Although I have been into affiliate marketing for more than 5 years now, only after my recent retirement from the full-time job, I got the real opportunity to go big on budget and full-throttle with it via multiple options and channels. What I figured out from experience so far is that, basic Affiliate marketing can be done by anybody with minimal knowledge and have access to marketing channels (paid ads, email newsletters or own content route). But in order to make it big and sustainable one needs to focus on two important things – the product that you are marketing and the affiliate network or platform of choice.
Today’s post is about those qualities that you look for while choosing an affiliate network so that your affiliate marketing effort is successful.
The importance of Choosing the Best Affiliate Network
Whether you are an affiliate marketer or a vendor, partnering with a great affiliate platform armed with a good technology, performance and reliability is VERY important to your marketing success. I have known a few people who failed miserably with affiliate marketing because of going with scam products to make quick bucks on Clickbank etc. On the other hand, there have been vendors who lost their businesses because of going with cheap affiliate networks that wouldn’t scale as the business grew.
As an affiliate marketer, not going with the right affiliate products and programs can result in loss of money, effort and early exit from the affiliate marketing career.
Must-have Features of a Great Affiliate Network
The following are some of the features and capabilities that I would expect from a great affiliate network or platform. Most of these traits are applicable to individual affiliate programs as well.
1. Affiliate Network profile and Reputation
In order to become successful in affiliate marketing one should first go for a reputed affiliate company that has a long track record.
Transparency: The affiliate company should be transparent in all aspects of an affiliate’s life-cycle – be it the sign-up process, tracking, reporting and payment of the commissions. Lack of transparency leads to early failure of the affiliate programs due to distrust. Some hosting affiliate programs are classic examples of lack of transparency in terms of recognizing real referrals of their affiliates.
Comprehensive coverage: Very good affiliate networks should offer tangible products, services, digital and non-digital products alike. There are a few affiliate networks that offer only digital products and unfortunately such networks alone can’t fetch you a career in affiliate marketing.
Say ‘NO’ to Scam products: ClickBank is an affiliate network that’s synonymous to scam products. A good affiliate network should not only be able to curb scams and fraud products from being listed on it but also recover losses based on complaints by their customers and affiliates.
Clear advertising guidelines: I recently had an issue with PPC bidding guidelines of a particular product promoted on an affiliate network. Now, it wasn’t exactly an issue with the affiliate network itself as they had a provision for the same. It was more an issue with the product vendor. Anyhow, the affiliate network should have the facility to post clear advertising and affiliate guidelines along with the possibility to report PPC – Advertising violations. Shareasale is a great platform on that aspect.
Avoid Unnecessary penalties and rules: One of the things that I never understood about Clickbank is their withholding of commissions and imposing penalty for affiliates for high refund rates etc. I feel that it’s not an issue with the affiliate that products get returned and hence affiliates shouldn’t be penalized on such events.
Multiple and flexible channel options: There are some affiliate networks that ban affiliate for taking PPV or direct link from PPC advertising to product landing pages. I am not sure if it’s a good thing because if someone is interested in a product, they would anyhow buy it no matter where they saw the ad.
Open to all markets and geographies: A good affiliate network should accept customers from all markets and geographies. This is applicable for both vendors and affiliates.
2. Affiliate Dashboard & Reporting features
How many times have you got frustrated with lack of features in an affiliate dashboard? Well, I face this issue from time to time. While there are so many features that affiliate dashboards must have, the following are some of my priorities (some others are discussed in other sections below)
The affiliate dashboard should help the affiliates to run their campaigns easily, track the clicks/sales and then access available reporting features pretty quickly in order to track any historic data related to their campaigns.
Commission alerts: Not many affiliate networks or programs make this simple must-have feature available to their affiliates. Sometimes, they even ask customers to download and install their apps in order to get affiliate sale alerts. This is not good – a simple commission alert by email is all that most affiliates expect from the platform.
Easily accessible marketing content: Well, you won’t believe but there are affiliate programs that just offer a tracking link and leave the rest to affiliate’s imagination to build their creative such as banners. It is the responsibility of the program to provide creative and even inform the affiliates about best performing channels and creative.
3. Campaign features
Coming to the main topics on campaign management, you can easily finger point many networks that don’t even have very basic campaign management features.
Campaigns & Sub IDs: The ability to manage and run multiple campaigns and/or associate Sub IDs with your marketing efforts is the bare minimum feature that any affiliate network should have. Unfortunately, platforms like E-Junkie do not have this feature. How frustrating it can be when you can’t track which of your campaigns resulted in a sale?
Variety of Creatives: Any online marketing campaign cannot be successful unless a number of creatives varying from landing pages, promo videos, previews, review material, banners, email swipes and variety of link ads are available to drive the campaigns. Like I mentioned a short while ago, it is not good if the vendor/network/program leaves all that to your imagination as an affiliate and let you do costly experiment on channels that don’t convert.
