’s why I added a disclaimer below my own posts a long time ago that says “… It’s simply impossible and unreasonable to mention each possible affiliation individually, so please try to get over it.”

    A couple of years ago was the last time I saw this same debate go on, (pre-twitter era) sparking an audio debate between Rand and Jeremy that was pretty good (my name links to it here).

    I just felt like I wanted to take that extra step of having a disclaimer on my site, but I’m also of the mind that “If you don’t trust me not to throw BS in your face, then what are we doing?” as stated by the post author here – so maybe I’ll take it off!

    I hope you three are all doing well… Cya

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae –
    That is a good point – the disclosure doesn’t necessarily increase trust. However, the addition of “and I’m making money off this” does add a touch of credibility to the article it’s in.

    Not stating that you have a financial stake in information that would normally be construed as objective hurts your credibility with a large portion of the populace. There is no getting around that, like it or not.

    Add to that, the shadier people are, the more likely they are to want to hide that.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>The more I think about it though, aff link really does feel a bit insincere.

    Tony – Do you put (aff link) next to each link on your commercial sites? Then why should a blogger feel the need to?

    I use Thesis – we all know that. I love it. It’s ridiculously awesome and provides people with options they couldn’t get without some really good programming knowledge without it. I am going to recommend it no matter what. Why shouldn’t I be able to earn money for recommending something I really believe in and would recommend anyway? Why shouldn’t I be able to earn five figures for recommending something I believe in? It would be better to take CPM/flat ad rate money from a company I have no personal experience or knowledge with?

    Regardless, before Lisa yells at me for getting off topic – this isn’t about using affiliate links or not – it is about disclosing them every single time you link to them – on your own site to your own audience – or not.

  • Jon Buscall

    I followed someone today and then they DTd me with an affiliate link with the following message:

    Thanks for the follow! Find out how to get new followers in a few months & while making money.

    That SO irritated me. I actually signed up to attend a networking event organised by this person in Stockholm a couple of days ago on a mutual friend’s recommendation.

    This DT has completely destroyed my impression of this person. I unfollowed them immediately.

  • Scott Randolph

    You also can’t treat trust as a matter of black and white. For example – I’m just getting to “know” you guys.

    Right now – an undisclosed affiliate link might (and it might not) turn me off. However, 6 months from now, I might buy stuff you link to whether I need it or not :)

    See where I’m going? By telling everyone that doesn’t trust you enough right now to eff off, you’re missing potential people down the road, that you could have kept on board by being more transparent.

    Ok guys – I have to actually get some more work done – it’s been fun and spirited – keep up the good work!

  • Off-White Hat

    I just tweeted an Aff link to over 10k people and they certainly have no problem with it. In fact, a handful of them RT’d it. As long as you’re giving the people what they want/what they’re interested in, you’d be stupid not to include affiliate links.

  • Tony Spencer

    >>>> Do you put (aff link) next to each link on your commercial sites? Then why should a blogger feel the need to?

    I never said you should disclose.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>I never said you should disclose.

    Haha. I heart you :)

  • Scott Randolph

    Last one – I promise – Rae – (and, I need to check out Thesis) I have no problem with what you’re doing by making money off that. Hell, I do that all the time. But, I think I would be a little offended if I didn’t know you were making money off of it.

    Hell – by trusting you and knowing that you’re an aff – I’m more likely to buy through you than to go straight to the source :)

    So – now the question is, if you have an audience that really trusts and believes in you – wouldn’t it make more sense to disclose affiliate links to them because they would be encouraged to purchase via that route than directly from the source?


  • Halfdeck

    Unethical? The more important question is do they convert? Do they help you build trust?

    Here’s an example of how using an aff link can massacre your credibility.

    A year ago Fantomaster plugged one of his buddy’s decent (but incomplete) ppc arbitrage ebook (which I’ve read) using a blog post and an aff link on Sphinn. People – including me = accused him of using his rep to make a quick buck.

    That’s just how some people react. Aff links can and will erode your credibility if the stars don’t line up straight. Sure, there are affiliates like Sugarrae who promote stuff they’ve used, love, and believe in. For every affiliate like that there are thousands of affiliates who promotes every crap under the sun.

    So if you want people to buy whatever you’re selling, mask your affiliate links so people are fooled into thinking the links are straight links. And more importantly, promote products you love.

  • Anthony Verre

    Totally on board with the Trust issue here. I think Chris said it best:
    “In fact, if I was reading your tweet [or blog] and you popped an aff link for something I was interested in I would be MORE motivated to buy knowing that you got your well deserved commission for a good referral.”

    Bottom line is that if the link you spin out there is timely, relevant, and in context of the discussion, then it doesn’t matter to me that you get kick backs. Those are the conditions built-in. Moreover, I don’t know that many people who just click links to click them, and then feel “duped” when it’s a product.

