Best Affiliate Marketing Platforms
Affiliate marketing is a phenomenal way to drive increased leads, sales, and awareness for your brand. By joining an affiliate program, you can start earning money by tapping into an existing network of publishers. You don’t have to build a new affiliate program from scratch or worry about finding publishers. The good news — and bad news — is that there are plenty of outstanding affiliate marketing platforms available. So many, in fact, it can be a bit confusing.
To simplify things, we’ll lay out the best affiliate marketing platforms. We’ll highlight a handful of the best ones, with details on why they’re worth your consideration.
We’ll also answer some common related questions about how an affiliate program works and how to align your affiliate marketing efforts with other SEO and brand marketing.
What is an affiliate marketing platform?
An affiliate marketing software platform — or affiliate marketing platform — is just a program that makes affiliate marketing simpler for you to manage.
An affiliate marketing platform connects businesses that want increased leads with publishers who have them. These publishers — or affiliates — have an audience. They want to monetize their following and earn extra money by promoting products and services that align with their personal (or website) branding.
The software needed to track sales and leads and pay out commissions can be rather complex. An affiliate marketing platform does that easily for both parties, enabling businesses and publisher affiliates to track traffic, leads, sales, and manage and grow their existing affiliate marketing efforts.
Top affiliate networks have user-friendly features like:
- Easy link-building. Create unique links for each affiliate to monitor traffic and revenue. This can include generating a unique clickdID and sessionID.
- Manage onboarding. (Depending on spend levels, they may offer a dedicated account manager.)
- Manage commission tracking.
- Manage payouts.
- Detect and flag fraud.
- Enable collaboration with specific affiliate publishers (or sub-affiliates).
- Automated reporting.
- Enhanced data visualization (charts, tables, graphs).
What is the world’s largest affiliate marketing platform?
The world’s largest affiliate marketing network is considered to be Clickbank. Founded in 1998, Clickbank is also one of the oldest affiliate networks too. Clickbank primarily specializes in selling digital products like VPN software, SaaS, and other related products. Many of its affiliate partners publish content related to software and technology.
Clickbank is huge, with some sources claiming it has over 200 million users across over 150 countries. It’s easy to join the Clickbank program and it has a very intuitive, user-friendly interface. The application process is straightforward and very quick. Overall, it’s a good program for beginners with nil to limited affiliate experience.
Beyond software products, Clickbank affiliates also promote computer hardware and other physical technology goods. This is helpful for newer affiliates learning how to promote products and services to their followers.
With very few guardrails in place (for those who can join), both brands and affiliate publishers need to do their homework. Brands and businesses should be watchful for low-quality traffic sources (affiliates) sending spam traffic. Publisher affiliates need to feel confident in the products and services they are promoting. If you are unfamiliar, it’s wise to do a little bit of research.
What is the best affiliate platform for beginners?
Amazon.com has its own affiliate network: Amazon Associates. The namesake program has been around since 1996. It is widely recognized as the first-ever online affiliate marketing program and has a reputation for being very beginner friendly and its high earning potential. A number of large publisher sites (i.e., the Wall Street Journal) and smaller ones participate in this program.
From the start, Amazon Associates has helped millions of online affiliate publishers make money by advertising (recommending) Amazon products and services to their website visitors. When an Amazon affiliate shares a referral link for a specific Amazon product and a sale is generated, the affiliate will earn a commission or referral fee for that purchase.
With a seemingly endless catalog of goods and millions of third-party sellers, Amazon Associates is an excellent fit for just about any kind of affiliate publisher. Just about anything a publisher could possibly write or talk about is sold on Amazon.com’s store pages.
To join Amazon’s affiliate program, sign up on the Amazon Associates page.
- Commission rates: 1% to 20% (possibly higher) depending on the product category or type.
- Payment terms: Net 60 days from the end of any current month.
- Minimum payout requirements: $10 in qualified earnings, otherwise earnings will continue to accrue into the following month, and remittance will be made once you reach $10.
- Payout method: Direct deposit or Amazon gift card.
Which affiliate marketing platform is best?
Here’s an overview of the top affiliate programs for ease of use, reputation, range of offerings, commission rates, payment terms, and customer service.
1. Impact (Impact Radius)
Impact is an innovative and popular affiliate marketplace. Founded in 2008 as Impact Radius, the technology solution company rebranded as Impact in 2018.
Impact is known for its excellent tracking capabilities and wide footprint across many verticals, from web hosting to kids’ fashion. Increasingly, many larger brands and companies (selling products and services) are migrating their affiliate program to Impact.
