Affiliate Marketing for Advertisers: Affiliate Networks vs Tracking Software

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Best Affiliate Networks
Best Affiliate Software
1st
iDevAffiliate logo
2nd
CJ Affiliate logo
Post Affiliate Pro logo
3rd
Rakuten logo
Omnistar logo

Are traditional advertising approaches too expensive or not driving consumers to your online business? Looking for a way to spread the virtual “word of mouth” on the web to market your products or services? Affiliate marketing could be your solution. It’s a relatively easy and often less expensive way to drive business, without having to pound the virtual (or real) pavement yourself. All you really need is to find a good affiliate marketing network (or several networks) and/or affiliate tracking software.

Here we’ll give you an in-depth look into how you, the merchant, can use affiliate marketing to boost your sales. We also review some of the top affiliate networks and software to help you get started with this new revenue stream.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

First, it helps to understand just what affiliate marketing involves. According to Wikipedia, affiliate marketing “is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.” How does it work? If you’re partnered with a publisher (ie. blog or website owner), they’ll refer their readers to your company’s website and even certain products or services you offer. If that reader makes a purchase on your site, 1) you score a sale!, 2) you get a lot of exposure for your brand, and 3) the affiliate partner gets a commission (could be a fixed amount or a small percentage of the revenue generated from the sale) for covering your company on their site.

What is An Affiliate Marketing Network?

Affiliate Networks act as an intermediary between merchants and affiliate publishers. For merchants it’s often an easier way to connect with new publishers who are members of the network than it is to run their own affiliate program. Good affiliate networks can save you time, overhead and headaches with having to deal with all the details on your own. The best networks also have marketing, monthly compensation payouts, commission tracking and reporting features. The downside to joining a network? Some can be expensive to join or participate in (you’ll be paying the network a fee) compared to purchasing or leasing software on your own.

What is Affiliate Tracking Software?

What’s the difference between an affiliate marketing network and affiliate tracking software? The software allows you to launch an independent affiliate program through your company and/or website without having a network as an intermediary. The software is a management and tracking program that gives you a lot of the same tools and functionality as joining a network, except you’re doing it on your own. What are the benefits? No network membership fees, you get to keep all of your sales margins, and you get to run your own show.

Top Affiliate Networks

We’ve reviewed affiliate marketing networks from both the advertiser’s side (this article) and publisher’s perspective to present you with our top affiliate marketing network picks for merchants. Below you will find the same type of review for affiliate marketing software.

ShareASale Review

#1

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Our number one choice for affiliate networks is ShareASale, a large-scale network with more than 3,900 merchants and thousands of affiliate publishers as members. But don’t let the enormity of the network turn you off. ShareASale provides merchants excellent features with lower sign-up and membership fees than some other top affiliate networks. ShareASale (SAS) has been around since 2000, and they pride themselves on their strict anti-fraud policies and high ethical standards – they screen every affiliate and merchant for ethical practices. And they’re upfront about their merchant fees, which many other affiliate networks don’t immediately disclose. We highly recommend ShareASale for both merchants and web publishers – making this a strong network all around.

Pros

Cons

  • Low monthly merchant fees
  • Unique widget for ad building and video creating
  • Powerful API tools to maximize both merchant’s and publisher’s business goals
  • Great customer service reputation
  • Share A Sale handles all payments to affiliates
  • If you are among the featured merchant listing, your brand will be aggressively marketed to publishers to promote
  • It may be hard for your to be found since search and sorting features aren’t as sophisticated for affiliates looking for merchants
  • Learning curve with reporting tools (but their reporting features are good)
  • User interface not as intuitive as other top programs

Merchant Pricing

  • $550 one-time activation fee
  • Minimum monthly payment: Free up to 60 days after activation; $10 from 60 to 120 days; $25 after 120 days
  • $100 minimum account balance

There are two types of recurring fees: transaction fees and monthly minimum fees.

  • 20% transaction fees – there is a 20% transaction fee, which is based on the payout rate. If your affiliate lands a $50 sale, and you give them 10% commission, they earn $5. 20% of this results in a $1 transaction fee, meaning you will have paid out a total of $6, and kept $44.
  • $25 monthly minimum fees occur if your account does not generate a minimum of $25 in transaction fees for the month. Expanding on the example above, to meet the monthly minimum your affiliates would need to generate $1,250 in sales revenues. If, for example, you only made $200 in sales for the month ($4 in transaction fees), you would be charged the difference from the $25 minimum, in other words an additional $21. For new merchants, this fee is waived during a grace period.

