Last updated on 15 September 2022 by William Blesch (Legal and data protection research writer at TermsFeed)
If you participate in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, you must follow Amazon's Operating Agreement or risk being terminated. You're also required by law to include some particular disclosures so you maintain a transparent relationship with users and avoid fines.
Here's what you need to know about what Amazon requires, what the law requires, policies you need on your website if you join Amazon Associates, as well as explanations as to why each is needed and tips for drafting them.
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Many people with online real estate want the ability to monetize that digital property. There are various ways of achieving this, but becoming a partner in one or more affiliate programs is one of the easiest. Indeed, provided you choose wisely, becoming an affiliate could bring you a solid return on your investment.
Many bloggers have gone on to acquire serious cash. One example is Pat Flynn, who used affiliate marketing to build a $2.1 million a year income, according to Foundr.com. Another is Brian Lam, who founded The WireCutter.com (an evergreen consumer guide focusing on Amazon products) and became one of the most prosperous Amazon affiliates ever when the New York Times snatched up his site for a cool $30 million in October, 2016.
Both of the gentlemen mentioned above monetized their sites with the Amazon Associates program.
Amazon Associates is a popular affiliate marketing program with bloggers and small businesses. They advertise by creating special links on their websites and blogs, which point back to products for sale on Amazon. When a website or blog visitor clicks on those special links and then makes a purchase from Amazon, the website owner or blogger earns a commission. This is often an easy income stream for those who desire visibility and desire a benefit from reviewing products and services.
Monetizing your online presence through Amazon's affiliate program makes sense considering that Amazon is the most popular online shopping site within the English-speaking world. Indeed, most people (and probably you) have bought something through their website at one point or another.
With that said, there are pitfalls that anyone who wishes to become an Amazon Associate should avoid. Many of these issues arise when someone is ignorant of Amazon's affiliate requirements. Violating the company's regulations and rules is a recipe for getting yourself kicked out of the affiliate program.
Moreover, as Amazon is unceremoniously dumping you, you'll likely lose any commissions you've made, but which haven't yet been paid. Then, to make things worse, you may not be able to get back into the program at all once you've broken the Terms of Service.
With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to ensure that you are always in compliance with Amazon's affiliate requirements, doesn't it? That's why we wrote this guide, which breaks things down for you nicely and neatly.
You have two sets of requirements to follow if you join Amazon Associates
The first is provided by Amazon Associates, and the second includes legal requirements enforced by the Federal Trade Commision (FTC).
Here's a summary of each.
This is not a document to overlook. If you fail to follow the requirements discussed in it, Amazon Associates may remove you from the program and you will no longer be entitled to earnings:
Perhaps the most important requirement is located in section 5. This section deals with how you identify yourself as an Amazon Associate. Often referred to as the Amazon Associate Disclosure, the operating agreement offers the exact language needed to communicate this effectively:
This requirement maintains your membership with Amazon Associates but it also serves another purpose. It maintains your compliance with U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consumer protection guidelines.
In the U.S., the FTC has affiliate disclosure requirements for affiliate marketers.
If you require an affiliate disclosure, the FTC requires that they are clear and conspicuous. You should place them near your reviews and affiliate links. Use bold text to make them stand out and even consider giving them their own page with a clear link.
A good example is provided by Wellness Mama:
You can also include your Amazon Associate disclosure with the general FTC one. Wellness Mama places its Amazon disclosure right under its general affiliate disclosure:
Adopting the same format will keep you in good standing with the FTC and Amazon. However, there are other adequate approaches to these disclaimers, and you can't forget about other essential agreements as well.
For more detailed information on this, read our article Disclosures for Affiliate Links.
As noted, Amazon has rules that Associates must follow to remain in good standing and get paid. Amazon's rules are in place for a number of reasons.
For instance, one purpose for these requirements is to make sure affiliates can't game the system. Amazon wants those they're doing business with to be above board. The company wants to ensure that any promotion of Amazon products by third parties is done ethically.
Accordingly, the very first requirement you need to meet is understanding that Amazon's customers are not your customers.
In essence, Amazon requires that if you are an affiliate, you can't pretend that you're selling Amazon products as if you were Amazon:
If you plan to be an affiliate, you have to agree not to contact their customers directly or handle any customer service issues as if you were an Amazon representative.
In fact, if a customer that purchases a product through your affiliate link contacts you regarding any kind of interaction that is related to that purchase, you are obligated to point them to where they can contact Amazon directly.
As an Associate, you must disclose in both communications and on your website the fact that you might be entitled to earn commissions from recommendations you make, and from the links you post.
