Identifying the Top-Performing Affiliates Across Affiliate Programs

An interesting question came to me from a Europe-based consultant who is now focused on affiliate recruitment for a client. His current focus is U.S. affiliates. After describing his situation, he asked:

Do you know where I would be able to find a list of the biggest 15-20 partners on the average US program?

The short answer is: you can identify some of the top affiliates by looking through the available lists of “super affiliates” as well as by browsing network-specific directories (when available/accessible). However, don’t be surprised to find some of the rankings heavily skewed towards deals-oriented publishers and loyalty-focused affiliates.

The longer answer goes like this: there are three points to keep in mind while answering the above question.

#1. Semantics

First of all, there is no such a thing as an “average” affiliate program.

Affiliate marketing semanticsA brand’s affiliate marketing program is always tied to a concrete vertical, the goals it seeks to achieve, and the associated payment model(s).

There is no way one can compare the affiliate base of an auto insurance-oriented affiliate program which is paying a flat amount per every referred lead to a program run by a lingerie brand which is paying a commission tied to the sale amount. They operate in different verticals, seek different goals, and employ different payment models.

Our analysis of America’s best-performing affiliate programs helps visualize the current spread between the various verticals.

#2. Program Rules

Secondly, the distribution of the top-performing affiliates is heavily-dependent on the affiliate program’s rules and restrictions.

Affiliate program restrictionsSome brands choose not to work with coupon-oriented affiliates, while others embrace them but restrict their activity to coupons created specifically for the affiliate program. Some advertisers prohibit affiliates from engaging in paid search marketing, others allow it but place specific restrictions (on keywords, ad copy, and/or linking of the paid search ad). Restrictions may be applied to any type of affiliate or their primary promotional methods (from cashback to toolbars, and from email to sub-affiliate arrangements).

So, program rules have a great effect on how your top affiliates will stack up.

#3. Performance Data

Missing piece of the puzzleFinally, while we can assume the total traffic received by an affiliate’s website (using Alexa, Quantcast, Compete, and similar tools), study its influence (based on the number of followers and their engagement with the publisher’s content), and even presuppose a conversion rate (be it based on the affiliate’s marketing methods or assuming an average across any given affiliate program), there will always be an important piece missing. The data on the traffic referred by the affiliate to a concrete merchant is something that’s really hard to infer. Of course, this information is available, but only to the advertiser and the tracking platform that supports their affiliate program.


Having said all of the above, content-oriented affiliates (be it reviewers focused on textual content, or how-to instructors producing visual content, or “Mommy bloggers”) as well as tools (such as VigLink and Skimlinks) that help content creators and curators monetize their content can be a really powerful addition to your affiliate base, regardless of the vertical or program structure. No wonder why they are among the most coveted types of affiliates out there.

Remember, though, that it’s your affiliate program specifics that will always dictate the optimal types of affiliates to work with.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. So, do chime in with your comments below!

5 thoughts on “Identifying the Top-Performing Affiliates Across Affiliate Programs”

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  3. You’re exactly right Geno, there is no simple rule across all sectors. For some the simple CPA acquisition model makes rebate and coupon sites ideal partners. For instance, an FX operator will not necessarily be too judgmental on how an affiliate site looks – as long as it complies with regulatory framework. For a retail brand that can change dramatically and rebate or coupons can damage the price point – you’ll rarely if ever see Chanel or Hermès discounted in any way.

    You echo what we are hearing from a large proportion of merchants and agency clients who are looking to add brand reach particularly via content sites – the ones with the best traffic and conversion. In that of course there’s a dilemma – not mutually exclusive properties but a site that’s designed to convert won’t usually be an ideal set up to be seen as best content – either by Search engines or browsers.

    Sounds like this could make another book – or at least an AM Days session 😉

  4. When looking at total traffic for a website, I’ve seen over the years that Alexa, Quantcast, Compete, and other similar tools are way off and are very inconsistent from month to month.

    So, if you are looking to partner with a particular site or type of content provider don’t be afraid to ask the affiliate for the information directly.

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