“It wasn’t like one day I woke up and said, ‘I want to do an affiliate marketing company’,” says Alicia Navarro. Instead, like many startups, her company was created to solve a problem she had. As a struggling online publisher, she wondered if there was a way to monetize the product-oriented content on her site. “It was a Pinterest model, and I thought it would be great if I could turn the product links into the equivalent of affiliate links.” In other words, could she get the various brands that her site’s content linked to to pay her every time she served them a new customer?
After Navarro built the technology to enable her own business to get a revenue share from brands, she found that investors were more interested in that infrastructure than in her front-end publishing product. As they say in Silicon Valley, she “pivoted,” and SkimLinks was born to help other publishers with that same problem.
Now Navarro counts 40,000 publishers comprising 1.5 million websites as her customers, includingTimeInc, Conde Nast, who get access to more than 30,000 retail brands via 45 affiliate networks.
To be sure, affiliate networks have been around a long time. They work by matching retailers who want to pay commissions on sales with publishers, blogs, or websites who will write about those products.
But Navarro says that as a publisher she found those arrangements time consuming, technical, and cumbersome. “You had to sign up with tens of thousands of retailers, hot-code your links, and log into multiple interfaces.” Deals and coupon sites found it fruitful, she says, but many blogs and newspapers couldn’t be bothered with that form of monetization.
Skimlinks aggregates all the affiliate programs out there—including as Zappos, eBay, Amazon, and Macy’s—into one global account. “Rather than create your own affiliate links you link to a product in your content and we turn it into a trackable link,” Navarro says.
For instance, she explains, when Cosmopolitan.com editors feature a gallery of shoes in a column about seasons trends in footwear a reader who clicks on any one of those shoes will be taken to the Macy’s page where they can buy those shoes. Cosmo collects a commission, and Skimlinks takes 5%.
If it sounds like just another way of corrupting the content you’re reading, well, Navarro says, “Editors were already linking to sites where you could buy the products they write about. Now they get compensated for creating business for those brands.” Skimlinks isn’t creating new links, just enhancing existing ones to enable publishers to monetize the ones editors are creating. “Our special sauce is looking for links on that page that go to retailers’ websites and, without affecting the user experience, enabling that publisher to be paid.”
Navarro says that although some publishers don’t reveal the practice, “You’d be surprised. Many well-known newspapers that you would think are religious about this will still do it.”
Editors and publishers, she says, are still writing what they want to write, driven by their own editorial policies, but being rewarded. She adds that the coded links are embedded in editorially curated content—not sponsored copy or content written by advertisers—and the monetized product reference is encoded after it has been written. “If and when we do work with large newspapers, we don’t let them run us on any part of site that is news. The only part would be fashion or shopping or gift guide section.”
Skimlinks can also help fledgling publishers and independent content creators generate revenue. “Anyone with good quality original content can sign up. We work with 2.5 million websites, including mommy, fashion, and tech bloggers.
“One of my favorite stories, Navarro says, is a young woman who offers makeup tips on YouTube. She was working in a job she didn’t enjoy, but doing makeup art on YouTube. We showed her how to use our tools to make money from the product mentions in her videos by pasting product links in the description. She now makes $1,700 a month just from us from commission.”
Perhaps as valuable as the commissions is the data Skimlinks reports back to publishers that can inform content and ad sales strategies. “We can show that your readers love to read about perfume, or that they buy Adidas, but not Nike. The content becomes better because you can created engaging shopping.”
Navarro says it takes a publisher 30 seconds to install Skimlinks once. “After that, you gain fascinating insights about what users are doing, the days of week they’re reading, what pages they’re linking to, and other really interesting insights that help you make money and help you understand your reader.”