Is Your Favorite Publication Violating FTC Disclosure Guidelines?

The FTC has been cracking down on “influencers” and bloggers who have failed to disclose commercial arrangements.

The Kardashians and Lord & Taylor and Nylon are two well-known examples, resulting in legal action and fines.

This flared panic and discussion within “influencer” and blogging communities, and while not all bloggers choose to follow FTC guidelines, most are at least aware that they must disclose their relationship to a company if they are compensated monetarily (in the form of sponsorship or affiliate sales,) or compensated with free product.

However it seems that big publishers missed the memo – and large publications with hundreds of thousands of loyal followers continue to make money off of affiliate articles and unknowing consumers.

What companies are seemingly violating FTC guidelines?

There are hundreds of publications in every niche seemingly violating FTC guidelines, but for the sake of brevity I will show only a couple of examples of trusted publications hiding affiliate links in “news” content:

Runner’s World

Runner’s World is a reputable running magazine that publishes articles on topics such as the “Best Running Shoes of 2016”. Unfortunately, it might have been more appropriate to title the article “Running Shoes of 2016 That Make Us The Most Money”.

Runners World Non Disclosure Violation

If you click through the links to look at Amazon or Walmart product pages, you’ll notice that the URL in your browser is extremely long. For the Amazon links, it will look something like this:

Runners World Amazon Affiliate Link

This page from Amazon explains how to build an affiliate link with your Associate ID, by adding the string” tag=your_Associates_ID” – in this case, the associate id is “runnersworld06-20”.

Amazon Affiliate Links
Via Amazon

Now this is me making assumptions and connecting the dots with the information available to me online – I am not accusing Runner’s World of any wrongdoing, I am simply observing that the URLs appear to be affiliate URLs in an article with no disclosure. My understanding of the FTC guidelines is that this is a violation, however they may have good and legal reason to be doing things the way they are.

To the best of my knowledge, these URL strings are generated in affiliate advertising programs, and tell Amazon that Runner’s World sent the traffic to them. If you make a purchase through this link, Runner’s World will make a commission from the sale. is another example of large web publications that do not disclose affiliate links. They publish articles like this one, discussing cute Hello Kitty mashups. Similarly to Runner’s World, they display products in an editorial manner without disclosing any relationship, yet when you hover over the images you see that it links to “Shareasale”.

Geek Share a Sale Link

Why does the FTC have disclosure guidelines?

The FTC requires disclosure to protect consumers against deception and provide the opportunity for consumers to make truly informed decisions.

This means that if there is an exchange of goods or money between a publisher and a company, the publisher must disclose this relationship so that the viewer can weigh this into their purchase decision.

This disclosure may not have an impact on the consumer, or the consumer may decide that the article is biased, incredible, or unobjective and choose to seek information elsewhere to make a better-informed decision.

The knowledge of affiliation sometimes deters buyers because it reduces the credibility and objectivity of the articles, which is why some people intentionally avoid disclosing, violating the rules put forth by the FTC.

Are large publishers above the FTC guidelines?

Are corporations above FTC Guidelines?

Here’s what perplexes me – I can understand that a new blogger might not understand that affiliate links require clear and conspicuous disclosures, but many of these large publications have unlimited legal resources at their disposal.

I would expect therefore, that their legal team would ensure that they strictly follow all advertising guidelines.

However as far as I can from all information the FTC provides to the public, these undisclosed affiliate links are in blatant violation of the guidelines. There is no clause in the guidelines to excuse certain types of companies or publications (that I can see).

The case involving Nylon also leads me to believe that these companies are in fact in violation of the guidelines and could potentially face fines and legal action, considering that they are a similar large publication with vast legal resources at their disposal.

But hey, I’m not the well-paid team of lawyers of a multimillion dollar company, so there is likely some reasonable explanation that I am missing.

Why non-disclosure is a major problem:

There are a handful of reasons that non-disclosure of advertisements is a big issue online.


