Affiliate marketing can be a great way to monetize your online business. It can be a relatively low-cost and easy-to-implement way to create an ongoing revenue stream for your blog, social media marketing or other digital marketing efforts. It can be especially appealing to entrepreneurs who don’t have the ability or desire to invest heavily in their own ecommerce products or services.
However, finding new affiliate marketing programs, keeping track of the ones you already use, and compiling insights and statistics from the various affiliate programs you participate in can be a hassle. That’s where affiliate marketing networks come in.
What are Affiliate Networks?
Affiliate networks connect online marketers to companies with affiliate programs. They work with many different brands that offer digital products and/or physical products, and are willing to pay a commission for referrals that result in a specific action. Usually that means a sale (CPA or CPS) but sometimes they will pay for leads (CPL). Networks will offer tools such as link generators, marketing tools, and tracking tools for conversion rates and other important insights. They will also handle payments.
In very simple terms an affiliate network works as “the middleman” between the blogger, influencer or inline marketer, and the company with the affiliate program.
How Affiliate Networks Work
A business with an affiliate program may choose to work with a network to collect affiliate leads, manage sign ups, streamline the approval process, get affiliates to agree to terms and conditions, and to track and issue payouts.
An affiliate marketer uses a network to find products with affiliate programs to offer, sign up, get links and ad creatives, track affiliate statistics, upload payment information (such as a Paypal account or a bank account for direct deposit) and more.
Affiliate networks usually make money by collecting a transaction fee on the affiliate sales. Some may also charge monthly fees to the brand, but generally they are free to the affiliate marketer.
Affiliate marketers will share their unique tracking links on their blogs or social media, in webinars or tutorials, email marketing or even in paid advertising. The goal is to create content that results in multiple sales over time. The type of recurring revenue it creates is often referred to as passive income, even though it can take a lot of work to create good content, promote it, and then maintain it.
Here are several things to keep in mind when considering affiliate networks as a marketer:
You can sign up for multiple affiliate networks. Before you sign up for any affiliate program, read the terms and conditions and generally avoid any that require exclusivity.
Some networks have more stringent requirements to get accepted (such as a minimum number of website visitors) so you may not be eligible for all of them, especially if your site or channel is new.
Each affiliate network has its own user interface. There may be a learning curve so be careful about applying for too many at once.
Once you’ve signed up for the network you still must find and sign up for individual affiliate programs within the network. Those typically require separate approval.
Some affiliate networks provide better support for affiliates than others.
Finally, remember that the list below features affiliate networks, not individual affiliate programs. Some affiliate programs like Amazon Associates or the ebay Partner Network don’t require you to go through a network as they host their own affiliate program.
Top Affiliate Networks
Here are 7 of the best affiliate program networks.
Awin has a network of more than 21,200 affiliate partners, 241,000 publishers and 194 million sales generated in 2021. This affiliate marketing platform was awarded mThink's Best CPS Network 2022.
You’ll fill out a detailed application, including information about where and how you plan to promote affiliate links - content, display, email and search. You’ll also need to provide your website URL and social media handles where you plan to promote affiliate offers. You’ll need to choose the sectors (categories) relevant to your site:
Finance & Insurance
Retail & Shopping
Telco's & Services
A security deposit of 1 USD/Euro/GBP (refundable) is required for security verification.
Awin strives to approve affiliates within 48 hours (excluding weekends or holidays). If you are approved you’ll receive an activation link you must activate within 30 days.
ClickBank has been around for more than two decades, and it says it has paid out more than $5 billion in affiliate commissions in that time. Newbies will especially benefit from ClickBank’s emphasis on education. It offers a free Facebook community and Youtube channel. Along with an educational platform called Spark, which offers numerous courses from successful affiliate marketers (prices vary).
Clickbank offers a video that walks you through the sign up form, and it’s a great place for beginners to start. Note that when you get started you will need five separate sales from two separate payment methods to qualify for your first paycheck. You can get paid by check, bank deposit and (if approved) wire transfer.
Formerly called Commission Junction, CJ is a well-established affiliate program and pays out more than $1.8 billion in CJ affiliate commissions to publishers annually. Once approved you can select links, use CJ’s Deep Link Generator tool to create links directly from a brand site or even use CJ’s tools to auto-detect and convert existing URLs on your site into trackable links. It also offers omni-channel tracking across multiple customer touchpoints.
The CJ affiliate signup process is simple and straightforward. Fill out an application to be considered. Note that you will need an active website with a valid URL to sign up for CJ.
Rakuten acquired one of the original affiliate marketing networks, Linkshare, many years ago. You’ll see references to Rakuten Linkshare, including on their site. But if you are a publisher with a website, you’ll sign up at Rakuten Advertising as a publisher to become an affiliate. (Brands sign up at Rakuten LinkShare.)
You’ll fill out a detailed application, including information about your website, traffic and visitors. You can read details about publisher requirements before you get started. Once you’ve been approved, the help center provides more information about how to implement Rakuten links.
ShareASale has been around for many years, and it was acquired by Awin in 2017, so it’s now ShareASale part of Awin. It currently represents more than 21,200 brands in 39+ categories. It offers real-time reporting to help track what’s working.
You can sign up for ShareASale for free. Like most other affiliate programs, sign up is fairly simple and straightforward. You will need to include a valid website URL. Most applicants will get a response within 1-3 days.
Impact (formerly Impact Radius) works with more than 1400 companies to help manage their affiliate programs. It offers comprehensive tracking, and some programs will offer exclusive promo codes that give affiliates credit for discounts, even if the customer buys from another site. It emphasizes the option to negotiate affiliate commissions, so high-performing It also offers flexible payments via direct transfer, BACS, or PayPal in multiple currencies.
You can sign up for Impact on their website. If you are approved you’ll have access to the Impact Brands Marketplace is where you can find and apply to promote specific affiliate products.
This affiliate platform has a specific focus: software, SaaS, and digital goods. Digital products tend to offer higher commission rates (up to 75%). There are roughly 1200 affiliate programs listed in its network. One unique feature is the ability to look at offers in the marketplace before you sign up.
You can fill out the standard application on the Avangate website. It is simple and straightforward.
How to Choose the Best Affiliate Networks for You
Rather than picking an affiliate network, it often makes sense to work backwards. Find the products or services you want to promote, then find the affiliate network they use and apply.
Every affiliate network is doing to tout its benefits. But it’s important to understand that details of specific programs (high commission rates, long cookie duration, etc) are usually based on the specific affiliate offer, rather than the network. The network is there in large part to help ensure affiliate activity gets tracked and paid.
As you do start signing up for affiliate networks, here are some things to look out for:
Who are their affiliate partners? Do they include high-quality companies and big brands?
What verticals or product categories are available and are they a fit?
What kind of reporting tools are offered? Is the interface user-friendly?
How do they issue payouts? Is there a minimum payout threshold?
Do they offer live customer support? Will you have access to an account manager?
What type of educational tools do they offer affiliates?
Is there an app available to manage your account?
It’s not always easy to get answers to all of these questions before you sign up, but once you enroll, you can delve into the programs and tools they offer to see if they are a fit.