VigLink, now Sovrn //Commerce, was founded in 2009 by Oliver Roup, a Microsoft Program Manager and a graduate of both MIT and Harvard Business School. Roup identified a gap in the market between publisher traffic analytics platforms and affiliate networks that pay a commission when publishers drive sales. The resulting company combined simple link building, online commerce insights, and link monetization as a ground-breaking publisher revenue solution.
WNIP caught up with Tyler Stauss, VP Marketplace, Commerce at Sovrn, to find out more…
Can you give us further background about your company?
VigLink, now Sovrn //Commerce, originated in San Francisco and has offices in Boulder, New York, Austin, Denver, London, and Hamburg. Since VigLink joined forces with Sovrn late last year it’s become part of a much larger platform dedicated to publisher advocacy.
What business problem is your company addressing?
Publishers create content that drives billions of dollars in purchasing behavior annually. Even so, most receive only a thin slice of the commercial value they create, usually through the advertisements run on their sites. Publishers want to—and should—earn revenue when they write or talk about products and brands.
It can be incredibly difficult for publishers to become affiliates and start earning commissions for the sales they create. Link monetization and account creation is often complex and unrewarding. Although there were tools that simplified this process on the merchant side of the equation, publishers lacked an adequate product or solution. They had no data, no analytics to rely on for strategic decisions, and no way to use affiliate links in content published on websites they didn’t own.
We sought to solve all of those problems, and built //Commerce to give publishers a streamlined way to earn more revenue directly from the content they create.
What is your core product addressing this problem?
Our products can be broken down into three categories: existing links, new links, and insights.
For new links we have a product called Insert. This sophisticated solution uses natural language processing to scan content and identify where products are mentioned, but are not linked. It then transforms these mentions into a monetized affiliate link. This is a particularly effective tool for websites that include forums or other user-generated content, where consumers are discussing and recommending products but aren’t necessarily linking to them. Insert creates new inventory for publishers and implementing it can more than double revenues.
Finally, we offer an advanced publisher dashboard that shows what is working and what is not, down to page and product level. And we can help publishers action their own consumer data. We aim to be a one-stop-shop for publishers that want to earn revenue from writing about products.
Can you give some examples of publishers successfully using Sovrn //Commerce?
Publishers across multiple verticals including news, electronics, fashion, lifestyle, and automotive, successfully use our products. MSN uses our solution to provide users with a targeted, relevant experience while generating a significant source of revenue for content partners. Around 80% of MSN’s affiliate earnings come from new links created by the Insert product.
When CNET used our existing links products it saw its revenue increase 10-fold. Some publishers such as Indulgy use our products to ensure their sites can remain ad-free, while others such as Acquire use them to add supplementary revenue without disrupting workflows or the user experience.
We take a percentage revenue share depending on the products publishers use as well as the type of publisher and any negotiated agreements. One of the benefits of our unified publisher dashboard is it simplifies complicated affiliate relationships and payments.
Publishers don’t need to chase individual networks for commission, we manage the collection and publishers receive a single payment from us. We can negotiate best-in-class commission rates with merchants so this practice often cancels out our revenue share.
With one major department store, the default commission rate publishers get when they go direct is 5%, whereas through our platform it is north of 10%, so publisher commission can increase even after we take our cut.
What are other people doing in the space and why?
There are also some great vertical-specific solutions, particularly in fashion, but these tend to be manual solutions aimed at smaller niche publishers; larger publishers demand more automation and tools and we can deliver this across all verticals. There are currently no products that compare with Insert as this technology is difficult to execute with sufficient precision at low enough cost.
What makes our tech interesting isn’t just that it monetizes existing links or creates new inventory by inserting product links, but that it helps get a fair price for publishers. There are often multiple retailers selling the same product, each with different stock levels, prices, and affiliate commission rates etc, so our technology uses programmatic to auction links in real-time, ultimately picking the one that will pay the publisher the most. This functionality allows us to shift traffic away from retailers who aren’t paying publishers fairly to those that do.
How do you view the future?
Display advertising is still the most important revenue driver for many publishers but commerce is going to grow alongside it. This is partly due to frustrations with the display model, which can erode editorial authority by encouraging thinner content in pursuit of maximum impressions, but it is also due to the opportunity for publishers to build a supplementary revenue stream and advertisers to acquire shoppers at a really attractive return on ad spend.
Native commerce is receiving increased attention on both the supply and demand sides due to a rising realization all advertising spend is becoming performance related. We’re having conversations with big media agencies that want to understand performance better. This increased attention is driving reorganization in the sector, including consolidation at the head of the market.
Dominant players in the commerce or affiliate industry are starting to lift and revamp core offerings and take better demand-side products to market to match what sophisticated publishers are doing. The importance of native commerce will increase as a supplementary revenue stream that rewards the production of in-depth quality content.
Disclosure: WNIP is wholly owned by Sovrn Holdings, Inc.