VigLink Finds a New Way to Make Blogging Pay

VigLink is launching today a service to help publishers take advantage of affiliate marketing offerings for sites they already link to in their normal course of writing. While many site owners may be aware that Amazon (s amzn) will send them a cut of revenue when they refer purchasers, just about every other e-commerce and subscription service — from The Gap to The Wall Street Journal — does, too. VigLink estimates that less than half of links that could be monetized are hooked up to affiliate programs.

The San Francisco-based company raised $800,000 in June in a (previously reported) round led by First Round Capital and Google Ventures (s GOOG) and including Reid Hoffman, Deep Nishar, Niel Robertson, Hadi Partovi, Ali Partovi, Carlos Cashman and Micah Adler.

The thought behind VigLink is that in the course of regular writing, web publishers link to sites that they don’t know have affiliate programs. Rather than requiring bloggers to sign up for each program individually, VigLink serves as the middleman. The content creators receive payments after they reach a $25 minimum for all the affiliate programs combined (a much lower barrier to entry than if they had joined all of them individually). VigLink also maintains publishers’ links to make sure they hook up to current offerings.

Meanwhile, merchants are given the ability to track participating publishers and reject those whose content or audience they don’t feel is appropriate. Visitors probably won’t notice anything out of the ordinary as they read and click on links, unless they look very closely at the URL, said Viglink CEO Oliver Roup. His company, of course, takes a cut of any CPA revenue (and later may expand to CPC).

VigLink (which has a UK equivalent startup, Skimlinks) sent me a sample report showing that Gizmodo leaves approximately $4,400 per month on the table in unrealized income. That’s not based on a relationship with the site, but an estimate from crawling its outbound links, using public traffic estimates and applying a model of how many click-throughs the site is likely to get (see screenshot). VigLink says it already has relationships with sites that have a combined 100 million page views per month, but it’s not specifying which ones. It does not require a minimum amount of traffic to join the program.

My concern with VigLink would be that a taste of the revenue from linking to The Gap, for instance, might lead a normally interesting blogger to write about nothing but sweaters and khakis. We don’t really need any more link farms in the world. Roup said that VigLink will encourage participants to follow the FTC guidelines about paid blogging. He also noted that as compared to something like the double-underlined links from Kontera (which I personally find way too obtrusive), VigLink’s monetized links blend in with the rest of the text and the normal course of reading.

The next step for VigLink is to expand beyond people who publish their own sites and blogs to places like Twitter and Facebook where bevies of users trade links. Roup hinted that this was in the plans, and said that it’s actually already possible for sites like those to integrate with VigLink’s open API.

As a side note, I followed up with Rich Miner at Google Ventures because I was interested in the nature of the VigLink funding given the startup’s product is somewhat close to Google’s AdSense and it was one of Google Ventures’ first investments.

While both Miner and Roup said the overlap had been positive so far, Miner meanwhile relayed a cute story about how he met Roup — while judging a business plan competition at Harvard last year. “Something about him struck me,” Miner said, noting Roup majored in computer science at MIT and “perhaps looked a little scruffy compared to the other polished MBAs.” Roup didn’t win the competition but he did get the mentorship and eventually, funding.