What You Need to Know About Advertising Your Services Online

On December 1, 2009, recent changes to the Federal Trade Commission Act affecting online marketing, blogging and advertising will go into effect. The expanded regulations affect every US-based individual and business that sells or recommends products and services on the Internet. So if you have a website for your freelance bookkeeping business (and you should) or post on social media, you need to know about this.

What’s it all about?

“The original FTC act ‘prohibits deceptive and unfair acts or practices in commerce and misleading advertising of drugs, foods, cosmetics, devices and services,’ and these prohibilitions apply online and offline,” explains Richard Cleland, Assistant Director of the FTC Advertising Practices Division in a recent online interview.

The new guidelines expand on how the regulations apply to online marketing. With the ease in posting recommendations for third party products and services, such as using Amazon affiliate links, this change affects nearly everyone who has any kind of commercial dealings on the Web.

In which situations does it apply?

Specifically, the new rules apply to anyone who posts on a blog or website using affiliate links or where customer testimonials are used to sell a product or service. Any kind of reviews or recommendations online where compensation is involved are also included.

The fact that there is compensation involved now must be plainly disclosed. Where testimonials are involved, average customer results must be disclosed. It is no longer adequate to state that “your results may vary,” as has commonly been done by many.

What to do next

Since the new regulations go into effect next week, if you have a website where you use testimonials or affiliate links, you should figure out what needs to be revised on your blog(s) and/or website(s) to bring them into compliance and avoid getting snagged by the authorities. You may also have to change the way you post information with commercial connections on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The rub is, the new guidelins are not especially clear on how they specifically apply to some situations. So the best advice is to check out the information available on the FTC website itself. I’ve also included additional resources below, including an interview just released this week by online business expert, Jim Edwards, and FTC official, Richard Cleland, which includes real life examples of online advertising and how the requirements for disclosure apply.

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Resources

The official FTC guidelines that take effect on December 1st.

Jim Edwards interviews FTC Official for clarification of the new guidelines

Interpretation of FTC guidelines by an Internet lawyer

How to use the new guidelines to your advantage with testimonials

Freelance bookkeeper, trainer and consultant who works with internet savvy business owners and bookkeeping professionals to maximize cash flow and build true win-win relationships.

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6 Responses to “What You Need to Know About Advertising Your Services Online”

  • Jackie Butler on November 25, 2009

    Hi Gabrielle,

    I am just finishing my website, and plan on reviewing it over the holidays and publishing it to the web next week.

    I, too, will have testimonials from satisfied clients. They are not paid in any form (no fee reductions, no bartering, etc.), they were just happy to express their satisfaction with the bookkeeping services they receive and to have this expressed to my prosepective clients.

    Having reviewed several of the resources you mention above, I fail to see how this could be a problem with the FTC. I do, however, plan to have clients that are giving testimonials to sign and date their testimonials for my files.

    Thanks for an interesting article!

  • Gabrielle on November 25, 2009

    Hi Jackie,

    Thanks for your comments, and congrats on getting your website going! :-)

    Testimonials are necessarily an issue with the FTC guidelines, but they can be. If testimonials mention specific results your clients have gotten in their business because of your services, that’s where the rub is. Just because they got those results doesn’t mean it is the “average” results of your clients. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s part of why these new rules are rather controversial.

    That being said, if you have testimonials from clients that only talk about how happy they are with your services or about your integrity and promptness, these are not affected by what the FTC is putting out and you don’t have to change anything.

    Like most government rules, they apply a little differently in every single individual case. But it’s better to be aware of the basic differences as your business grows, since ignorance of the regulations are never an excuse for violating them. Sad, but true.

    Wishing you much success with your new online presence!

  • Wolf Leonard on November 25, 2009

    Hi Gabrielle,

    In your comment/reply to Jackie, I think you meant to say “testimonials are not necessarily an issue …”

    Thanks for the informative heads up on this subject and the resource links.

  • Gabrielle on November 25, 2009

    Yes, you’re right Wolf. I saw that too…after it was posted. And at that point, there’s no fixing it! Good catch. :-)

  • Rocque on November 28, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this information. I guess this weekend I add disclaimers to all my blogs. The only testimonies I have are from my experience and my families with one product I sell. Thanks for all the links I will be checking them out.

  • Mardina on November 30, 2009

    Thanks Gabrielle for the update. It only makes sense for FTC to have this ruling as it may cut down on the number of false claims that are posted. Most internet users tend to trust reviews, comments, and testimonials as a basis for making purchases. What if it were our loved ones caught in the rift of deception?

    How many times have people made purchases based on possibly a “true” claim but not necessarily fit for their situation? Ever been to a hotel that a reviewer listed as fabulous and you found it to be just the opposite? Dishonesty hurts all us of business owners…time to weed them out and let the honest suppliers come forth!

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