CJ Affiliate by Conversant Review

#2

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Our number two pick for best advertising affiliate network is CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction), another massive affiliate marketing network that’s been around for nearly 15 years. With more than 3,000 merchants, CJ Affiliate typically has the biggest names in the biz — Apple, TurboTax, DirecTV, to name a few. It’s a ripe offering for affiliate publishers to join the network, and there are thousands of them. Yes, you have competition with big companies, but you also have access to a huge network of publishers you may otherwise never connect with. You must apply for a merchant membership, but once accepted, you have a lot of flexibility with seeking out the affiliate publishers you deem worthy of promoting your products.

Pros

Cons

  • Direct communication between advertisers and affiliates via web-based email
  • Good “search by publisher” tool
  • Mobile ads are supported
  • Excellent performance, transaction, and real-time reporting
  • Unique, trackable toll-free numbers to grow call center business
  • Some merchants report hefty membership fees
  • PayPal is not available as a payment option
  • Customer support not available via email; only via phone or web form

Merchant Pricing

  • $3,000 one time non-refundable setup fee
  • $3,000 deposit to pay transaction fees and payouts
  • $500 annual renewal fee
  • $500 minimum balance amount
  • Transaction fees are equal to the greater of 30% of the payout per transaction, or $0.30

Rakuten Affiliate Network Review

#3

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Rakuten Affiliate Network (formerly LinkShare) is one of the oldest affiliate networks on the web, but they’ve remained more of a modest network compared to our top two winners. Rakuten has nearly 1,000 merchants and thousands of solid affiliates to choose from, and they’re well-respected in the industry. Rakuten pre-approves all affiliate publishers, and they regularly monitor them for compliance. What makes Rakuten our number three pick? Their user interface is intuitive, and they offer many great features. The downside? Their payments to affiliates aren’t as reliable as our top two picks. For merchants, that could mean some affiliates tend to stray from Rakuten. There’s also lower barriers to entry for publishers since all are approved so you may not be thrilled with the websites that advertise your brand if this channel is not closely monitored.

Pros

Cons

  • Easy dashboard to navigate
  • Good transaction reporting
  • Excellent “search by publisher” tool
  • Reputable Help Center with training tools, including video tutorials
  • Not upfront about merchant membership fees
  • Payment terms for affiliates not as reliable
  • Reporting features lacking compared to top competitors
  • Online feedback indicates customer service could use improvement

Merchant Pricing

You must contact Rakuten for official pricing but this is what our research uncovered:

  • Close to $4,000 to start up.
  • Charges 2% – 3% of sales as their transaction fee.

Top Affiliate Software

Below, we give you our picks for best affiliate marketing software, also referred to as affiliate management software or affiliate tracking software.

iDevAffiliate Review

#1iDevAffiliate logo

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With a ton of excellent features at a relatively low price, iDevAffiliate is our number one choice for best affiliate software. iDevAffiliate is an exceptionally intuitive software that seamlessly integrates with most websites, shopping carts and billing programs on the market. It’s easily customizable and gives you a host of marketing, tracking and reporting tools to help you maximize your sales efforts. iDevAffiliate is an excellent choice for merchants, from novices to seasoned pros.

Pros

Cons

  • Competitive pricing with a number of different options
  • Unlimited number of affiliates and commissions with all pricing levels
  • Shopping cart integration wizard
  • Extra security with triple redundancy tracking
  • CVS, Excel and QuickBooks exporting
  • Customers rave about their excellent tracking and reporting features
  • Customizable, tiered, recurring commissions and mass payout
  • Many marketing tool options including banners, video, page peels, PDF brochures and more
  • Affiliate dashboard is easily customizable and easy for affiliates to access and use
  • SEO optimized (add-on)
  • QR and coupon codes (add-on)
  • No built-in mobile feature (through integration only)
  • No split commissions
  • Email support only (no live chat)

Pricing

iDev Affiliate has two options — Leased, where you lease/rent their software on a month by month basis (no contracts) or Ownership (you get free upgrades for one year and can renew for $89.99 per year). With the leased version, you must have your own website to host your affiliate program.

Each tier above Standard includes bundled add-ons. The software licensing is only valid for one domain, but you can connect unlimited websites to your one installation through the software’s “Marketing Groups” feature.

Standard

  • $149.99 to own
  • $29.99 per month lease
  • No add-ons

Gold

  • $249.99 to own
  • $39.99 per month lease
  • Includes these Add-ons: Commission Alert, Custom Filename, Private Signup

Platinum

  • $349.99 to own
  • $49.99 per month lease
  • Includes these Add-ons: Gold level plus SEO Links, Language Packages

Black

  • $449.99 to own
  • $59.99 per month lease
  • Includes these Add-ons: All Gold & Platinum plus QR Codes, Vanity Coupon Codes

Post Affiliate Pro

#2Post Affiliate Pro logo

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Coming in a close second place for best affiliate software is Post Affiliate Pro — a major contender with iDevAffiliate. Post Affiliate Pro is a powerful, feature-rich software solution for merchants looking to run their own affiliate programs. One thing we love about Post Affiliate Pro is their new interface, which resembles a desktop application, making it extremely user-friendly. And they offer Android and iOS functionality, where you can view sales and other statistics in real-time. The reason Post Affiliate Pro didn’t win our top spot? It’s more expensive for what you get, you have a limit to the number of tracking requests with their hosted version, and the affiliate dashboard isn’t as easy to navigate as iDevAffiliate. Still, Post Affiliate Pro offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so they’re definitely worth trying out.

