Best Affiliate Networks for Your Company or Affiliate Manager to Use: 2021 Guide
Affiliate marketing has been enjoying an upward trajectory in growth for over ten years.
From $1.6 billion in US affiliate spending to a projected $8.2 billion in 2022, businesses that aren’t running affiliate marketing programs leave money on the table.
Lots of it.
To get in on the affiliate marketing action, you must know the best affiliate networks to leverage.
Don’t worry. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to tell which affiliate network is best for your brand.
What is an affiliate network?
An affiliate network is a group of associated companies that connects publishers (like blog owners or influencers) with merchants looking to promote their products or services. Affiliate networks are marketplaces that connect merchants with influencers and publishers interested in promoting their products.
Depending on the nature of your affiliate program and network, you can pay your affiliates a commission based on one of many payment models. The three most common are:
- Cost per acquisition (CPA). This is where an affiliate is paid a commission on every sale attributed to them. This is the most common practice in affiliate marketing and performance marketing.
- Cost per lead (CPL). In this model, affiliates are paid an agreed-on commission for the leads they drive to a business.
- Cost per Click (CPC). Here, merchants pay affiliates a commission for every click of a link.
For affiliates, this partnership is appealing as it’s a great way of earning passive income without the nuisance of actually owning a product or dealing with logistics.
The most significant advantage you get from an affiliate network as a merchant is exposure. Affiliate marketers promote your brand and products to their audiences. And since their audiences consist of people interested in your products, it’s easier to convert them into customers.
In essence, affiliate networks connect you to partners who can help you generate leads for your online business.
Some of the common examples of affiliate networks include CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction), Shareasale, Awin, and many more.
What is the difference between an affiliate network and a private platform?
When running performance marketing campaigns, you’re bound to be caught in the affiliate network vs. private platform debate.
To know which to use, you must know the differences between the two.
But first, what is a private platform?
A private platform is software that enables you to create an in-house affiliate program through which you recruit, manage, and grow your affiliate network. Unlike an affiliate network, there are no middlemen — you interact directly with your affiliates. A good example is that of Walmart’s affiliate program. It’s an in-house affiliate program run by the company. Walmart is also a great example that retailers can also leverage affiliate marketing to drive up sales.
In short, private platform software just gives you the tools you need to create and manage your private affiliate program. The rest is up to you.
But what’s the real difference between affiliate networks and private platforms?
Are there any advantages of leveraging one over the other?
That’s what we’re going to discuss today as we briefly look at the differences that make the biggest impact on your online marketing and, ultimately, revenue.
Collecting tax information from affiliates
One of the biggest operational differences between affiliate networks and private affiliate platforms is the collection of tax information from affiliates.
When you sign up for a private platform, you are responsible for all the headaches of collecting tax info from every affiliate. You’re also responsible for ensuring that all your affiliates are paid on time. These are major pains for affiliate managers as they take up a lot of time. As there’s so much repetitive work to be done, it also becomes difficult to scale your program in the long run.
However, with an affiliate network, they take care of all the tax issues and liabilities for you. The only caveat is that they’ll charge you service fees in the ballpark of 20% of each transaction’s commissions. While this may seem like a hefty price to pay, it’s definitely worth it as it saves you from the tedious hassle of collecting tax information from every one of your affiliates. The 20% service charge also won’t set you back as much as paying someone to take care of the tax and remuneration aspect of running an affiliate program on a private network.
Obtain access to thousands of affiliates with an affiliate network
Another major difference between affiliate networks and private platforms is reach.
With an affiliate network, you have access to thousands of affiliates. This makes it easier to find relevant partners to promote your products to the right audience. It also means the chances of your product reaching more buyers are higher.
A private network, on the other hand, falls short in this regard. You have to put in a bit of work to build your network of affiliates from scratch.
While both affiliate networks and private platforms have their pros and cons, affiliate networks would be your better option. The main reason being they’re easier to manage and give you better reach. With private platforms, you must know how to use the technology and tools needed to manage an affiliate program. You must also have extensive knowledge of creating and managing affiliate programs.
