VigLink Builds Bridge Between Content and Ecommerce
By Kenneth Corbin
If VigLink has its way, the next wave of the Internet economy will come at the nexus between free online content and ecommerce.
The bridge between the two? Affiliate links, and lots of them.
VigLink, a San Francisco firm founded in 2009, calls it "content-driven commerce," and it's built around the idea that as the Web becomes an increasingly social and interactive environment, it's only natural that blogs, forums and social sites will influence purchasing decisions.
"The way I look at it is consumer shopping behavior has really been changing dramatically," said Oliver Deighton, VigLink's vice president of marketing. "What's happening with consumers is they're discovering their purchases in a variety of different ways, but they tend to be more social."
In a sense, VigLink and other affiliate services looking to monetize free content are capitalizing on the age-old idea of the trusted referral. After all, the opinion of an expert blogger or a close friend should count for a lot more than a banner ad or a sponsored link, right?
Backed by investment groups that include Google Ventures and First Round Capital, VigLink boasts that it's "the largest network of its kind," larger in scale than its chief rival, SkimLinks. VigLink offers publishers a connection to a network of more than 30,000 online merchants, each searchable in a directory that offers the specs about different vendors' and affiliate programs' offerings.
As a starting point, VigLink suggests that the monetization options for publishers through the traditional ad formats that have traditionally subsidized the production of much of the free content on the Web have their limits.
"AdSense and banners ads are a good start," announces a video on VigLink's site. "But what about this part of the page?" the video asks, pointing to the text and image content on a website. "This is where you do the work your readers love, but it's not getting you paid."
The process is simple enough. VigLink furnishes account holders with a snippet of code that they can include in their content, which makes the outbound links to ecommerce sites in the text trackable. The company allows that there are wide swings in the revenue that its publishers net for their referrals.
"They are all over the place," Deighton said. "It really does vary quite, quite broadly."
Deighton suggested that the return an affiliate site could expect from a referred purchase could range anywhere from 1 percent to 18 percent of the transaction, but that a "5 or 6 percent commission is pretty common."
Then, too, affiliate programs offer payouts for different types of activity. Amazon, for instance, only rewards affiliates for referrals that result in a purchase, while eBay's Quality Click Pricing offers a more intricate matrix through which publishers get paid both for referred purchases and for the "traffic quality" they direct to the marketplace's pages.
VigLink, which participates in affiliate programs, provides publishers with a snippet of code to insert in their content to connect their links to the appropriate affiliate networks, returning 75 percent of the revenue from any referral activity, with VigLink keeping the remaining 25 percent.
Alternatively, VigLink offers a link-insertion feature, which automatically adds links into a blog, news article or other piece of content when VigLink detects the mention of a product, brand or some other word or phrase that could lead to a transaction. Deighton declined to provide the revenue split for link insertion.
On the back-end, VigLink provides publishers with daily analytics reporting that evaluates how different keywords, outbound links and destination sites are performing in terms of revenue.
VigLink delivers those reports with the implicit understanding that publishers will naturally tailor their content to drive up their earnings based on what types of postings are netting the most revenue.
But only to an extent, right? After all, news-oriented sites or expert bloggers who present themselves as honest brokers in providing product reviews who then allow those analytics reports to dictate their editorial strategies run the risk of letting their sites become marketing arms for the ecommerce outfits that pay the most.
"You'll learn the lessons of what kind of content is really driving more commerce. It isn't to say that you should turn your blog into the aisle of a big-box store," Deighton said, "because then I think you've lost your brand. That is a balance I think that every blogger will seek to strike."
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About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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