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Best Affiliate Programs for Publishers: ShareASale vs Commission Junction vs LinkShare & More

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CJ Affiliate logo
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ShareASale logo
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Rakuten Linkshare logo

Publishers – are you looking for a way to make some extra cash with your website or blog? If you get decent traffic to your website, then as a “publisher” (of content on the internet) you can make a nice income by participating in affiliate marketing programs through the most popular network portals. These include CJ (formerly Commission Junction), ShareASale, Rakuten (formerly LinkShare), and more. We’ll discuss how they work, what each one pays and how to get started, so you can begin monetizing your content!

Merchants – or maybe you’re on the flip side of this equation and you want publishers marketing your products in exchange for a commission? If as a “merchant” are willing to pay a referral fee for this “word of mouth”-esque approach to marketing in the digital age, affiliate marketing is the right place for you. Sound exciting? It certainly is, and it’s a very powerful way to drive business for yourself and your partners. If you’re a merchant, head on over to our article that compares affiliate marketing networks vs affiliate tracking software to get started. If you’re a publisher, keep reading, this article is for you.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

First things first, let’s learn more about what the heck this is! 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.” Maybe you’ve also heard it referred to as affinity marketing or referral marketing. No matter the name, the outcome is the same. How does it work? You refer your readers to a company’s website with which you have an affiliate partnership established, and if that reader makes a purchase on that partner site, you receive compensation in the form of a percentage of the total sale price or a flat payment. SCORE!

What Is an Affiliate Network?

An affiliate network is a site that acts as an intermediary between merchants and publishers to help them find and establish partnerships without all the confusion and overhead of a direct relationship. The better affiliate networks (see below for the ones we recommend to get you started) also offer reporting, monthly payouts, a one-stop shop for setting up multiple relationships with one easy application and account setup, a place to find all the links, the logos and banner ads you will need to get started, and more. The details of what each network offers can differ, so be sure to take a look at our review to find out which of these companies will best serve your needs.

What Are the Best Affiliate Programs?

It really depends on the nature of your website and the number of visitors your site generates. Let’s get to know the primary affiliate marketing websites to see which offers the best fit for you and your brand. Find out which is best to help you get started by comparing the best affiliate programs out there today: ShareASale vs CJ vs LinkShare (now Rakuten).

CJ Affiliate by Conversant

#1

Visit Website

Formerly known as Commission Junction, CJ Affiliate by Conversant (or “CJ”) has been around for nearly 15 years and is one of the largest affiliate marketing programs out there. Boasting more than 3,000 merchants, CJ is known for having more big-name companies, like Home Depot, Apple, TurboTax and Boden, than other top affiliate programs. Depending on your business, their extensive network of prominent names can be a positive or a negative. As an affiliate publisher, you’ll likely see a lot more competition, and you need to be approved by merchants to become an affiliate – typically, your website is held to a higher standard and must be professional and polished. With that said, you have a lot more flexibility to choose advertisers and specific products than other programs provide. CJ Affiliate is free to sign up, so give them a try to see if they’re a good match.

Key Features

  • Web-based email offers direct communication between advertisers and affiliates
  • Notifies affiliates if a link or ad is no longer working
  • Provides updated lists of advertisers’ incentives for affiliates
  • Search by publisher tools for merchants
  • Real-time reporting; performance and transaction reports
  • Flexibility to choose your advertisers and specific products
  • Reliable monthly payments through direct deposit or check
  • Invalid click report – publishers can easily see what advertiser links are currently inactive

Pros

Cons

  • Free, quick and easy sign-up
  • Flexible affiliate linking and many banner ad sizes
  • Mobile ads available
  • Intuitive search tools
  • Excellent reporting features
  • Ability to manage multiple affiliate websites owned by single affiliate publisher
  • No PayPal payment option
  • Customer support only via phone and web form (no email)
  • Some users say commission rates are generally lower than other top programs

Publisher Terms

  • Must maintain a minimum of $50 in your account to get paid monthly.

Screenshot

When logged into CJ, publishers get a quick snapshot of their daily performance, recommended advertisers and important tasks to be aware of.

CJ Screenshot

ShareASale

#2

Visit Website

ShareASale (SaS), another large-scale program, has weathered the changing landscape of affinity marketing since they launched in 2000. In January 2017, the company, along with their 4,500+ merchants were acquired by Affiliate Window, known more for their international and global affiliate marketing presence. However, they ensure it will be a seamless experience for merchants and that they will continue to operate separately (for the foreseeable future). Read more about the Affiliate Window acquisition on the ShareASale Blog. While their merchant base may not be as well-known as CJ, they still offer a wide variety of advertisers to meet almost any publisher’s niche and even more so now that they’ve merged with Affiliate Window’s 1,600 existing brands across 77 sectors. In 2015, publishers generated 35.5million in sales and $297.6M in commissions from Affiliate Window alone so you know they’re highly successful in driving traffic and sales. The only thing you need to get started is a $5 payment for a security check and once approved will be credited back to your account.