  • Lisa Barone

    Rae: I’m not saying there is a point or that I’d disclose anything. I’m just saying if Scott R. doesn’t trust someone, then he’s going to be more skeptical of the link. Natch. :) There’s a difference if YOU send me a Thesis link or if someone else I don’t trust sends the same link. I’m going to click on yours. Mostly because you may skin me alive otherwise. :)

    Tony Spencer: How does an affiliate link cheapen the quality of a site? If I’m promoting something that I’d promote ANYWAY because I happen to actually really like it or find it useful, why would using an affiliate link change that? I think you have some unresolved baggage with affiliates you’re not sharing. ;)

    Scott Hendison: Do you? Wow, you are a skeptical marketer. I typically assume most links aren’t affiliate but I also believe that puppies are made of magic. :)

    Jon Buscall: That guy is what you call a “douchebag”. Affiliate link or not. I hate Auto DMs.

  • Scott Randolph

    Alysson –

    Unless Rae is making $100k/month of thesis, the most successful affiliate marketers are, in fact, middle men. That’s just the nature of the biz.

  • Trisha

    Before reading the article my opinion was that there should be full disclosure. I want to know what links are “sponsored”. My experience has been nothing but icky in reading various bloggers (especially mommy bloggers) who are constantly raving about products they are given to “review”. Their reviews are false and a thinly veiled advertorials. The reviews are always glowing, no matter what (i.e., Hot Pockets are NEVER a tasty treat, I don’t care how hungry or drunk you are). So I called bullshit, and now have a cynical outlook on any blogger reviewing or linking to a product/service.

    However, I see your point that it is a matter of trust. If a reader can take the time to trust and listen, then the affiliate links are trust-worthy themselves, no need for disclosure. The problem is that the general trust and transparency is getting a little clouded by douchebags.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>For every affiliate like that there are thousands of affiliates who promotes every crap under the sun.

    Yeah, but again, I’d have to ask – if you’re buying things based on the recommendation of one person you don’t know… well, who’s really at fault there? Disclosing the affiliate link or not, many still would have doubted his intentions. It’s Sphinn. ;-)

  • The Mules

    Thesis is the only way to blog. Check it out!

    ************* DISCLOSURE AFFILIATE LINK **************

    ************* DISCLOSURE AFFILIATE LINK **************

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>Unless Rae is making $100k/month of thesis, the most successful affiliate marketers are, in fact, middle men.

    Scott, I got news for you. I do the same thing you do – I market things. Only instead of getting paid a flat fee, I’m paid on commission and I don’t have to create reports to show my merchants that I’m actually doing something since they don’t have to pay me unless I make a sale. :)

  • Scott Randolph

    Trisha –

    I am appalled, and you are wrong. Hot Pockets are delicious, and inspired one of the better comedy bits of the last 5 years:

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae – don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of what you’re doing. I’m just saying – stating that the “most successful” people are only pushing products they love is false. I know more than one guy driving a new beemer bought of the back of acai berries and diet pills :)

  • Skitzzo

    See, in my mind the (aff link) or (aff) or whatever next to a link has a negative connotation to it.

    It seems like asking for people to use your link. In fact, I’ve seen people say that in their disclosures. To me a “I’d appreciate it if you’d use my affiliate link” or something like sounds like a semi-desperate money grab.

    So, rather than increasing the credibility of the article, as Scott suggests, it actually decreases it in my mind.

    I’d much rather want to click on a link because it sounds like something I’m interested in, without the thought of whether or not it’s an aff link ever entering my head.

    Hell I’ve dropped aff links in posts and had people thank me for them (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this). THAT to me is the whole point of affiliate marketing, not getting tied up in whether or not someone is getting paid for linking me.

    And, as I said before, just because a link isn’t an affiliate link doesn’t mean the person dropping that link didn’t get paid.

    Scott, IMO you should always assume that they’re making money from it, and make your decision accordingly, not relying on things like disclosure etc. That way if a company gives away movie tickets to something like Star Trek, perhaps with the understanding that the site would write about them in exchange *cough* TechCrunch *cough* you won’t be duped.

  • Scott Randolph

    Skittzo – I agree…that’s how it “should” be. In reality, I think the risk of not doing it outweighs the rewards.

    Agree to disagree on that one :)

  • Dr. Pete

    Pondering Scott’s comments a bit, I think I follow this unspoken rule: Would I still post the link if I knew I had to disclose it? In other words, would I still do it if I knew I’d get caught?

    In my book example, the answer is “absolutely”. My visitors know those recommendations are sincere, and if they realize I’m using affiliate links, no one has cared yet. If someone pointed it out, it wouldn’t bother or embarrass me in the least. I stand behind it, and would post the same links if I didn’t make a dime.

    If I’d write a different review or not post those links at all if I knew I’d get caught, well, then I think there’s a problem. If that happens, then odds are pretty good that I’m just selling crap to make a few bucks. IMO, that’s a completely different situation.

