Skimlinks has figured out how publishers could unshackle themselves from Facebook

The conventional thinking about profiling online users is that Facebook (in particular) has enormous amounts of profile data about your tastes, while Amazon has equivalent quantities of data about your shopping habits. While both are true to some extent, the reality is that your liking of cat videos and flirt-Liking work colleagues’ posts doesn’t amount to a heck of a lot, while Amazon’s knowledge of you is locked inside your re-orders of washing powder. Admittedly that might be a simplification…

Suffice it to say, a better scenario would be a platform that could look at all your actual purchasing behaviour (perhaps even start to make predictions about it?) and which was not locked inside the big social platforms or e-commerce giants? What if it was available to all publishers and content owners, and all the data, where users were
anonymized, got larger and larger as more and more publishers joined? Would this not free them of the shackles of Facebook/Amazon/Google, and the like? It turns out just such as platform exists, and has emerged from left-field out of a hot new trend in online publishing.

So-called “Editorial commerce-related content” emerged from early commerce-related blogs like Wirecutter, but have quickly caught on amongst bigger publishers like Buzzfeed, who have realised that placing buy links inside content could be a way out of the declining world of online advertising. Indeed, even reverse-engineering shopping habits and over-laying that data inside an ad network has many untold possibilities.

The company spear-heading this new approach is Skimlinks.

Better known for their platform which give publishers control of how affiliate schemes appear, this mid-stage startup has recently launched a new product aimed at mining the big data it has accumulated about users shopping habits, and make that available to all its publisher clients.

“The public success of publishers such as Wirecutter, BuzzFeed and Gizmodo encouraged other publishers to similarly embrace a strategy to drive incremental revenue and deep audience insights,” says co-founder and CEO Alicia Navarro. “This weaving of commerce into editorial content is also enabling publishers to hire dedicated staff to fully capitalize on these strategies; 80 percent of top Skimlinks’ publishers hired dedicated commerce editors last year.”

Today it’s releasing new metrics about just how successful this new approach is becoming. So for instance, editorial content from its publisher network of 1.5M domains has now driven nearly $1 billion of ecommerce transactions in 2016. This resulted in a 38% year-over-year increase in revenue, with Skimlinks hitting $36 million in gross revenue for the year.

The new year is continuing this trend and the company says it is poised to hit yearly revenues of $50 million, and will hit profitability by year-end.
It’s now working with Condé Nast, BuzzFeed and Mail Online.

The key driver is its “Audiences” data product which is launched in
January 2016. With this, they now have 54 percent market penetration in the top 100 US and UK content publishers.

The company claims this is now one of the largest global sources of declared shopping intent data available to marketers programmatically. This is also independent from any particular platform or media buy. Because of this it has opted-in data from 99.9 percent of sites, 80% of all pageviews, and visibility into the shopping journeys of more than 1.5B cookied users.

The publishers that opt-in to Audiences share in the revenues from Skimlinks’ data sales, but can also access the data for their own internal ad targeting and user insights. This creates a virtuous circle: publishers create more content that drives affiliate revenue as well as creating more user interactions, which in turn drives insights into the shopping behaviors of their readers, which fuel’s publishers’ strategic choices about what content to publish.

Navarro says: “Amazon have a similar dataset to us, because they also offer publisher javascript-based tools and have their own conversion data. However, they only sell their data to buyers who spend on their network, and of course, their data only includes Amazon. They also don’t compensate publishers for the data they use from publisher sites running their widgets. Skimlinks has data for every merchant, not just Amazon, and we share revenues with publishers who opt-in to be part of our data co-operative. Currently 80% of all our publisher’s impressions are opted-in, giving us data on over 1.1 billion uniques a month.”

“Facebook and Google currently use their data collected from publisher pages to optimise their ad targeting algorithms, which – due to their huge scale – make them the most performant players in the market. They attract 85% of all ad dollars, leaving 15% for every other publisher,” she adds.

Let’s face it, that 15% ends up funding journalism. Facebook or Google (or Amazon) don’t share their ad revenues with the publishers whose data is used to make their advertising algorithms so good. Skimlinks does. It not only shares the revenues, but also give publishers access to the data for free in their own data management platform or ad server.

That means any one publisher now has the scale and ad targeting capability of a Facebook. For free.

This potentially makes it the largest shopping intent data co-operative available programmatically in the world. So far it has raised $23 million in investment and is HQ’d in London.

Now, the sceptic in me notes that publishers collectively can’t mach the Facebook/Google/Amazon “triumvirate”. However, the fact that so many publishers are deserting the Facebook native platform, as well as wondering about such things as Google AMP, indicates to me that Skimlinks might just be onto something big here.