Choosing the right affiliate network is not an easy task, whether you’re an experienced e-marketer or a beginner in their first foray into the realm of affiliate marketing. You’d like to start an affiliate program, but you’re confused and don’t know where to start. _Don’t despair, this guide will point you in the right direction.
First things first, let’s define the terms used here. To keep it simple, an affiliate network is a group of associated companies that usually offer similar or complementary products. They are affiliates, and will often pass leads to each other.
An affiliate network acts as an intermediary between affiliates (aka merchants) and their affiliate programs. The right network should be the one that offers you a complete package of tools for managing your affiliate marketing program, including reporting, tracking and payments.
As a participant in e-commerce, one of the most important things you’ll ever do is decide on which affiliate network you want to run your program on. It’s vital to gather all the information you can while you’re still in the deciding phase of this process. We’ll guide you through it, and you just make sure to answer these seven questions:
1. What are your affiliate targets?
So, you’re an affiliate. By definition of the word, you can’t be working alone – you need others like you. You must decide which types of affiliates you’ll be going after once you start your affiliate recruitment process.
There’s plenty of various affiliate networks to choose from, ranging from the more general ones, to a few that specialize in niche markets (fitness and health, sports, fashion, gadgets, weddings, you name it). If a niche market is your thing, it’s worth seeking out and joining affiliates in that already operate in that specific niche.
2. What affiliate networks does your competition use?
Have you ever used competitive intelligence analysis? Well, you should, especially before starting a new affiliate program. It’ll help you get an overview of where your competitors run their affiliate programs. In turn, this should also be very helpful when deciding where you want to go and choosing a network for yourself.
Beware, though. Pure numbers can be deceiving. Large numbers without context don’t give you the whole picture. You also want to gain an insight how successfully are they running their programs on a specific network. If the competition performs well, it’s a good indicator that this network may hold some affiliates that you’d want among the ranks of your own affiliate programs as well.
3. What type of affiliate tracking is right for you?
Some merchants may by completely happy with a basic tracking solution. On the other hand, there are retailers that need more complex affiliate tracking. Figure out your needs before you go selecting a network. If you have any specific demands or sales types that you want your program to pay out for, it’s imperative to confirm the network you want to join can provide that for you. Be advised that more robust tracking solutions may come at an extra cost. This brings us to the next question:
4. How much can you stretch your budget?
Affiliate networks have different price lists, and they charge retailers in various ways. Initial setup fees is one of the more common methods. Also, they may charge a minimum on a per-month basis, if certain sales goals are not met. Other platforms exist, where you pay a flat fee monthly. These are preferred by larger affiliate programs, because with the more frequently-used model, the network takes a small percentage of every sale. This choice is suitable for smaller programs just getting their feet wet, so to speak. Keep a watchful eye on the monthly minimums, as they certainly can add up over time without you even noticing. Last, but not least, be mindful of the duration of the contract that you’ll be signing with the network. Essentially, you are locking yourself with them. If it turns out you don’t like them, it may not be so easy to get out when you’re contractually obliged to remain with the platform for a year or longer. Think of this before signing up for anything.
5. Do you want to go international with your affiliates?
Not all affiliate networks allow you to work with international partners. Some are only US based, others serve only European merchants. It would be unfortunate if you want to expand beyond your own borders, only to find out your network doesn’t serve that market. Some networks also focus specifically on international connections, but they will most likely not be as strong and well-connected as some “local” network (local can mean a country, or a whole continent). Consider the network that owns a greater percentage of the market you’re targeting.
6. How will you handle your program management?
Do you need a specific sort of support from your network? At some networks such a level of support comes at an additional cost. Do you just need basic support? Do you intend to acquire the services of affiliate management agencies? Will you be managing your program in-house, or are you outsourcing that part of the business?
Whatever your needs are, you need assurance that the network of your choice is providing you with just the level of services that you require to kickstart and successfully manage your affiliate program.
7. What are your affiliates’ preferences?
What do you do when, at the request of a super affiliate, you have to add another affiliate network to the one you already use? This is a good question to bear in mind at all times. The key is to always stay open to such feedback that you’ll be getting either through in-person conversations and throughout your affiliate recruitment process. The successful business is the one that is willful to adapt to the needs of their affiliates.
Go through these questions, and be thorough in your answers. Analyze them from all angles, work at the kinks until you have straight, unambiguous answers. Only then you’ll be ready for your interviews with the shortlisted affiliate networks. You’ll want to ask them questions, and don’t hesitate to demand a time to speak about this. Don’t let them have it all on a silver platter; make them earn the opportunity to work with you. Most importantly, don’t settle for a deal that is not going to fulfill your requirements.