Possibility to have coupons and offers: It’s okay if some affiliate programs by their policy don’t support or believe in coupons. However, it’s a known fact that a buyer’s urge to go for a product increases when he/she gets a coupon. Hence all good affiliate platforms should support the possibility to get/create coupons for affiliates.
Data feeds: Product data feeds are very important in creating multi-page product catalogs for from many vendors and neatly mash them up into a very nice looking online shopping site. While this is a feature that the vendor himself has to provide, the affiliate network should have support for hosting data feeds.
4. Tracking features
Even if an affiliate network doesn’t have all the features that we discussed so far, a foolproof tracking mechanism is what an affiliate network just can’t function without. Here are some of the must-have features of an affiliate tracking system.
100% Uptime: The tracking URL and the domain that it is hosting the same must be up and running 24×7 without any interruption. Further, the link redirection should be very fast as any delay in reaching the destination can cause you a sale. Also, it may be noted that PPC advertising programs such as Google AdWords may penalize slow performing affiliate links with low landing page quality score.
Destination URL: It’s a pity but many affiliate platforms just don’t allow you to pick an optional URL where you want your visitors to be sent. Having this feature is very important because, you can then showcase multiple options for your prospects based on the demographics etc.
Easily customizable: The affiliate link and tracking code/sub IDs should be easily customizable so that you don’t end up making any error in designing them. Further, it is a boon if you can yourself make some sense just by looking at the affiliate link. Cryptic links may not always add value as they are error-prone.
Light embedded links: The embedded scripts for affiliate links should be as short and light as possible on your webpage as those heavy ones will drag your pages. I particularly hate Amazon for their ugly and long embedded scripts.
Cookie lifetime: An affiliate program should manage the lifetime of any cooking stored in the potential buyer’s PC in a very effective and error-free manner. Well, there are too many parameters to consider for an affiliate network – coupon codes, clicked URL, last clicked affiliate, Cookie to be considered etc. All of them should work in tandem to credit the sales to the right affiliate and the cookie plays a major role in that.
5. Commission structure and Payout
At the very end everything boils down to the money part and how the affiliate networks deal with the same. So what are some good to have features on the commission structure of an affiliate network or program?
Multi-level commission: This is what makes your tunnel producing money for a longer duration. Multiple levels of commission structure enable you to earn more money when your own sub-affiliates make sales via their referrals. Multi-level marketing may be associated with scam schemes but there are definitely some good products that pay you well via multi-level commissions. Well, while a 4-6 tire structure may not be really practically possible with good products, I wouldn’t mind a 2-tier one.
Automatic sign-up to sub-affiliate program: A good affiliate program needn’t differentiate between master affiliate links and ordinary product affiliate links. Ideally, if someone signs up as an affiliate using your product links, he or she should be immediately recognized as your sub-affiliate and you duly credited for the same. I am emphasizing on this point because not all programs do so.
Affiliate grade system: There are some programs that reward you better as you generate more sales or you have been associated with them for a long time while continuously generating income for them. I wouldn’t really mind if all affiliate programs provide increased percentage of commission or other goodies for top performer affiliates.
Affiliate contests: This is not mandatory but it’s something that really motivates affiliates to sell more. There are several programs that run monthly affiliate contests that work great for some of them. As an affiliate, I wouldn’t mind to take up such a challenge to bag some goodies or bonus.
Early payout and prompt at that: I just hate programs that have a hold time of several months. This is particularly the case with hosting affiliate programs, some of which pay their affiliates after 3 months of generating a sales or lead. Even worse, is the case that I am fighting right now with E-junkie. They simply didn’t send me the money for last month for a particular product that I am promoting. I am still following up on that ticket.
Multiple cashout options: This is no-brainer! As an affiliate, there has to be always more than a couple of ways of getting paid as an affiliate. Just having PayPal alone (which is the case with many small time programs) as the payout mechanism does not help the program which may eventually lose out on its affiliate base.
Individual Affiliate Program v/s Affiliate Networks
While majority of the affiliate products are made available through larger affiliate networks such as Commission Junction, Linkshare, Shareasale etc, you still have some great products that are marketed via the vendors’ own proprietary platforms. Some of these platforms are pretty good as well while some do have nagging bugs or incomplete features.
As a matter of fact, for my content based affiliate marketing efforts, I am mostly depending on proprietary affiliate programs and platforms. However, as I mentioned earlier, things are changing fast and I am now trying to capitalize with larger networks with multiple campaigns.
And by the way, the most perfect Affiliate network from my experience so far is Shareasale, in terms of the features that we discussed so far, that is.
Let me know your views on this topic and feel free to share this piece using the social buttons on this page.