Key Features

  • Search by sector, brand or keyword to find the publishers that are the right fit
  • Select from text links, widgets or product feeds/APIs to promote
  • Opportunity marketplace that allows publishers to create a custom directory of advertisers
  • Dedicated portal (aka “Hub”) that keeps publishers up to date on new product launches, news and special offers

Pros

Cons

  • Real-time reports to measure key performance initiatives, sales, clicks and commissions across various devices
  • Plug-ins and browser extension tools to easily create product links into trackable affiliate links
  • Large database of trusted advertisers with worldwide presence
  • Payout available in multiple currencies
  • Multiple industry awards
  • Live chat and phone support
  • Global company, which could mean less individualized attention
  • No FAQ or general support listed on website

Publisher Terms

  • Twice monthly payouts with low thresholds

Screenshot

Share A Sale Screenshot

Rakuten LinkShare

#3

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In business since 1996, Rakuten (formerly known as LinkShare) is one of the oldest programs out there, but they haven’t grown into the mammoth merchant networks that CJ and ShareASale have become. Rakuten has nearly 1,000 merchants to choose from, including some well-known brands, so it’s worth trying them out (it’s free to join as a publisher). What makes them stand out? Rakuten’s user interface is intuitive, and they offer a great feature where you can create a rotating ad banner much more easily than their competitors. The major downside? Payment terms are much more sporadic, so you’re not going to get a set date every month to get paid.

Key Features

  • Ability to create rotating ad banners easily with one snippet of code improves site management capability
  • Excellent deep linking tools which allows you to get potential customers directly to a specific product
  • Their sister site Popshops, one of the top data feed programs for publishers, gives you access to thousands of plug-ins to improve your site visitors’ experiences and your productivity

Pros

Cons

  • Real-time reporting
  • Easy dashboard to navigate their program
  • Flexible deep linking capability
  • Solid transaction reporting
  • Great help center with training tools and tutorial videos to help you get started
  • Fewer advertisers
  • Payment terms not as reliable
  • Reporting features not as hearty as top competitors
  • Customer service could use improvement
  • Not as many online service merchants as competitors

Pricing & Terms

  • Must contact Rakuten LinkShare

Screenshot

Rakuten also provides a quick snapshot of recent performance, new advertisers and new messages when logged in.

Rakuten screenshot

Other Affiliate Marketing Companies

Below you’ll find an alphabetical list of other affiliate marketing companies we’ve reviewed.

Affiliate Manager | FlexOffers | Impact Radius | LinkConnector

Affiliate Manager

Affiliate Manager logoVisit Website

Starting in 2002, Affiliate Manager operated under the name Suluta, but has grown over time to its current brand name AffiliateManager.com. They work with everyone from Fortune 500 companies and reputable brands like Holiday Inn and GoDaddy, to smaller start-ups that are new to the marketplace. They pride themselves on customer service and educating partners on the best way to do affiliate marketing (a mutually beneficial endeavor). They offer a free consultation for new publishers. However, not much other info is available on their website, so you must get in touch to get started.

Pros

Cons

  • Award-winning customer service and experienced staff
  • 3-month guarantee on profitability
  • Exclusive, seasonal promotions for publishers
  • Affiliate marketing industry award winner
  • Plenty of educational information on affiliate marketing and resources for publishers
  • Award-winning support including email and phone
  • They offer multiple products and tools (Bounce Links, Affiliate Reseller and Affiliate Recruitment) so their focus is a little scattered
  • Website doesn’t mention many features or info other than how to sign up

Pricing

  • Not available on website.

We do not have an account and were unable to find a screenshot of their portal to share for reference.

FlexOffers

FlexOffers logoVisit Website

FlexOffers has more than 10 years experience and access to over 10,000 advertisers (growing at a rate of 50 new advertisers daily). Their range covers over 25 categories in 27 countries, so they have a wide variety of opportunities no matter what your content or interests are. You can even “deep link” to a particular product page for approved vendors to make it that much easier for a customer to purchase. They also offer a FlexRev program that allows you to earn up to 50% of their profit through a revenue sharing model.

Pros

Cons

  • Access to 10,000+ advertisers
  • Sort by new, featured or industry
  • Detailed reports to track earnings per click, conversions and sales by geographic location and date
  • Update content automatically via APIs and subscriptions
  • Register multiple domains under one account to manage all in one place
  • Support via phone, email or ticket system (for existing accounts)
  • Robust online FAQ/support center to find answers to questions
  • Large database of advertisers and products can be overwhelming, making it difficult to decide which to select and how best to convert – although you can sort by top ranked links and EPC (earnings per click)
  • Reports of bugs in their PublisherPro platform
  • Lots of industry jargon on site which can make it seem a bit intimidating for those new to affiliate marketing

Pricing

  • Must have a balance of $50 to receive payment via check or direct deposit, net 30 (payment received within 30 days). PayPal available as a withdrawal option for balances of $100+ for affiliates outside the USA only. Publishers who generate more than $5,000 monthly revenue qualify to get paid net 7 (payment received within 7 days).

