At 2:45AM EST on February 3rd, I, like other Amazon.com Associates affiliates, received an email informing me of “Changes to the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement.” I hardly ever pay attention to these emails, since I’m not fluent in legalese. And in this case, the Amazon Associates Team has saved me the trouble by summarizing the one update worth highlighting, which was something about the user session for MyHabit.com being extended that didn’t matter to me. On a whim, I decided to click through to read the rest of the changes and discovered that Amazon had somewhat buried the lead. Amazon has changed its policy on URL shortening services (e.g. Bit.ly, is.gd, TinyURL, goog.gl). Here’s the juicy bit.
Associates Program Linking Requirements
In the February 2, 2012, version, the following sentence was added to the second paragraph.
“In addition, you must not use a link shortening service in a manner that makes it unclear that you are linking to an Amazon Site.”
What does that mean? I’m not 100% sure yet. I’ve asked Amazon.com Associates customer service to clarify that line a bit and they said that my inquiry would be “forwarded to the appropriate department.” Hmm…
Amazon Affiliate Links + URL Shorteners
For the uninitiated, an Amazon affiliate link has a referral code built-in to it that allows publishers to take a cut of Amazon’s profits for whatever the clicker buys. To the trained eye, an affiliate link is easy to spot.
For example, here’s a normal link to 6 pounds of pistachios on Amazon.com.
Here is an affiliate link:
That bolded bit is my Amazon Associate ID, and the “ref” makes it clear that I have a vested interest in you clicking that and buying something. For savvy readers, it may even make you doubt my impartiality. (Which, when it comes to pistachios, you should most definitely doubt me. I once ate an entire pound of pistachios in one sitting and then had to go to the doctor with an ulcer. And I still love them.)
URL shorteners allow you to obfuscate your use of referral links, to a certain degree. For example, can you tell that this link is an affiliate link?
There are good and bad reasons to use link shortening services for affiliate links. Some folks use URL shorteners for metrics purposes, or for making those long ugly links more palatable for Twitter. But others use them to hide their ulterior motives for linking a certain product or service. That latter behavior is what Amazon is likely trying to clamp down on.
So, what constitutes “a manner that makes it unclear that you are linking to an Amazon Site?” That’s what I asked Amazon, and I hope they get back to me soon. Amazon does have its own link shortening service, amzn.to (e.g http://amzn.to/wr02fh), which you can use by entering an Amazon link at http://bit.ly. That, it seems, shouldn’t violate the Operating Agreement. Especially since Amazon recommends using it in their social networking FAQ (though it’s unclear whether this has been updated since February 2).
But now’s probably a good time to bring up another slight change to the Operating Agreement. Amazon now forces associates to agree to settle disputes in binding arbitration. Previously, you could sue Amazon in a state or federal court in King County, Washington. But Amazon, like so many other big corporations (credit card companies, notoriously), is asking you to waive your right to bring a civil lawsuit against them regarding your agreement with them. Check out FairArbitrationNow.org to understand why so-called “forced arbitration” is a raw deal.
I’ll update this post once I find out more information. But for now, I would recommend evaluating your use of URL shorteners if you are using them to link to Amazon. You could find your Amazon Associates account in jeopardy and your hands tied with regard to suing for any lost profits. Contact Amazon.com directly to confirm that your practices conform to their rather vague Operating Agreement. And, if possible, use their shortening service instead of something else that may make it unclear that you are linking to Amazon.