When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Here’s how it works.
Best Affiliate Networks
Best Affiliate Software
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.
Are you a publisher looking to monetize your content? Check out our affiliate marketing reviews for publishers.
- What Is Affiliate Marketing?
- Affiliate Networks Vs Tracking Software
- Best Affiliate Networks
- Best Affiliate Software
- Browser Blocking Of Third-Party Cookies
- Nexus Tax: Can You Affiliate In Your State?
First, it helps to understand just what affiliate marketing involves.
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.1
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 with the goal of purchasing your products or services. 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).
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 in exchange for their services) compared to purchasing or leasing software on your own.
What Is Affiliate Tracking Software?
Affiliate tracking software allows you to launch an independent affiliate program through your company and/or website without having a network as an intermediary. It is a management and tracking platform 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.
We’ve reviewed affiliate marketing networks from both the merchant/advertiser’s side (this article) and publisher’s perspective to present you with our top affiliate marketing network picks for merchants. And farther down in our review you will find the same type of coverage for affiliate marketing software.
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.
- $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.
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.
- $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 (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.
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.
Below, we give you our picks for best affiliate marketing software, also referred to as affiliate management software or affiliate tracking software. Software is for businesses that prefer to integrate an affiliate solution with their website or shopping cart platform, vs using a standalone network.
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.
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.
- $149.99 to own
- $29.99 per month lease
- No add-ons
- $249.99 to own
- $39.99 per month lease
- Includes these Add-ons: Commission Alert, Custom Filename, Private Signup
- $349.99 to own
- $49.99 per month lease
- Includes these Add-ons: Gold level plus SEO Links, Language Packages
- $449.99 to own
- $59.99 per month lease
- Includes these Add-ons: All Gold & Platinum plus QR Codes, Vanity Coupon Codes
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.
Pricing For Licensed Version (Self-Hosted)
- $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.
- $29 per month
- 500,000 tracking requests
- basic features
- $49 per month
- 1 million tracking requests
- professional features
- $99 per month
- 10 million tracking requests
- all features
- integration service
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.
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.
- $49.95 per month
- 200 affiliates
- 20,000 tracking requests
- $97.95 per month
- 10,000 affiliates
- 500,000 tracking requests
- $147.95 per month
- Unlimited affiliates
- 1 million tracking requests
In 2022, Google Chrome joined Firefox and Safari in blocking third-party cookies. This change increased transparency and provided a more private browsing experience for users. But what does this mean for affiliate marketers?
Fortunately, leading affiliate networks like Amazon, Awin, CJ, and Rakuten have been working on innovative ways to make sure the publisher still gets credit for the sale. The most popular of these solutions is the use of first-party cookies. The only negative is it will reinforce the last-click attribution model, meaning that the affiliate who provided the last click before the sale will be the one to receive a commission.
A hot topic in the affiliate world is the nexus tax. After the tech crash of the late 90’s, government subsidies and a reprieve on online sales tax (that some would argue was in place too long) helped online merchants compete (and ultimately win over) their brick-and-mortar counterparts. What this meant for massive retailers like Amazon.com was a huge difference in revenue for not having to charge sales tax to customers, unless they had a brick and mortar location in that state.
In order for states to get around this, they started establishing a “nexus tax,” which meant if a merchant like Amazon had affiliates operating in a state, “nexus” was established, and they would be required to charge sales tax. Amazon’s response? Instead of being faced with a larger tax bills on all their sales in that state, they opted to simply terminate affiliate programs in those states. Learn more in our article on the affiliate nexus tax.
What affiliate networks and software do you think will work best for your business? Let us know in the comments!Tagged With: Affiliate Marketing, Comparison