Warning to All Affiliate Marketers
This post is a warning for all Amazon affiliates.
Actually, all affiliates should read this.
If you are in a hurry, and don’t want to read the entire post, the moral of this story is to make sure you use the required affiliate disclsure statement on all your sites.
If not, you may face trouble with the FTC, and (IMO more likely) you may lose your Amazon account (and perhaps other affiliate accounts as well).
That’s the main point of this post.
But I do recommend that you read the whole correspondence between myself and Amazon so you understand exactly what is allowed and what is not. I’m about to cover acceptable anchor text, link cloaking, and – of course – affiliate disclosure statements.
So here’s the whole story:
Hope, a student of mine, has been banned from being an Amazon affiliate.
Her account has been closed. And Amazon said they will not pay her commissions (right now she has 2 months’ worth in her account).
The reason given by Amazon (the bolding is mine):
While reviewing your account, we have noticed that your website contains links to Amazon that are not properly labeled, which makes it unclear that you are sending customers to the Amazon website.
The Associates Program Operating Agreement that governs your participation in the Associates Program requires that links to an Amazon Site must not be confusing or misleading, and must be clear that they link to an Amazon Site. For more information, please review the Participation Requirements and Linking Requirements found here:
We insist that you cease this activity and remove all Amazon content from your site(s) immediately. Moreover, because you are using the Associates Program in violation of the Associates Program Operating Agreement, your account has been closed and you will not receive further payment. Any other accounts you may have or may open in the future which are found in violation of the Operating Agreement may be closed and advertising fees withheld without notification.
Now, that was kind of unclear.
We really weren’t sure – what exactly does the bolded part mean?
How do we properly label links?
And how do we make clear the links are going to Amazon?
Do we now have to specifically have the word ‘Amazon’ on all our links so they are labeled as Amazon links? Has anything changed in Amazon’s rules?
That wasn’t clear.
In addition, a family member of Hope suggested that Amazon was referring to the fact that she was ‘cloaking’ her links.
In case you don’t know what cloaking means. Here’s a quick explanation:
Hope was using a wordpress plugin called ‘Pretty Link’ that turns affiliate links into pretty links.
So, for example, if she would link to the Crayola Crayons page on Amazon, instead of using the long and cryptic affiliate link given by Amazon, she would use something like http://hopesdomain.com/crayola which would redirect to Amazon.
So we thought perhaps that was the problem, since there have been rumors going on that Amazon does not approve of this kind of cloaking.
As I said – it really wasn’t clear.
I felt this was a good opportunity to clarify some myths and rumors that are circulating in the affiliate community, so just to clarify what Amazon wants from us, I sent them a letter as follows:
“In order to make sure I comply with your rules, I have some question about your linking requirements.
Let’s say I have a paragraph on my site that mentions a specific product, let’s say Crayola crayons.
Here are my questions:
1. Am I allowed to link the name of the product to that product on Amazon (ie the words ‘Crayola Crayons’ would link to Crayola crayons on Amazon)?
2. Am I allowed to use the following words as anchor text: ‘Buy Crayola Crayons Here’?
3. Am I allowed to use the following words as anchor text: ‘Get a Great Deal on Crayola Crayons Here’?
4. Am I allowed to use statistics software on my site that ends up masking the link? For example, the link would look like ‘mydomain.com/go/crayola’. This would go to a script that logs the click (for my own records) and then auto-forwards to Amazon.
Thanks in advance for your reply. I just want to make sure I do everything right, and I wasn’t sure from reading your guidelines.”
The reply from Amazon (again, bolding is mine):
The answer to your first 3 questions is yes, you are welcome to use names in your links. The only time where we look at trademarks is in the URL of your website. You are fine using the text link “Crayola Crayons” to link to a Crayola product on Amazon.com. You are also welcome to say “Buy Crayola Crayons Here” or “Get a Great Deal on Crayola Crayons Here.”
In regards to the 4th question, the Associates Program Operating Agreement doesn’t prohibit the use of link cloaking or shortening services provided that the service doesn’t use methods which violate the Associates Program Operating Agreement, such as framing the Amazon site or automatically tagging sessions with your Associates ID.
You must clearly state that the link in question will take the user to the Amazon site when clicked and ensure that the site on which you are posting the links includes the required statement to identify yourself as an Associate. You must also be able to provide detailed information about the site(s) on which your links have been posted if we request it. Please review the complete Operating Agreement, including Participation Requirements, for more details:
I hope this information is helpful to you.
Ok. So now I know that nothing has changed about linking requirements, and also that cloaking is not a problem.
To sum it up:
1. Amazon said it’s ok to have links to their site which do not specifically include the word ‘Amazon’ in them. Anchor text such as “Crayola Crayons”, “Buy Crayola Crayons Here” or “Get a Great Deal on Crayola Crayons Here”, all linking to Crayola crayons on Amazon, are ok.
2. Amazon implied it’s not ok to have a registered trademark in your domain name.
3. Cloaking your affiliate links with software such as pretty link is ok with Amazon, as long as you don’t do anything malicious, such as framing the Amazon site or automatically tagging sessions with your Associates ID (also known as cookie stuffing).
However, Hope did not have the “required statement” on her site to identify herself as an associate.
And that is probably why she was banned.
But… wait a second!
Amazon also said we must clearly state that the link will take the user to the Amazon site when clicked.
So what do they mean by that?
I sent them another query:
“You said: ‘You must clearly state that the link in question will take the user to the Amazon site when clicked’ , and my question is – where do I state this? Is it good enough if my site has the required statement to identify myself as an associate?”
“We do require Associates to identify themselves as members of the Associates Program.
You need to clearly state the following on your site(s): “X is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to (“your website name” (amazon.com, or endless.com, MYHABIT.com, SmallParts.com, or AmazonWireless.com).”
You can read our full Operating Agreement here:
Looks like the “required statement” is really what Amazon is looking for.
So first of all, I recommended to Hope that she put the “required statement” on all of her pages.
Then I suggested she contact Amazon, apologize, and ask for her account to be reinstated. I’ve had other students of mine have their account reinstated after being closed for other reasons.
So Hope does have hope
Of course, she can always promote other merchants and link networks on her sites. So even if Amazon doesn’t reinstate her, all is not lost and she can continue to make money from her sites.
Now I have a request from you.
If you have an affiliate site with no disclosure statement, please take a few moments and update it.
I really don’t want you losing your Amazon account as well.
The statement you need to have is:
X is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to (“your website name” (amazon.com, or endless.com, MYHABIT.com, SmallParts.com, or AmazonWireless.com).
Of course, replace X with your name, or site name.
I recommend you have this on every page.
Now, just to cover myself as well, I’m going to remind you that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. It’s just my opinion based on my understanding of what Amazon said to me.
Let me know your thoughts, please. And please spread the word on this. Share this post on Facebook, email your friends, and do whatever it takes to help prevent others from having their Amazon accounts closed as well.
UPDATE (April 19):
1. Hope just got her account re-instated. That’s great news!
2. Check out this plugin that will take care of your disclosure statement for you. A lot of people have been asking me for one, so I thought I should share it with you.