Category Archives: Blogging Advice

Just Say No to Affiliate Links! My new advertising policy.

The Borrowed Abode is going ad-free and ditching affiliate links*.    I’ve only ever linked to products I use and love, but I’m getting rid of any affiliate linking to them because I’m tired of blog being overrun with affiliate links.

The Borrowed Abode Transparency Policy 2015

That’s the short version. Ready for the long one?

During my 6 years of blogging I’ve tried different revenue models, thinking it wouldn’t hurt to cover the costs of the site, and maybe have some money left over for projects.

I copied what I saw the bigger bloggers doing: sidebar ads, sponsored posts, paid guest posts, and affiliate links. Sidebar ads were a pain to manage, sponsored posts often felt awkward for me to write, and I quickly stopped accepting paid guest posts because they never felt authentic enough.

I always thought affiliate links were ok, though. I only included them when I mentioned products that I used and loved myself.

And I always made sure to disclose the advertising connection in accordance with the FTC guidelines.

Now, however, I feel like I can’t read a monetized blog without running into affiliate links and sponsorships. Affiliate links are taking over the blogosphere, often without proper disclosure, (ahem. . . RStyle links anyone?) and I’m just fed up. Remember the days when blogs were about sharing honest information on projects and inspiration?

There are some bloggers who I feel do a great job of balancing real, honest content with the occasional sponsored post or giveaway – Yellow Brick Home and iHeart Organizing, for example. But for the most part, the bigger design blogs are no longer in my RSS reader because I got tired of the many sponsored posts or the tons of affiliate links snuck in behind shortened URLs.

Over the next month we’ll be removing all affiliate links from old posts. I can’t remove sponsored posts, since part of the agreement is that they live for the life of the blog, but I won’t accept any more of them.


PS: You will see me promoting Janery products, but that’s because they’re my own!

*What are affiliate links? Most products you see linked to from blogs (especially any outfit or clothing) are linked using affiliate links. Let’s use Amazon to explain what this means. A blogger recommends a tool on Amazon, and links to it. You click the link to see more about it and you buy the product. The blogger gets a commission. OR, let’s say you click the link and don’t buy the product. But the next time you go to Amazon, you spend $800 on something else. Amazon remembers the last person whose affiliate link you clicked, and so that blogger gets a commission on your entire purchase – even if it has nothing to do with what they linked to.

Legal Guidance for Bloggers from Sara Hawkins

Friends, if you’re a blogger who hosts giveaways and/or works with brands and/or does contract writing, you need to be familiar with the laws and your rights surrounding those activities.

I certainly am not the authority on the issues, but I did sit through a very helpful session at Blissdom,  “Legal Bliss for Online Influencers & Professionals,” led by Sara Hawkins of Saving For Someday.  Sara is a lawyer, and did a great job sharing important legal info for bloggers.

I am not a lawyer, and this post does NOT constitute legal advice.  I simply want to share the notes I took.  Remember, if you have questions about a promotion you’re doing or a contract you’re going to sign, check with a lawyer!

Legal Tips for Bloggers | The Borrowed Abode


First, it should go without saying that, when you decide to work with a brand or anyone who is paying you, you should have a written contract outlining what is expected.   But there’s a finer detail that many people don’t know about:  if you are required to physically invoice the company/person before being paid, make sure that is stipulated in the contract.

Work For Hire” – Who owns your work?

If those three words are in your agreement, you’ve been hired to work for someone else, and that means they will own your work.  You need to understand what rights you’re giving up to ensure you’re being compensated fairly for your work.

Know exactly what they will own and how they will use it.  You may not be able to republish it.  Hire a lawyer to clarify, or at least tweet at a lawyer asking for help with clarifying.

FTC Disclosure Rules

The week before the conference, the FTC released new 2013 Dot Com Disclosures.   Listen up!

If you’re writing a sponsored post, or writing about an advertiser, your disclosure must be at the top of the post so your readers know as soon as they begin to read that this is a compensated relationship.  This must be the same size and font as the rest of the post.

Use of affiliate links must also be disclosed prior to use of the link.  Hover text or pop-ups don’t count.   Also, you can’t link out and say “see disclosure policy”.

How to deal?  A simple opening paragraph/sentence to let readers know that the following post is either a sponsored post or contains affiliate links.

Sponsored Tweets / Advertiser Tweets

If it’s a sponsored tweet or marketing type tweet, you must put this AD: – no hashtag – at the front of the tweet.  Let’s say I paid for another blogger to tweet about my awesome business.  The tweet would read  “AD: Janery has the best dog crate beds ever!”

Giveaways, Promotions, Sweepstakes, Contests

All of these have legal definitions.

Most bloggers doing giveaways are really engaging in sweepstakes.  Whether they know it or not, these are regulated by the state and the federal government.

Sara said that as professionals we need to raise the bar on this issue.  We work with brands who spend tons of money on lawyers for national sweepstakes, but then they send us a product and offer a second for giveaway.  But what about guidelines or rules?  They don’t provide them.  Some will tell you “please make sure your readers know you got one of our products for free” – but that’s not strong guidance!