Pros

Cons

  • Unlimited number of affiliates with all pricing levels
  • Shopping cart integration wizard
  • Unlimited domains with licensed versions
  • CVS, Excel and QuickBooks exporting
  • SEO optimized (plugin)
  • Coupon codes
  • Android and iOS features
  • Customizable payout options, including tiered, recurring, split commissions and mass
  • Great tracking and reporting features reported by users
  • Good marketing tools including banners, page peels, PDF brochures and more
  • Email and live chat support 24/7 Monday-Friday
  • Hosted versions are SSL encrypted
  • More expensive
  • Learning curve with configuration
  • No video marketing features
  • No QR codes
  • Tracking request limits with hosted versions
  • Limits on banner space and network traffic with hosted versions

Pricing for Licensed version (you own and Self-Host on your Site)

  • $199 XPress
  • $299 Professional (includes professional features)
  • $999 Ultimate (includes all above and advanced features and free integration)
  • $1,899 Network (includes all above and advanced network features)

Pricing for Hosted Version

Post Affiliate Pro hosts your affiliate program on its own servers saving you valuable resources on your website server.

Basic

  • $29 per month
  • 500,000 tracking requests
  • basic features

Professional

  • $49 per month
  • 1 million tracking requests
  • professional features

Ultimate

  • $99 per month
  • 10 million tracking requests
  • all features
  • integration service

Omnistar Affiliate Review

#3Omnistar Affiliate logo

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Omnistar Affiliate rounds out our top three picks, a web-based affiliate software program that’s a solid choice for merchants. Although it’s not as feature rich as our top two choices, Omnistar still offers the basic tools you’ll need to maximize your sales potential. Its user interface is excellent, integration with your website and shopping carts is seamless, and affiliates find their dashboard easy to access and use. The issue with Omnistar is its hefty price (more than both our top choices) for fewer features and less functionality. But if you find all the bells and whistles cumbersome with our top two choices, Omnistar could be your best option. They offer a 15-day free trial so it could be worth it to check them out.

Pros

Cons

  • Easy shopping cart integration
  • SSL encryption
  • Social share widgets
  • SEO optimized
  • Android and iOS apps
  • Coupon code personalization available
  • Customizable and tiered commission payments
  • Reportedly excellent tracking and reporting features
  • Good marketing tools including banners, page peels, PDF brochures and more
  • Email, phone and live chat support 24/7
  • Helpful articles, forums, blog and affiliate marketing tutorials
  • Expensive
  • No licensed option
  • Limit on number of affiliates until highest paid plan
  • Far fewer integrations
  • Tracking request limits with every pricing tier
  • No recurring commissions or mass payout
  • No QR codes
  • Some customer feedback about poor tech support

Pricing (Hosted versions only)

With Omnistar Affiliate, you must host your affiliate program on your own website server. Bonus: you can try it out for free for 15-days with their free trial offer.

Basic

  • $49.95 per month
  • 200 affiliates
  • 20,000 tracking requests

Professional

  • $97.95 per month
  • 10,000 affiliates
  • 500,000 tracking requests

Premium

  • $147.95 per month
  • Unlimited affiliates
  • 1 million tracking requests

Affiliate Network or Software?

It’s important to understand the difference between what an affiliate network and affiliate software can do for you. Watch the following video by our number one affiliate software pick, iDevAffiliate, to help you differentiate.

A Win-Win for Advertisers

The continuing evolution of affiliate marketing is a hot topic among experts, who note that it’s no longer considered the second-class option to traditional advertising that it was 20 years ago. As a merchant, affiliate networks give you a leg up against your competition. You have real potential to substantially increase your sales and brand awareness. Our best affiliate networks and software can make a huge difference in your business marketing, advertising and sales goals.

What affiliate networks and software do you think will work best for your business?

Sally has coupled her passion for writing with her (slight) obsession for the latest high tech gadgets. While she’s not daydreaming about the beach, she’s taking advantage of all the activities her hometown has to offer in the Blue Ridge foothills.

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1 Comment on "Affiliate Marketing for Advertisers: Affiliate Networks vs Tracking Software"

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Melanie Love
Melanie Love

Thank you for this article! So hard to find info from the “advertisers” perspective on how to select tools to manage the back end of an affiliate program. Are some platforms better for certain kinds of products? Any experience with the Shopify apps Refersion or LeadDyno?

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