October 20th 2015
Navigating Sub-Affiliate Networks


Sub-affiliate networks are a common feature in the affiliate marketing landscape. There are many ways in which they can enhance your affiliate program, but they can also include characteristics that you may deem unsightly. This is why if you choose to work with a sub-affiliate network, it's important to know what to look for.


What is a sub-affiliate network?

A sub-affiliate network is a company that offers services to bloggers and website owners that can make it easier for them to monetize their blog/website. The sub-affiliate network signs up as an affiliate with a brand and hundreds (even thousands) of bloggers join the sub-affiliate network in order to promote that brand and get paid commissions – without having to sign up as an affiliate themselves. When the sub-affiliate network gets paid, they distribute payment to the sub-affiliates within their network who drove sales.

Here's a visual example that might help:



Services that sub-affiliate networks provide to their sub-affiliates

Two examples of sub-affiliate networks are Skimlinks and rewardStyle.

Skimlinks provides technology that many bloggers (especially those who aren't as tech-savvy) find to be helpful in creating and monetizing their websites and blogs. Bloggers join Skimlinks and use Skimlinks' internally-generated HTML or javascript code to monetize different brand keywords on their site.

For example, a blogger might write a post on their site about new styles from ABC Retailer. Skimlinks' code would work by replacing ABC Retailer's name in the blogger's post with an affiliate link. This process can be helpful to the blogger because it makes it easier for them to integrate affiliate links into their blog copy (direct affiliates have to input their affiliate links manually). In addition, the blogger is able to make a commission if their reader clicks on the affiliate link in their post to make a purchase. It's not the full amount that a direct affiliate would earn, but Skimlinks pays them a portion.

rewardStyle works in a similar way as Skimlinks, but their niche is focused on style publishers who are blogging about fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. They offer fashion-focused links, banners, products, etc. that rewardStyle monetizes by joining different affiliate programs for those bloggers.

For example, rewardStyle might be an affiliate with Big Retail Brand. An affiliate manager for Big Retail Brand might send tweets to rewardStyle on a weekly basis and rewardStyle would share those tweets with the fashion bloggers (sub-affiliates) in their network to promote. Commissions would be paid to rewardStyle by Big Retail Brand and then rewardStyle would break up that commission and give it to the bloggers/sub-affiliates who drove sales.

If you're reading this and think that this arrangement sounds pretty peachy, that's because it is. There are definitely many pros to working with sub-affiliate networks. However, there are also some cons.

Pros and Cons of Sub-affiliate Network Partnerships


  • Sub-affiliate networks can drive significant traffic and sales for brands.
  • Sub-affiliate networks can be a great resource for bloggers who aren't very tech-savvy or just don't want to deal with manually inputting affiliate links into their copy.
  • By working with sub-affiliate networks, retailers are able to share their offers with numerous small blogs and sites without having to have a direct relationship with them.
  • Sub-affiliate networks can provide helpful tools that make it easier for bloggers to promote brands.


  • Direct affiliates are sometimes removed from an affiliate program because they've engaged in fraudulent activity, violated pay-per-click terms, etc. When this happens, the blogger will often join a sub-affiliate network in order to continue promoting the brand and get paid a commission.
  • Sub-affiliates could be promoting a brand in many different ways that the brand is not aware of (e.g. showing up via a toolbar or URL extension).
  • Communication between the advertiser and the affiliate is further apart so resolving issues can be more complex.
  • Sub-affiliate networks can add another layer of complexity to your fraud detection efforts.

Best Practices for Working with Sub-Affiliates

The takeaway is that its smart business to work with sub-affiliate networks if you follow these best practices:

  • Be vigilant about working only with sub-affiliate networks who are transparent and will give you clear visibility into which sub-affiliates are driving traffic and how– especially through referring URLs.
  • Work with sub-affiliate networks who will be willing to prevent sub-affiliates who have been removed from a client's program from being able to promote that client.
  • Sub-affiliate networks should be able to ensure that all their sub-affiliates who are promoting the advertiser adhere to the advertiser's program terms and conditions, including restrictions on advertising through toolbars, browser extensions, and through any paid placements such as a pay-per-click campaign.
  • Sub-affiliate networks should also receive approval prior to allowing any type of coupon sub-affiliate to promote the advertiser's program.

There are many different sub-affiliate networks and it's important to properly vet them in order to ensure that they'd be a good partner to work with. Here are some key questions to ask:

How long have they been around?

How good are they at communication (e.g. do they respond back in a timely manner)?

Are they transparent in showing who is promoting what?

Are you able to see a list of sub-affiliates promoting your offer (when requested)?

Does their technology work with the affiliate network to allow the brand to view referring URLs?


For more information about working with sub-affiliate networks, contact us!


Author: Acceleration Partners