Your brand partner is not the sponsor of your giveaway.  They are providing the prize, as prize fulfillment.  All the liability falls on you, for example, if a reader asks who won.  You do have to disclose who won.

No Purchase Necessary is important.  Make the first entry something that anyone can do.

**All entries must be of equal value!  Stop the different weights for different entries, where one type of entry is worth 1 point and another is worth 5.  That’s not legal.

If you can’t search a platform and see if someone follows you, then you can’t make “must follow me” a criteria for entry.

“Freebies” and Prizes in Blogland

Free trips are not free.  Free cars are not free.  You have to pay taxes on them.

If you’re sent cake pops and they’re worth $150, you have just consumed $150 of product.  If you’re gluten free and you give them away, you’ve still received $150 of product and you either donated or sold/provided it.  You have to pay taxes on it.

Somewhere you need to get the cash to pay Uncle Sam for the tax on the free swag, so think before you take it.  You have to pay taxes on the prizes you win.

Giveaways over $600.

If you’re hosting a giveaway where the prize is worth more than $600, by law, you must provide the winner with a 1099 form.

The bottom line is, if you want to be treated like a business, ACT like a business!

For more details on the FTC’s 2013 Dot Com Disclosure guidance, please read Sara’s post on it.

Scott Stratten’s Awesome Advice for Bloggers

When I heard that Scott Stratten was speaking at Blissdom for a second time, I knew the conference would be worth it, no matter what else happened.

Scott is a social media marketing guru (@UnMarketing) who shares his thoughts boldly and without apology.  Companies who suck at social media & marketing should fear him.

After he spoke, I got my copy of his new book signed inside and out, and my adventurous sidekick snuck into the photo.

Unmarketing Scott Stratten Blissdom

Scott spoke for at least an hour, and everything he says is a nugget of gold.  I’m going to try and share his comments in tidbit form.

On Blogging:

Only blog when you have something awesome to say.  Don’t blog just to fill a schedule.  No one shares a post because “oh, the content was mediocre, but it’s Monday!”

For your blog, you want to write content not for your subscribers, but for your audience.  Now you need to give them a reason to share it so you reach wider circles.   The way you do that? You blog the awesome.

On Logos & Hiring Designers

Let the designer do their job, and you do your job running your business.  That’s why you hired them!  The more you tell a designer to tweak something in a logo, a unicorn dies. Stop it!

What Is Marketing?

When people think of marketing, they may think of a logo, but that means nothing.

No one ever says about Ritz: the bed was too hard, the room was too cold, but did you see the logo? It was EXQUISITE!

(I wish I had a video clip of Scott saying the above.  He speaks with so much inflection and humor and nuance, it’s better than listening to any stand-up comedian.)

A logo is something to tweak your brain to think “What do I know about that company?”  The Ritz-Carlton is not a lion logo to Scott, the Ritz is Joshie.

THAT is marketing. And marketing is not a task, it’s a verb.

Your brand is not your logo, your brand is your action.

Marketing Case Study:  Ritz-Carlton

In short: Family stays at Ritz. Family leaves kid’s beloved stuffed giraffe “Joshie” behind when they leave.  Kid is distraught; family tells kid Joshie is on vacation, family calls Ritz and begs “please find the giraffe!”

That’s all pretty standard, right?

What isn’t standard is how the Ritz reacted.  They returned Joshie with a binder full of photos of Joshie’s “extended vacation.”  Joshie at the pool, at the spa, working in the security room looking at the cameras. Joshie even got a badge as a member of the loss prevention team.

They didn’t know the dad was a writer for the Huffington Post, who would go on to write about this extraordinary customer service experience.  Read it.

Think about that Ritz customer service vs. the Ritz logo.  A marketing team spent hours on the logo, but no one remembers the details of the logo.  What people can remember is how they handled Joshie the Giraffe.

Marketing Fail:  Companies that spend more time on a design for a blog and less time answering the people’s comments or emails.  Improve how you connect with people on the front lines.

Knowledge plus passion = profit.

People are not overhead. People are your brand. If you’re bringing on a virtual assistant or other employee, that person is an extension of you.  Even your affiliates are an extension of you.

On QR Codes:

QR Codes.  In theory, you get an app on your phone, in theory you scan the code, and in theory it takes you to a webpage where you get info.

Key words?  “In theory.”

In practice, so much goes wrong with QR codes that it’s funny.

We just started using them, but we’re horrible at them. Scott has seen them on billboards. On trucks.  On doors that open and smack you in the face as you’re scanning the code.


  • QR codes in airline magazines:  When do you read them? When you’re taking off or landing.  Because they won’t let you use your phone.
  • Scott has seen QR codes on websites and has scanned them.  Do you know where they take you? BACK TO THE WEBSITE!  STOP IT!
  • QR Codes in email signatures:  Stop it.  Use a link.
  • A Chiquita banana had a QR code, saying “scan for a smoothie recipe.”  It took him to a website that said “sorry, this site does not work on a mobile device.”   What?  Who’s going to take their PC to the store just to scan the banana?

