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

By on Feb 6th

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.