Pros, Cons and Tips for Using Affiliate Networks
There are many networks who bring together dozens, even hundreds of companies that offer affiliate programs that you can use.
Monetizing your website by promoting products and services and earning a referral commission can be quite lucrative. However, be careful to balance the amount (and type) of promotional content otherwise you my risk your site being viewed negatively by the search engines (i.e. “thin affiliate site”).
As part of our review of affiliate networks, we included comments and tips from our community of SiteSell site owners who are using these networks.
Some General Points About Networks
- Most small companies offering affiliate programs use a network to manage their affiliate program. If you experience problems, they tend to happen with the smaller companies, not the network. Many of the problems are the result of companies forgetting to update the links and banners after deleting a product or ending a special.
- Using a network means you’ll be paid sooner (if you use more than one company associated with that network). You’ll reach the minimum payment threshold faster when you combine earnings from two or more companies.
- It’s very important to continually track successes and failures of the individual companies. If one isn’t performing well, change a few things. If there’s no improvement, drop it and use the ones that perform well. Some of the networks are very good at providing stats, while others offer less information. And most only provide stats at the merchant level, not at the individual product/service level.
- Don’t select a network first. Find the company that has exactly the products you want to promote and think will sell well on your site. Then sign up for the network that manages that company’s affiliates.
- See if a network has easy-to-use tools for setting up links, and allows deep links to specific products. Also look for advanced reporting systems and responsive customer service. If you’re using it for one specific affiliate product , then you may have to accept tools that are difficult to use, or a lack of advanced reporting, or lousy customer service.
Who They Are
Below is a list of the various networks, listed by size and popularity, followed by those for specific locations (ex., UK) and then finally by some that aren’t really networks, but work like it or are big enough to almost be a network.
Large and Popular
- Commission Junction (CJ)
Smaller and Regional
- Pepperjam (now eBay Enterprise)
Not Affiliate Networks
Network of Networks
CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction)
CJ Affiliate (CJA) is one of the global, very large companies that some users like, and others don’t. Here’s the good and the bad…
- CJA has a low monthly payout threshold ($50 for direct deposit, $100 for cheque), but they have long wait times for payments (60 days or longer). They’ll also drop you if you don’t have a sale in 6 months.
- CJA has a “pay per call” feature that allows you to drive phone leads for extra commissions. This is available for some companies in certain countries (the country changes depending on which company you’re promoting for).
- Searching for products is easy, but you can’t add additional search parameters. You can search for individual products, even ones in companies you aren’t affiliated with yet. But you can’t find particular products from any one merchant if that merchant has over 1000 products. (Some people use the PopShops search function (see below) to find the product, then go back to CJA.)
- You have to find product links and add the code separately for each product you want to promote. You are limited to text links and image banners, which are very time consuming to use. The graphics are poor for many products. You might want to get the graphics from the affiliate company’s site, as they often create low-resolution graphics for the network’s site.
- The reporting systems are fairly good, making it easy to track performance. It also has an immediate summary of money earned since your last payment.
- There are very few options to adjust the formatting of affiliate links.
- There are lots of affiliate companies but no way to easily sort by currency or country. It’s easy to add more companies, but you need to remember to use different ID codes per company, especially if you plan to use PopShops (see below).
- There is a good mix of advertisers that approve immediately and others that approve manually. Some advertisers take a long time to approve you as an affiliate.
To check out CJ Affiliate, click here.
ShareASale is another popular, large network. Again, some like it and some don’t.
- It has a low payment threshold ($50) and allows direct deposit (to Canada, UK and US), but charges extra cash if you want to have a special cheque mailed to you by Federal Express. It’s recommended that you stick with a regular cheque or direct deposit.
- It has a realtime view of money earned to date.
- It’s not easy to find products. (A workaround is to use PopShops to find ShareASale-listed products.)
- Some pay per click (PPC) programs are available after you receive your first check.
- There is some variety in affiliate link types, but not much in the way of customization. But it is very easy to create your own custom link to any product or advertiser.
- Fairly good reporting options are available, but you may not always get what you expected (ex., a blank screen).
- It offers data eeds and merchant-provided videos to add to your site.
- It has lots of graphics, which can be used as images on your site while also being used as links to products.
To check out ShareASale, click here.
Rakuten Affiliate Network
Rakuten Affiliate Network is not as popular as CJA and ShareASale, but is a very large network.
- It has a very good selection of affiliate companies and products, including excellent deep link options (to individual products).
- It often has very poor conversion rates (sales via your links).
To check out Rakuten Affiliate Network, click here.
Clickbank is a network of affiliate products, not a network of affiliate companies.
- Clickbank has very slow customer support.
- You must have purchases through your affiliate links from 5 different credit cards before you will be paid (PayPal doesn’t count). They hold back a percentage for several months, in case of fraud and chargebacks. They also charge a fee for inactivity.
- If you have a product in the marketplace, and have no sales for 30 days, they remove your product.
- You can set a custom minimum payment threshold as low as $10 (the default is $100).
- Clickbank is known mostly for digital products (such as eBooks or audio).
- They have a marketplace that allows you to browse through their products. With some searching, you’re often able to find products with 50-75% commissions. If a product is a winner for your niche, you may be able to make some excellent commissions through it, but it’s not right for every niche.
LinkConnector is a smaller company that does some things differently.
- LinkConnector emails you when a company is interested in having you as an affiliate.
- It has a payout threshold of ($100) and pays on time.
