We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
The most common question that advertisers/brands ask while considering launching a new affiliate program is:
Which affiliate network is the best?
Before we proceed any further, let’s take a step back and note here that an “affiliate network” isn’t the only way to run an affiliate program.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of platforms on which affiliate programs can operate: (i) affiliate networks and (ii) affiliate software platforms which would allow the advertiser to access their technology in exchange for a one-time payment or an ongoing fee. Examples of affiliate networks would include CJ Affiliate, Rakuten Affiliate, ShareASale, Pepperjam Network, LinkConnector, AvantLink, and many more. Examples of affiliate tracking platforms, on the other hand, would encompass such solutions as CAKE, HasOffers, Refersion, Post Affiliate Pro, and multiple others.
Having launched hundreds of affiliate programs in the course of my career, I have learned to never answer the which-one-is-the-best question without digging into some additional details. To answer the question at hand, the advertiser really has to get clarity on three other questions: (1) what, (2) why, and (3) how much?
Let’s tackle each of these one by one:
What is it that you are hereby selecting?
Seven years ago, in an post entitled “Don’t Blame Affiliate Network for Not Growing Your Program” I pointed to a common advertiser illusion about affiliate networks – that of an affiliate program’s success tying into being on a network. The problem is that, in reality, most affiliate networks do not provide program management services by default. Just as software platforms, they are there to support your affiliate program’s (i) tracking, (ii) reporting, and (iii) basic relationship management [read this article to learn of the advantages of each]. On top of these, networks also (iv) simplify the process of paying affiliates. Note, however, that none of them guarantees that the affiliates which use the platform will join your program.
In essence, you are selecting a provider to support the technology behind your future affiliate program.
Why do you want to be on this platform/network vs all others?
Answers similar to “Because it’s on the first page of Google” or “Because it was ranked as (one of) the top platforms this year” are not accepted! Search engine rankings are merely reflective their SEO skills, while ratings are frequently subjective.
One of the particularly useful things to do at this stage is to conduct a competitive intelligence analysis – one where looking at what your immediate competition (or advertisers that cater to your target audience(s)) does through affiliate marketing, you would document how they do it and where they run their affiliate programs. Highlight those that are especially successful at it (be it reflected in their affiliate program’s ranking, EPC, conversion rate(s), or anything else that may be of value here). Presence of successful competing affiliate programs on any given platform is indicative of the fact that there are affiliates on this platform that make them successful. It isn’t as black and white as it may seem on the surface, but it is a good sign of a particular platform being worth a consideration.
Finally, dive into the financial side of things.
Some software solutions tie their fee to the traffic volume, others – to the number of monthly conversions/actions; some affiliate networks will charge you a “transaction fee” calculated as a percentage of affiliate-referred sales amount, while others will tie it to the affiliates’ payouts. I put together this comparison of affiliate networks’ fees some time ago and, though being somewhat dated, it will still give you a good general idea of what you may have to pay.
Two extremes must be highlighted in this section: (a) free plugins (where “you get what you pay for”) and (b) overly expensive platforms that may tie you in for time periods longer than you’re willing to commit to.
Analyze all the pros and cons, and make an educated decision, not one merely based on someone’s individual preferences.
Additionally, remember that once that affiliate program is launched, as any marketing campaign, it will have to be managed – with time and effort devoted to identification and onboarding of new affiliates, activation of onboarded ones, compliance monitoring of activated ones, and much more.
Geno is the founder and CEO of AM Navigator, an award-winning affiliate program management agency.