Critical Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Affiliate Network

In affiliate marketing, programs are run on affiliate technology — either an affiliate network or a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform.

An affiliate network acts as a trusted intermediary between a brand and an affiliate. For example, an affiliate network hosts the brands’ creative (banners, links, etc.), handles all tracking and reporting, and automatically pays out commissions to affiliates based on the rules set by the brand.

In some cases, the affiliate network also makes a brand’s affiliate program available to a large pool of affiliates who are members of that network.

Some brands 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 affiliate networks only serves to add unnecessary cost and complexity.

The most effective use of time and budget is to focus on growing an affiliate program to its full potential with one affiliate network or SaaS platform.

If you do choose an affiliate network for the technological aspect of your affiliate program, the network you choose should depend on your overall strategy. Therefore, when choosing a network, it’s important to take a variety of factors into consideration.

Here are some important questions to ask and answer in order to properly assess what network would best fit your affiliate program:

  1. What types/categories of affiliates are you targeting? Affiliate partners come in all shapes and sizes. However, some networks only 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 ideal target partners.
  2. What are your company’s specific tracking requirements? Advanced tracking capabilities, such as the ability to track new versus returning customers, mobile transactions, integration with an existing tag management system, etc. vary among affiliate networks. First, determine what you want to track and then ensure that the network supports it.
  3. What does the network charge? The cost of tracking ranges widely and should be projected out to compare apples to apples. For example, SaaS platforms generally charge a flat rate, which may benefit a very large, strategically-run affiliate program. Whereas traditional affiliate networks typically charge a percentage of the commission or the sale.
  4. 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 affiliate program is in your company’s future, it’s essential to ensure the affiliate network has a more advanced understanding of the marketing challenges and cultural intricacies that are unique to the particular country or region you’re looking to expand your program into. They should know the affiliate industry inside and out and have the wherewithal to help your brand resonate with that region’s local customer base.
  5. What is the network’s stance on affiliate fraud? If preventing fraud in your affiliate program is important to you then it’s important to ask the affiliate networks you’re evaluating whether they have processes in place to monitor and prevent fraud — or, whether they leave it up to the brand to do that on their own. If the affiliate 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.
  6. What level of service do you need from a network? Some affiliate networks offer full-service support (for an additional expense). 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 relying on the affiliate network or an experienced program management agency to manage the day-to-day requirements of a well-run affiliate program. 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 a serious conflict of interest.

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 an affiliate network can play an important 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.

Questions? Let’s chat!