Robin Klein was quick to tweet news last week that UK consumer website moneysavingexpert.com is using Skimlinks to monetise its giant user generated forum. MSE had posted the news on its forum on Friday with a Q&A explaining what Skimlinks is.
This is a big deal for Skimlinks, a UK company that invisibly rewrites links to ecommerce sites into links that retailers pay for, usually on a sales/lead generation cost per action basis. According to Hitwise, moneysavingexpert’s forum is the ninth biggest social network in the UK. Pinterest was the 46th most popular social site in the UK at the start of this year.
Klein who is an investor and board observer at Skimlinks will be hoping that being upfront about a technology designed so it can’t be seen will avoid a backlash from users. In February, Skimlinks was dropped by Pinterest after users complained about surreptitious advertising and worries about copyright and making money.
MSE is being selective about how it is using Skimlinks and says it is implementing a custom version. The technology will alter links for anyone using the forum without registering or logging in but it can be switched off by registering. The default setting for existing logged in forum users is off with the option to turn it on. MSE has decided not to allow users to see which links are Skimlinked by adding an asterisk to disclose as it has with affiliate links until now. It is also making a distinction between Skimlinks and Skimwords, both link services from Skimlinks, saying:
Important: Skimlinks also has a separate Skimwords software, which is intrusive and adds links to keywords. We’re not using that software, so please don’t confuse the two.
The consumer website has kept Skimlinks off all its financial product or ‘money’ boards. MSE site editor is Dan Plant who is a member of the Financial Services Consumer Panel. The panel was established by the FSA under FSMA to represent the interests of consumers. Plant brings to the panel ‘a strong passion for consumer protecti0n and responsibility’. That may not sit well if he works for a company that monetises links to financial products posted anonymously in a forum which welcomes users with the message ‘anyone can post please exercise caution’.
MSE has also kept Skimlinks off boards for gamblers and compers after users complained last year that any additional tracking could make them easier to spot and disqualify. From what Skimlinks CEO Alicia Navarro says about the benefits of her technology, users may be right to be wary:
‘The data and analytics that we can provide about how community members are interacting with merchant and product information can be invaluable to publishers. The insights that can be gleaned by running Skimlinks have helped thousands of our publishers understand their customer base more, understand their shopping preferences, purchase behaviours, all without infringing on their privacy or interrupting their browsing experience. Publishers can then make decisions to focus more on certain users or products or merchants, with knowledge that their community respond well to these people and products. This is how merchants benefit, aside from the fact that by helping these sites fund themselves, they are creating future sources of new customers.’
Boards where Skimlinks is being used include Discount Codes ‘n Vouchers where users share codes. It is fairly common for retailers to manage how codes issued to consumers can be redeemed through affiliate links. ASDA requires affiliates to only use voucher codes specifically issued for affiliates. Debenhams has closed its program to voucher code affiliates saying it is unable to recruit anymore. MSE has tried to address potential conflicts between it and its users’ competing commissions. The custom version it is running allows users to copy and paste links unaltered instead of clicking on them which automatically adds Skimlinks’ tracking.
If retailers do start to treat forum users any differently for having clicked through on unseen affiliate links and used codes for consumers, MSE may face a backlash. In its Q&A, it says it reserves the right to add Skimlinks to more boards. It may need to take it off boards if users who post content, unpaid, and moderators who run boards, unpaid, decide they don’t want it.
MSE is not the huge site it is today without listening to its users. Provided it continues to do so, this could be a partnership that strengthens UK companies competing in a sector dominated by the US.