  • Rae Hoffman

    Scott – agreed. But, are you telling me that him disclosing an affiliate link would have made him any more honest? That’s what the question is here – not shady affiliates versus non shady affiliates. It’s about whether or not you should have to disclose an affiliate link. Disclosing an affiliate link makes an affiliate no more honest than a serial killer being “such a nice and quiet guy” makes him any less a murderer. :)

    And for the record – Sugarrae is only my personal blog. I own a ton of affiliate sites in various industries. There IS ethical affiliate marketing, but disclosure has zero to do with that.

  • TheMadHat

    I just read the title.


    Now I’ll go read the whole thing and comment again.

  • kim krause berg

    I have no objections to affiliate links. When someone refers something that I might be interested in, and I value their opinion, I have no issue whatsoever with using their link to purchase it myself. I would rather support them, their review, their sharing of the experience, in this way.

    However, there are people who step over the line. These are the people who are walking MLM’s, whose only intent is never friendship or genuine sharing, but rather, selling. Non-stop. The MLM-affiliate type is attached to the process of selling and making money. I don’t trust their suggestions because they’re not in it for me. Their motive is self reward at all times.

    Someone with an ebook, Amazon, software to recommend that has read it, tried it and raves about it has a more genuine intent behind their affiliate link. When Rae recommended Thesis, I gladly used her affiliate link to purchase mine because Rae went to the trouble of testing it first. She inspected it, analyzed it, and I felt she deserved to earn money for that as her sales commission. She continues to provide education and support for this product, which I think is amazing and shows how different she is from most affiliate marketers.

    What bothers me more about this is the wider picture and why people have to keep finding new reasons to be greedy, compete, and one-up their neighbor. So someone makes a few bucks from an affiliate link. We have no way of knowing if that money goes towards feeding children, paying for healthcare or supporting life somewhere, in some way. Affiliate marketing is a legal way to earn money and yet some folks have to pick it apart.

  • Alysson

    Scott –

    Rae may not be making $100,000 off Thesis, but you appear to presume that Thesis is the only affiliate program she participates in. I assure you, it isn’t. She may not have the love affair with them that she does with Thesis, but I trust that she recommends products and services she believes in – not just products and services she can con people into buying to earn a buck.

    And because of the level of trust that Rae has achieved and her commitment not to be just another affiliate program shill, I believe in the value of links she shares – affiliate or otherwise.

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae –

    I’m not saying you should “have” to – I think you should do what works best. In my opinion, for a community like this one (or my business) – where we offer expertise to people that need it, disclosure is the best option. Not because it’s right, but because it carries the least risk to your bottom line. For us, credibility is also a big deal, and disclosure means people know my opinions aren’t being bought.

    Is it right for everyone, and are you wrong for not wanting to? No. I liken the difference to us debating which PPC keyword or landing page design performs best.

  • Halfdeck

    “Yeah, but again, I’d have to ask – if you’re buying things based on the recommendation of one person you don’t know… well, who’s really at fault there?”

    I don’t care who’s to blame. What I care about is making as many sales as possible with a link. And using an aff link (disclosed OR undisclosed) lowers conversion ratios. Mask the link and this whole conversation becomes a non-issue.

    In porn, for example, surfers expect aff links so using aff links doesn’t hurt sales. But when recruiting webmasters into aff programs to gain upsells, people do check if a link is straight or with an aff code. In that case, its a good idea to mask links.

  • Chris Hooley

    I like Scott Randolph. He has balls and defended his points well.

    On the flip side, I make a living off the web. If I drop a link that makes me money, I want to optimize the opportunity that link gets clicked. Putting a disclosure next to it will usually decrease your conversion rate. Game over, not doing it unless I HAVE to.

    But I have integrity, I have followers and friends, and I wouldn’t rip them off. So I’m OK with my own decision to not disclose a link if I choose not to. Which, I might add, I rarely ever do. And if the person who clicked my link likes the product, which is why I made that link available to available to them, because I THOUGHT THEY WOULD LIKE IT, they will be fine with it.

    There is a cross section of very savvy people who know just how scammy the affiliate marketing peeps can be, and those people might need disclosure, but they are not the majority. More people on the web either won’t really know or won’t really care. At least not when I pop a link. And the ones who do would care are probably lesser value to me as they won’t buy , don’t know me, and will complain.

  • Scott Randolph

    Alysson –

    I’m not condemning Rae’s activities, or saying she’s not successful. I’m taking issue with the comment that the “most successful” affiliate marketers are pushing products they love and have experience with, because they mainly aren’t.

    There are many folks clearing 7 figure incomes shilling crap products using all sorts of tactics, both ethical and unethical. To imply that an affiliate has to have trust or experience with a product is patently false.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>disclosure means people know my opinions aren’t being bought.

    Scott – again, I’ll ask since you didn’t address it the first time I asked. How does disclosure mean your opinions aren’t being bought? If someone is recommending a crap product just to make a quick buck, do you really think they’ll blink about disclosing an affiliate link and telling you “that’s not why I’m writing about it though.” It’s like saying a restraining order is going to protect you from someone who would kill you.