Violating the FTC guidelines is obviously a problem because it can result in legal action and fines against all parties involved.

Consumer Protection:

These guidelines weren’t just created to further kill journalism and make it impossible to earn money online – they were designed to protect consumers.

I found myself on the market for a vacuum cleaner recently, and since I know nothing about vacuums and need one that does well against dog hair, the first thing I did was Google “best vacuum for dog hair”.

This led me to listicles of “Top 15 Vacuums for Dog Hair,” and similar articles, rating the vacuums on features and performance. However these articles were written not by people who had used all of the vacuums and had an opinion on which performed best, but by people who knew exactly which one yielded what commission through Amazon Affiliates.

When articles disclose their relationship with phrasing such as “this article contains affiliate links. If you click through these links and make a purchase, I will receive a commission,” it allows buyers to understand that the article is essentially an advertisement, and I may weigh it similarly to a TV commercial rather than advice from a friend or acquaintance.

Evening the playing field:

Evening the playing field with affiliate disclosures

Let’s be honest: it’s not fair that an individual who relies on their blog for their income has to disclose affiliate and sponsor relationships, when a multi-million dollar company is “above” these rules.

While bloggers try desperately to make a living writing articles with potentially deterring disclosures, multi-million dollar companies are deceiving consumers and quite likely making far more from affiliate links because the consumer is unaware of the monetary relationship.

This does not mean that small bloggers should avoid making appropriate disclosures; on the contrary!

Large companies need to be held to the same standards as bloggers – if not higher. After all, a part time blogger does not have a team of lawyers at their disposal. There is no excuse for major publications not to be held accountable to FTC guidelines.

Are you using marketing case studies wrong?

Are You Using Marketing Case Studies Wrong?

I love research, and while I can all too easily get on my academic soapbox, I think there is a lot of value in research done by average Joes, Joesephines, and businesses.

I acknowledge that not everyone has the resources or particular “types” of intelligence to complete a higher education degree – and quite frankly not everyone wants to. There’s nothing wrong with learning mostly on your own, even online.

However, as a former psychology student and current master’s candidate for a research degree, I see not just flawed research performed by over-eager marketers, but a whole lot of flawed interpretation and discussion of research.

Case studies are a great tool of exploration, understanding, and example, but they are often weighed far too heavily – enabling poor business decisions.

Here are 3 ways you should avoid using case studies, and a couple of ways you should use case studies.

3. DON’T use a case study to prove your point

Don't use case studies as proof

You can conduct the most in-depth, elaborate study with thousands of participants and tens of thousands of data points, and you still will never prove your point.

You can use data and insights from tens or hundreds or thousands of research studies, and you still will not prove your point.

When you are talking about research, eliminate all iterations of the word “proof” from your vocabulary.

Research provides evidence, but never proves anything with 100% certainty. No matter how much math you use or how fancy it is or how fancy your charts and graphs look, it is impossible to “prove” something. And if you declare in any research paper or blog post reviewing research that something is “proven,” us academics will barf a little in our mouths and silently close the browser tab.

Like any study type, case studies can’t prove anything – but it’s not just statistical significance that inhibits this.

In other types of studies (surveys, observational, experimental, etc.), there are typically at least a couple dozen participants – if not hundreds. With significant findings from an appropriately sized, randomized, and representative sample, we can make an informed assumption that the results would be similar if testing methods were applied to others in the target population (even if the “population” is referring to businesses and not individual people).

Case studies differ in that their sample size is 1 which can hardly be representative of a population, creating an issue of low external validity.

If you’re appealing to your boss for support using a specific tactic, or researching for your next in-depth blog post, be sure to avoid “proving” your point with a case study.

2. DON’T use a case study to create your marketing strategy

Don't copy tactics from case studies

Don’t base your entire marketing strategy (or even a substantial part of it) on a case study.

Even if the case study focuses on a company in your industry or a company with a similar audience, it does not mean that you will have the exact same outcome.

