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Affiliate marketing is a performance-based advertising model. An affiliate (publisher) promotes a product/service online and receives compensation for achieving a specific objective or action. A merchant (advertiser) specifies the goal, which is usually a valid sale. For example, a merchant will pay an affiliate a 30 percent sales commission. A merchant may use one or multiple advertising pricing models, for instance, cost-per-action/acquisition (CPA), cost per sale (CPS), cost per lead (CPL), or pay per lead (PPL).
Affiliate Marketing Software
Merchants require affiliate marketing software to support their programs. They might develop proprietary software (Shopify and Amazon) or use commercial software. Commercial software can be self-hosted on the merchant’s server or hosted on the developer’s server.
A private portal application facilitates a one-to-one relationship between the merchant and the affiliate, for example, Tapfiliate and iDevAffiliate. By contrast, affiliate networks provide a marketplace for affiliates to find and manage multiple merchant relationships, for instance, ShareASale and FlexOffers. Therefore, networks provide one-to-many relationships.
What Is an Affiliate Network?
An affiliate network acts as an intermediary between advertisers and publishers. Advertisers get to recruit and build relationships with thousands of affiliates. They also get much more exposure compared with a private portal. Publishers get a single point of entry and the ability to find and join programs quickly. Features for both parties include performance dashboards, real-time reporting, analytics, link tracking technologies, promotional tools and materials, payment options, and user support.
Affiliate networks and programs are free to join for affiliates, whereas merchants must pay to use the software. Network operators may also charge advertisers override commissions.
Is Amazon Associates an affiliate network? No, it isn’t. Many bloggers and YouTubers refer to it as an affiliate network. However, it’s an affiliate program managed by Amazon. An affiliate program details the commission rate, cookie length, payout threshold, and policies that publishers must follow. Although there are millions of products to promote through Amazon Associates, publishers deal with Amazon only. Like Amazon, the eBay Partner Network (EPN) isn’t an affiliate network, but an affiliate program managed by eBay.
Evaluating Affiliate Networks
Joining the right affiliate network(s) can be the difference between making pennies or thousands of dollars. Affiliates (and merchants) should consider the following criteria.
The affiliate network features reputable and trustworthy merchants. Most affiliates want to promote excellent companies, products, and services. Therefore, networks should carefully screen and only accept legitimate advertisers. By contrast, a network that’s full of suspect advertisers and poorly rated goods will produce terrible outcomes for everyone.
The network has a wide selection of merchants, categories, products, and services. Naturally, you want to optimize your marketing activities by matching products to your audience and niche. To achieve your goals, you must experiment with different advertisers and programs, which can only happen if the network provides enough selection.
The software, platform, and dashboard are user-friendly. Network operators and developers should make navigating their websites smooth and seamless. Searching for advertisers, categories, program terms, links, and marketing materials should be intuitive and frictionless. The color scheme and page designs are critical too. Some networks mess up these aspects, which reduce publisher engagement.
Affiliate application approval rates are high, and turnaround is fast. There’s no point of being on a network that has high application decline rates. Secondly, program approval/decline turnaround times should be quick, for instance, one to five business days. On some networks, my applications don’t make any progress for months, which prohibits me from moving forward. While application cycle times sit with merchants, networks must do more to stimulate action.
Reports are easy to generate and understand. Affiliates may want to analyze their activities for more insights. For example, the traffic source that yields the most clicks and conversions.
Tracking, sales conversions, and payments are efficient. Publishers should have every confidence that their efforts are being rewarded accordingly. Secondly, networks should support different payment options, such as PayPal, EFT, cheque, wire transfer, and so on.
Customer service is excellent. I haven’t called upon customer service very often, but when I have, some networks are more skilled and helpful than others. Moreover, customer service representatives must be able to problem-solve efficiently.
Deep linking is available. Deep linking is the practice by which an affiliate creates a link to a specific page on the merchant’s site. For example, instead of using a generic homepage affiliate link, I can link to an article that relates to my post. Most affiliate networks offer deep linking, but it’s up to the advertiser to enable. Networks and merchants that don’t utilize deep linking produce significant limitations.
- Generic homepage link > https://website.com?affiliateid3162
- Deep-link > https://website.com/search-engine-optimization-for-beginners?affiliateid3162
Best Affiliate Networks
Between affiliate networks and private portals, I use about twenty. Despite how many YouTubers and bloggers rave about ClickBank, you won’t find it on this list. I don’t consider it a legit network because of its antiquated software, policies, and practices, which create a win-lose experience for affiliates.
Let’s review several top affiliate networks. These networks are excellent for bloggers, YouTubers, beginners, and experienced marketers.
- Awin and ShareASale
- Commission Factory
- CJ Affiliate by Conversant
- Rakuten Marketing
Admitad brings together thousands of brands and hundreds of thousands of publishers around the globe. It has extensive experience in affiliate practices and is willing to help its partners develop or successfully monetize their projects. It features 1,700+ merchants with engagement from 600,000+ publishers.
Avangate Network focuses on software and digital goods. It offers the possibility to grow your business exponentially by partnering with the industry’s top merchants.
AvantLink partners and builds relationships with merchants that understand the impact and importance of referral marketing. Only established merchants that have extensive product offerings and that are dedicated to building productive partnerships are allowed on its network.
Part of the Axel Springer and United Internet Groups, Awin is a global affiliate network. With ShareASale, the Awin group consists of 15 offices worldwide, 1,000+ employees, 200,000+ publishers, and 15,000+ advertisers in over 180 countries. The annual Awin Report provides a comprehensive vision of the state of affiliate marketing.
Commission Factory is a performance marketing network with a focus on the Asia Pacific. It has partnered with over 500+ advertisers and 30,000 publishers in a variety of verticals.
CJ Affiliate by Conversant (formerly Commission Junction)
CJ Affiliate by Conversant provides advanced performance marketing solutions that help marketers increase online leads and sales. You’ll find roughly 3,000 advertisers across many verticals and countries on its platform.
FlexOffers provides comprehensive solutions to both advertisers and publishers. It has multiple marketing options, various data delivery options, and advanced payment solutions to create profitable partnerships. It has nearly 12,000 merchants on its platform.
Impact is a marketing technology company that helps brands grow by optimizing their paid marketing and media spend. Affiliates must apply to join its marketplace. It has about 1,000 merchants, many of which are well-established in their respective industries.
PartnerStack helps companies to build and manage marketing programs by providing solutions that identify, incentivize, and reward publishers. It has 100+ merchants that are mostly startups and companies with operations of less than ten years.
Rakuten Marketing (formerly LinkShare)
Rakuten Marketing empowers marketers with integrated marketing solutions that enable them to achieve the full potential of digital marketing. Nearly 2,000 advertisers use Rakuten Marketing.
ShareASale provides customers with an advanced affiliate marketing platform. It has about 4,000 merchants and is robust in pay per lead offerings.
Tradedoubler is a leading international performance marketing company that drives results through high-quality traffic, technology, and expertise. It has 2,000+ advertisers and 180,000+ publishers on its network.
Webgains connects you with the right customers fast by combining cutting-edge technology, performance marketing experience, and world-class expertise. It has 1,800+ advertisers and 250,000+ publishers on its network.