Free Clothes & Mad Cash: Blog Disclosures Made Easy


If you're a blogger in the U.S., you're obligated to follow FTC guidelines when disclosing partnerships, compensation, and sponsored content.  If you're  a blogger outside of the U.S., your country may not have strict guidelines to follow.  Even if you're not legally obligated to disclose your partnerships, being open, honest, and transparent is always good for establishing trust with your readers.

There are bloggers (and prominent ones at that) who DON'T disclose; don't use them as your example!  While there haven't been any cases (yet) of  bloggers being fined for lack of disclosures, you don't want to be the one to set the example (do you? I didn't think so).

Previously on IFB…

We've talked a lot at IFB about FTC guidelines as they've changed, the ways that bloggers receive compensation, and how to navigate those guidelines within fashion blogging.  This is only a small portion of the posts IFB has on the topic, but I felt they were good examples for a jumping off point about writing crystal clear disclosures!

Disclose: When you receive an item for free.

Whether it's a trip to Milan, a few bottles of nail polish, a dress, or a box of tampons.  If the company sent it to you for free, you should make note of that.  You can do this a variety of ways…

I received this item for free from BRAND.
Item was gifted to me courtesy of BRAND.
Dress by BRAND (received courtesy of).
Brand provided this item free for review, and all opinions and experiences are 100% my own.
* All items marked with a star were received courtesy of the brand for review and promotional purposes.

No matter which way you say it, make sure that your audience understands you did not purchase the item and that you received it for free.  Sometimes we review items and the whole post is dedicated to sharing the pros and cons of that post – and it's often pretty easy to include that disclaimer.  Other times, a blogger may receive an item for free to wear in their outfit posts – and it can be harder to for a reader to understand that you, the blogger, didn't pay for the item without a disclosure.   Make sure that everything is easily spelled out and understood by your readers!

Disclose: When you use affiliate links.

According to new FTC disclosures, we're actually supposed to disclose BEFORE the first affiliate link appears in a post, so that readers don't click on it without that knowledge.  However, many blogs don't even disclose on individual pages that have affiliate links!  Your readers want to support you and your site, and letting them know you may make an income won't hurt you.

A simple way to do follow guidelines is to write at the end of each post, “Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which may generate a revenue for the site when a purchase is made. You can read more at my Disclosure Policy page.

If you choose not to write a disclosure in your posts, make sure that you have a disclosure listed prominently somewhere on your site – don't make you readers dig around for it!  In addition to putting it in posts with affiliate links, I have a disclaimer listed in my blog's footer, as well a disclosure page.  This way no one can say I didn't warn them!

Disclose: When you receive compensation.

It seems like bloggers are reluctant to mention when they've been paid to work with a brand.  Maybe because they fear their credibility will be questioned, the partnership will be questioned, or their readers will think they're selling out.

If you write an advertorial post and you are paid to write it, disclose it.  It can be as simple as, “I received compensation for writing this post on behalf of BRAND.  All opinions and are 100% my own.”  Pop it in at the bottom of your post – and BAM! It's as simple as that.

Working with a brand on a campaign can be a different beast – maybe you worked with them on a photo shoot and decided to write a post about it.  The post wasn't part of a the paid sponsorship… so should you disclose it?   The money you received wasn't in exchange for blog related services – so in theory, you don't have to.  However, if you work with the brand and a post about the project *IS* part of your sponsorship package, you should disclose it.

When in doubt… disclose.

There's a brand I I work with who pays me in gift certificates.  Sometimes the items end up on my blog, and sometimes they don't.  And the longest part of each post is asking, “What's the easiest way for me to disclose this?”  Another company I work freelance for and receive an employee discount as a perk.  If the clothes get featured on my site, should I disclose that?  Yeah, I probably should!

Remember that not all of your readers are bloggers.  Make sure that whatever terminology you use to disclose is clear to those outside of the industry.  You may know that (C/O) after an item means it was received “courtesy of the brand,” but new readers may not know it or understand.

Think of the most technophobic person you know – and ask yourself, “Would mom/grandpa/my sister understand that I received this for free, was paid to write this post, etc.?”  If the answer is “No,” then your disclosure isn't clear enough for your readers or for the FTC.

The trust your readers have in you is your most valuable asset.  Be honest with them in your monetization efforts, and they'll respect you for it.