It’s easy to get caught up in dreamland when you come across a super cool case study using practices that promise to explode your web traffic by 500% in 14 days, but there are so many variables involved that can’t be replicated.

For example, even if your website is in the exact same niche as the subject of the case study, there may be dozens of differences including:

  • Age of the domain
  • Size and authority of the website
  • Number and quality of backlinks to the site prior to implementing the new practices
  • Perception of the brand
  • Social presence of the brand
  • Current competition in the SERPs
  • Team members working on the project
  • Existing relationships with other companies, site owners, and editors

Case studies are often used as selling tools for expensive software and services, so if you are considering investing hundreds or thousands of dollars don’t let a case study be the determining factor in the decision.

Consider tactics (or software) used in case studies that have yielded awesome results; but only cautiously after considering both the unique circumstances of the highlighted subject and your own unique situation.

1. DON’T use case studies to generalize

Ultimately all of these “don’ts” come down to avoiding generalization when you discuss, use, or apply case studies.

Don't generalize with case studies

If in a case study a company exploded their traffic by 500% in 14 days by using Pinterest, does that make it safe to say that Pinterest is a good channel for your business?


Does it make it safe to say that Pinterest is a good channel for businesses?


Generalizing results of a case study is a quick way to make yourself look like a fool.

Again, no two businesses or websites are exactly the same. Because case studies focus on a single participant, it is impossible to know how others will react under similar conditions.

Most research is based on a sample that is the closest representation of the general population as possible (or a specific subset of a population).

If you are sending out a survey studying “millennials in the U.S.”, you would strive to send it to a group that has similar representation of age, gender, race, and income as the total population of millennials in the U.S.

We often see the opposite of this in the selection of cases for case studies. Hypothetically a “typical case” could be selected for a case study, but it’s uncommon to find them inspiring – because the results are likely to be typical.

Case studies are chosen because they are extreme or deviant

More commonly we see the use of “extreme” or “deviant” cases, which are selected because the results are not typical.

These cases are selected specifically because they are unique, so it is unlikely that the same methods would yield the same results for a different subject.

Instead of generalizing and “proving” your point with them or applying the concepts learned directly to your own strategy, here are a couple of ways you should be using them:

How to Use Marketing Case Studies for Your Business

DO use case studies to inspire discussion

If you read a case study that seems relevant to your business, one of the most valuable things you can do is use it to inspire discussion.

Bring it up in your next meeting and see what input your coworkers have.

Create a discussion thread online to see what insights others gained from it.

Discuss case studies

Discussing the case study as it may relate to your own business will expose you to different understandings, perspectives, and explanations for the results, and help you better understand where your company is similar or different.

DO use case studies to inspire further research and investigation

Eisenhardt describes case studies as ““useful in early stages of research on a topic or when a fresh perspective is needed”.

Whether you find a case study interesting because it reaffirms your beliefs or contradicts them, they provide a great opportunity to inspire further research. Ideas of further research may include:

  • Seeking out related articles and studies online
  • Surveying your own audience
  • Running a controlled test using one of the tactics or methods used in the study

It’s all too easy to get caught up in dreamland when you read an awesome case study. Keep in mind the subject was likely selected because it was an extreme example, not a typical case. The tactics may very well apply to your business, but it’s vital to slow down and think about context before making a big business decision.

New Huffington Post Blogging Platform for Contributors

The Blogger’s Guide to the New Huffington Post Contributor Platform

The Huffington Post recently changed their contributor platform. Thousands of bloggers utilize HuffPo to extend the reach of their articles to new audiences, gain backlinks, and build their writing portfolio.

Now, instead of jumping onto their blogging platform and submitting a new post for review, bloggers can publish directly to the Huffington Post website.

Writers excited about dofollow backlinks

But there’s a catch…

How the New Huffington Post Content Platform Works

Now when an existing blogger submits to the Huffington Post, their article is automatically published.

Well that’s pretty sweet for bloggers, right — to have their work immediately published?

Not so fast..