Best affiliate networks for affiliate managers
As an affiliate manager, you’re probably wondering which affiliate networks will bring a better return on investment (ROI) for your brand. Let’s quickly look at some of the best affiliate networks you can leverage to drive sales and revenue.
Founded in the year 2000, ShareASale is one of the oldest and most popular affiliate networks around. That’s why it boasts of some pretty big merchants on its roster, including FreshBooks, Reebok, Cricut, Minted, Allbirds, WP Engine (that's my baby), and many others.
January 2017, global affiliate network Awin acquired ShareASale with the goal to provide additional solutions, partnership opportunities and technology offerings, as well as international reach, to ShareASale’s advertisers and publishers.
ShareASale is popular with both merchants and affiliate marketers due to the fact the platform has over 40 categories. It’s also an excellent option for promoting both physical and digital products. No matter your niche or industry, you’ll undoubtedly find affiliates to promote your product.
Another advantage that ShareASale has over other affiliate networks is that it’s easy to set up your account and profile. And with everything on a single dashboard, it’s easy to keep track of your affiliates and transactions.
One of the greatest features about ShareASale is the affordability and ease of integration. $550 is the integration fee, which includes everything you need to get your program running within 2 weeks. If you need help launching an affiliate program, I have a solution you should consider.
Following 2020, setting up an affiliate marketing program has become a critical step for businesses to maximize their marketing spend as consumers purchases shifted online. With nearly 30,000 newly approved publishers and over 1,100 new merchants launching on ShareASale in Q1 2021 alone, we are able to get merchants set up quickly and introduce them to new partnerships that drive incremental revenue at guaranteed return on ad spend.
ShareASale has a solution for your business no matter what your goals are. Choosing the right attribution model for your company is a difficult task, but this platform has tons of options to choose from. They also have vanity code tracking and two-tier tracking capabilities, which are just a few examples of their trusted technology and tools.
With over 225,000 active affiliates, ShareASale is one affiliate network worth considering as a company or affiliate manager.
One of the main reasons you should consider Impact for your affiliate network requirements is that they’ve built up powerful tools to help you discover, recruit, and onboard new affiliates. You can also use their platform to discover which affiliates are driving the most traffic for your competitors. This aspect of competitive research is essential as it helps you target the right affiliates to partner with.
Once you’ve recruited your affiliates, keeping track of them and their performance is a cinch as Impact has a powerful tracking and analytics dashboard. The platform also helps you identify and block fraudulent affiliates.
Overall, the most significant advantage of going with Impact is their robust set of tools that make affiliate management easier.
With twenty years of experience, Awin (formerly Affiliate Window) has established itself as one of the world’s most extensive affiliate networks. It offers a global community of people, technology and business intelligence insights. No matter what type of partner, level of service, or tools your business needs, Awin provides solutions to drive sustainable growth.
With over 225,000 publishers (including big name brands like TechRadar, rewardStyle, Honey, Buzzfeed and ShopStyle), it’s no wonder over 16,400 retailers have chosen Awin as their network of choice. The network boasts a 16:1 ROAS for merchants’ marketing spend, tracked through their data-led, multi-touch attribution technology.
Besides experience, expertise, and reach, other reasons Awin is an attractive network for affiliate managers include:
- An intuitive and easy-to-use platform.
- Specialist account management team that offers personalized service.
- Powerful tools for optimizing your affiliate program.
- Multi-channel, multi-touchpoint and algorithmic attribution solutions.
- Strategic partnerships to help partners make informed marketing decisions.
- Innovative technology and solutions to attribute value.
- Flexible pricing and solutions for small to enterprise size businesses.
One significant difference you’ll notice with Awin is that they focus on four major categories, namely:
- Finance and Insurance
- Retail and Shopping
- Telecommunications and Services
- Travel partners
However, there are myriad sub-categories under each one, meaning your product can easily fit in and find quality publishers.
No matter what type of partner, level of service, or tools needed to achieve business goals, Awin provides solutions to drive sustainable, incremental growth for your brand.
CJ Affiliate is another veteran affiliate network with a massive roster of affiliates. Founded in 1998, its longevity in the game is a testament to the network’s reliability and profitability.
