The Amazon Associates program is a potentially lucrative revenue stream for bloggers and website owners. The program is a driving force behind the success of online review sites, which typically rely more on affiliate marketing dollars than on internet ad money.
The New York Times’ recent acquisition of the popular online consumer guide, The Wirecutter, for a reported price of $30 million is one such example of the power of the Amazon Associates program.
The Times’ apparent motivation to buy The Wirecutter was its own steady decline in digital advertising revenue – perhaps indicating a shift in how online media attains profitability.
Considering the recent proliferation of affiliate marketers – and Amazon Associates continuing to be one of the biggest players in the industry – we’ve outlined the basics about Amazon Associates and the policies required to keep them legally compliant.
1. What Are Amazon Associates?
Amazon Associates are affiliate marketers – they develop affiliate relationships with Amazon in which both parties can profit financially. The Associates market products sold on Amazon using their own websites and content.
Associates generally make money by creating websites which feature reviews or consumer guides for products in a given niche. Within the content of these sites, the Associates place links to the coinciding product listings on Amazon’s website.
When these links are clicked, a cookie is placed on the user’s browser which uniquely identifies the Associate and awards a small percentage of any purchase made through Amazon to their account.
Because of the potential for financial gain and biased website content, Associates are required by Amazon to explicitly disclose that they are part of the program in an obvious and accessible way.
This disclosure is only one of the legal requirements that must be adhered to in order to participate in the program. Failure to follow the rules can get you into trouble with not only Amazon, who can end the affiliate relationship, but also the FTC and state authorities.
While Amazon wants to protect its brand, law enforcement is concerned with safeguarding user privacy and ensuring fair and honest ecommerce. For this reason, there are several specific legal policies necessary for Amazon Associates.
2. Special Legal Considerations for Amazon Affiliate Websites
You may think of yourself as a writer or blogger, but the situation changes when you decide to participate in the Amazon Associates program. You are now someone who is compensated for recommending – or appearing to recommend – a product or service. As a result, you have to be mindful of the FTC’s guidelines about endorsements in online advertising and website privacy laws.
Amazon mandates the use of special clauses in your website’s legal policies. By becoming part of the Amazon Associates program, you agree to the Associates Program Operating Agreement. Section 5 of that agreement stipulates that you must identify yourself as a member of the program by posting a specific phrase wherever your ads or links are placed, but do not go any further in discussing your relationship with Amazon.
You cannot “embellish” the nature of your relationship with Amazon, for example, and make it seem as though you’re more a part of the Amazon ecosystem than you actually are.
Mandated disclosure is one attempt by Amazon to protect itself from legal liability. This disclosure will safeguard its position in the event that customers complain they were led to make a purchase based on information they did not know was a paid endorsement.
FTC guidelines state that the agency typically targets advertisers (in this case, Amazon) – and not endorsers (in this case, the Associates) – if there’s been a violation of the “truth in advertising” rule.
Endorsers are not exempt, however, and can also face reprimand if they fail to disclose their relationship with the products they endorse.
3. Privacy Policies for Amazon Associates
Section 4 of the Associates Program Operating Agreement states that you, as the affiliate, warrant that you and your website follow all applicable laws. It’s a pretty broad – but enforceable – statement that means Amazon can end the arrangement at any time if you haven’t upheld all legal requirements.
This is true whether or not the online retailer specifically mentions those requirements by name.
As someone with a small website who simply places links to Amazon products on a website, you probably don’t see yourself as someone who collects private user data, but you may in fact do so without even realizing it.
Although the term “personal information” typically refers to information that can identify a user personally, such as IP addresses, names, addresses, phone numbers, and so forth, authorities at all levels are becoming increasingly concerned with website privacy and all forms of data that are collected.
The FTC mandates that website owners maintain and keep the promises made in their posted policies in order to prevent the appearance of fraud or deception.
4. Disclaimers for Amazon Associates
Your website may have developed a loyal following of users. This is a great thing, but you have to ask yourself why those people read what you write and follow your recommendations.
They likely trust what you have to say and may follow your advice because of that trust. This includes your advice about things like purchasing decisions. In order to comply with the FTC’s online endorsement guidelines, you have to let people know if you decided out of sheer enthusiasm to endorse a product, or if you get something in return for doing so.
Not sure what to include in your disclaimer? Check out our quick and easy disclaimer generator and create a thorough policy for your affiliate marketing site in minutes.
That’s why Amazon requires you to disclose your status as an affiliate. The company is very strict in its agreement, requiring you by virtue of Section 5 to post this exact paragraph on your site:
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Amazon goes on to limit the representations you can make with regard to your association with the company. You can view this as Amazon’s way of preventing you from implying it endorses your site as a whole, you as an individual or any of your associations. Here’s what the agreement says:
Except for this disclosure, you will not make any public communication with respect to this Agreement or your participation in the Associates Program. You will not misrepresent or embellish our relationship with you (including by expressing or implying that we support, sponsor, or endorse you), or express or imply any affiliation between us and you or any other person or entity except as expressly permitted by this Agreement.
But your responsibility doesn’t end with just including Amazon’s required text on your website and refraining from embellishing your connection to the company. You must also disclose whether you get a product for free in exchange for a review or if you have an arrangement where you get something back in exchange for a brand mention.
You should provide an additional disclaimer on your website if you have any other motivations to recommend a product apart from just how much you love to use it.
From the perspective of the FTC, this transparency is necessary to provide consumers with all the information they need to make a genuinely informed decision.
Put yourself in their shoes. If your friend says, “Hey, I found a great new app that you have to try,” does your tendency to follow her recommendation differ if you know your friend was compensated in some way for giving such a strong endorsement?
Joining the Amazon Affiliate program can be a great way to earn revenue from your website, but like with any contractual arrangement, it’s important to pay attention to the details. With careful evaluation of your website content in light of applicable laws and Amazon policies, you can protect yourself, your readers, and your income.