Moneysaving Tries Moneymaking With Skimlinks

If you run a forum and are thinking of how to monetise it then it might be worth popping along to later today. They’re teaming up with the award winning Skimlinks for a one month trial to see if they can get their massive vBulletin forum generating revenue. Skimlinks have developed a plugin for vBulletin that rewrites selected words and phrases into affiliate links.

It’s not surprising that MSE are running this trial. Forums aren’t the easiest thing to monetise! Users tend to dislike intrusive adverts and subscriptions cause additional work and headaches. If you’re thinking of adding a forum to your site then stop and think carefully about it. On one hand they can be brilliant, usually when all is running well and the users are lovely. However, they can be very time consuming and a huge drain on resources.

If you’re not earning money from managing the forum, spending hours dealing with admin issues can be very frustrating on a lot of levels.

According to an announcement on MSE they’re hoping Skimlinks will “allow the forum to cover some of its costs – if so we may be able to use it to expand resources”. They also say “It has no adverts (no one can pay to be on the site) and does not generate any income.” These comments do make you wonder whether the MSE forum is becoming a bit of a drain on their resources?

So, it’ll be interesting to see how this trial progresses!

Firstly will forum users embrace the presence of Skimlinks? Forum users tend to be quite vocal on new technology or interference in their activity. Will they ignore the links? Will they see them as an intrusion? Or will they take to them like a duck to water and start earning MSE commission? If the latter then expect a few more forum users trialling Skimlinks in the coming months.

From an affiliate point of view there are also things to consider. In one addition of a bit of code there’s suddenly a new affiliate in town. OK, not quite a new affiliate as MSE has always been one, but they’ve just expanded their reach quite a bit. A whole bunch of affiliate links dropped on to a top 10 UK social network can only mean some extra added competition for that last click!

Slightly deeper than that though is will it open up user eyes into the world of affiliates? Will it make them more wary of links – “don’t click on that it’s an affiliate link”? Or perhaps it might make them more aware that sites and forums can’t run on fresh air forever and that they need to support them by shopping via affiliate links?

Then of course there’s the “what if it doesn’t work” element of the equation. I’d be surprised if MSE was poor in terms of income, but can it sustain a continually evolving forum that “does not generate any income”? Skimlinks seems to be a good idea to try and address that issue, especially if MSE maintain their “no paid advertising” stance.

As a siteowner who also has a number of “does not generate any income” elements on site (adsense, affiliates, banners = doesn’t work) I’m particularly interested in seeing how this trial pans out. I’m sceptical simply because whilst I think the technology is lovely, I’m not sure if it’ll be lovingly embraced by the most important element of a site – the user.

But, if Skimlinks works for MSE then it’ll be kudos to them for turning a moneysaving forum into a moneymaker.

10 Comments Moneysaving Tries Moneymaking With Skimlinks

  1. Matt Bailey August 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

    What about from a merchants perspective? Is this incremental business? Are they simply now paying for a sale that would have come to them for free previously?

  2. Jason August 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

    @Matt “Are they simply now paying for a sale that would have come to them for free previously?” – I’m sure a lot of merchants have acquired incremental sales for “free” via forums for a long time. But, yes the merchant view will be worth watching too.

    @Rich MSE do (*) things on their main site/newsletter – but afaik they won’t be via the forums, although the links do have title tags so onmouseover it’ll say “powered by Skimlinks” or something. It’s nice they offer that transparency, but I wish they’d stop the “we don’t do advertising” – imo AM is advertising regardless of whether you star it or not. But that might be for another debate!

  3. rclarke August 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Martin puts revenue generating affiliate links that he sends out in emails through about ten layers of what he call ‘legals’ .

    This is to make sure that money earned from marketing communication in a non-commercial editorial wrapper complies. I can’t see how he will do this for user generated content in the forum which is like a pub conversation. It’s social chit chat not intended to earn revenue.

    Editorial and marketing communication are two different things in law. It’s why you don’t see affiliate links in newspaper content authored by journalists and presented as editorial, (not advertorial or advertising, which the merchant/advertiser or their agents pays for).

    If you don’t know the legal difference between the two then the ASA sets it out here in a response to the Food Standards Agency about formula milk, sorry about the link. (shortened link)

  4. rclarke August 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Your comment about whether it will attract more examination of cookies might be true. I just tried a link on the MSE forum to an Argos offer and it loaded apmebf, emjcd, atdmt and mookie cookies plus the merchant cookies, Not sure if this happened before.

    It also means more clearing of cookies if you are a cashback shopper.

  5. Jason August 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    As a merchant this will be interesting. the MSE forum tends to have people posting our offline RAF codes that are richer than the standard affiliate offer. This means we could have people either getting the richer offer and MSE makes no cash as the sale is rejected; or MSE makes the cash but the person gets the less rich offer without realising as the offer is changed.

    Sure MSE will then blame us.

  6. jezza101 August 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    As someone who worked for a company* affiliated with MSE and has seen the size of the cheques that were handed over I would have to ask, are they really short of resources?

    Martin has done very well for himself and good luck to him I say. When you think about the reach of his mailing list and the popularity of that site – he easily dwarfs many of the US “A-list” affiliates that claim to be raking in mega mega bucks.

    I rarely find running my forum a drain, I wrote my own plugin to display affiliate links in posts (soon to migrate to vbulletin). Most of the site’s income comes from the forum in fact. Running a forum is often portrayed as a nightmare but it’s not always like that!

  7. Jason August 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    “Running a forum is often portrayed as a nightmare but it’s not always like that!” – true it’s not always a nightmare. I think the problem is when it is problematic it tends to be a real PITA.

    Monetisation also depends on your user base/forum subject. Most certainly on Loquax, where people are more after winning an item than buying it, it can be a bit of a challenge.

  8. Tom August 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    As a merchant that currently works with MSE all I can say is that I think this is a good thing.

    With regards to Matt’s question – will it mean that we’re now charged for incremental sales that we wouldn’t normally have paid for – I think the answer is yes.

    Is this fundamentally a bad thing – not really – it means that we can qualify the value of the customer base driven by MSE and choose whether it’s a distribution channel we consider to be worth paying for.

    On a side note – I had the pleasure of working closely with Martin Lewis while working for a TV Company. He’s certainly an interesting man – but with a very keen eye for detail when it comes to the bottom line.

  9. WMG August 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Skimlinks has really interested me lately. I gather it’s been around since ’09 however it seems to be getting more popular this year. If anyone is interested in learning how Skimlinks affects SEO on the advertisers site you might like to have a look at this article on sphinn –


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