FlexOffers logo

Impact Radius

Impact Radius logoVisit Website

Founded in 2008 (by former founders of Commission Junction), Impact Radius differentiates themselves from other affiliate marketers by being a solution-based SaaS (Software as a Service) resource for both publishers and advertisers. They care more about the quality of relationships and optimizing higher-quality campaigns versus placing random product links on your site to “see what sticks”. They connect you directly with the advertisers to build a better partnership, so you can see better results (up to 17% higher if implemented using their recommended methods).

Pros

Cons

  • Access to 20+ built-in reports that you can schedule to be emailed to you
  • Global marketplace of exclusive brands you can’t work with anywhere else
  • Clean, easy to use interface
  • Access to case studies, whitepapers, webinars and other useful education tools
  • Higher-quality, vetted marketplace means stricter application process
  • Limited support “contact us and we’ll contact you”

Pricing

  • Payout info not available on their website

Impact Radius Screenshot

LinkConnector

LinkConnector logoVisit Website

Similar to Impact Radius, LinkConnector focuses on quality and does what their name suggests and “links” and “connects” you with partners they have built relationships with since 2004. Unlike other affiliates, with LinkConnector merchants have the ability to approve which websites promote their product and where their brand is displayed. This gives publishers the motivation to act responsibly and have better quality websites. They also offer Pay Per Call and Pay Per Go (lead) so there are multiple ways to earn. LinkConnector definitely rises above the rest in terms of differentiation, but they are more limiting due to their quality control process.

Pros

Cons

  • Only work with ethical, committed affiliates
  • Zero tolerance fraud policy
  • Short, unique “naked” links for referrals (ie. it looks like a direct link (links to example.com vs /go/example/), but still tracks your referral).
  • Unique coupon attribution so partners are fairly compensated for sales via private code (to prevent coupon hijacking)
  • Dedicated team of managers to help with programs and campaigns
  • Brands control where their links are displayed so approval is more rigorous
  • The LinkConnector platform caters more to advertisers than it does publishers

Pricing

  • Payout info is not available on their website

LinkConnector Screenshot

How Do You Get Started?

This video by CJ Affiliate by Conversant provides some useful tips on how to get started in the affiliate marketing business as a new way for web publishers to make money on their websites.

What’s Hot in Affiliate Marketing?

With so many merchants looking for online promotion, the types of products and services you can promote are endless. Many publishers choose to focus on a few specific areas. Do your research to see what categories you’d be interested in and if there are opportunities for you to capitalize on their popularity.

Top Categories

The top five categories that affiliates are promoting, according to Affiliate Summit’s Affiliate Marketing Statistics Benchmark Report, include:

  • Computer and Electronics
  • Clothing/Apparel
  • Business
  • Health & Wellness
  • Online Services

A Win-Win for Both Advertisers and Publishers

Affiliate Marketing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re vigilant with your approach and keep on top of the latest trends, you have real potential to earn solid monthly commission dollars as a publisher, and substantially increase your sales and product awareness as a merchant. And that’s where our best affiliate programs come to the rescue. And you don’t have to choose just one – given the variety of industries and advertiser offerings, it’s not uncommon for a publisher to be active on multiple affiliate networks and platforms. If done right, affiliate marketing can be a lucrative business.

Calling all bloggers and publishers! What affiliate marketing programs do you recommend?


About Sadie Cornelius
Sadie has acted as the email marketing coordinator and web designer for one of the world's largest travel companies and managed social media for dozens of major brands. She has a breadth and depth of web and marketing knowledge that reaches far and wide. She loves all things Mac and keeping up with all the latest web trends.
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5 Comments on "Best Affiliate Programs for Publishers: ShareASale vs Commission Junction vs LinkShare & More"

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MicGoogle
MicGoogle

Thanks for this post

Allison Reed
Allison Reed

Great post even for those who know nothing about affiliate marketing! Thanks a lot.

BeauSian
BeauSian

Thank you :), I’m going to start Commission Junction program 🙂 I hear some good news stuff about it.

JTBivens
JTBivens

ShareASale does not offer payment through PayPal. Many have asked for them to include it as an option. The only response ShareASale will give is that they “do not offer PayPal as an option at this time”.

Kimberly Alt
Admin
Kimberly Alt

Thanks for catching our error! We’ll be sure to update the article!

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