  • Scott Randolph

    Chris –

    Much appreciated.

    For my community, disclosure would be vital. Depends on the situation.

  • Jonathan Hochman

    How about creating a rel=”john”? As in, I’m being paid for this link.

  • Skitzzo

    To take Rae’s point even further, if dropping (aff) in front of affiliate links becomes the norm for “honest” affiliates, how long will it be until “dishonest” affiliates who are willing to promote all kinds of crap start doing the same thing?

    That being said, I have to agree with Chris that I like Scott’s willingness to stick to his guns and defend his point. I know it’s not easy being in the minority, I’m a Republican online :)

  • Skitzzo

    @Jonathan… according to Google that’s the rel=nofollow :D

  • Thomas Schmitz

    Wow Lisa, you hit a nerve on this one. Good job :)

    Affiliate links don’t bug me when the link is appropriate to the context of the conversation. I recognize that I am an insider, but the only time I check to see if a link is an affiliate link is when it sticks out as being unnatural or if it just plain sticks out. And even then it’s only when something strikes my higher than usual curiosity.

    What does bug me are people on Twitter and other places who live only to link to stuff. I especially despise the ones who purposefully post a half-dozen ‘natural’ link posts between each affiliate link post in order to mask the scent. Of course I don’t see too much of that because I blocked their sorry as…..!

    Am I going to go out of my way to become an affiliate of something before I post a link to it? Not likely. But, if I am already an affiliate and I’m going to link to it anyway, I might as well use the affiliate link. And no, I am not going to put (aff) next to it. That’s so lame and anyone who expects that was either abused as a child, is a Type-A or loves sticks. (Uh, did I write that?)

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>I have to agree with Chris that I like Scott’s willingness to stick to his guns and defend his point

    Agreed. This has been a debate – not an argument or a flame war. And a good debate at that. :)

  • Joe Hall

    The consumer sits at her desk in her cold dark basement. She can feel the wet lines down her cheeks where tears have run. She bites her lip tightly tying to ignore the cold and hard feeling of the .45 magnum pressed firmly against the back of her head.

    On the other end of the gun comes the whisper of a sinister affiliate marketer, “go ahead click the link.”

    She closes her eyes and takes what she hopes isn’t her last breath as she clicks the link and hears the gun click…

    Fiction is always more exciting, unfortunately it just doesn’t work out that way. See the thing is, no one is hold a gun to anyone’s head. Everyone online has the choice to buy or sell. The notion that whether or not a affiliate link is disclosed some how changes our ability to make these choices coherently is ludicrous.

    When I go the super market there aren’t signs by the bananas that say “3 cents of this sale will go to Acme Marketing”. See how silly that sounds???

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae –

    Maybe I should rephrase – disclosure states that you may not be objective about this one link, but by stating that, you imply (in my mind, anyway) you are being objective on other things.

    Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, I suppose. That’s how I preceive it though. Perception is reality, and all that. Someone else may think that disclosing a link makes you shady…

    The key is to figure out which approach works best for keeping/growing your audience. For me, disclosure is the best route.

  • Scott Randolph

    Skittzo –

    This is nothing man – as a fellow online republican, I had Rush read a blog post on air back in ’05. I have never taken abuse like that.

  • Rae Hoffman

    >>>figure out which approach works best

    The problem is Scott – you’re talking about conversion/retention tactics now – not ethics. That’s the point. Saying “this is an affiliate link” doesn’t change whether or not your ethical. How your audience perceives and reacts to being told or not is about conversion/retention and NOT ethics. :)

  • streko

    I have no issues dropping affiliate links.


    Buy Acai Berry.

  • Scott Randolph

    Rae –

    Never said it was/was not ethical. Just said it could hurt credibility/trust (and, by extension, retention/conversion).

    From an ethical standpoint, I have no problem with it. As long as you’re not linking to a rip off MLM scam or something, ethics don’t come in to play in my opinion.

  • TheMadHat

    LMAO streko.

    Sign up for *

    *This post paid for by streko with the next 16 rounds of shots.

  • Scott Randolph

    Anybody else wish we’d all had a couple beers and podcasted this? How entertaining would that have been?

  • Lisa Barone

    Joe Hall: I don’t even know how to respond to that.

    [climbs up on desk, applauds]


  • Lisa Barone

    Scott: If we *do* ever meet up, your entire night’s drinks are on me. You created a great conversation and we appreciate you sticking to your guns. We like you. And oh yeah, PURE HOTNESS! :)

  • Alysson

    Scott –

    I take issue with the notion that affiliate success is based solely on income. In my opinion the “most successful” affiliate marketers aren’t those that make tons money today and nothing 2 years from now. Successful affiliate marketing isn’t just about today – it’s about longevity and the ability to generate income from repeat buyers and word of mouth from those buyers.

