SkimLinks Helps Startups Make Money, Focus On Other Things

By March 3, 2012

London-based startup SkimLinks has been in the news quite a bit since LLC Social discovered their work with Pinterest, an image based social network. SkimLinks works with online companies to create affiliate program links within its content on the fly, preventing admins from having to slog through the normally tedious amount of upkeep required to maintain these kind of monetizing links. Pinterest was using Skimlinks to automatically convert product URLs in users’ pinned images into affiliate sales links.

The partnership had both users and the media in an uproar claiming that Pinterest should have been transparent and upfront with its users about its monitization strategy. A claim Skimlinks’ founder and CEO Alicia Navarro addressed.

Some of these articles raise the point that Pinterest has not been vocal to their community in disclosing that they work with Skimlinks. While we fully encourage transparency and disclosure, at the very least because it is a nice thing to do, many sites choose not to be blatant about their monetization techniques straight away. We can encourage and give best practises, and we do, but it is up to a publisher the extent to which they make public their inner workings. From a legal perspective, for what it is worth, disclosure is required only where the content creator is making endorsements that they financially profit from, like when a blogger is paid to encourage their readers to buy something, or a price comparison site encourages the purchase of a particular insurance product where they get paid for that referral. By providing a platform where people can post things they like, Pinterest isn’t endorsing particular products for the sake of financial gain, just providing a valuable forum for products to be browsed by their community.

Navarro also went on to to say the practice was “not a secret” and helpful not only to fund startups, but also to aid them analytically when bringing users the kind of content they want. Since the scandal, Pinterest has stopped using Skimlinks’ affiliate services. The businesses still remain friendly; in an interview on Navarro said, “We have a great relationship with Ben and the guys at Pinterest, they are fans of what we do, and we are excited to see the role that affiliate marketing might play in their long term strategy.” But with the scandal making headlines and turning the spotlight on affiliate marketing, many users and investors were left asking ‘Who is this company’ and ‘Why haven’t we heard of them.’

What is SkimLinks?

In November of 2011 SkimLinks received $4.5 in Series B funding; some of their investors include Sussex Place Ventures, NESTA, and The Accelerator Group.

The company began with a service called Skimit, founded in Sydney, Australia in 2006 by Alicia Navarro (CEO). Skimit is a service that helps its users make decisions about practically anything, creating a visual space where different options can be compiled and viewed. The service even allows the incorporation of other user’s research, and input from family and friends to help with the decision making process. In order to generate more revenue from Skimit, Navarro and a small team created an affiliate program service that automated links to the products people were making decisions over.

In November of 2008, the company took on co-founder Joe Stepniewski and became SkimLinks. Today the company provides two different services: SkimLinks and SkimWords. SkimLinks focuses on turning existing links on a website into part of their affiliate program, and SkimWords does the same thing for specific phrases like products and brand names. As of right now, SkimLinks provides links to 31 affiliate networks and more than 17,000 merchants.

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In addition to its London branch, SkimLinks now has offices in New York and San Francisco. The startup has become largely successful through its work with the rapidly growing website, Pinterest, who had been using the service to create affiliate links within its user-posted content. This month Pinterest announced it’s dropping the service in favor of using ads in the future, though the attention SkimLinks received during the partnership has cemented the startup among forerunners of affiliate program services.

SkimLinks estimates that its service creates 1.5 billion page views each month. With 24,000 websites on the internet already using the service, including Amazon, Etsy, and Cosmopolitan, those numbers aren’t too difficult to believe.

Corey Cummings

Corey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received degrees in English and Creative Writing. He currently lives in Chicago and enjoys alternately obsessing over video games that aren't out yet and crazy gadgets he can't afford.