One factor that makes CJ Affiliate an attractive affiliate network for brands and affiliate managers is their advanced technology and tools. An excellent example includes cookie-less tracking, an important feature as we head into a cookie-less future. Other examples include:
- Affiliate personalization, which helps you build valuable relationships with the right affiliates.
- Real-time reporting so you know what’s happening at any time of day.
- Affiliate customer insights that show affiliate customer shopping behavior and preferred channels.
Another reason CJ Affiliate is so popular with merchants is that they offer different levels of affiliate management services. You can choose to run your own program using their tools and technology or opt to work with an agency partner. You can also request a custom, white-glove service.
With a presence in over 250 countries and helping advertisers in almost every vertical, you’ll find a partnership with CJ Affiliate rewarding.
Partnerize is another veteran affiliate network you, as a brand or affiliate manager, should consider. Founded way back in 2010, they’ve been around the affiliate marketing block a few times and have a proven track record to boot.
Formerly called Performance Horizon Group, Partnerize was born out of the desire to empower both merchants and publishers to maximize their connections. This led them to develop excellent technological and service-based solutions to help you optimize every facet of your affiliate program.
But one of the biggest benefits you'll probably enjoy is their extensive network of vetted affiliate marketers. You’ll also find their brand-to-brand partnership feature useful in bolstering your marketing campaigns.
Other Affiliate Marketing Networks to Consider
Depending on the products or services you offer, other affiliate marketing networks you can consider include:
These are loved by bloggers and other publishers for their ease of use, excellent customer support, and reliable commission payouts. As a merchant, you won’t go wrong with them as they have a wide network of affiliates.
Best private platforms for affiliate managers
Are affiliate marketing networks not your cup of tea? Private platforms offer a white-label solution that could fit your needs.
The biggest PRO for choosing a private platform: cost savings. As mentioned earlier in this article, the major networks provide nice pool of affiliates, collect tax info, and handle all affiliate payments. This comes at a price though, usually to the tune of a percentage of commissions. If you don't mid doing that heavy lifting, there are some great private platforms that will fit your needs.
Let’s look at some of my personal favorites that you should consider.
Refersion is one private platform you must put at the top of your list of the best private platforms to consider. It was built from the ground up to make it easier for brands and affiliate managers to design, launch, and manage their own promotional network.
Some of the most notable features Refersion brings to the table include:
- Affiliate tracking. You can integrate your e-commerce platform and monitor clicks and conversions in real-time and across many promotional channels.
- Automation. Refersion allows you to automate affiliate approval, affiliate commission structures, orders, and a whole lot more. Just input your parameters, and the platform does the rest.
- Easy management of partnerships. From a personalized affiliate portal to transparency in commissions and payments and everything in-between, you have access to tools to help you discover, recruit, and build relationships with affiliates.
If a private platform is what your brand needs to build promotional partnerships, Refersion is one of the best on the market.
If you’re looking for a flexible solution to creating your private affiliate platform, Omnistar Affiliate could be what you need.
With Omnistar Affiliate, you can be up and running in as little as 10 minutes. This and its overall ease of use make it a good option if you’re new to creating and managing affiliate programs. It’s also one of the best private platforms for newbie affiliate managers.
Besides features like real-time commission tracking and auto signup, you can also expect:
- Customizable reward structure (to incentivize top affiliates)
- Detailed commission and traffic reports
- Optional deep linking feature for affiliates
- Paypal mass commission payment
- Tons of integrations
- Landing page templates
Whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, you can easily customize Omnistar to suit your affiliate marketing needs. And the best part is Omnistar Affiliate’s feature-rich plans start at an affordable $67/month.
While many affiliate platforms are built for multiple industries, LinkMink was specifically designed for SaaS affiliate programs.
The main difference between SaaS and other industries is that SaaS brands usually sell their products/service using a subscription model. This calls for an affiliate marketing platform that can automatically handle recurring payments. LinkMink does just that. Apart from automating recurring payments, LinkMink also offers:
- Marketing automation (including email marketing)
- Lead management
- Integrated payouts
- Affiliate segmentation (for different commission structures)
- Affiliate dashboard
LinkMink is an excellent tool for building a fully customized, revenue-generating referral program for SaaS brands. If you're in the SaaS space and are looking to create an affiliate program to boost your revenue, LinkMink is an excellent option.