Cons of the New HuffPo Blogging Platform

While posts are automatically sent live, bloggers won’t reap the same benefits.

Initially, the posts are set as “noindex, nofollow”, which means that both the article, and any links it may contain are virtually ignored by Google and other search engines.

It used to be that after a few days of waiting for review, posts would published to the Huffington Post and featured on category pages, but it seems now that they are only published on a unique URL that is not featured at all.

If your post does well, the Huffington Post may “promote” your article to be featured, but until then your post will not receive any traffic other than what you send to it yourself.

Once your post is promoted, it will also become an indexed page with do-follow links.

Blogger working for huffington post

Pros of the New HuffPo Blogging Platform

The Huffington Post, and to an extent its readers gain benefit from these new blog platform changes.

HuffPo saves a substantial amount of time because only a small handful of posts have to be reviewed and edited, compared to all articles in the past.

Hypothetically this should also raise the quality of the featured articles on the Huffington Post, because articles featured on the website are more specifically hand-picked.

Implications for Link Builders and Bloggers:

If you are looking to publish to the Huffington Post for link building purposes, you need to rethink your strategy. It is most likely that your article will never be converted to an indexed page with do-follow links unless you plan on heavily promoting your article.

There may still be value in the no-follow links if the article has substantial traffic, however the Huffington Post will no longer be driving traffic to the page until it’s promoted, so it comes down to your own promotional strategy again.

This change also negatively affects bloggers with small networks looking to use the Huffington Post to leverage a wider audience. Contributor-published articles will never reach the main HuffPo article without substantial promotion and marketing, which is a problem for bloggers who don’t have large followings.

Ultimately, the new Huffington Post platform is making bloggers work harder – for free.


What do you think?

Do you plan on publishing to the new Huffington Post platform?

Google Analytics Search Console Reports

All About the New Google Analytics Search Console Reports

I was perusing Google Analytics the other day and almost choked – my “Search Engine Optimization” reports were missing!

I desperately looked to Google for answers – and it seems that the SEO reports have been replaced by “Search Console” reports. While both draw data from the GA/Search Console integration, “Search Console” reports offer most of the same info plus a few COOL added bonuses.

Google Search Console Reports

While the original “Search Engine Optimization” reports included Landing Pages, Queries, and a Geographical report, the new Search Console includes Landing Pages, Countries, Devices, and Queries.

Google search console reports

Top 3 Things to Look At in Search Console Reports

Click through rate by landing page by keyword

Click Through rate by landing page and keyword

It used to be that you could look at the CTR for the landing page or query, but now you can narrow it down to the landing page by query.

To do this, go to your “Landing Pages” report, and click on the page you want to look at. You’ll then be taken to a screen showing you the queries that have brought users to this page, as well as the CTR. The majority of queries are still listed as (not set), but especially when you manage a site with a high traffic volume, the available sampling can give you awesome insight into which keywords have good CTR, and which don’t for any given page.

How to use this insight: There’s no use in data alone if you don’t act on it. This report is awesome because you can see the effectiveness of your SERP results by keyword.

Perhaps you have a page on “blogging services”, and it has a high click through rate for the term “advice on blogging” but not for the search term “services for my blog”. The page is designed to drive sales of your services, so you will find that the intent of the searchers does not necessarily match the purpose of the page.

Click Through Rate By Device

If you go to the “Devices” report, you’ll see a breakdown of the number of impressions and clicks on Google, by device. It is helpful to be able to see if there is a major difference in queries by device (example: are more people searching long-tail, natural language keywords on mobile?)

It’s also helpful to see the effectiveness of your SERP results based on device by looking at the CTR. Perhaps you’ll find that pages with shorter title tags have a higher click through on mobile than desktop.

How to use this insight: This report will help you better understand your audience. Perhaps the majority of purchases on your site come from mobile users, but your e-commerce pages have a low CTR for mobile devices. You may decide to alter your SERP (title and/or meta description) to better meet your mobile users preferences.

