Affiliate links have long been a way for website owners to earn money from their pages. A regular advertisement is an endorsement for a product that's obvious to everyone. Even a link can be framed as an advertisement with the right wording. Affiliate links on the other hand, are different. The site owner doesn't get paid for a certain number of views. Neither do they get paid when a user clicks on them. Instead, the payment happens when someone makes a purchase through the link via a tracking code.
Unlike advertisements, affiliate links need not endorse the product they're selling. For example, a site could merely be a "price comparison web page with links to different types of products. The site owner doesn't claim that one product is better than the other. Only that the links leading out imply a financial relationship between the website and the product.
FTC Disclosure Requirements
In 2009, the FTC decided to lightly regulate this business model. They wanted to make sure that users knew about the financial relationship of the site to the products that they link to. In a release to that effect, the FTC mandated that all affiliate links must be clearly disclosed as such.
However, they left it to the discretion of the site owners how this is to be implemented. There was only one guideline - the consumer should be aware of what was happening. Whether it's a site wide notice, or an individual notice for each affiliate link, the FTC didn't specify the exact details of how this was going to happen.
While affiliate links are not explicitly mentioned as such in the FTC guidelines, they later released a bunch of clarifications in which they address the issue. In this, they talk about conspicuous messaging and disclosure of affiliate links.
Where Should you Place your Disclosures?
One thing the FTC has mentioned, is where to NOT put the links. If you're wondering whether or not you can stuff them into a "Terms of Service" agreement, or an "About" page, then you're in for a disappointment. These links have to be easily visible at the time the user sees the link. The implication is that you can't place the disclaimer at the bottom of the page after the user has already had a chance to click the link.
What if you make it clear that the entire site contains affiliate links? Do you need to make a separate disclosure for each and every link? That's a matter of judgment, unfortunately. The guidelines ask you to consider that different people might have different impressions of content, and so it's better to be on the safe side and make the disclosures anyway.
Same Affiliate Disclaimer Statements
If you're looking for starter statements to put on your site, here are a few examples:
To place at the top of the page:
This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
To place next to a specific link:
Site-wide disclaimer for affiliate links:
Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.
The bottom line is that you won't fall afoul of the FTC regulations as long as you may a "best effort" to make your disclaimers visible. You don't need to go overboard - just to make a reasonable effort to comply with the law and you should be good to go!