How I handle affiliate links and monetisation

Recent changes have meant that I’ve had a bit more time to think about the ways and means I run my personal projects, and how I go about setting up things in the future, particularly when it comes to monetising them.

Affiliate links are a big part of monetising websites, and you may see more appearing on my sites in the future. It’s part of my attempts to balance the costs of running my websites (financial, time) and hopefully providing value to you, but I wanted to outline a simple rule I’ll be using whenever I use an affiliate link.

I’ll only ever recommend something via an affiliate link if it’s something I’ve tried or used on a regular basis and can honestly recommend without hesitation. The simple reason is that this (and all my sites) are built on the idea of providing valuable and trustworthy information, and I wouldn’t do anything to change that.

For instance, for the majority of affiliate linking, I rely on Skimlinks to automate most referrals – for the likes of Amazon etc. They cover around 12,000 affiliate merchants, and their WordPress plugin works for both blogs and RSS feeds etc. It means in general, I don’t have to think about whether there’s an affiliate scheme for a site, and I can concentrate on just recommending great links.

Occasionally, I will link to something specifically, and it tends to be something I really rate. For instance, when it comes to professional WordPress themes, I really like and trust Studiopress, and I’ve been using their themes on sites like OnlineRaceDriver for a while. I’m actually in the process of planning when to upgrade my sites to their new Genesis framework, as soon as I can find some time…

Or when it comes to search tools, I’ve used SEOmoz for ages now. Their free tools are useful to start with (and their Firefox plugin saves loads of time), but their paid tools are really good and save loads of time and effort when you’re doing SEO work. And the bulk of SEO work is really about time and effort!

And don’t think this means I’d recommend an affiliate link over a better and free alternative, for instance, Google Analytics. If I do, please do call me on it and let me know – it might just be something I wasn’t aware of, and as I build up a shared list of recommendations, I want to make sure it’s as valuable as possible…

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The easiest way to manage affiliate links?

Whether or not you’re trying to make money from publishing content online, most people have wanted to use affiliate links for products and services at some point. Either to earn money, or to raise cash for charity, for example.

Money pic by AMcGill on Flickr (CC Licence)

Money pic by AMcGill on Flickr (CC Licence)

The problem is that it can be a hassle to grab the affiliate links from just one merchant, and then implement them in a decent way, let alone allowing using several – and how do you know which shop someone prefers to use?

And although this particular site isn’t designed to make money, both www.140char.com and www.onlineracedriver.com are more conscious efforts to experiment with how online content publishing can work.

If you look in the bottom right, you’ll see a handy disclosure widget which reveals I’m now running Skimlinks on my main blogs. Put simply, it matches any links to merchants I post with the merchants in the Skimlinks database and tracks when anyone clicks through and makes a purchase, without me having to visit all the different sites, sign-up for all the different programmes, and find all the relevant affiliate codes.

Which is handy.

So far it’s only been live for a week or so, and the purchases can take a while to feed through as the affiliates need to report back to Skimlinks after users have paid the deals have been sealed. But already it’s been useful for seeing how many people are actually going through affiliate links on each site, and what links I’ve been using without monetising them, for example. And it’s all automatic.

So if you’re someone who isn’t going to micromanage every single affiliate link, then I’d highly recommend Skimlinks. They’ve also got some interesting additional products to use, and set-up is either as simple as installing a WordPress plug-in, or just pasting one line of Javascript into your page template (s). You can also specific pages and individual links it should ignore, for example.

The main alternative is Viglinks, which I’m also using on some of my other sites – so far it’s performed in a similar way, but the main difference is around reporting and tools which aren’t as comprehensive or detailed with Viglinks.

Interestingly Viglinks is backed by Google Ventures, and has a number of big names involved, including backing from Angel Investors such as former LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman.  Meanwhile Skimlinks also has significant investment, and CEO and co-founder Alicia Navarro is known as one of the few female tech entrepreneurs in London.

But putting patriotic loyalties aside – both services are well worth using rather than missing a load of links, especially for larger sites (And because they’re managing so many links, they can arrange comission rates which are still an improvement on the normal rates, even after they’ve taken a cut). And if you fancy trying them, I’ve love you to use the following links:

Skimlinks

VigLinks

And they’re both free and easy to remove/disable if you decide you don’t like them…

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