Maybe you’ve never heard of SkimLinks, but you’ve almost certainly seen their work. The London-based company’s content monetization tool turns keywords into affiliate links. A user who clicks on one is redirected to a merchant or a product website.
Unlike services such as AdWords, SkimLinks does not “advertise” the link, says CEO and founder Alicia Navarro, meaning it could be viewed as “opt-in” advertising.
How does SkimLinks work for publishers? Basically, it automates affiliation via Skimbit, a UK company created in 2006. Sign-up is straightforward. You get a free account (all applicants are validated to maintain quality standards), plus a piece of code that you paste into the footer of your website (dedicated plugins exist for major blogging platforms). That’s all there is to it!
Next, every time a link to a product in a blog post is clicked by a visitor, the code runs and turns it into an affiliate link. Original links are not modified until a visitor actually clicks one. That keeps them from appearing unusually different and potentially threatening, which is good, except that sudden awareness of a commercial link can upset visitors. SkimLinks advises customers to disclose their use of the service right away, either in the website footer or the “Terms of Service” page.
What Happened with Pinterest
Fair warning became an issue when Pinterest chose SkimLinks to monetize its content. Unfortunately the site did not clearly disclose the commercially sponsored outbound links, prompting some visitors to complain of being used as “cash cows.” Not long after the SkimLinks-Pinterest connection was made public, the social platform decided to drop SkimLinks, giving as an official reason that their testing period was not convincing enough.
The Pinterest case is a good example of the limitations publishers might face by including SkimLinks in their business model. On the web, as in the offline world, transparency is key to building consumer relationships. SkimLinks might be a good monetization tool, but with the Pinterest case in mind, divulging the information to people visiting SkimLinks platforms will probably become a must from now on.
SkimLinks, with 42 employees, has offices in London and San Francisco. It currently focuses on North American, Western European and Australian markets, working with more than 17,000 merchants through 27 affiliate networks. The sales pitch is compelling since SkimLinks saves time and effort for customers who aren’t ready to maintain accounts on their own for affiliation networks.
The service works on a revenue-share model. Customers don’t pay anything to join or use it but return a 25% share of their commissions to SkimLinks. Partners are paid monthly provided their balance reaches 10$ or more.
On the internet, affiliation is a system by which a retailer, such as Amazon, rewards an “affiliate” (e.g., a blog) for directing traffic to its website. This happens via an affiliate link (which is a regular internet link that adds the affiliate ID as a parameter). The “reward” is usually a percentage of any purchase made by the visitor who followed the link to the retailer’s website.