Affiliate Tracking Software vs. Affiliate Networks: Why Not Both?

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As an affiliate manager who simultaneously uses both in-house tracking software and affiliate networks, I am constantly asked by prospective partners: “Why use both? What’s the difference?” With the wide variety of affiliate networks available, it might seem unnecessary to use a program for in-house affiliate tracking. Indeed, there is no difference between the two for affiliates in regard to the program terms and commission amount, and they will not see any benefit to you using the two. However, both solutions provide their own unique advantages to the affiliate manager.

Here I will provide a list of the major advantages of each that have been most beneficial to our business. If you prefer to use only one of these methods, use these to consider your choice. However, you might agree that using both is necessary to having a complete picture of your affiliates and work more efficiently with them.

Affiliate Networks Advantages:

  • Trust – Affiliate partners generally trust networks more. First, they may not otherwise know about your company. Second, they see a proof (metrics) on how well your program performs. Third, affiliates know their payments will be made.

  • Recruiting – It is obviously easier on an affiliate network. Even with a self-managed program, you have great visibility by category, and it’s possible to use featured placements. Most affiliates that apply to the in-house solution are actively recruited by a manager.

  • Time-Saving – You don’t have to make individual payments. Deposit funds to the network once a month, and the commissions will be handled for you.

  • Fraud Detection and Prevention – Networks monitor fraud attempts (some better than others). Brian Littleton of ShareASale personally notified me about PPC abuse and provided helpful advice. Thanks, Brian! As a result, fraudulent affiliates instead target in-house programs where merchants have to detect the fraud themselves.

Affiliate Tracking Software Advantages:

  • Transparency – Once your affiliates are in the program, there’s definitely more contact info if you use in-house tracking software: you can see email address, phone number, postal address, etc.

  • Cost – That’s a big one! Network fees can be a considerable and sometimes prohibitive amount.

  • Real-time Tracking and Reporting – Data is visible almost instantly, while on networks you have to wait until the next day.

  • Flexibility and Control – Changes to your campaign do not have to go through the network. I’m able to create custom offers for our partners any time, and they can use them instantly. This is especially handy in the case of time-sensitive offers.

Perhaps someday there will be a system that combines the benefits of both of these. Until then, you should select the one that provides what you most require for managing your affiliates or, even better, use both for a more complete picture of affiliates and have the greatest flexibility. While each solution has its pros and cons, I’m sure it’s wise to keep both options.

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