Pioneering technology has fueled Impact’s high adoption rates. Impact is one of the first affiliate marketing networks to take advantage of the fingerprint technique to track sales. Fingerprinting is used to identify users across different browsers and devices, and therefore more broadly and accurately track attribution.
Fingerprinting uses a variety of different techniques, including captchas, cookies, and two-step login authentications. This is an upgrade from cookies — a more common tracking technique but less reliable since many users block cookies.
Impact’s usage of this technology is a big advantage for brands and businesses and also for affiliate publishers too.
Key Impact features include:
- Flexible payment processing for affiliate publishers. Get paid on the same set day every month if you meet the minimum threshold.
- $10 minimum payout threshold. (Note that many review sources incorrectly say the minimum is $50, but the $10 minimum figure is what’s published on the Impact.com website.)
- Dynamic commission rates are based on hundreds of different factors.
- Commission splitting is offered (among dynamic commission rates), which allows for multi-touch attribution instead of the traditional last-touch or last-click attribution.
The Everflow affiliate network is a relative newcomer, founded in 2016. With a wealth of experience in technology and mobile affiliate networks, Everflow was born from its vision of creating a truly great tracking and partner management platform. Their SaaS (cloud-based) platform helps businesses and affiliate publishers easily build, manage, and scale their marketing programs.
Everflow offers tier-based flexibility. Affiliate partners have different rates of commission or net payout terms based on their volume of leads or sales.
Key Everflow features include:
- CPA (cost per action) and PPS (pay per sale) commission models
- Low cashout threshold. Minimum payout of $10 for affiliates
- Monthly payment processing. Payout terms start at net 30
- Transparent, real-time reporting. See clicks, sales, and revenue as they unfold.
- Easy integrations to connect Everflow to other marketing software
3. Commission Junction (CJ)
Commission Junction (CJ) is a well-established affiliate marketplace that is especially popular for bloggers and similar affiliate marketers. Founded in 1998, CJ boasts a vast range of affiliate programs with varying products, services, verticals, and commission rates.
CJ boasts many Fortune 500 and top global brands among its customers, including Klarna, BuzzFeed, J. Crew, Office Depot, Dell, and ibotta.
These brands — advertisers — can drive increased sales and revenue by tapping into premium publishers. These publisher affiliates — blogs, vlogs, shopping sites — can maximize their affiliate earnings by partnering with well-known brands that consumers flock to.
Key Commission Junction features include:
- Affiliate commission rates around 5% to 20% for most advertiser brands
- Monthly payment processing. Payouts are processed on the 20th or 28th of each month depending on the currency. Bi-weekly payment options may also be available.
- Minimum payout of $50 or $100. Depends on the terms of your account and method of payment.
Founded in Germany in 2000, Awin is a popular, global affiliate network with a heavy presence in the U.S., Canada, and EU countries. Awin is known for its high-quality affiliate publishers and gold-standard advertisers.
Awin customers appreciate the platform’s clean interface, different reporting options, and easy-to-use link builder to create any unique affiliate site link.
Awin offers a Gold Standard to identify best-in-class affiliates. These affiliate publishers use Awin’s tracking solutions and receive accelerated payments, timely transaction validation (brands verify sales within a set period of time instead of transactions remaining in pending mode for prolonged periods), fair commission standards, and more transparent reporting.
Key Awin program features include:
- Accelerated payment for select affiliate publishers.
- Optimal tracking. Amid numerous browser privacy restrictions (especially prolific in the EU), Awin’s tracking solutions offer full compliance while accurately tracking sales.
- 28-day validation period. Generally, advertisers must validate a sales or commission-generated transaction within 28 days — which means an affiliate publisher can get paid more quickly. (For some verticals, like finance or travel, the period is longer.)
Founded in 2000, ShareASale is a longstanding, reputable, and well-known affiliate program. If you’ve ever attended an Affiliate Summit (AS) conference, you’re probably already familiar with ShareASale — at least in name. ShareASale is a Marquis sponsor.
While ShareASale is a part of Awin — and offers many of the same resources for affiliates and merchants (businesses who want leads) — ShareASale is known for its monthly training webinars and a broader network of merchants and affiliate partners. It has a much wider global footprint, with users in over 110 countries (30+ more than Awin).
The user interface (UI) is a bit dated but still easy enough to use. The approval process to join ShareASale is quite quick — it generally takes only 2-3 business days to receive approval.
Key ShareASale program features and highlights include:
- Transparency with commission rates. ShareASale takes 20% of your affiliate payout for their commission. Many other affiliate programs don’t disclose the cut they’re taking. It’s baked (and buried) into different affiliate rates. The best affiliate programs are upfront and on the level.
