Are Skimlinks and VigLink (Sovrn) bad for your SEO backlink strategy

The short answer is YES. By joining these affiliate subnetworks you will convert all of your current organic backlinks to your site into monetized affiliate links. The publishers linking to your website do need to be using either Skimlinks or VigLink, but 99% of publishers that have decent domain authority will be on at least one of these subnetworks.

Does this mean you should not add Skimlinks and VigLink/Sovrn to your affiliate program? That depends on what your overall growth and marketing strategy is. If you are really working on SEO and trying to gain organic traffic to your site by improving your content, technical SEO, and backlinking profile, then we would advise against adding Skimlinks and Viglink/Sovrn to your affiliate program.

On the other hand – if you aren’t going to be able to compete on non-brand SEO and you aren’t planning to invest a lot of time/money/energy into building your SEO strategy, then you should definitely add Skimlinks and VigLink/Sovrn to your program. The reason is that these subnetworks will expand your reach dramatically in terms of who you can work with, and the amount of publishers you can seamlessly recruit into your affiliate program. In fact, we’ve spoken to a lot of publishers that won’t even bother linking to you unless you are already in the Skimlinks or VigLink/Sovrn affiliate subnetwork. Why? The reason is simple – these subnetworks take all the work out of publishers having to manually add merchants to their affiliate program, so they can focus on creating content instead of managing their affiliate merchants and contacts.

So it’s bad for SEO, but does that mean I can’t use them at all?

Ideally with these subnetworks you’d want the best of both worlds: 1) the ability to reach all the publishers in their subnetwork and 2) not lose all those hard-earned highly-valuable organic SEO backlinks to your website.

The only way this would be possible would be to add these subnetworks to your affiliate program and be able to pick which links are monetized (because you want the publisher to be incentivized) and which links to leave alone.

Unfortunately Skimlinks does not offer this option to “cherry pick” publishers that are in their subnetwork to add to your affiliate program, so with them it really is an all or nothing thing. When you join Skimlinks, all your organic links (from publishers in their network) will flip over to paid links, losing their SEO juice. Alternatively you don’t add Skimlinks to your program and just miss out on a bunch of publishers you may want to work with (bummer!).

With VigLink/Sovrn however, they do offer the option to limit the publishers to “content” publishers and then give you control on a periodic basis to manually select the publishers you want to add or deny. In essence this is the ideal set up – we get access to all the publishers on the VigLink network, but we also get to pick which publisher links will become monetized paid affiliate links, and which publishers we want to leave out of our affiliate program. The publishers left out of the program will not have any organic links switch over, they will stay organic.

Summary

  • Skimlinks will change any organic SEO backlinks you have into paid backlinks for publishers that are in their network – it’s all or nothing
  • VigLink/Sovrn will allow you to join their subnetwork and manually approve publishers you want to add to your affiliate marketing program before they convert the organic SEO backlinks into affiliate links

At the same time, there is no denying that the way publishers and editorial content creators make money is changing rapidly, and many publishers are keeping their business operating because they are able to monetize content through affiliate links. With more and more publishers creating content that is filled with affiliate links, we have to assume Google is crawling this content and attributing some kind of backlink value to these affiliate links even though they are paid. Google has always stated on the record that paid backlinks to your website will not help your SEO ranking, but with so much of the credible content on the internet becoming filled with affiliate links, and less and less true “organic” backlinks – we have to assume Google is following this change and adapting its algorithm to account for this evolution in digital publishing. Here is the official language around how Google crawls publisher sites with affiliate links.

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