    An affiliate marketer with a large income relies on getting anyone to buy anything today – with no concern for whether the same person becomes a return customer or spreads the word – but, that doesn’t lead me to believe they’re among the most successful affiliate marketers. It means they’re they used car salesman of the affiliate marketing world who constantly have to find someone ELSE to buy their products because they have no repeat business or customer loyalty. It appears that we will have to agree to disagree on the definition of “most successful”.

  • Alysson

    For the record, this is a wonderfully constructive debate and I’m really enjoying it.

    And I <3 Streko! :)

  • Scott Randolph

    Alysson –
    Your definition of success is just as valid as mine. We are talking about two different schools of people there. Fair enough :)

    Lisa –
    Sounds like a plan to me. It was fun – thanks for starting up a great conversation!

    take care all!

  • Rae Hoffman

    I think Streko should be banned for dropping an affiliate link on the blog. I think the Mules should receive a prize for dropping MY affiliate link on the blog ;)

  • john andews

    I’m hoping Lisa’s goal here was to create discussion, because that’s what she’s done. Lots of comments. Good job; give her a bonus.

    But if the goal was to advance online marketing by discussing this issue, C-

    Some things are best left in the back office and discussed at FTC committee meetings. This is one of them.

    Online marketers need to grow up and recognize the MASSIVE commerce they are driving through bank accounts around the US (and world). It ain’t peanuts any more. The national economy depends on online marketing. It’s BUSINESS not play, not sport, and not something to be tossed about lightly.

    If the LAW says you need to disclose A or B, then that’s the rule. If the law DOESN’T say you need to disclose C or D, doing so is stupid. You’ll lose.. as in go bankrupt, lose your shirt, can’t feed your kids, and yes, can’t afford your site hosting fees. Leave the dollar on the table for someone else if you like, but quit whining about it. If you don’t know the law, hire a lawyer. If you can’t afford one, stick to your hobby sites. If you want to change the world, start lobbying your congressperson, or join an FTC focus group.

    The only time this issue becomes an issue is when players who don’t make money start complaining about those who do, purists who wish the web was something it is not decide to rant, or someone gets scammy. No news here, move along.

    We can all handle affiliate links…just like we handle everything else offline (door to door salepeople, flyers under our windshield wipers, “opt out” voluntary contributions, technically-illegal double taxation most States impose on various items, etc etc etc).

    Now let’s survey everyone to see if they have properly registered their home-based online businesses with the local municipality in which they reside, and paid their “business registration” fee (tax). Or filed paperwork and paid “use taxes” to their state treasurers on everything they’ve purchased online for the past 10 years. Those are laws…

    If you want to worry if you’re doing the right thing, start with the obvious illegal activities before pointing figures, mmmkay?

  • Alexander Dombroff

    It’s my site, my twitter, my content. I’ll put whatever I want in it. If you don’t like it, leave. Same goes for Google, affiliate links, visitors, etc.

  • Anthony Verre

    @Rae makes a ton of great points and @Scott makes great points as well. But really if the conversation steers toward conversions/retention then it’s a whole new ballgame. If it’s coming down to conversions, then flat out fuck the affiliate disclosure tag. Period.

    I expect you to be a grown up and think about the shit you click on. Do I want you to click the link, even if it’s not affiliate? Yes. I put it there because I felt it was a meaningful, worthy tool to whatever I’m posting about to help you increase your conversions. If you’re telling me you have reservations clicking on it because you think I’ve “sold out” to the product/company, hey, that’s your gig you have to live with. I’m only offering what I think will help you out the most. But I’m not going to screw up my conversions by stigmatizing my link with affiliate or not.

    As @Joe Hall said, “Everyone online has the choice to buy or sell. The notion that whether or not a affiliate link is disclosed some how changes our ability to make these choices coherently is ludicrous.”

    And, yes, trusting the source matters. If it’s your first time on a blog, then be weary and click cautiously. If you’ve been on a blog several times (like Outspoken), like what they have to say, and click a link that ends up affiliate, you’re telling me you’d be pissed even if it helped you do your job better? C’mon, seriously?

    If you get my tweets, or read a post on my blog, chances are you’ve done it more than once. I hope I’ve earned your trust in that time period. If not, and you don’t click the link, no big deal. Yeah, there is some real scummy shit out there, but be a critical, discerning user, would ya’?

  • graywolf

    sorry while you were all debating I was out publishing stories with my non-disclosed affiliate links

  • Callista

    I only read the post and the first few comments so far but wanted to quote you and those commentors to say how I feel:

    YOU: “Instead, I’d hope that you’d trust my intentions because you trust me. That you know I value my followers and my readers more than I value the couple bucks I’d get from a referral and that I’d never attach my name to something I didn’t believe in.”

    KANDI HUMPF: “If you put out a link to something I’m interested in, I don’t care if it’s an affiliate link or not. Good for you if it is. You don’t need to tell me”

    VINNY: “Its not like using an affiliate link is going to cost me more money than usual.”

