Skimlinks: what it is, and how it makes us money

I've mentioned before that the Empire uses a service called Skimlinks to help us monetize the sites. Skimlinks is one of those little revenue strategies that isn't going to keep most lower-traffic websites afloat, but the little cash can eventually add up.

First, some background: Skimlinks is a service that turns any business mentions or product link in a blog post, comment, or forum post into an affiliate link. If a reader clicks through and buys something, both Skimlinks and the Empire get a cut of the sale. When we do straight-up shopping posts, we use our own affiliate links (no need to give Skimlinks a cut: it's easy for us to do product links in posts like my shoe posts). But Skimlinks provides a great way to monetize links posted by commenters or forum members, and it's also a nice way to make sure no product link goes un-cashed-in-upon.

Here's how it's performing, ranked by site:

Offbeat Mama never does very well, because as I know all-too-well from years of reader feedback, Mama readers are really broke. Offbeat Bride & Tribe of course are the leaders since they have the highest traffic and most product discussion, respectively. Offbeat Home is picking up some steam — especially after we do posts like the 3-in-1 breakfast station, where many of the comments are all about products.

Here's how Skimlinks is performing, ranked by which merchants readers are buying from:

Obviously, this is mostly about Amazon, although you can see a few others are in there too.

It's worth noting that I've had less success with Skimlinks' SkimWords product (which links from product names and phrases, instead of Skimlinks, which only links from product URLs). It's been known for doing weird things like linking the words "wedding dress" to weight loss products, and even when it links to less offensive products, ads randomly inserted into posts still rankles readers. One recent complaint said, "It was a little jarring to see a linked ad, especially in the middle of such a moving article." This in mind, I have SkimWords turned off on most of the sites.

As you can see, Skimlinks is only pulling in about $350/mo across the entire Empire, even though we have over 3,500,000 pageviews a month. In other words, even with large traffic, Skimlinks is hardly a core revenue driver. But it's part of how Mama and Home (which have lower operating expenses) are finally making a profit and almost breaking even, respectively. And that's awesome!


Updated to add

Looks like Pinterest is using Skimlinks, too! I think this is awesome, although apparently some people think it's controversial. Pshaw! How is this newsworthy!? As I said in my NYTimes comment, "Pinterest is a business. They're here to make money. Can you imagine if, instead of building an affiliate revenue model where they make revenue from retailers, they build a subscriber model where they asked USERS to pay? Now THAT would be news — their user base would abandon them completely." Thankfully, TechCrunch gets it. Oh, and what's really funny? This "news" isn't new — people have been talking about Pinterest and Skimlinks for a while. Slow tech news day, I guess.

  1. Thanks, Ariel!! (That was my complaint about SkimWords.) I appreciate both the perspective AND the swift reaction. Luv!

    9 agree
  2. You know how sometimes, you see an idea, and you really, really wish you'd thought of it?

    Anyway, this is a great solution, pulling in a tiny bit of money that otherwise would've passed you right by. It's actually really nice that you (and subsequently, your communities) get to benefit from the retail recommendations that the sites generate. It's a real testament to the fact that there is some very real buying power in the Empire.

  3. This is fascinating! Thanks for continuing to share some of the logic behind the inner workings of the empire. It never ceases to amaze me how much you have going on behind the scenes to keep the blogs up and running.

    1 agrees
  4. I adore this kind of disclosure, even though I'd be fine without it because more money for the site means more great content that I still get for free. But it's so great that you let us peek behind the curtain…

    1 agrees
  5. I think it's great that Pinterest is monetizing this early on and I don't see what the fuss is about other than people really like to fuss. Plus it's different than straight advertising (I think it's interesting that so many social platform companies raise millions in VC only to say, several years into it, "I know! We'll monetize with ads only!" and leave so many other opportunities to really innovate on the table.)

    And I do think if Pinterest implemented a subscriber model they would find great success with it, depending on how they set it up. A fee to use the site? No, that wouldn't work. But a freemium model (similar to Flickr) where users who pay a low subscription fee like $9.99-$19.99/year get extra perks (private boards, more photos, etc) would work really well for them. At this point in their popularity (even though they're still technically new), the price point would need to be in the no-guilt impulse buy range and the premium perks would need to be good enough to justify it (unlike Hulu's joke of a premium option Hulu Plus).

    1 agrees
  6. Damm $350 from over 3mil pageviews that can't be right. I'm only just sign up and won't be able to judge the result atleast for three months

  7. Are you allowed to use both adsense and skimlinks on a site or does that go against either policy?

    Also, I heard that skimlinks was mentioned at the affiliate summit today saying it is more lucrative than adsense

    • I use both. They're totally different services — one is a third party ad platform, the other is an affiliate tool. AdSense pays per click, Skimlinks only pays if someone buys something.

      I will say that my business consistently makes much more from AdSense than Skimlinks, although it's likely something that varies greatly depending on your industry.

  8. I've been finding that skimlinks (or skimwords) is picking up names of products (with no links) in comments and creating links to the wrong product. Not in an offensive way, but for example, linking to a different shoe (of a different brand and style) than I was talking about in a comment I recently made. Since people might think I posted that wrong link, I had to make an additional comment with the correct product link and point out that I had not posted the link in the original comment. I must say I am not at all fond of skimlinks, but if it is worth it financially to the Offbeat Empire, it's not that bad.

    1 agrees
    • This is great feedback! The skimwords function (ie, phrases or words that get linked) is definitely a tough algorithm, and I know that the times I've given Skimlinks feedback on cruddy links, they've been super responsive.

      When you see skimmed links with poor relevancy, it might be worth reaching out to them directly: http://skimlinks.com/contact For me, the hits outnumber the misses, but I know Skimlinks is always looking to improve their algorithms!

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