The whole point of a QR code is that you are supposed to scan it with your mobile phone in order to access a website with your mobile phone, yet Scott has seen many examples of QR codes linking to sites that are not mobile-enabled. That is a QR Code Fail.

Don’t use technology just because you can.  Use technology because:

  • It helps your customer
  • It helps your customer connect with you
  • It helps them give you money

Only 3.6% of cell phone users are successful with QR codes the first time and feel they would “use them again.”

Before you invest in technology, ask yourself: “Does it make sense for my business? Does it make sense for my marketplace?”

On Social Media:

Social media success doesn’t exist. It doesn’t fix anything. If your blog or service stinks, it just stinks more in social media.

The secret to a successful business: work hard.

The secret to being social? Be SOCIAL. Talk with people, not at them.

On Geeks & “Social Media”

Old school geeks remember ICQ.  (Yes!!)  That was social media, but we called it “talking.”  Geeks have been hanging for a long time, eating cheetos and talking on the message boards.  You’re late to the party.

There are two groups you don’t want to tick off in this world: geeks and moms.  And if they’re a geek mom, run.  It will be epic. Nothing is more scary than a group of organized, tech-savvy moms.

On Pinterest:

“I love Pinterest.  It is 98% women, and me.  Kind of like today.  It’s got amazing shoes. Amazing recipes that I can’t make too well.  And Ryan Gosling with no shirt on.”

Pinterest has gotten popular because of passion, not profit.

Key Points to Social Media:

Be sincere, and quick to apologize.

Have fun.  He said “I’ve just seen the tweets about outfits [for Blissdom], and you look so stressed! You know when you look the best? When you’re yourself.  Just be you.”

(Sidenote from Jane:  Thank you, Scott!  I couldn’t understand the outfit hype surrounding the event. When did a blog conference turn into a stressful fashion event??)

Card Connect, Not Collect.

A conference is not about how many cards you can exchange. Collect cards of people you connect with, so you can further the connection.

“DO NOT add people to your newsletter who give you their card, because I WILL FIND YOU.”


Find my recap of his first Blissdom keynote here.

Blissdom 2013: Maybe Blog Conferences Aren’t For Me?

THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to comment on my pre-Blissdom Freakout post.  I loved everyone’s advice and really, really appreciated it.  I took it to heart, and feel that I did a good job being awesome and friendly.

Once I walked into the room my fears fell away.  I definitely have much more confidence in my awesomeness and talking-to-strangers skills than I had two years ago.

In Short:  Tips for Attending a Blog Conference

  • Network online beforehand.  Use the conference Facebook page, Twitter hashtags, etc.  Find other bloggers you connect with ahead of time.
  • Lower your expectations for networking; consider it will be a success if you meet a few people you really connect with.
  • Don’t feel pressured to attend every session if you’re not inspired to do so.  It’s YOUR world, attend it your way.
  • Tip to myself:  Don’t attend a blog conference immediately after traveling and attending 2 other conferences for work.  I was socially drained, and that affected my ability to get the most out of Blissdom.

Now that I’ve survived, I just think we may have the wrong expectations for a blogging conference.

1.  In regards to the sessions – there were a few that were awesome, but some where I didn’t feel the content was really meaty.  I wanted to really learn something in each session.  I also didn’t need 1.5 hours of “free time” between each session in order to mill around the sponsor areas and tweet “OMG FREE STUFF FROM SO-AND-SO.”

2.  In regards to meeting people:

No matter how awesome I am, I suspect that many people who attend blog conferences aren’t really that interested in meeting new bloggers, no matter how much I smiled and was friendly and asked them about themselves.  (Of course there were some exceptions.)

Let’s back up.  I’m used to attending conferences for work; conferences where small businesses and large businesses want to learn and to connect with new people and businesses.  The attendees don’t have a thriving online social life.  Conferences are their primary way of connecting with others in their industry.

In the blog world, however, we are making connections every day as we follow people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and read their blogs.

I went to Blissdom interested in meeting other bloggers and small business owners, because I LOVE MEETING NEW PEOPLE.

I don’t think most of the other ladies were there with that same goal, however.  I think they were there to hang out, in person, with other bloggers who they knew from online.  I don’t think they’re trying to be unfriendly; I don’t think they’re jerks.  I just think they looked forward to spending time with their online friends, which is perfectly acceptable.

If that’s the case, then I don’t think any amount of friendliness or confidence would help me connect with people at Blissdom.

From the looks of several other posts, it seems other people had that experience, too.

I am honestly not sure if I’ll go again.  Blissdom may not be the right conference for me, though the keynote speakers are always amazing.  Haven may be more my style.  Or SNAP.  Or maybe I’m just not a blog conference girl?

If I do attend another conference, including Blissdom, I will be much more active in connecting with other attendees ahead of time via the Facebook page and Twitter.  It appears that there was a lot of activity on the Blissdom Facebook page, and I wish I’d taken a look at it.  That way I could find people with whom I connected ahead of time.

Sidenote:  I stumbled onto this blog post at Jeremy and Kathleen about how Kathleen of Braid Creative is done with conferences after this last ALT conference.  It spoke to me perfectly and made me feel less alone.  :)