To check out LinkConnector, click here.
Affiliate Window, Webgains, clixGalore, Pepperjam
These networks are much smaller: clixGalore, Pepperjam (now eBay Enterprise), Webgains and Affiliate Window.
Some site owners prefer using Amazon because it’s a trusted and well known name, and because they have more products than many of the networks. Others like it because they can earn from other products bought from Amazon, not just the product that the visitor clicked on.
However, Amazon has a very short cookie (one day) and fairly low commissions, although it does increase substantially based on the number of purchases made (not the dollar amount). See this article for more information…
eBay Partner Network
eBay also came out as a popular network among our customers.
- You can set up campaigns, similar to AdSense channels, to help you track where links are coming from on your site.
- Customer support is non-existent, so you’re on your own if you have a problem.
- You need to set up an account for each country you want to sell products for. This helps convert visitors from that country. You can automatically direct them to the relevant store using the LinkGenerator tool’s “Geo-Target” option. If you are a WordPress site owner, you can use a plugin, GeoPlugin.
PopShops is not an affiliate network. It allows you to build storefronts and add them to your site. Each storefront can contain products from several different companies via several different networks (PopShops supports 11 different networks).
- It has a huge variety of products (every product carried by every affiliate company managed by each of the 11 networks).
- It has an excellent product search tool, across multiple merchants. And it is very easy to add found items to a store.
- It has a very good variety in display options, including standard offerings and easily customized offerings.
- It also manages items that are no longer available, including tracking them, reporting them, and replacing them with another item, if you tell it too.
- It offers live reporting of clicks, which you can match against a network’s reporting. You can also customize additional tracking. However, there is no reporting about sales, or clicks for particular products. That requires going to each network to find that info.
- You can add more items automatically once you have set parameters.
- The free service is very good and robust, but if you have multiple sites, you’ll probably need to go for one of the paid options to track data per multiple IDs, especially if you use CJ Affiliate.
If you reside in the USA… Nexus Laws and Affiliate Programs
Neena from sensibleorlandovacations.com explains the effect of Nexus laws on affiliate programs this way…
“If a merchant has a physical presence in a state that has an internet sales tax law, that merchant must collect sales tax on ALL sales to customers in that state – regardless of how the customer arrives at the merchant’s site.
Whether the customer arrives through an affiliate link OR comes directly to the sitemakes no difference. The thing that makes the difference is the PHYSICAL PRESENCE.
The states that are enacting these laws are taking the position that an affiliate is a representative of a company – and if that affiliate is located in a particular state, then that company has a physical presence in that same state because of the affiliate.
That is why companies are dropping their affiliates in states with internet tax laws.”
Concerned SiteSell site owners started a forum thread to discuss Nexus laws and the effect on their businesses. Or if you haven’t joined SiteSell yet, here’s a snapshot of what is being discussed and suggested as follow-up actions …
- You don’t have to handle this issue if your affiliate program is through Clickbank – or if you use a print-and-fulfillment company like Lulu for printed versions of your books. Clickbank and Lulu take care of this issue for you since they handle the sales and then send you your cut.
- Potential alternatives to consider…
- Buy.com (now called Rakuten.com)
- SkimLinks.com (UK company)
- SiteSell and its Affiliates are not impacted by nexus laws in the States. Find out more here about how you can become a SiteSell Affiliate.
- Find competitors for anything by googling “viglink v.” and google fills in the main competitor(s).
- Contact your HR and Senate reps and tell them to put the brakes on all this foolishness.
- Create your own e-book and become an affiliate master in your own right.
- Find affiliate programs that already have a footprint in your state.
- Market to local offline retailers – promote them online, as an alternative to your Amazon link (ex., subscription advertising model, pay per month).
- Create a Google alert for “Mainstreet Fairness Act” to stay current or follow what the Performance Marketing Association is doing. Their sponsors are the big names in affiliate marketing – eBay, CJA, LinkShare, Amazon, etc.
Here are a list of merchants who have terminated their relationship with New York state due to Nexus laws – thus making them likely to terminate their relationship with affiliates in California, should the same law be passed there:
- Acorn Media [MD]
- CSN Stores [MA]
- DVD Planet [IL]
- Eastwood Company [PA]
- Fingerhut [MN]
- Footsmart [GA]
- Gaiam.com [CO]
- Garden’s Alive [IN]
- Gurneys [IN]
- Henry Fields [IN]
- Home Shopping Network [FL]
- J&P Cycles [IA]
- Karmaloop [MA]
- Leaps And Bounds [IL]
- LinenSource [FL]
- Luggage.com [MA]
- Michigan Bulb [OH]
- Musicians Friend [OR]
- MyTwinn [CO]
- NetShops [NE]
- Northern Tool [MN]
- One Step Ahead [IL]
- OnlineShoes.com [WA]
- Oriental Trading [NE]
- Overstock [UT]
- Palo Alto Software [OR !]
- ReStock It [FL]
- ShopNBC [MN]
- ShoppersChoice [LA]
- Silhouettes [NJ]
- Spilsbury [IL]
- Spring Hill [TN]
- Tirerack [IN]
- uBid.com [IL]
- ustoy.com [MO]
- Woodwind & Brasswind [IN]
This is a list of “examples,” and is not intended to be a complete list of all merchants who are likely to exclude California affiliates if AB 178 passes. Certainly, some New York firms which accept New York affiliates may choose to exclude California merchants if AB 178 passes.”