And for the cherry on top, you can get started with LinkMink for as little as $39/month.
As the name suggests, LeadDyno is one of the best private platforms you can use to generate leads to your products. It’s a dynamic platform that gives you the flexibility you need to run your affiliate program.
One of the best features of LeadDyno is the ability to have multiple levels of affiliates and being able to track them all easily. Other notable features include:
- Loads of promotional tools
- Automated and manual affiliate signup
- Tax reporting
- One-click e-commerce integration
- Commission rates management
- Affiliate leaderboard
- Analytics and tracking
With LeadDyno, launching and managing your affiliate program is easy. That’s primarily due to its vast customization and automation capabilities. With a starting price of $49/month, it’s a steal.
Not happy with the features and functionalities of the private platforms you’ve looked at so far?
Then you need to consider Tune.
One of Tune’s selling points is that you can use the platform as a foundation to build your own—with the unique features and functions you’re looking for. With over 650 endpoints, Tune’s two-way API allows you to build the perfect private platform for your needs.
Another of Tune’s strengths is its robust data and analytics engine. Tracking campaigns across any digital channel (including app, mobile web, and desktop) has never been easier. With Tune, you'll also enjoy features like:
- Fraud detection
- Automated workflows and payments
- High-level data security
- Cookieless tracking
All these features (and more) come with a minimum price of $279/month.
If you’re looking to fine-tune your affiliate marketing, then Tune could be the platform that can help you do just that.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to sell both digital and physical products. It’s one of the best digital marketing strategies you can use to generate sales without investing heavily in marketing and sales. Your affiliates do that for you.
I’m sure you’re reading this post because you’re interested in joining the affiliate marketing bandwagon. And I’m pretty sure you’ve got a couple of nagging questions you need answers to. Let’s get some of those answered, shall we?
Which affiliate network is best?
This is one of the most common questions asked by both merchants and publishers. The answer, however, is not straightforward. To pick the best affiliate network for you, consider the one(s) that align with your business goals and solve your biggest marketing challenge.
Just like any marketing platform, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to affiliate marketing networks. You must do your due diligence to research and discover those that have greater success in your industry.
What is the highest paying affiliate program?
High-ticket affiliate programs are growing in number and are attracting a lot of attention from affiliates. A good example is Hubspot’s affiliate program which pays high commissions of up to $1000. For more high-paying affiliate programs, check out this blog post.
What companies offer the best affiliate programs?
The best affiliate programs are those that offer more than just a generous commission. They also offer:
- Excellent customer support
- Tools for both marketing and management
These are some of the hallmarks of good affiliate programs. Examples of companies that offer some of the best affiliate programs include ShareASale, CJ Affiliate, and Awin, among many others.
How do I track affiliate links?
Tracking affiliate links is one of the most common concerns both merchants and affiliates have. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to track affiliate links. Both affiliate networks and private affiliate platforms make this easy and transparent through their dashboards.
Each affiliate has a unique code embedded in the links they promote in their content that allows you to attribute each referral or sale to them. The software used by your affiliate network or your private platform keeps track of how each link performs and presents the metrics on your dashboard.
How do you measure the traffic from different affiliates?
Again, this is where a good affiliate network or private platform comes to the rescue. They have analytics and data functions that give you insight into the most crucial aspects of your affiliate program and every transaction that takes place.
This includes the traffic that your different affiliates drive to your program.
Whether it’s traffic that comes through blogging (on their affiliate site or otherwise), social media, or paid ads, your platform will be able to attribute and measure the traffic that comes from each of your affiliates.
Affiliate marketing — an integral part of your digital marketing strategy
Whether you use an affiliate marketing network, a private platform, or both, one thing is sure—affiliate marketing should be part of your digital marketing strategy. Besides enabling you to have an army of independent sales reps to boost your sales, it also helps you reach audiences you would otherwise not be able to reach on your own.
But for that to happen, you must find and leverage the best affiliate marketing networks or private platforms.
That’s the tricky part.
And that’s why I decided to create this resource to help you.
So go ahead and pick the affiliate network or private platform that resonated with you the most. Be sure to let us know in the comment section below which one it is.