I’ve received a question a frequent reader of my blog who is looking for guidance on “the best affiliate program” to join. Here’s the exact verbiage of her question:
What is the best affiliate program you recommend joining: Commission Junction, LinkShare, Clickbank, Shareasale, or …?
Well, first of all, there seems to be a confusion of terms. None of the above-quoted ones are affiliate programs. They are all affiliate networks. As I have written a few months ago, affiliate networks are “mediators that provide merchants and affiliates with tracking and maintenance solutions to run their affiliate campaigns” [more here]. When starting an affiliate program merchants have a choice: run it on an in-house-based software or on an affiliate network. I won’t go into the pros and cons of each way, but must make the differentiation between an affiliate network, and an affiliate program. An affiliate network is essentially a collection of multiple affiliate programs, a place where affiliates and merchants/advertisers meet.
An affiliate program, on the other hand, is a complex online marketing campaign whereby a merchant (sometimes also called advertiser) works with affiliates (sometimes called publishers or associates), remunerating them for referrals of desired actions (sales, leads, subscriptions, etc) solely on performance basis. Affiliates are being paid a commission or a flat amount for every sale/lead they send to the merchant.
Now, let’s get back to the original question: “what is the best affiliate program for an affiliate to partner with?” There is no simple answer. It highly depends on (a) the type of traffic your website currently gets (if you’re collecting recipes, a program like GourmetStation.com may be a good fit; whereas if you’re blogging about astronomy, Telescopes.com may be the best program for your traffic), (b) your own maturity level (are you just starting, or do you know what you’re doing?), (c) your goals and objectives (do you want to monetize an existing website/e-mail list, or are you going to put together a new one?), and (d) much of the response will come to you through your own testing of various affiliate programs in the suitable niche(s), and seeing which one(s) convert best for you.
So, pick a program depending on your answers to the above-mentioned questions and the 5 C-factors. Then do a thorough research on other people’s reviews and feedback on the program you are about to join (it may save you a lot of future headache in certain cases). Then join the affiliate program, and start gently (without substantial investments into its promotion), constantly monitoring the metrics (conversion, reversal ratio, EPC, etc), testing different methods of marketing, tweaking and improving your methods based on the successes achieved.