How to Choose an Affiliate Network

Have you decided to start an affiliate program for your business but you’re overwhelmed by the available options and unsure how to choose an affiliate network for it? You’ve come to the right place. But, before we dive into network specifics, there are three important myths I’d like to debunk.

3 Affiliate Network Myths Debunked

  • The more affiliate networks the better! In theory, having merchant accounts on three different networks could help you work with three times more partners and get triple sales. In practice, you only need an account on ONE affiliate network! By creating more, you’ll just spread your efforts thin, create more work for yourself, confuse affiliates, and, most importantly, increase your costs. You’ll pay fees to all networks and, most likely, multiple fees and commissions on the same transaction. Sure, you can and should complement your affiliate marketing efforts with paid ads, PR and influencer campaigns, and customer rewards and referral programs. Just be aware of the possible overlaps, manage costs carefully, and don’t join more than one affiliate network!
  • The largest affiliate network is the best! Indeed, size matters. However, in affiliate marketing, size is just one factor, not more important than tools, features, ease of use, quality, compliance, demographics, and costs. Each network has its pros and cons and could be best for a specific business. It is important to you to find the one that serves your specific needs and goals best. I’ve included a list of the largest affiliate networks as well as more detailed advice on how to choose an affiliate network for your business below.
  • Success depends on the network! As we explained a while ago, affiliate networks provide the infrastructure, management is separate. Choosing the best network for your program creates the framework for success but the devil hides in details like program description, terms and conditions, affiliate communication, recruitment, activation, motivation, compliance, payouts, cost management, optimizations, etc. To make the most of the tools, features, and benefits the affiliate network provides, you need a knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated affiliate program manager.

5 Largest Affiliate Networks

The size of an affiliate network is usually measured by numbers like:

  • Affiliates
  • Merchants
  • Products
  • Sales generated

Unfortunately, these numbers change constantly and are never accurately presented by affiliate networks. Also, some networks disable inactive affiliate accounts, while others leave them live and count them, making the numbers irrelevant. It’s pretty much impossible to determine which affiliate network is the largest. Here are the networks whose websites get the most traffic according to SimilarWeb.

how to choose an affiliate network by size

1. ShareASale

The largest network in the U.S., ShareASale offers a friendly interface, easy integration, low fees starting from $35/month. It supports multiple websites under the same account, has a free recruitment tool, facilitates affiliate messaging, newsletters, and event-driven emails, and offers some great network visibility opportunities.

2. ClickBank

Global network and marketplace perfect for digital products, ClickBank provides a lot of tools and options for merchants and can facilitate fast growth. However, it has the highest fees and average affiliate commissions, so it can get quite expensive for brands with physical products and low margins.

3. Awin

A great affiliate network, especially for brands selling in Europe, Awin owns ShareASale and offers similar features and benefits at affordable costs.

4. Impact

Offering superior technology, tools, and features, Impact is used by many global and international brands and provides support in several languages. The interface could be friendlier, the costs increase with the tools and features available, which still require an experienced manager to put them to good use.

5. CJ

Used by brands and affiliates worldwide, CJ has the least friendly interface and integration process but compensates for it with superior tracking, excellent support, and improved merchant protection against fraud and fake leads. Since they remove inactive and unresponsive affiliates, their network recruitment tool has some of the best response rates.

Indeed, starting your affiliate program on a large network is a good idea. The larger and more popular the network, the higher the chances that your ideal affiliates already use it and are reachable through the available network communication channels (in-network messages and invites/offers). However, many other factors besides size should be taken into account.

How to Choose an Affiliate Network Step-By-Step

1. Learn from the Competition

Check what your competitors are doing and which affiliate networks they’re using. Some may not have affiliate programs, others may manage them in-house, but if you look carefully, you’ll surely find a few using the same affiliate network. That network is a good starting point, as it means that it has what it takes to meet the needs of businesses like yours and your target affiliates are already there.

When checking competitors’ activity, pay attention to other details that will help you make decisions for your affiliate program, like payouts, cookie life (tracking period), terms and conditions, promos, creatives, etc. Your goal is to create an affiliate program more attractive than theirs, and you can’t beat them if you don’t know what they’re doing.

2. Assess Costs

Usually, you want to keep in mind the following affiliate network fees:

  • Onboarding fees – The one-time fee you need to pay when creating your merchant account
  • Transaction fees – The fee you pay to the network on every transaction, usually calculated as a percentage of the sale amount or of the affiliate commission
  • Network fees – The minimum monthly fee to be paid by every merchant
  • Payment processing fees – The fees payable when using certain payment methods to deposit money to your merchant account

Some networks may charge other fees as well. In most cases, some of the fees overlap. For example, with some networks, the minimum monthly network fee does not have to be paid if the total transaction fees for the month exceed its value. Other networks’ monthly fees include free transactions up to a certain threshold. To encourage merchants, some networks lower their fees based on volume. Before you choose your affiliate network, make sure you know what costs starting and managing an affiliate program will entail. While costs are important, the tools, features, and benefits that come with them should matter as well.

3. Compare Tools, Features, and Benefits

Some networks provide more features and capabilities than others. Some important features to look at when choosing an affiliate network are:

  • Network recruitment – Identify suitable partners and invite them to join your affiliate program
  • Express signup – Simplified and expedited onboarding process for pre-vetted potential partners
  • Clickless tracking – Cross-device, in-app, and/or coupon-based tracking
  • Multiple stores and/or vendor websites – Integrate several brands, stores, or websites under the same account
  • Brand protection – Prevent and monitor TM+ bidding, ad hijacks, and unauthorized coupon use
  • Additional network visibility – Added visibility for your affiliate program within the network
  • Payment options – Automate payments to affiliates for approved/confirmed referrals and create manual payments
  • Newsletters and email campaigns – Easily communicate important news and updates to your partners
  • Creatives – Make text links, images, videos, coupons, and data feeds available to affiliates
  • Custom reports – Customize reports and analyze and export specific affiliate and program performance data
  • Ease of use – Evaluate the sign-up and integration processes and interface ease-of-use

4. Consider Your Specific Needs

Do you own multiple stores or websites? If you do, it may be good to choose a network that allows you to bring them all under the same account. Not only that you pay for one and enjoy the same features and benefits for all, but you will also save a lot of time and effort on management, facilitate recruitment, improve affiliate program statistics, and make your program more attractive to affiliates.

If you sell to multiple countries, it helps to choose an affiliate network used by brands and affiliates from those countries. It’s also important to make sure that the network you choose integrates with your e-commerce platform and that its tracking solution works well with the 3rd party apps you use for subscriptions, bundles, or payment processing. Think of all the small but important details of your business, and put together a list of features you need the network to meet.

5. Schedule a Demo

By now, you should have narrowed down your options to two or three affiliate networks. You should also have a list of questions regarding their capabilities. The best way to go about the final decision is to schedule a demo with each network. Let their representatives show you around and answer your questions. Try to see beyond their marketing strategy and not lose sight of your needs and priorities. At the end of the day, the network won’t grow your affiliate program, you/your affiliate program manager will.

Have you followed the above advice on how to choose an affiliate network but you’re still not sure about your decision? At AM Navigator, we have been building and growing affiliate programs for over 25 years. Having worked with all the major affiliate networks, we are well familiar with their capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and costs, and can help you make the best choice for your business. Get in touch, give us more details about your business, and we’ll recommend the best network for your needs and provide a few pointers for getting started!


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