Indeed, an official disclaimer and affiliate disclosure are mandatory requirements under legal obligations set out by Amazon and the Federal Trade Commission. An example of an affiliate disclosure is provided by Amazon in its Associates Program Operating Agreement:
The passage reads as follows:
You must clearly and prominently state the following, or any substantially similar statement previously allowed under this Agreement, on your Site or any other location where Amazon may authorize your display or other use of Program Content: "As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases." Except for this disclosure, and other than as required by applicable law, you will not make any public communication with respect to this Agreement or your participation in the Associates Program without our advance written permission. 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.
As you can see from the example above, a disclosure informs your visitors about the fact that you acquire compensation from Amazon as an affiliate. However, it doesn't have to be a word-for-word copy of the statement in Amazon's operating agreement. Notice that the text says your disclosure can be "any substantially similar statement."
In its Associates Program Participation Requirements, Amazon states:
In order for your website to be considered "suitable" for Amazon's purposes, you have to make sure that there is nothing sexually explicit or obscene, violent or that promotes violence, or any other distasteful materials as enumerated in Amazon's Enrollment and Eligibility section of its Associates Program Participation Requirements Policy:
You cannot enroll in the program if your site does any of the following:
a) promote or contain sexually explicit or obscene materials,
(b) promote violence or contain violent materials or promote, endorse or incite potentially dangerous or harmful acts,
(c) promote or contain false, deceptive, libelous or defamatory materials,
(d) promote or contain materials or activity that is hateful, harassing, harmful, invasive of another's privacy, abusive, or discriminatory (including on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age),
(e) promote or undertake illegal activities,
(f) are directed toward children or knowingly collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13 years of age or other applicable age threshold (as defined by applicable laws and regulations); or violate any applicable laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, orders, licenses, permits, guidelines, codes of practice, industry standards, self-regulatory rules, judgments, decisions, or other requirements of any applicable governmental authority related to child protection (for example, if applicable, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 6501-6506) or any regulations promulgated thereunder or the Children's Online Protection Act)
Maintaining the following three policies will help you maintain compliance with Amazon's operating agreement and the law.
As discussed, affiliate disclaimers and disclosures are required by the law and Amazon.
Ultimate IT Guys offers a good example of an Amazon Associates disclosure. It adopts nearly identical language to that described in the operating agreement:
Blog operators often take the same approach.
Karissa's Vegan Kitchen , they find a general disclosure regarding affiliate links and an Amazon Affiliate Disclaimer:
Hello Peaceful Mind labels its disclosure as an "Amazon Affiliate Disclosure" but it starts with general affiliate language to cover other relationships:
This disclosure is the most important one when it comes to preserving your relationship with Amazon and ensuring legal compliance. Treat it with the same seriousness as you would other online agreements by making it conspicuous and readily available to your users.
The operating agreement contains a provision where you promise to follow all applicable laws, including those that relate to data protection:
This broad provision is frequently interpreted to include privacy protection laws throughout the world.
Karissa's Vegan Kitchen advises that it does not have control over affiliate websites and the privacy risk shifts to the user when they follow these links:
Not all sites have this agreement. It's not required by law like Privacy Policies.
Amazon Associates does not require its participates to maintain a T&C. However, if you maintain one for other purposes, you should also address affiliates in it.
Start by extending the T&C to affiliates. Ultimate IT Guys starts by defining affiliates to include advertisers:
The business includes a clause in its Terms agreement that addresses the protection of intellectual property, including trademarks and copyrighted material. This protection extends to Amazon trademarks and copyrights as well as its own:
This offers protection for the business as well as for Amazon.
If your users infringe on Amazon's intellectual property, a clause like this gives you grounds to terminate that user's account. It also establishes that you were not a party to the infringement and made efforts to prevent it. That makes it less likely that Amazon will pursue you for damages should this incident occur.
A T&C also includes warranty disclaimers. You can extend this protection to your affiliates as well.
Here's how Ultimate IT Guys does this:
You will want to do the same with your Limitation of Liability, again as Ultimate IT Guys has done here:
Offering this protection may seem like excessive responsibility, but it works well to your benefit. If a user pursued Amazon for damages, Amazon could hold you liable if you did not offer the appropriate limitations and waives. You are not only taking responsibility for Amazon's interests, but you are extending liability protection to your own website as well.
As noted at the beginning, if you want to monetize your website or blog, then becoming an Amazon Associate could be a great way to start. Above, we went over some of the key things you need to remember when it comes to Amazon Affiliate requirements.
Keep in mind that Amazon requires a lot more than what we've covered here.
It's a good idea then, for you to become intimately familiar with Amazon's Associates Operating Agreement and their Associates Program Policies. Both of these documents have been linked to in this article.
Amazon has an extensive Help section for its affiliates. Don't hesitate to use it.
The Amazon Affiliate program is an excellent way to make websites and blogs more profitable. However, it is a contractual relationship where Amazon extends an opportunity, and you must meet requirements to continue receiving a benefit.
This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice.
15 September 2022