An affiliate network is like a shopping mall for affiliates. Each vendor pays the 'mall' a fee to operate his own 'store', and you as an affiliate can shop there for good affiliate programs. But there are hundreds of affiliate networks out there. So how do you find a good affiliate network?
In this article I review some good affiliate networks. By going with any of these networks you really can't go wrong in terms of reliability, trakcing software and payment. But you should first consider if you really want to use a network for your affiliate marketing. There are significant drawbacks to using one (even if it is a good affiliate network). Think for example about the fee that the vendor has to pay to the network; that's one piece of the pie that won't end up in your pocket.
In the article 'Which affiliate network should I use' I discuss the pros and cons of using an affiliate network, as well as how to select a good affiliate network for you. Are you already convinced that you want to go the network way? Then below you find some of the really good affiliate networks that are out there.
Commission Junction, or simply CJ, is the largest affiliate network on the web, and also one of the oldest. Tens of thousands of merchants in all conceivable markets sell their products using Commission Junction. If you want the maximum variety of products to choose from, you can't go wrong with CJ.
Because if its size, Commission Junction is also the most impersonal affiliate network out there. Especially if you're a small affiliate, don't expect a lot of attention or support. CJ's website is quite comprehensive, though, so you should be able to figure everything out on your own.
Clickbank is also a very large network, but it stands out because it only focuses on digital products. No real-world-products like clothing, insurance or travels here. Expect online courses, web services and software... lots and lots of software.
The great thing (for you) about digital products is that they cost next to nothing to replicate. While designing a software package may be costly, it doesn't really matter if its manufacturer sells one or a million copies. Therefore commissions offered on sales tend to be a lot higher than in other sectors (up to 75% per sale). Of course this is useless if your audience isn't interested in these kinds of products, so consider how well they fit into your website
ShareASale is a medium-sized affiliate network. They are dwarfed by Commission Junction and Clickbank, but still have over 3.500 merchants associated with them. Many of their affiliate programs deal with offline (or: 'real') products. Those can be significantly easier to sell, although commissions tend to be lower as well (up to $500 per sale, but also CPL, CPC and RS programs available). Their programs have good cookie retention times, ranging from 30 up to 180 days.
The relatively small scale, well-converting programs and good cookie lifspans make ShareASale an good choice for an affiliate network. What I don't like is their interface. Finding your affiliate program can be confusing and it takes some time to understand the console. It's worth it though if you're interested in promoting their products.
Zanox is the largest affiliate network in Europe. They offer a wide range of products and have an excellent, easy-to-use interface. If you are specifically addressing the European market, Zanox is probably your first stop.
Google's AdSense isn't really a (good) affiliate network, nor is it an affiliate program. The biggest difference is that with AdSense you can't select which products to promote. Google scans your website to determine its topic, and selects relevant ads to display in areas that you have designated for that purpose. Whenever someone clicks on an ad, you get a commission for that click (the height of which depends on things like the topic of your site, the competition, etc.).
Despite not really being an affiliate network, Google Adsense works a bit like one. There are many vendors and many publishers who use the same network, only Google itself tried to make the best (read: most profitable) matches. The biggest drawback is that you have almost no control over the ads that will show on your site, and thus can't help sell a product. Adsense is a good affiliate network if you have many but very diverse visitors to your site and can't really influence their buying behaviour in any way.