Update: I have no idea if the two are related, but the day after I installed Skimlinks, my traffic dropped and my AdSense was cut in half. I have disabled / deleted all Skimlinks code at this time. The information below was written before this happened. — I’ll update with a new post if traffic comes back. It may be coincidence. I won’t know until Monday. Sunday’s are typically pretty light around here.
Making money with blogs isn’t as easy as it sounds. On the surface, all you have to do is write some quality content, publish it and then wait for the world to find it. In reality, it doesn’t really work that way. Bloggers making lots of money spend every bit as much time (maybe more) building links and begging other website owners for links as they do writing. As a professional writer, that isn’t really my bag.
For a freelance writer building websites as a way to both showcase writing talent, as well as building a stream of passive income, the road can be tricky to navigate. First, you need traffic, lots of traffic. Second, you need a way to make money off of that traffic.
Monetizing A Blog
The New York Times saw a stunning drop in website traffic when it started charging people to read their content. If I started charging people to read this freelance writing blog, or most of my other websites, the traffic would drop to zero and I would make zero money as a result.
There is also the fact that this blog serves as a way to draw clients to my freelance writing business, so locking them out wouldn’t be smart. In other words, a few ads is the best way for most bloggers to make money writing online with their own websites.
The fastest and easiest way to earn money with ads on your website is to sign up for Google AdSense.
AdSense works by having advertisers choose keywords and phrases they want to advertise for, then Google matches up those advertisers with content using much the same algorithm as it does for search. Then, there is a computerized virtual auction behind the scenes that determines which advertiser gets to display the ad. If a user clicks the ad, then the owner of the website gets paid based upon whatever the winning bid for the auction was.
Advertising will not make you rich unless your blog gets huge traffic, but it can pay for the costs of your website with a tidy extra bit of income left over.
However, putting all of your eggs in one basket (AdSense) isn’t the best strategy. Google has been known to ban people from AdSense at the drop of a hat with no explanation other than that the AdSense terms of service allow them to drop you like a hot potato for any reason at any time. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that AdSense is not capturing all the possible revenue a writer can generate.
Another way to make money writing a blog online is to use affiliate links. An affiliate link is a link to a retailer or other vendor that you include on your website. When a user clicks that link, the webmaster gets a cut of any sales that are generated from that link.
For example, people come here on a pretty regular basis to find out what is AP Style. Upon figuring out what AP Style is and learning that there is such a thing as an Associated Press Stylebook used by writers, they might want to buy it. If I have a link to Amazon.com that the reader clicks on in order to buy the AP Stylebook, then Amazon would pay me a percentage of that sale.
(Note the two links to the name of the book above are affiliate links. If you clicked one and then bought something I would make a commission. — Hint, hint 🙂
Again, this does not add up to thousands of dollars unless you generate a lot of sales, but a hundred bucks of passive income every month or two is certainly nice.
The catch is that there are hundreds or thousands of websites out there and setting up accounts and linking to all of them takes more time than writing quality website content does. Again, this is not how I want to be spending my time. I did what many online writers do, I setup an Amazon Associates account and linked to stuff on Amazon since they have pretty much everything. It might not pay the best or be the best deal, but it didn’t take hours to setup and manage either.
Then, Colorado passed a law that made Amazon kick Colorado Affiliates out of the Amazon Associates program. That meant that I could no longer use Amazon affiliate links. I removed the links and just gave up on the affiliate marketing thing.
Skimlinks and Viglinks
Both services work by acting as a middle man for affiliate links. The companies go out and setup an affiliate relationship with all the vendors and online retailers offering a commission for sales generated by links. Instead of signing up for individual programs, the web publisher signs up with one of the companies and uses their affiliate relationship with thousands of retailers instead. By signing up for one program, a writer can make affiliate links to almost anywhere. The company aggregates all the revenue keeps a cut of the commission as their way of making money.
The beauty of this is that it offers a way to get around the Amazon Associate ban for states that have sales tax laws the company doesn’t like.
In Colorado, for example, Amazon is required to collect sales taxes for sales made from affiliates who are residents of the state. This is some dubious logic, but the idea is that those affiliates count as a “nexus” and therefore the state can force Amazon to collect Colorado sales taxes. Amazon would rather just not have any affiliates in Colorado than have to collect the state sales tax, so it ended the program for residents of Colorado. (California recently passed a similar law, but as a much bigger and more valuable state, Amazon cut a deal, but not before it shut down its California Amazon Associates program prior to reinstating it.)
Both Skimlinks and Viglinks have no Colorado presence. As such, they are allowed to be a part of the Amazon Associates program. When someone like, oh say, me uses Skimlinks, I am not the affiliate of Amazon, Skimlinks is. Therefore, Amazon is under no obligation to collect the sales tax for Colorado. Skimlinks is not selling anything to me, so they also owe no sales tax to Colorado either. In other words, I can use affiliate links to Amazon again.
But wait, there’s more!
I don’t see any harm in linking to a copy of a book I recommend, or a calendar, planner, pen, or Logitech keyboard that I love. If you buy one, great, if not, what’s the harm in there being some blue text in a useful writing article? However, I don’t link everything that could be bought from my website. Who has that kind of time?
So, both Skimlinks and Viglinks offer a service where they look for linkable terms and phrases that might make good affiliate links. For example, that paragraph above deliberately has some potential retail keywords in it. It’s partly a test. This site currently has Skimlinks running on it. I’m wondering will it automatically link one or more of those terms listed after “recommend.”
I am also using Viglinks on another website (MakeMoneyWritingOnline.com) that I run. The auto-linking service seems a bit too much over there. I happened to write an article about Skimlinks over there yesterday when I decided to try it out. Ironically, I used that site as the test website for Viglinks. That article used an example using the Sephora website.
Assuming I have not turned Viglinks auto-link off by the time you follow the above link, you’ll notice that Viglinks helpfully turned the word Sephora to an affiliate link at Sephora.com. Unfortunately, it did it for every single instance the word was used.
There are five Sephora links. It seems tacky and over the top. I haven’t found a way to limit it yet. For now, I’m going with it because based on the subject matter of that blog I don’t think people will be too surprised, and I want to give the program a real chance, but I certainly would not allow that here where I hope to build a better reputation that such stunts would allow.
Is Skimlinks Good?
The purpose of this article is two-fold. First, I wanted to let other writers know about a potentially useful service to make money from their online writing. Second, I wanted to let everyone know what was going on so that if you suddenly saw a lot of unseemly affiliate links you could let me know so that I can take some action.
On the other hand, if you see something you like, or even if you are just planning on doing some online shopping, please do use my links to head over to your favorite internet retailers. It doesn’t cost you anything and it helps a fellow writer out.
Important: I am not endorsing or recommending Viglinks or Skimlinks at this time. I just signed up for both of them yesterday, so I have no idea if Skimlinks is a scam or Viglinks is a scam. Normally, I wouldn’t say anything here until I had formed a factual opinion, but because of the potential impact on the site, I wanted to let everyone know before anything – good or bad – changes.