VigLink, now in private beta, is an interesting product that monetizes Web pages by automatically changing ordinary hyperlinks into affiliate links when they are clicked.
Many online merchants, Amazon.com being the best-known, have affiliate programs that pay referring sites for visitors when their browsing leads to a purchase. In many cases, even if the purchase occurs on a visit days after the user first clicked over to the site, the referring site can still get an affiliate payment. So it's financially in the interest of any content site to use affiliate coding in links to commerce sites.
Only revenue-generating traffic--people actually buying things--makes money for VigLink. Clickthroughs alone don't count. So VigLink avoids some of the click fraud problems that plague Google ad links.
VigLink does not create links where none exist. It won't convert noncommerce links into affiliate links. Unlike Vibrant Media, which automatically links unlinked words to pop-up ads, users should not notice any difference in browsing a VigLink-enabled site. All the system does is "affiliatize" existing links. Bloggers linking to Amazon for books or Newegg for computer gear have nothing to lose.
Or do they? The monetary gains from VigLink are likely to be miniscule for most bloggers. While a sample run of the a VigLink report showed that Gizmodo was leaving about $4,400 a month on the table, the system's report on another site, my own fallow rafeneedleman.com, projected but $4 a month of income--and that was based on guesstimated traffic that was about a thousand times more than the site currently gets. In my case, and for many low-traffic blogs, there's little to gain.
"Worst case, you get some nice analytics," VigLink co-founder Oliver Roup told me. "Better case, we start sending you money."
There is also the ethical position to consider. While it's a nice service to link to an Amazon page when you're writing about book you like, it's another thing entirely to write about products in order to get affiliate money. Profiting from editorial mentions can present a conflict of interest. We don't hear too much about the field of "affiliate marketing optimization," but it's quite possible we will, if this concept gathers steam.
From a business model perspective, though, VigLink is smart. There are, Roup says, over 7,500 sites that pay for referral traffic that creates commerce. Signing up for even a fraction of those programs is probably more work than it's worth. But with VigLink, a site publisher only has to sign up once--for VigLink itself. VigLink could do a nice job connecting publishers to affiliate marketing programs and might even encourage the growth of new affiliate programs, from which the company would profit directly. It's a virtuous cycle.
Just as Google AdSense monetizes pages without changing them (aside from the need to display the ad block), VigLink can create some cashflow for pages that already link to commercial sites. The revenue may not add up to much for an individual site. But for a publisher of a collection of sites, and for VigLink itself, the pennies here and there could add up to a decent income.
VigLink is funded by Google Ventures (which is clearly smart money for this company) and First Round Capital. As of today, you can ask the product to run a scan of your site to see what it projects it could make for you based on your current links. It takes a few hours to get a return result. The service itself is still in private beta, but the site is taking sign-ups.