Affiliate marketing has been around since the dawn of the internet but it has morphed into a number of variations on ways to earn and monetise businesses and websites. If you don’t have any inventory to sell yourself, it may sound like an easy way to set up a business and make some money selling someone else’s products. But it’s a lot more work than you may think, and it’s definitely not a ‘set and forget’ business!
There are a number of things you should be aware of to ensure you don’t end up being responsible for your affiliate advertisers’ mistakes and here are the top 5 important tips to protect yourself:
1. Only choose professional sellers to associate with
Why is this important? Once your customer clicks on your affiliate link to purchase, you are no longer in control of the sales process or purchase. You cannot control timing of delivery, customer service, product quality or anything beyond this point. This is up to your affiliate business sales partner.
Not all business sellers may be as customer service focused as you are. If your customer requires assistance with products or services, if there are issues with products or warranties, or if the myriad of potential customer service requirements are not being addressed by your affiliate seller, you may find both your brand and your online reputation being tarnished.
So look for professional affiliate businesses with affiliate program terms that cover customer responsibility and management. The affiliate program terms should include, at minimum, what happens when a customer is unhappy with the product or services, a process for any legal claim against you as result of their product sales, an agreement for updates of products and sales, and confirm that the affiliate seller you are referring customers to will abide by consumer law for delivery timing and advertising, and other requirements.
The processes will need to flow into your own website terms you have with your customers as anyone purchasing through your site is essentially ‘your customer’ too!
2. Tell your customers you are not selling the products
As an affiliate, your visitors and customers to your website need to know that products are not coming from you directly. There are a number of disclosures you need to make including that they will be sent to another website to make their purchase. You should explain the sale process and what happens if the customer is not happy with the product they bought from your affiliate business site or link.
3. Tell your customers you are earning commissions from their sale
All compensation of any type should be disclosed to visitors to your site. This includes any benefits of any type, even ‘in kind’ such as promotional or free gifts, and any related party ‘incentives’ such as referrals to any other businesses you may own. It is not just financial benefits that should be disclosed. Some affiliate sellers include this requirement in their affiliate program terms, some countries require this as part of their legislation, while in Australia, it is part of the Australian Association of National Advertisers code requirements. Depending on what and how you advertise on behalf of your affiliate seller, disclosure may be required by Australian consumer law also. If, for example, you do a review or testimonial or comment on a product you are receiving a benefit for in any way, you must clearly state this benefit in or on the testimonial or review, or it may otherwise be deemed a fake or misleading review under the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
4. Keep your website content up-to-date
Having a disclaimer on your website that states that the information on your website is, to the best of your knowledge and ability, true, correct and up-to-date will help protect you to a limited extent from claims for outdated or incorrect information but this will not absolve you from all liability. It will help if you can show you are actively monitoring your content and keeping your website information current. Make a practice of reviewing your website regularly and ensure you know what you are advertising on behalf of your affiliate sellers, including where you are advertising any special or ‘regulated’ items that may require additional disclaimers or have special regulations or codes governing the advertisement such as alcohol, or advertisements aimed at children or environmental claims.
You should also check your affiliates sellers’ websites frequently as part of your processes to ensure they are still offering the products or services you are advertising on their behalf, as well as regularly removing old products that are no longer available and updating the advertisements on your site. By regularly monitoring their sites, it means you can also keep track of the new products, sales and offerings to add to your site and sales and to add to your marketing efforts.
5. Tell your customers what you are responsible for
You know you are not selling the products directly but you need visitors and customers to your website to understand that too. It’s a common error that website owners assume that because they are providing advertising and marketing services and directing customers to another business owner’s website that it means it’s not their problem once the customer leaves their site or purchases from the advertiser.
Your terms should clarify your relationship with your customers. Your customer terms should clearly set out what you are responsible for and what the affiliate seller is responsible for, according to your affiliate program terms. This normally includes clarifying the sale process, product terms and disclaimers to potential purchasers. You need to make it clear to your customers what they need to do if they are unhappy with the product or service they purchase from your affiliate seller website or using your affiliate link, which business owner is responsible for the customer delivery order, refunds and guarantees as well as any dispute processes. These are important to both your affiliate relationship as well as your customer relationship and will ensure a smoother, better process for everyone.
Nothing comes for free and it may seem like a lot of work, but you can start a lucrative business without having any of your own products to sell. If you decide to start an affiliate marketing website, you should really consider only promoting products and services you would purchase or are prepared to stand by yourself. After all, the success of their business is essentially your business success too!