In affiliate marketing, programs are run on affiliate networks. A network acts as trusted intermediary between a merchant and an affiliate. For example, networks host merchants’ creative (banners, links, etc.), handle all tracking and reporting, and automatically pay out commissions to affiliates based on the rules set by the merchant. In some cases, they also make a merchant’s affiliate program available to a large pool of affiliates who are members of that network.
Some merchants believe that it’s in their best interest to run their affiliate programs on multiple affiliate networks. The rationale is that doing so will give them more reach and, ultimately, drive more sales.
However, for the vast majority of e-commerce merchants, running an affiliate program on multiple networks only serves to add unnecessary cost and complexity. The most effective use of time and budget is to focus on growing a program to its full potential with one network.
Which network you choose to work with depends on your overall strategy. Therefore, when choosing a network, it’s important to take a variety of factors into consideration. To properly assess what network would best fit your affiliate program, be sure to first answer these six key questions:
- What types/categories of affiliates are you targeting? Some networks specialize in certain verticals, such as fashion, finance, outdoors, bloggers, etc. Research the different affiliates in the networks (or work with an agency to do it for you) to evaluate how they match up with your target affiliates.
- What are your company’s specific tracking requirements? Advanced tracking capabilities, such as the ability to track new vs. returning customers, mobile transactions, integration with an existing tag management system, etc. vary among the networks. First determine what you want to track and then ensure that the network supports it.
- What does the network charge? The cost of tracking ranges widely and should be projected out to compare apples to apples. For example, software as a service (SaaS) platforms generally charge a flat rate, which may benefit a very large affiliate program. Whereas traditional affiliate networks typically charge a percentage of the commission or the sale.
- Do you want to establish an international affiliate program? Presence and capabilities outside the United States vary greatly. While most affiliate networks support international activity, very few have true international expertise. If a global program is in your company’s future, the network should have an understanding of the marketing challenges and cultural intricacies that are unique to the particular country or countries you’re looking to do business in. They should know the affiliate industry inside and out and have the wherewithal to help your brand resonate with that region’s customer base.
- What is the network’s stance on fraud? Ask the networks whether they have processes in place to monitor and prevent fraud or whether they leave it up to the merchant to do that on their own. If the network does have a system in place, evaluate how active they are with screening affiliates before they join the network and blocking found offenders from the network. If fraud management would be your responsibility, ensure that you have a management plan in place that has the necessary resources and expertise to successfully limit fraud.
- What level of service do you need from a network? Some networks offer full-service support for a price. Others have great support for no cost and others provide very little service. Therefore, it’s important to determine whether your program will be managed in-house or whether you’ll be outsourcing the management of your program to the network or an agency. Some merchants have turned over their entire affiliate program to a network for “management.” However, it’s important to be aware that this approach can result in serious conflict of interest since the network is in charge of making key decisions on the company’s behalf.
Selecting the “right” network for your affiliate program will depend on a variety of factors, so it’s essential to carefully evaluate each one to determine whether or not it will meet your needs. Additionally, while a network does plays a crucial role in connecting your program to affiliates, it’s never enough to just depend on the network. To grow your affiliate program long-term, you also need a publisher development process in place and assess each one to ensure they are a good fit for your program.