- 39 different merchant categories and 15,300+ brands and retailers. Top-paying merchants sell products and services related to software and technology services.
- 260 new affiliate publishers join ShareASale every day.
- Over $900 million in revenue was paid out to affiliate publishers in 2022 alone.
- Minimum payout of $50. An affiliate must reach an earnings balance of at least $50 in order to cash out.
- Net 30 payout terms. Affiliates are paid out on day 20 of each month, provided they have reached the minimum payout amount. If the minimum has not been reached, the balance will roll over into the next month.
What to look for when evaluating affiliate programs?
Alignment with your niche
Often, businesses and affiliate publishers look for the easiest program to join or the one they have heard the most about. This affiliate platform may or may not align with your niche. You can find an affiliate program for just about any category you can think of — make sure to find one that’s relevant to your brand or audience.
Easy to reach the minimum payout
For some affiliate programs, it can be a challenge to reach the minimum payout amount (account balance) so that you can cash out your earnings. A minimum payout, of $50 or less, will be easier to reach for beginners.
Measures to minimize affiliate sales fraud
As a business or brand looking for sales and leads, you want the good kind — not fraud. Unfortunately, there are some black-hat affiliates that can inflate or fake traffic numbers, leads, and even sales. You do not want to have to pay for fraudulent traffic. Look for affiliate programs that have measures in place to detect fraud and remove problem (fraud) affiliates.
Similarly, you should be able to measure and evaluate the performance of different affiliate publishers within a platform. These affiliates within an affiliate platform are called subaffiliates. It’s very important to be able to hone in on the individual subaffiliate performance, and blacklist or whitelist subaffiliates based on performance.
Products or services featured in the affiliate program
Make sure that the products or services featured within the affiliate platform align with your blog or social channel and your followers.
If you create content about yoga and mindfulness, then joining a program that is heavy in fintech, cryptocurrency, and investment products will probably not be the right fit. What is your audience interested in that’s relevant to what you post about? Come up with a list of products or services, and then look for affiliate programs that have them.
Affiliate program requirements
Make sure you understand the requirements for affiliate programs you are looking at joining. Some common requirements you see imposed are no objectionable (firearms, adult, CBD, gambling) content published on your site, a minimum number of social followers or newsletter subscribers, a minimum number of monthly engagements, location of your website traffic, or demographics (i.e., age, gender, parental status, interests) of your followers.
Some programs will only work with established affiliate publishers (i.e., websites or social accounts at least 12 months old).
Ancillary charges or other fees
Some affiliate programs may charge additional fees for user training, account setup, or special reporting features.
This means how long a program will track a site visitor’s activity from the date they click on your affiliate link. The longer the duration, the more advantageous it is for a publisher affiliate. Amazon Affiliates and eBay Partner network have a cookie duration of only 24 hours. Most affiliate programs have a 30 to 45-day window. Depending on the product or the merchant, it could ast several months longer. As an example, Avangate’s cookie duration can last up to 180 days.
Ideally, you don’t want to have to chase after the affiliate platform to receive your payment. Look for favorable payment terms — 30 to 60-day payment window, low minimum balance payment requirements, and ACH or other electronic payment of funds as opposed to getting a paper check in the mail. (Yes, some programs still do snail mail.)
Best commission rates
Many merchants (i.e., Kohl’s) will belong to multiple affiliate networks. But the commission rates that you, as an affiliate publisher can earn for sharing Kohl’s links, can vary significantly. Look for programs that offer the best merchant commission rates. Keep in mind, it’s always a trade-off. One network may offer rates that are nominally better, but they may have a shorter cookie duration window and less favorable payment terms.
Also, commission rates may vary based on geographic location, product category, product type, or brand (i.e. department store). Some merchants may not pay a percentage-based commission; they may only offer a flat-rate fee for each sale that you refer.
Instant access to easy-to-understand data
Look for platforms that offer real-time access to data in a way that’s easy for you to understand, monitor, and respond to. Some platforms may offer data in less than real-time, or present it in a way that’s hard for you to understand. (Raw data export, anyone?)
You want a network that offers helpful and intuitive data visualization (graphs, charts, tables) and the ability to export all of your raw data as well for you to drill into it further.
We’ve explained how the affiliate marketing industry works, what to look for when vetting an affiliate program for your business needs, and five of the best affiliate networks to join.
A reliable affiliate network can help you monetize your following whether it’s on social media, a blog site, a coupon site, a video channel, or other website traffic. Look for a program that’s easy for you to do business with, and helpful for your audience. You want to find a network that features physical and digital products relevant to your followers, and able to make their lives easier. This way, you can feel good about helping your audience (not alienating them) and growing your affiliate income stream.
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