    ME: “EXACTLY!”

  • Tania

    I am new to this online marketing world. I have yet to really find my feet in it. I cannot speak with any authority on the matter (nor am I drunk enough to pretend that I can) but I can tell you that when I click on a link on a blog, it will be because I am interested to see where it will take me. The blogs I subscribe to are written by folk who’s opinions and insights I value and trust. I read them because they are interesting and informative and contribute to my growth in this online world. If the link happens to be an affiliate then for me its win/win I guess. Do I think it should be disclosed? If the law requires it then sure. But it doesn’t make any diference to me.

  • pmac

    <<<<<<Scott Randolph 05/15/2009 at 4:33 PM
    For my community, disclosure would be vital. Depends on the situation.

    Took 100 comments and some lively debate but Scott Randolph just nailed it.

  • Kieran Hawe

    Twitter is about choice right? You are free to choose who you follow and what you tweet. I will say whatever I want and link to wherever I want – if you dont like it…unfollow me.

  • Gerald Weber


    I agree with most of your viewpoints but have to say I disagree slightly on this one. First of all I find it kind of cheesy for anyone to tweet affiliate links in the first place whether disclosed or undisclosed. I don’t think affiliate links are evil by nature but it does change the nature of the relationship when someone is making a recommendation where financial gain is involved and it’s not clear or disclosed. Trust is a two way street. Just my 2 cents.

  • Rob Shore

    Read post and all 96 comments. Two thoughts:
    1. It’s a user/buyer/link clicker beware world. Most folks (out of the online ‘community’ fishbowl) have anxiety clicking on any unfamiliar link for fear their computer will immediately implode. They will not feel better if you disclose affiliate because they won’t know what that means. As stated in Joe Hall comment, nobody has a gun to anyone’s head.
    2. Lisa, puppies ARE made of magic (there are two using me as a pillow as I write)
    Thanks for the entertaining read.

  • Rachel

    I think in the context of social media and affiliate links the issue of trust is precarious. Brands that use this media to build their market value, can you trust their intent? In contrast, people that are finding ways of branching out within the social media community, can you trust their intent? For me, trust is a strong word when using it with the concept of “Affiliate Links”. I mean it doesn’t “feel” appropriate to me. Do I trust people I follow? Honestly, not in the traditional sense. Does that mean I should unfollow them because I don’t trust their intent? If those were the rules of engagement with in the social media context, the subject would be mute. In my opinion, the best you can do is use your ability to think and choose what you feel you are willing to accept or not.

    If someone I followed undisclosed a posting of an affiliate link it would not be my sole rational of unfollowing or blocking. If that person only intent was to pimp some product or ideology, then I would not be interested. The possibilities that this media has opened up to communities is hard for me to measure. The disconnected connectedness has me stopped short of even conceptualizing where this will lead the human race. Do I trust what I can’t see, taste, touch, feel? Not in a real sense.

  • 5ubliminal

    Indeed this is a big question. I’ll ask myself this next time I’m cluesless about what post to write next. As a cinical answer: as long as the bucks pour in … who cares about the disclosure of affiliate links?

    Truth is affiliate link disclosure is the 2nd biggest question I have. I was really wondering if pink elephants can mate two-horned unicorns and what kind of creatures would emerge from such combination. Would it be an elecorn or a uniphant? Huh? Got you on this one. Write a post covering this existential issue.


    PS: I think I might have just broken the Thou shalt not jerk rule of your comment policy.

  • DazzlinDonna

    When a famous actor or sports star holds up a juice box on a TV commercial and says it’s the best danged juice he’s ever had, does he add, “Oh and btw, I got paid for saying that”. No. But you and I are smart enough to know he did get paid. We may even think that he might not like the product at all. Who knows? But honestly, we are all adults who understand the concept of marketing. It doesn’t stop us from buying the product. And if we do buy, and hate it, we don’t hate the famous celebrity for endorsing it. We understand.

    I do include a disclaimer, usually in my About Me type sections of my sites, that says something like, “Yo, I sometimes make money from the stuff I talk about, but my opinion can never be bought.” Basically, what I’m doing is disclosing that I may throw in an affiliate link at times, but if I tell you I like the danged product, you can rest assured I freaking liked it. Now, whether or not you believe THAT is up to you. I can’t force you to trust me. Either you do or you don’t. If you do, then you know that I’m being honest when I tell you that although I might be showing you an affiliate link that I didn’t disclose except for my general disclaimer, that if I said I like the product, I did. Period. Again, either believe that or not, but I’m not going to bother repeating myself every time I choose to give out an affiliate link.