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9 Responses

  1. Elisa

    This is very interesting, but I think that one disclosure on the blog is enough! I would find it annoying if there was a disclosure each and every post with affiliate links!
    I mean, I think that in 2013 we all can see if it’s an affiliate link or not. It is very clear! If it has a code at the end, if it says aff= somewhere, if it’s a link… There’s no need in my opinion to reiterate it in every post! I honestly don’t care if someone doesn’t understand something they’re looking at it’s advertising: it’s the same people that click on spam links in e-mails; wake up people!
    At the end of the day, people are reading for free something that we wrote spending a lot of time, on a blog we built putting a lot of effort in it: I don’t think anyone should be bothered about clicking on affiliate links. I am not: if I click on an affiliate link and buy that something, I am grateful to whoever put that link out, because without this person I wouldn’t have found something I love.
    About free products: it’s ok to write “courtesy of” if something was gifted, but that should be about it. The most important thing is that you don’t say that you bought it when you didn’t. I don’t see why I should write “THIS ITEM WAS GIVEN TO ME FREEEE OFFFF CHAAARGE” in red letters; if you don’t understand what “courtesy of” means, that’s your problem, not mine as a blogger. (I don’t mean to sound aggressive)
    And about what you say in the end: I don’t think you should disclose if you buy clothes with an employee discount or not. It’s something you buy yourself and it’s not something gifted or meant to be reviewed; to me it would be like disclosing if I bought that dress with my money or with the money my mom gave me for my birthday, if you know what I mean. It’s a very subtle red line I know, but we don’t need to disclose literally everything! I don’t know but I think this all got out of control because of people reviewing everything in a positive way no matter what, just because it was given them for free.

    • Tay

      Hello Elisa,

      Although I completely understand what you’re saying, to be quite honest it doesn’t matter what we think. FTC will still come after those who don’t follow the guidelines despite how we feel. I know that they’ve cranked down on A LOT of affiliate & internet marketers across every industry for not disclosing properly, or at all!

      So my word of caution to everyone is to be safe than sorry. Save yourself a ton of money and disclose. I know if your site is using, there’s a widget called ‘TEXT’ that allows you to write text that will show up on the side of every post you make by default. That way you don’t have to worry about adding a disclosure for every post, it will already be there in one place! And from my experience, a lot of visitors to a website actually respect when the owner/blogger is transparent with them. They will even go out of their way to FIND your affiliate link just to make sure you get compensated as a way of saying thanks (which I believe you stated as well).

      Also, you may have people who find an individual post of yours from Google search. What if that was a post you decided to not disclose on? Maybe that person won’t visit your other posts that do have disclosure. That’s why I recommend users to use that TEXT tool. I’m sure blogger probably has some way to do this as well for all of those on that platform.

      This is just my 2 cents to all reading.

  2. bellaconscience

    As blogging has become a business for many top bloggers where they are getting top dollars for the outfits they were, I think it is essential that they disclose their affiliations. Many posts are not “organic” anymore. I see the same top bloggers pushing for the same brand products and making it looks like it is still just their own stuff. It degrades the whole point of blogging. If one wants to be an advertisement for fashion brands then they should call their blogs “models for brands” not fashion bloggers.

  3. Crystal Gardner

    Thanks for sharing this, I had no idea any time an affiliate link was used in a post we had to disclose it. I’m new to doing affiliate posts and now I know what I need to do moving forward. I do agree with Elisa, I wouldn’t spell it out in bold red letters on each post, I would put a disclaimer at the end of the post.

  4. Andy Z

    I don’t think you have to be THAT OPEN when it comes to your OWN bussiness, it’s up to you how to handle your readers and how you make your own money, it’s no one bussiness.

    But, it’s good to have that option to share wih your readers that your are making an income for some things.

    • Cautious

      With respect, what you or I think is reasonable and appropriate isn’t the issue. As Ashley points out, what matters is what the law and any relevant regulations say we must do.

  5. Catherine

    Honestly, sometimes I feel like the posts here on IFB are mainly trying to condescend successful bloggers. I thought at first, IFB likes to support up and coming bloggers, but after a while of reading, I realized you guys only want to expose all the successful blogging secrets as well as degrade from new blogger’s motivation and pulling them down to reality. In a certain sense, I don’t think the blogging world would’ve ever come to what it has, had it not been for IFB. I mean that IFB made it clear that bloggers receive items for free, and they get money, so now everyone is on the hunt for that regardless of how fake they may seem.

  6. Lyz G

    I think avoiding doing sponsored reviews is best. Sponsoring makes you untrustworthy to the readers and it really hurts your blog when you could be putting out better quality posts.