Blog Disclosure Statements: Are you following the law?

If you are a blogger in the U.S. and you are monetizing your blog, you need to make sure you are following FTC (Federal Trade Commission) blog disclosure regulations. The law requires you to disclose any material relationships that you have with brands or advertisers when you write a review or recommend something to your readers. In this post, I will explain blog disclosure statements for reviews, sponsored posts, and affiliate links.

Note: The UK has similar laws

Blog disclosures fall under the Federal Trade Commission’s “truth in advertising” law. The FTC is the nation’s consumer protection agency which works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace. When consumers see or hear an advertisement, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks.

The FTC applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – including your blog. In 2009, the FTC revised its truth-in-advertising guides to include online endorsements. The FTC issued new and updated Disclosure Regulations in 2013 that apply to bloggers and website owners.

Disclosure statements you need on your blog

First of all, you need a dedicated disclosure policy page. And make sure a link to your disclosure policy page is placed in a visible spot on your blog. If you are not sure what to include in your disclosure policy page, you can go to diclosurepolicy.org where you can generate a disclosure policy for your blog.

In addition to a dedicated disclosure page, you must also include a disclosure statement on individual sponsored posts.

The law requires you to disclose any material relationships that you have with brands or advertisers when you write a review or recommend a product or service to your readers.

Bloggers must disclose the following:

  • When you receive a free product and review it
  • When you link to a product’s website and receive a commission (affiliate links)
  • When you receive money, product or services for posting about a product or company

The FTC can fine both the blogger and the sponsor for not disclosing when a company compensates the blogger for a review, mention, or sponsored post. The fine could be up to $11,000 per post.

Even with a proper disclosure statement, if your post contains “misleading” or unsubstantiated claims -you and the sponsor could still be fined. The FTC looks very closely at complaints when it comes to things that affect the consumers health including food, dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications.

It’s important to be honest:

  • Don’t write about a product if you haven’t tried it
  • If you were paid to try a product and you thought it was awful, don’t say it was great
  • Don’t make claims about a product (“It will cure _____”) that cannot be substantiated.

Following the law will not only keep your blog legal, your readers will know that they can trust your opinions.

Blog disclosure statements must be clear and conspicuous.

You have to add a disclosure to the beginning of any posts where you talk about a product or service that you were paid or were given free products to write about. This includes any post which contains affiliate links. Linking to your disclosure page is not enough. The disclosure needs to be in close proximity to the sponsor’s link.

Your disclosure statement does not have to be the first thing on the page, as long as it comes before the first sponsored link. I like to place the disclosure after the first paragraph so I won’t include a link to the sponsor until the second paragraph.

Disclosures must be noticeable. The text needs to be clearly readable, in color and size. The language used in your disclosure must be understandable to the intended audience. You have some flexibility in how you word your disclaimer, as long as the message is clear. The best way to make sure your message is clear is to use Disclosure as the first word. You can include a link to your disclosure policy page if you like but the disclosure must require no other action for the reader (such as clicking or hovering over a link).

If you are a member of the Chronic Illness Bloggers network we request that you use our standard disclosure on every campaign. Below are the disclosures for use for sponsored posts and reviews.

Sponsored Post

Disclosure: “This is a sponsored post for [company name]. I have been compensated through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. All opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.”

Review Post

Disclosure: “I have been given [this product] as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.“

Just remember, the disclosure must come before any links to a sponsor’s site. Disclosures that aren’t made until the end of your post may be construed as misleading and do not meet FTC guidelines.

You must also disclose if you are using affiliate links in your posts. Below is a simple affiliate disclosure:

Disclosure: “Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.”

Social Media Disclosures

You also need to disclose when you endorse an advertiser outside of the context of your blog, as in social media. You need to let your readers know they are reading sponsored content when you send a tweet, post to Facebook, upload an image to Instagram, pin an image to Pinterest, or any other social media channel.

Social media disclosures need to be in a prominent place and come before any promotional link. You can use the word; Sponsored, Promotion, Review, Giveaway, or Ad at the beginning of the post. Or you could include one of these words in the main title, as long as the meaning is clear. .

Limited space is no excuse. Start a tweet with ‘Ad:’, ‘#ad’, ‘Sponsored’ or #sponsored.

Use the rel=”nofollow” tag

Although, this is not a legal issue – Google and some other search engines can penalize your blog if you don’t you use the “nofollow” tag for links to the sponsor.

Links that are placed on your website/blog in exchange for compensation go against Google guidelines on link schemes. Search engine guidelines require machine-readable disclosure of paid links.

The guidelines ask that you add a rel=“nofollow” tag to your sponsored links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link). You can find more information on the Google Webmaster Blog.

Recap

The Federal Trade Commission blog disclosure regulations require bloggers who write reviews of products or services to disclose, in a “clear and conspicuous” manner, any free products or payments they receive for these reviews.

Sponsored content must be honest and not misleading. The blogger must reflect their honest opinion and can’t make a claim that the product’s sponsor couldn’t legally make. The FTC looks especially closely at things that affect the consumers health such as supplements and over-the-counter medications.

The key points to remember:

  1. Have a dedicated disclosure policy page on your blog and make sure the page’s link is in a visible spot.
  2. You must include a disclosure statement on any article that is a reveiw, sponsored post or contains affiliate links.
  3. The disclosure must clear, conspicuious, and come before any link to the sponsor.
  4. You must disclosure sponsored content on social media.
  5. Use the rel=”nofollow” tag on sponsored links so your blog doesn’t get penalized by google.

You can download a copy of dotcom Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising pdf. to refer to whenever you have a question about blog disclosure statements.

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