Average Position of Landing Pages for Specific Queries

Average Position for Search Queries by Landing Page

Search Engine Optimization reports in Google Analytics used to show you the average position of a query… but what if you have multiple landing pages ranking for the same term?

If you have a website about plumbing in Los Angeles, your “Los Angeles” page ranks #1, your homepage ranks #7, and your “Plumbing Tips” page ranks #32, all for the same search term. In the old system, all of these would be averaged out for your final “average position” number.

Now, you can see how each landing page ranks for a specific query. To do this, go to the Landing Pages report, click on one of your landing pages, and you will see a breakdown of queries and the average position for each.

How to use this insightKnowing the average position of your landing page for specific queries will help you better understand how your pages rank for specific terms. Perhaps your e-commerce pages are ranking high for terms with low commercial intent and lower for terms with high commercial intent. You can try optimizing your page to rank better for keywords with high commercial intent by altering your copy and building links.

It’s also helpful to know your CTR by position. There should be a close relationship between the average position and click through rate. If your page ranks #1 for a high traffic keyword and only has a click through rate of 3%, you might want to consider optimizing your SERP result by changing your meta description or title tag.


The new Google Analytics Search Console reports are very similar to the older Search Engine Optimization reports, but they allow for a bit deeper insight, allowing you to better optimize your website.

How to Use Real SEO Headers for Your Blog

Why You Need Real Headers For Your Blog (+ How to Do It!)

I see a lot of really great blogs and intelligent writers pumping out fantastic content that will never be seen by a search engine.

There are tons of reasons for this, but one mistake that I consistently see is not using headers.

Using headers is not really a make-or-break type of thing, so if you don’t use them but you have killer backlinks to your site, awesome content, and a super-fast site, I wouldn’t freak out just yet.

However in SEO, very few single tactics are make-or-break (except heavily using tactics that will get you penalized). Updating your old posts to have proper headers won’t magically place you #1 in the SERPs for all of your target keywords, but it is a great way to give your pages a little boost.

Newspaper Headers

Why Use SEO Blog Headers?

If you’ve ever read my blog posts before, you probably know that I love and use the hell out of headers

Headers are awesome for:

  • Breaking content up and making it more visually interesting
  • Making it easier to skim, so readers will still understand your main points even if they don’t read every word
  • Make it easier for search engines to understand the main points of your content

A mistake that I consistently see is bloggers using bolded text as a header.

Bolded text is not the same as headers.

While it can be eye-catching, bolded text doesn’t really tell your readers or search engines that the text is really, really important.

Real headers will be significantly larger than regular bold text, and depending on your blog settings may also feature a different font.

How to Create H2 and H3 Headers

Some blog editors have a drop down menu where you can select your header type, and others do not. That’s okay – it’s easy enough to create them in HTML (really, I have the HTML capabilities of a 6th grader, it’s not hard!)

If you are using WordPress, all you have to do is access the text editor here…

Editing HTML Blog Headers in WordPress

Then you find the text that you want to use as a header, and wrap it with header tags.

An H2 header will look like this:

<h2> This Is My H2 Header Text! </h2>

An H3 header will look like this:

<h3> This Is My H3 Header Text! </h3>

SEO Best Practices for Headers

Like any SEO tactics, headers can be done correctly or incorrectly. The main thing to keep in mind is the function of the headers to your visitors. You are using headers primarily for your visitors, and the search engine bots are just site visitors that are trying to understand the main points of your blog post.

  • Use real headers with H2 and H3 tags, not bolded text
  • Use H2 and H3 headers to draw attention to your main points
  • Use H2 and H3 headers to break up your posts visually
  • Include keywords in headers so that skim-readers and search engines know the really important topics of your post
  • Do not stuff your headers full of keywords thinking it will improve your search engine visibility (hint: it wont)
  • Use headers that match the hierarchy of important points for your post
    • A main point will be marked with H2
    • A sub-point of that main point will be marked with H3
    • You can even use H4 headers if you have that much to say, and if using the header creates better organization and visual flow