    Consumers have responsibility to use one or two brain cells before purchasing ANYTHING, no matter WHO endorses it, or what is disclosed. If the day ever comes when a law is passed that says every word out of spokesperson’s mouth regarding a product they endorse must come with a disclosure that they are getting paid to endorse it, then I’ll consider it my duty to also make a disclosure every single time I include an aff link. Until then….consumers need to be as smart (or as dumb) when they buy something based on what they saw on the web as they do when they buy based on what they saw on a TV ad.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Wow, am I LATE to dinner on this article’s comments, or what? :-) So much for me taking the time to get work done this week. Damn. I really hate being late. Makes me look like some “me too” lamer. But oh well – screw anyone who thinks that. ;-)

    Why does it not surprise me that your position is one of “do you trust me? then if so, there’s no need for me to disclose…” From the very first article I read from you way back in the halcyon days of the Bruce Clay blog, it’s always been a trust thing. And that’s what caught my attention about you back then.

    There are so many seedy, shady, black-hat boasting SEO crack-heads out there that it’s refreshing when someone with your level of integrity comes along. So from that regard, I totally agree with you – if I trust someone enough to want to routinely read their blog articles, I’m perfectly content to click on a link if that link intrigues me.

    At the same time though, I totally get so #AnnoyedLikeATrueLongIslander when I go to some new blog out there only to see in-line ads spamming up what might have otherwise been a perfectly legitimate article. You know – the ones where a word that really has no business being a hyperlink is all eye-catchingly distracting and it’s a link to an ad that has nothing whatsoever to do with the focus of the site I’m on, that market, or anything relevant… UGH

    People who do that need to be flogged. Repeatedly. In the town square. At high noon.

    On an “interestingly coincidental only to me” side note: Personally, I’ve only just yesterday, literally, (yay me), started adding affiliate banners and ads to my blog. So from that perspective, I’m brand new to it. And this article was sooooo Timely. Thanks for knowing I needed to read up on the subject this week!

  • Jill Whalen

    I personally feel better when stating that my affiliate links are in fact affiliate links. And I also appreciate it when others do the same.

  • Geir Ellefsen

    In my opinon it’s about intent (common sense), if you love a product and recommend it, why shouldnt you use a affiliatelink?

    If I was going to use a affiliatelink (or any link) on Twitter I would want to make the link as short as possible obviously (with, pø, etc..)

    No Affiliate links is not unethical without disclosure. Twitter users are smart people, they unfollow spammer etc. So I dont see the problem.

  • Adrienne Doss

    We’re talking about two opposing business philosophies here.

    The more traditional idea is to appeal to a broad mainstream audience. The more controversial route involves actively challenging your audience, and a resistance to subdue yourself or your message.

    Will Smith vs. Johnny Depp. Both successful in totally different ways.

  • Lisa Barone

    Alan: Thanks. I think. :) For me, blogging is relationships. So if we have a relationship that is based on trust, I’m almost offended if you ask me to disclose whether or not a link is an affiliate. If I invited you over to my house for dinner, would you ask me if I had a contract with my butcher? You either trust me or you don’t. I’ve either been successful at showing you that I would never screw you over or sell you out, or I haven’t. If I haven’t, then I don’t deserve you clicking on my link to begin with. Don’t waste your time with me if you don’t trust me. Go find someone else. It’s like dating. Let’s not force it. :)

    Jill: I’ll accept that. You can’t be right all the time. ;)

    Adrienne: I’m not completely sure I’m following. Am I Will Smith or Johnny Depp? :)

  • 5ubliminal

    @Lisa Barone: If I invited you over to my house for dinner, would you ask me if I had a contract with my butcher?

    Would you (your butcher) charge me for dinner?! If you did, I’d ask you how much you getting from the butcher. Actually, I would not pay for dinner / desert.

  • Firuze Okten Gokce

    I cannot go over all of the (106) comments. So I hope this is not going to be a double version.
    I think the dilemna is in our evaluation of social media tools. Social media Tools are for communicating, sharing opinions or having debates. It is not necessary to find monetizaiton models everything that we are consuming. ( yes it’s true for the developers of that tool, they need find a way to monetize it) It is unnatural to try to promote stg in 140 characters. However, if you are genuely believing in some product ( not thousands of them) only then there is no harm to put any link which is an affiliate link or not.

    The best thing about twitter is the way it let us to find valuable resources and people. So Twitter cannot constantly consumed as a revenue stream. Instead it is a place to talk and share just like we meet new people in any physical social environment.

  • Mike Dammann

    I am ok with anything that is targeted. Anything that has to do at least something with the reason that I have entered your website.
    If there is a paid and disclosed advertising for something like an ebook about Twitter on a website about Mortgages, it distracts.
    I think that when you have a status where people take your word and recommendations, then you also have a responsibility to pick and choose who you advertise wisely.


  • Alicia Navarro

    Fantastic conversation, I’ve been following the debate and discussion around disclosure of affiliate links, especially in Twitter, so this has been a refreshing read, particularly as its the most sensible.

