I was recently doing some random research on link shortening programs and came across some information that concerned me.
I’ve been using Bitly.com to shorten my URL’s prior to adding them to twitter – just like most bloggers. What I didn’t know is that they partnered with Viglink to auto-monetize the short links created through Bitly.com
I’ve never used Viglink, but according to their website they identify “commercial products mentioned within a publisher’s content” then “VigLink automatically invigorates those terms by transforming them into revenue generating hyperlinks whose destinations are determined in real-time, advertiser-bid auctions.”
So what does this mean for you?
It means that if you are using bitly as a link shortener you are potentially losing your affiliate marketing rights. Each time you use bitly services, Viglink is creating their own cookie (when applicable). These cookies may potentially supersede your affiliate cookie.
Based on my research most blogger won’t be affected. Bloggers tend to use link shortening tools to share their articles rather than to link to an actual affiliate product. In theory, the Viglink cookie only applies if you are using a short link directly to a product.
So it all depends on your workflow situation. However, do you really want to take that chance?
I know I certainly don’t.
Most of my direct affiliate links are unshortened since I use the linking tool within WordPress. However, I’ve used Bitly in the past to link directly to an affiliate product and never once thought it was an issue.
So I did a bit of research and of course, Google comes to the rescue. They have their own link shortening tool called goo.gl.
Check out Danny Sullivan’s awesome article from Search Engine Land “Google URL Shortener Opened to the Public: Comparing to Bit.ly & Twitter.” It is a longer article, but well worth the time. He does a very detailed breakdown of the differences between the two products.
He also takes the time to point out that part of Google’s incentive for sharing their link shortening tools is probably because it gives them the ability to track additional social sharing trends, particularly when used with twitter. The article is written prior to Bit.ly’s partnership with Viglink.
So ultimately is this partnership a big deal? Honestly, I’m not sure, I’m not a technical person. Based on my workflow, I don’t see it directly affecting my affiliate marketing efforts.
Bit.ly provides a very valuable service for free. They deserve the right to partner with a company that will make them money.
Personally, I’d rather not chance losing potential affiliate funds and will be switching to a different URL shortening program.
I did a quick search on both Bitly and Viglink’s sites and wasn’t able to find any reference to this partnership beyond a one page note on Bitly’s site regarding an affiliate test. I wasn’t able to find any type of confirmation of any type of final partnership.
However, on Bitly’s Terms of Service page, I found the following under section 8, paragraph E.
- License to Bitly – By submitting User Content through the Services, you hereby do and shall grant Bitly a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable and transferable license to use, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Content in connection with the Services and Bitly’s (and its successors and assigns’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Services (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels (including, without limitation, third party websites and feeds).
Please note the section where you give them the right to “fully exploit the user content”.
I’m sure if I searched goo.gl or any of the other link shortening tools I’d find the same type of verbiage.
Either way, I’m not technical enough to know how to avoid potentially losing out on affiliate sales, so I’ll be switching to goo.gl for all my link shortening needs.
Articles of Interest:
- Carolyn Kmet’s article in PracticalEcommerce – “Bitly-Viglink Affiliate Deal Raises Concerns” – This is the original article I read that clued me into this potential issue. Take the time to read through the comments, particularly Carolyn Kmet comment from March 27th which includes a response by Viglink founder and CEO Oliver Roup.
- “How Affiliate Merchants Can Opt Out of the Bit.ly & Viglink Cookie Dropping,” by Jennifer Slegg on The SEM Post. – A quick read on how to opt out of the cooking dropping.
- BrandVerity Blog has an excellent article about how the partnership could potentially cause FTC issues regarding product liability. Check it out here.