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Affiliate Marketing and Skimlinks: What Is It and How Could It Impact My Earned Backlinks?

In the world of Digital PR and Outreach, it’s not unusual for things to come along that can have quite a big impact on what we do, or are able to achieve day-to-day.

From Google’s no-follow link attributes to the rise of syndicated content, we’re always keeping an eye on changes in our industry; and we’re always looking for ways to continue to drive the best possible results for our clients, all in line with that natural evolution.

And the world of backlinks has evolved a lot, and we expect it will continue to do so; the links you may have earned in 2013 are vastly different from those you may achieve in 2023, not only in volume but in attribution.

What’s more, story placement competitor has never been higher, and journalist numbers have dwindled too. As we said, the world of backlinks is very different!

Educating our clients on how things have changed is something we take very seriously. We always see Digital PR and Outreach as being digital marketing services with quite high levels of client interaction and involvement and the clients that get the best results are usually the ones that are most invested in this. But they also typically come with high client expectations. This means that our contacts need to know what’s ‘normal’ versus what’s ‘expectational’ right now, and what they might expect ongoing.

One such new change that we believe our current clients – and potential future clients – need to be aware of is the impact that some affiliate marketing networks and agreements can have on the ability to earn links from some key media domains in the future. This can impact any PR team, whether agency or in-house.

Read on to find out more!

Affiliate Marketing and its Relationship with Digital PR

Affiliate marketing isn’t new, and there has always been some synergy between this largely ‘paid’ tactic and ‘earned’ media, which is influenced by Digital PR efforts.

Why? Well, because often the sites that a brand is setting up affiliate agreements with, are also the same as the ones they might target with their PR content too. After all, these are news sites that are typically really relevant to your audience and your products.

While there are various different styles of or ways to do affiliate marketing, the approach that is most affiliated with PR is when a brand’s product is featured in a news article that has a headline like ‘ten of the best’ or something similar to that.

While these articles may look like ‘normal’ editorial content, often the products that feature within are, at least partly, chosen because of an affiliate agreement between the brand and the publisher. The publisher financially benefits from any sales made through the product links in the article, so it’s in their interest to include them.

You can usually spot if a story is affiliate-led rather than purely editorial by a small disclaimer at the top of the piece, such as ‘this article includes affiliate links, ‘we may make commission from products bought through the links in this article’.

How this has impacted PR so far

So far, Digital PRs found that typically, these types of affiliate agreement have had relatively minimal impact on most earned links depending on your industry and core tactics. The affiliate agreements in place have focused on pushing specific products or product categories with specific publishers, so there were clear parameters in place.

One bigger change we saw was that most product-led stories stopped being produced by journalists as news pieces and became much more commercial. Essentially, they’ve become harder to influence and be involved in unless you’ve got an affiliate agreement in place with that publisher. However, as ‘product placement’ is just one of many tactics that a Digital PR is likely to activate, again the impact on overall result volume was likely to be relatively minimal for most brands.

Earned links that were included in other news articles were also largely unaffected by the affiliate agreements in place too. If the story didn’t include a specific product link, it wouldn’t be affected. Well, at least that’s how it used to be…

Why you need to know about Skimlinks

In recent months, we’ve noticed a significant rise in the number of earned backlinks that are being automatically turned into affiliate links due to the Skimlinks sub-network.

Many clients don’t even know they’ve signed up to Skimlinks through their affiliate network such as Rakuten or AWIN. Fewer still seem to know what impact this agreement may have on their earned links efforts ongoing.

Ultimately, Skimlinks works by adding a bit of code about you and your site on various subscribed publisher websites. Then, when you get a link – any link, to any page on your website – on one of these publisher websites, Skimlinks automatically alters it by adding a redirect through to its platform, so it can track generated sales and work out what commission needs to be paid.

Skimlinks suggests this is a very good thing – that it makes it easier for publishers and brands to track which relationships are most effective at driving sales, while making the whole process a lot more efficient. And it’s a fair point, that sounds pretty handy!

However, the challenge we’re facing is that due to the automation aspect, and the wide reach of the Skimlinks sub-network, several clients are finding that ALL their new, earned links on multiple target media sites are now being turned into affiliate links. This is despite the fact that those links were earned entirely through PR content and a journalist pitch, and the URL was originally pointing to a homepage or blog / guide page, not a product page.

We’ve noticed that this mostly impacts earned links on the following titles:

  • Reach PLC nationals – Daily Express, Mirror, Daily Star, Daily Record
  • Reach PLC regionals – Wales Online, Edinburgh Live, Leeds Live, Bristol Live, Manchester Evening News etc
  • Reach PLC lifestyle titles – OK, New
  • Hearst Lifestyle titles – Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Red, Esquire, Prima, Good Housekeeping, Red, Best, Women’s Health etc

However, this is list isn’t exhaustive and it is likely to change over time, so it’s something we plan to keep an eye on.

You can also see what publishers Skimlinks says it works with on its website.

Can we ask a journalist to change the link back afterwards?

No, sadly not. Journalists do not control the automation aspect. The original link they will have included in their article will have been ‘clean’ and will not have included any affiliate redirect – this is automatically added after the article goes live.

Even when the journalist tries to update the link, we have found that it is automatically changed back to an affiliate link again due to that bit of code that Skimlinks has put in place.

What can you do about it?

It’s entirely up to the client to decide if the impact that Skimlinks is having on their earned links, outweighs any potential benefits of this affiliate arrangement.

If it is decided that the impact on earned links is too high, then it is up to the client to discuss this with their affiliate network manager / customer services team and ask to be removed from the Skimlinks sub-network.

We are not able to manage this process on a client’s behalf, as the set up and removal is entirely outside of our control. We can’t change it; and journalists also can’t change it – the only people who can are you and the affiliate network(s).

It could also be quite a lengthy process – we’ve had several client report that it’s taken several calls to ask to stop Skimlinks, and even then, we’re still finding that new links are being affected at this time. It’s something we’ll continue to keep an eye on.

Ultimately, if you are looking to earn links on these types of high DA UK news sites for SEO benefit, then you may be best considering if signing up for Skimlinks is the right thing for you. Your affiliate network manager should be able to help you decide.

Does this mean I can’t do any affiliate marketing?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. If you set up affiliate agreements with individual publishers or publisher groups and focus on specific product pages only, then your other earned links through to other pages should not be affected.

What if I decide to set up / keep Skimlinks anyway?

That’s absolutely fine! As we said, we recognise that this sub-network can offer a lot of benefits. However, we’d just want to make sure you’re fully aware of the potential impact this could have on your earned links ongoing, and the lack of control we have over this. It’s in your hands!

Still confused? We’re always on hand to help our clients understand the ever-changing online landscape.