    My view is that most of us try to earn a living from the internet, and affiliate marketing is a very fair way to do this, more so than traditional banner advertising, as its very traceable and measurable for merchants, and doesn’t fill a website with too much advertising. This view that people shouldn’t make money from their work creating a website seems a little naive.

    The answer – in my opinion – is to embrace commercialism in a way that doesn’t compromise the quality of the content. If the quality is compromised, you lose your users, so there is an incentive to stay high quality. If you monetise that content using affiliate marketing, I have no problem with it at all, as if I don’t like it, I just don’t buy the product. Unless a site is a charity, I am always going to assume there is a commercial push behind a product recommendation, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the content is bad. If anything, I am willing to reward the site for the referral and buy the recommended item.

    Sites have to make money, and its harder to do so with traditional advertising. Lets focus on the quality of the content rather than on what they do to make money. There is always a little feeling of ‘sigh’ when you know something is an advertisement: I hate ads on TV and its frustrating to have so many ads in newspapers… but it is what keeps the content I like affordable.

  • Robert

    You sum it up in a single line, “I’d never attach my name to something I didn’t believe in”. It’s really that simple. Whether you make a buck or not when recommending something/one shouldn’t make any difference.

  • Holly Powell

    Help someone help me! Twitters are hypnotizing me through the 15″ screen in front of me and forcing me to wait, wait; I’m going to do it! No, stop! ugh. I did it I clicked on their affiliate link!

    Just a little humor here. It’s a choice we make to click on an affiliate link or NOT. Just as it’s a choice to click on a posted blog post or NOT. The twitterers of the world for the most part are not out to get people.

    Have I used affiliate links in tweets? Yes. Have I used affiliate links in blogs? Yes.

    Do I twist somebody’s arm to click on them? No. I like to think that most twitterers are conscious, breathing, and for the most part ethical folks who either have reviewed a great product. Now, that it not to say that there are folks out there who are just spamming folks with affiliate links for every Tom (read Eban), Dick (read Kern), and Harry (read Ed) guru out there. :-)

    People, you still have a choice…to click OR not to click. To unfollow or follow that is the question!

  • Majento

    Friday again, just read this, great post, nothing’s wrong with affiliation links as long as trust is maintained, no one smart would keep following a friend that sends out irrelevant or non authentic recs.
    If one can’t keep the trust of friends, it would be best to unplug and head for the woods, cheers.

  • Phil Barnhart

    Excluding twitter for the moment, why not use an existing paradigm to deal with affiliate links – semantically as microformats?. Something as simple as rel=”affiliate” might be sufficient. A more complex microformat might identify the advertiser or network (a la rel=”license” microformat”).

    This way, the small percentage of people who may be concerned can download the inevitable plugin if needed, management and links to privacy and disclosure pages automated, etc. Of course, the real drivers of this may need to the actual affiliate programs – if CJ for example put this in their auto code generation tool.

    As for Twitter, the major URL shorteners like BudURL could simply set up a complementary domain for affiliate/sponsored links and maintain the disclosure on their site via a link preview function. Again, it would help if Twitter then autotagged the URL.

    A modest proposal, at least. And requires no one else’s permission to start!

  • Jeff

    Isn’t everyone on the internet pitching something? If I made a PSA that “this is an affiliate link” I’d basically be saying to my readers I didn’t think they were smart enough to figure out how I’m making money on my site. I’d like to credit them with intelligence for reading me. Spamming on the other hand..well, nobody likes the greasy after taste that comes from that.

  • thewham

    It is crazy that this argument has gone this long and no one added to the argument the message being sent when cloaking or hiding your links. I feel that if you hide or cloak your links, then you are intentionally impeding the user from making his own decision of the merit of the link.

    I see cloaked links all the time. I think if you believe you don’t need to disclose links because you need to base your interaction on trust, then there should be no reason to put work into hiding links, which I feel is manipulating your content.

    It is the equivalent of ladies night at the clubs. Yes, everyone is having fun. So why is it that club promoters go out of their way to attract females?

    My point is, I don’t think anyone should disclose all their links, but THEY SHOULD leave them naked so that the user can decide their trust of your content for themselves.

  • tamaras

    Buyer have responsibility to use one or two brain cells before buying any stuff or what is disclosed. If the day ever comes when a law is passed that says every word out of spokesperson’s mouth regarding a product they endorse must come with a disclosure that they are getting paid to endorse it, then I’ll consider it my duty to also make a disclosure every single time I include an affiliate link.

  • John

    Completely agree, Lisa. I think your reputation is key but there are many more factors. Many times random people will come and just click on the links. They are a great way to make money.

  • Virtual Tour

    Thanks for the valuable opinion. I personally think if you don’t trust someone because you haven’t met them or haven’t been associated with them for any length of time, then I think it makes total sense that you’d question an affiliate link.


    Affiliate links are unethical if the ads are not targeted towards your audience. Why would you throw a Boston Red Sox banner on a Yankees Facebook fan page? That would be unethical. However if the audience fits the bill, go for it.