Content Monetization

Disclosure: If I'm not making money through affiliate links on the post you're currently reading, it's an oversight on my part and will be corrected soon.

Oliver Roup, Founder & CEO, VigLink

One morning this past November, as my team was reviewing highlights from the previous days’ customer metrics, something caught our eye: a purchase for $58,000.  After a few minutes of digging, we found that on an evening earlier in the week, an individual browsing an automotive site had come across a post that discussed a particular pontoon boat — complete with floating bar and tiki torches.  The visitor had clicked the link the site owner provided and ultimately purchased the item for a hefty $58,000.

We know that links within content have an intrinsic value, particularly from an SEO perspective.  They convey authority, build relationships, and generate traffic.  But, we often don’t pay enough attention to the revenue opportunity they present.  In the case of the automotive site owner, he generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for an online merchant.  In return (he was monetizing his content’s outbound links using VigLink), he saw his revenue on a per-click basis triple post-sale, soaring to over $1.20 per click.  And while a $58,000 purchase is certainly substantial, it isn’t as uncommon as one might think; we regularly see publishers generating sales for computers, cars, and pricey collector items from $1k to $100k+.

It begs the question: if a single link can generate tens of thousands of dollars in business, why aren’t we giving more thought to the links we include on our sites? We obviously want to maximize a reader’s time on our site, and for links to enhance a reader’s experience, but why can’t they also be sensibly integrated into a broader monetization strategy?

Here are three areas publishers can invest their time in order to get more out of the hyperlinks they include on their site.

Tracking Outbound Links

The first step to incorporating outbound links into your monetization strategy is to understand where you are sending traffic. And what value is created after a reader leaves your site.

Omniture (paid) and Google Analytics (free — but requires a modification to the standard Analytics code you add to your site) both offer tools to help you understand what happens when a reader leaves your site.

Practicing “Sensible” Linking

Think before you link.  Once you know where your readers are going when they leave your site (and even better, what they are doing), you are in a much better decision to decide what words to link and where to link them to.

A couple examples of what I mean by this:

  • If traffic sent to a particular retailer produces more actions (e.g. sales) than a comparable retailer, focus links on the former.
  • Links that never get clicked are just noise. Replace them with alternative text or remove them altogether and focus on adding links to other areas of the page.

When in Doubt, Link

It’s time consuming to determine what pieces of content on your site would benefit from an added link, but it’s well worth it.  When speaking with publishers, I recommend that they air on the side of generosity when linking.  If content references a product, service or brand, always include a link. And similarly, look for areas that indirectly reference these same products and consider weaving sensible links into those sections as well.

As long as you are careful not to rely on a link insertion service that adds only tangentially related links (which can negatively impact user experience), you’ll rarely encounter a reader that is turned-off by an additional link.

What’s Next for the Hyperlink?

In the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see links within content go the way of banner advertisements, with links being dynamically selected based on reader behavior and advertiser preferences. In the long-run, the shift will be a win for readers (fewer irrelevant links), advertisers (who will enjoy better targeting), and publishers (who will have better content and see a new revenue stream from their content). But first, publishers must realize the value they are creating with each hyperlink they add to their site.

About Oliver Roup

Oliver is the Founder and CEO of VigLink, a content monetization company. He has over 15 years of software experience and has previously served as a Director at Microsoft in charge of product for various media properties including XBOX Live Video Marketplace, Zune Marketplace and MSN Entertainment. Oliver was also an early employee at Internet Radio pioneer Echo Networks and has worked for Paul Allen at Vulcan, for iPlayer at the BBC and for the Founders Fund.  He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from MIT and his MBA from the Harvard Business School.