As the affiliate industry has grown explosively, many affiliate networks have popped up. An affiliate network is an intermediary between you (the 'publisher') and the business whose products or services you are promoting (the 'merchant'). With an affiliate network you are offered the choice of many affiliate programs you can promote, and a merchant gets access to many affiliates to bring them new customers. A good affiliate network typically takes care of access to marketing materials, customer tracking and payment. All of this for a fee, of course...
You might be wondering which affiliate network you should use for your own website. You should first ask yourself the question, however, whether you should use an affiliate network at all. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to it.
The advantages of using an affiliate network
- You can quickly set up new affiliate campaigns on your site. Searching for and enrolling into an affiliate program is made quick and easy.
- You don't have to negotiate with your merchant. Commission structures are transparent and non-negotiable. Especially for inexperienced affiliates this can be a boon.
- As long as you stick to good affiliate networks, you are always certain of accurate customer tracking. You will be able to obtain reliable reports on the number of clicks, leads and sales you generate.
- Payout tends to be reliable. Now in general, the affiliate market works in such a way that merchants have to be reliable payers if they want to stay in business. But if you are new to the market and do not know a merchant yet, working through a network may alleviate some of your concerns.
The disadvantages of using an affiliate network
- The affiliate network takes a part of your commission. How much typically remains hidden, and you only see what your commission is after the network takes its share.
- You won't be able to negotiate higher commissions or custom deals with your merchant. In some markets this can make a big difference, for example if you bring in clients who spend much more than the average.
- You don't get to build a real relationship with your merchant. Some of my most profitable affiliate businesses are based on the fact that I have built a strategic partnership with a merchant and am able to set up special promotions with them.
So should you go for an affiliate network? It depends a lot on what you want to create with your affiliate business. In general, I would say that if you have a website about a broad topic, where you don't have much influence over the buying behaviour of your visitors (e.g. dating, webhosting), using an affiliate network is the more efficient choice. If you operate in a highly specialized affiliate niche or can really push your customers towards a (bigger) purchase (e.g. daytrading, commercial loans), you are probably better off working out a deal directly with selected merchants.
To find out which are good affiliate networks for your site, read our affiliate network reviews'. If you want to take advantage of working directly with a merchant, read about good individual affiliate programs here.