Since founding Skimlinks in 2008 and picking up many industry awards along the way, what can you tell us about the Skimlinks current offering and developments from a UK startup to present day?
"When we started, we had a simple but elegant solution for helping publishers earn money through affiliate marketing. We aggregated all merchant programs, automated the process of creating affiliate links, and optimized the experience to ensure links weren't broken. We were a very small team based in London, but it caused waves back then because it brought affiliate marketing into the mainstream, and made it a ubiquitous form of monetization.
In the years since then, we have evolved from the basic SkimLinks product, and brought out a range of complementary forms of monetization to suit different types of publishers, including SkimKit, SkimWords, EveryFeed, SkimBuzz and more. We have also had to go from being a simple startup to a well-oiled business, with robust server architecture, and international teams and support. However, at our heart, we'll always be a UK startup."
When explaining Skimlinks to those outside of the affiliate industry, do you find it easier to explain how Skimlinks works as opposed to what Affiliate Marketing is?
"Absolutely! Skimlinks is easiest to explain with a use case of a blogger who writes about shoes, who gets paid a commission through us from Zappos because a reader bought the shoes she talked about."
With more mainstream brands utilising Affiliate Marketing on a day to day basis than ever before, the need to control brand exposure on Publisher web properties has become a big part of brand management. What issues, if any, do you receive from Advertisers and how do you ensure of quality Publishers?
"We still manually review every publisher application to ensure quality, and reject a large proportion of applicants. And we always respond very quickly if an advertiser has an issue with a publisher of ours.
However, we are also very strong proponents of the value in brands letting go a little to get the most from affiliate marketing. The best conversion rates come from user-generated content, where there is no brand management potential, but instead, there are huge amounts of authenticity, and these types of sites are hugely popular for researching purchases. The advertisers that realise and embrace this end up doing the best on these type of sites."
When did you decide the time was right to take your UK startup across to the US?
"We had more than half our business in the US, and most of our partnerships were identified as being stateside. I was also spending a lot of time travelling to the US anyway. So, we felt that having a business development, marketing and account management base in the US was important, not just to serve our clients but to continue to grow our business. And so far, so good, it was absolutely the right decision."
After becoming a part of 'silicon roundabout' , how did you find the initial perceptions of taking a UK startup across to silicon valley?
"I think we have done a good job of keeping a foot firmly in both camps. We are still very passionate about the UK as a base for startups, and love being part of 'Silicon Roundabout', but it was important for the stage of company we were to have a base in the US. And it is important that it isn't just seen as a solo business development manager out there; for us, it was key that one of the founders (myself) was spearheading our move to the US, so that we could be seen as a business with a serious commitment to building a strong base in the US."
What were the main differences between the Affiliate industries in the UK and US when you were launching state side?
"The main difference is there is a lot more lead generation in the US, and this isn't so suitable for how Skimlinks works. Skimlinks is very much about retail e-commerce, and helping publishers who write about these products to be rewarded for the role they play in creating purchase intent. The implication for us was having to explain more often to certain lead gen merchants that we didn't push offers to our affiliates, we simply facilitate and optimize the process. But slowly I think the industry is acknowledging the large niche in affiliate marketing that Skimlinks has developed."
After recent Google updates and as pressure for longtail affiliates is increasing, do you think that certain types of affiliate models are likely to struggle over the foreseeable future? due mainly to these updates but also because of these affiliates being undervalued?
"I believe as always the key is content. Publishers that offer original valuable content will always do better than publishers who exist purely to make money. Google likes to remind publishers of this now and then in fairly dramatic ways, but the essence of what they are trying to do is a good thing overall for the web."
What's next for Skimlinks?
"We have built a strong business with a great publisher network, so now its about helping those publishers make more revenue. This year is all about innovations to help achieve this goal."
How positive are you on the future of Affiliate Marketing? Why?
"I think it will need to evolve further, as rewarding the last-click only rewards a subset of publishers and incentivises a type of online behaviour that is generally not good for publishing and not good for users. I think we'll see more innovations in the remuneration of publishers via affiliate marketing, and the steps eBay is taking with QCP for example, and companies like Convertro and Tagman helping merchants perform multi-attribution are positive ones."