How to Choose an Affiliate Network: 7 Questions to Guide You

You’re an e-commerce merchant and you’re ready to dive into the world of affiliate marketing and start an affiliate program, but you don’t know how to choose an affiliate network. Don’t worry; we got you covered!

Let’s start with a definition. An affiliate network can be defined as an all-in-one solution for taking care of your affiliate marketing program’s tracking, reporting, and payment needs.

One of the most important decisions you’ll make is which affiliate network you decide to run your program on. Today, we are going to walk through how to choose an affiliate network. When you’re in the deciding phase of choosing an affiliate network, you should make sure to answer these seven questions first:

1. Who Are You Targeting as Affiliates?

Affiliate recruitmentIt’s important to ask yourself which types of affiliates you will be targeting when you begin your affiliate recruitment.

There are many different affiliate networks out there, and several that specialize in specific niches (be it sports and outdoors, weddings, health and wellness, or anything else). Perhaps you’re looking to find and onboard affiliates in a very specific niche and there’s an affiliate network where a lot of affiliates who operate in that niche already hang out.

Our analysis of the Top Affiliate Program Categories on 6 U.S. Affiliate Networks may come handy here.

2. Which Networks Are Your Competitors On?

We always recommend doing a full competitive intelligence analysis before launching a new affiliate program. One of the things this competitive intelligence analysis helps with is choosing a network. By getting a high level overview of where your competition runs their affiliate programs, it should help open up ideas for you with where you want to go with your affiliate network decision.

Having said this, do not be deceived by pure numbers. Seeing a large number your competitors run their programs on a specific affiliate network is only half the picture. You want to also analyze how successful they are doing this. If they are, it is a good indicator that on this network you’ll find affiliates that you want to recruit into your affiliate program as well.

3. What Type of Tracking Solution Do You Need?

Affiliate trackingWhile the majority of merchants will be totally fine with basic tracking, some merchants need more robust affiliate tracking solutions. It’s important to determine what you’ll need before selecting a network. If you want your program to pay out for specific types of affiliate-referred leads or for sales, you need to make sure the network you choose can provide that for you. Sometimes this may come at an added cost or different cost structure altogether. This leads nicely into our next question:

4. What Can You Afford to Pay?

All networks cost different amounts of money and charge merchants in various ways. The most common way is through initial setup fees and monthly minimums if certain sales levels are not hit. For a detailed breakdown, see our Side-by-Side Comparison of North American Affiliate Networks. There are other platforms though which charge a flat monthly fee. For very large affiliate programs, these might be a better option as the more typical model sees the network take a small cut of every sale. For smaller programs just getting off the ground, a commission model makes way more sense. Just watch out for those monthly minimums, as they do add up. Another thing to keep in mind (while projecting your costs on this front) is the duration of the contract in which you’ll be locking yourself with the affiliate network. In some cases you’ll be able to go month-to-month, whereas in others: you’ll have to stay with the platform for a year or longer.

5. Will You Be Targeting International Affiliates?

Global affiliate marketingIf you ever plan to expand outside of the United States, keep this in mind when choosing an affiliate network. Some networks have more international connections than others. ShareASale, for example, was recently purchased by Awin. The marriage of ShareASale and Awin provides greater understanding, from the network perspective, of the global affiliate marketing world since ShareASale is primarily US focused while Awin is based in Europe.

In some cases, however, neither one of the networks that are big in the U.S. will be relevant. If, for example, you’re targeting the Australian market, consider Commission Factory (which at the time of this post owns nearly seventy-five percent of that geo-market).

6. How Will Your Program Be Managed?

It will also likely factor into your choosing of a network based on how your affiliate program will be managed. Are you going to need a specific level of support from the network? Some networks offer this for an additional charge. Are you working with an affiliate management agency like AM Navigator? If this is the case, a managed services package from a network would not be needed. Do you plan to manage the program in-house but would still like a base level of support?

Regardless of your management situation, you need to make sure that the network you choose is providing your with the level of service that you will require to launch and successfully run your affiliate program.

7. What Do Your Affiliates Prefer?

Affiliate marketing feedbackOn top of all of the above, this is another good question to keep in mind; and not only before launching your first affiliate program. More than once have we had to add an(other) affiliate network (to an already-utilized one) on a request of a super affiliate. Stay open to such feedback — which will come to you in one-on-one conversations and throughout your affiliate recruitment process — and be ready to adapt to the needs of your partners.

Once you have gone through and answered all these questions, you’ll be ready to start interviewing the shortlisted affiliate networks. You’re going to want to ask the networks questions — so make sure to request a time to speak. Make them earn your business. Do not settle for something that isn’t going to meet your needs.

As an additional recourse, I also strongly recommend you check out Geno Prussakov’s eloquent Guide on Choosing an Affiliate Management System.

As always, feel free to email us or comment below with any notes or questions. 

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