Are Affiliate Links Allowed on YouTube?

Let’s tackle a longstanding debate here on YouTube. Are affiliate links officially permitted here or not, in the description text of your videos? Or does that violate YouTube’s terms of service? That’s coming up. Hey, guys. My name is Tim Schmoyer and it’s Thursday, which means it’s time to do some YouTube Q&A with you guys. A question that I hear a lot here on YouTube, is– Tim, are affiliate links actually permitted here on YouTube? Can I do a review of a product or an item and then put my Amazon affiliate link in the description text in my video to point people there so I get a little kick back? Well, that is a great question.

There’s a lot of debate around this. And usually it goes back to YouTube’s terms of service section 4D, which says this– you agree not to use the service for any of the following commercial uses unless you obtain YouTube’s prior written approval– the sale of access to the service. The sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions placed on or within the service or content. Or the sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions on any page of an ad-enabled blog or website containing content delivered via the service, unless other material, not obtain from YouTube, appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales.


Now before we jump into all this, let me first say, that making business related videos that promote your business, your product, or services, or yourself, all that is totally permitted. In fact, the next section of YouTube’s terms of service, section 4E, says this specifically. Prohibited commercial uses do not include uploading an original video to YouTube or maintaining an original channel on YouTube to promote your business or artistic enterprise. But that is not what we are talking about here. What we are discussing, in this video, is when you promote someone else’s product, or someone else’s service, or someone else’s business and they pay you to do so. Whether that be through them actually writing you a check and saying, hey, feature us in your upcoming video.

Or whether that means you are going to get an affiliate kickback from any of the links that you share. Like people click on it, it sets a cookie on their browser, and then they browse on Amazon. And whenever they buy from that viewing session, then you get a percentage of the cut from that purchase. YouTube hasn’t been very clear on this affiliate issue either way.

In fact, even in preparing for this very video, I reached out to their policy team and the response I got back from them was very generic and not very helpful, But YouTube’s help section does allude to a lot of different things across several different pages. And I think if you stitch them altogether, you might get an answer. First of all, let’s go to YouTube’s Policy Center help section. And there it says this– content that deliberately tries to mislead users for financial gain may be removed. And in some cases, strikes may be issued to the uploader. Obviously, this doesn’t say anything about using affiliate links, but it does give us some guidelines for it we are going to use them, what we should abide by. And the first one is, it can’t be misleading. Personally, whenever I use an Amazon affiliate link or otherwise, I always put in brackets right behind the link or right in front of it, the word affiliate.

So people clearly know that if they click this link, it is an affiliate link and I will get some commission for the sale if they choose to buy. And number two, it can’t be purely for your own financial gain. You have to use a link in a way that offers more additional value to the viewer. So for example, if you’re reviewing the product or you’re creating something and you use a tool to create that something and someone’s like, hey, I want to create that. How did you do that? And you offer a link to the tool that you use. You are offering them a value. Saying, here, you can go directly, find it, and purchase it yourself.


But that still doesn’t really, directly answer the question of whether or not we can use affiliate links here on YouTube. So I actually consulted with a lawyer who specializes in working with online creators. His opinion is that a sale of promotions is too vague as to whether or not an affiliate link is considered a sale. He said, YouTube is probably taking a very low key view on this right now because it doesn’t have a major direct impact on their revenue. But they want to reserve the right to do something about it in the event that it might become a problem in the future. But the problem I see what this, is that YouTube multi-channel networks they make the bulk of their revenue, actually, from brand integration. By promoting other people’s products, and services, and tools. In fact, we’ve all probably seen a video here and YouTube that was hugely popular that had brand integration built right into the video. And that was done because money exchanged hands with the creator and the company.

Whether or not that was an affiliate relationship or just a direct, upfront fee that they paid to have their brand featured in the content of that video or whatever. So here’s what I think. YouTube’s partner policy program terms of services says this– do not embed third party advertising, sponsorships, or promotions placed on or within your content. YouTube does allow you to upload paid product placements, provided you give us notice first. The first part about third party advertising and promotion is spelled out a little bit further on that page.

And, basically, what they’re saying is that you can’t burn into your videos permanent pre-roll ads or mid-roll ads into your actual video file. If YouTube has an ad unit that is comparable to the one that you’re inserting into your actual video, then that is not allowed. To me, when I look at YouTube’s terms of service at that controversial section, that is what that is talking about because the second part of their partner program policy does explicitly state that you can have paid product promotion in your videos as long as you notify them about it first. How do you notify them? Well, when you upload your video to YouTube under the monetization tab, you’ll see that there’s a little box that you can check there.

It says, this video contains paid product placement. Here’s the question– Are affiliate links considered paid product placement on YouTube or not? Here’s what the help sections says– paid product placements are defined as pieces of content that are created specifically for a sponsor and where that sponsor’s brand message or product is integrated directly into the content. A typical example of a paid product placement is one in which the marketer pays the partner to specifically mention their product or brand in what would normally be the editorial part of the content. That seems to me to fit under an affiliate relationship when Amazon is paying you to promote one of their products. Not what’s not clear to me, exactly, is does one of their products include Amazon S3, as an actual Amazon product, or is it a product that’s just sold through their service.

That part isn’t explicitly laid out, but it does make sense to me that would be contained in this definition. Just like you would go to any retail store and buy products that they didn’t exactly, specifically, make and own themselves as a part of their branding but as part of products that they sell and services that they provide. So just check that box to let YouTube know that your video does indeed include paid product promotion and you should be set.

But why does YouTube want to know this in the first place? Well, it’s very important that you actually check this box because let’s say you’re an advertiser of company A and they don’t necessarily want their products and services showing up as a paid ad around content that maybe promotes one of their competitors. So you should know that if you check that box, YouTube may limit what ads are displayed around your videos. And they may actually disable monetization on it completely. So take that into consideration as you do all this. One other final thought is, guys, even if your video is totally on the up and up, you have followed every single policy guideline and rule to the tee, there are still a lot of people out there who are adamantly believe that you cannot have affiliate links on YouTube.

If they see that you are using an affiliate link, they often will flag your video for violating YouTube’s community guidelines. And if enough people do that, you still could have a very big headache on your hand. So keep that in mind if you use affiliate links in your videos. Links to all the official sources I used to put all this together are in the description text below this video. So go check them out if you want to read into any of this in more detail. And remember that I am not an authoritative voice on this matter.

This is just my own opinion based on the research that I’ve done. So if you use affiliate links in your videos, do so at your own risk.

As found on Youtube