Best Affiliate Programs For Publishers: ShareASale vs Commission Junction vs LinkShare vs Amazon Associates

To sustain this free service, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. This doesn’t affect rankings. Our review process.

1st
CJ Affiliate logo
2nd
ShareASale logo
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Rakuten Linkshare logo
Amazon

Are you looking for a way to make some extra cash with your website or blog? Or maybe you’re on the flip side of this equation and want publishers marketing your products in exchange for a commission?

Article Overview

Publishers

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 pays and how to get started, so you can begin monetizing your content with publisher affiliate programs!

Merchants

If, as a “merchant”, you 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 compelling 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. If you’re a publisher, keep reading, this article is for you.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

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. 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.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Differ From “Refer-A-Friend” Programs?

Refer-A-Friend programs are frequently offered to customers, trying to get them to refer their friends to the service in exchange for a discount, credit, or free product. From a monetary perspective, these typically pay less than affiliate programs.

If you’re successfully racking up credits in a refer-a-friend program, you may want to ask the company if you could establish an affiliate relationship instead, given the volume of high quality leads (i.e. business) you’re sending their way. Remember – you’re helping them increase their bottom line, so you deserve something in return. And if they don’t play ball, you could always send your leads to a competitor instead.

How Can I Calculate The Value Of My Lead/Referral?

The answer to this question goes beyond the scope of this article, since what you’re looking for is the lifetime value of a lead. In high value industries like life insurance there’s complex calculations involved that address the quality of a potential lead, lifetime value based on residuals (for how long do they renew and continue paying, etc.)

For simpler products and services, you may be able to get a ballpark idea by taking the price of a product and multiplying it by a conversion percentage. For example, if your web page gets 1,000 impressions per day, and of those, 100 click on a link to a merchant’s landing page, you have a 10% click conversion rate. If 10 of those 100 that land on the merchant’s site convert into a sale (10% lead conversion rate), that gives you a 1% overall (10/ 1,000) conversion rate.

If the product goes on sale for $1,000 and is a one-time purchase per customer (i.e. does not “renew,” like a television for example), and the net profits per television for the company after costs and taxes is $150, then they can afford to pay you up to that amount and still be profitable. They may start by offering you a really low commission, say $25, which means on every TV you help them sell they make $125.

If you familiarize yourself with industries, you can become more familiar with companies’ cost structures, and get a better idea of your earning’s potential. With publicly traded companies you can find the numbers you need in their financial filings. Often times these numbers will be similar across niches, so you can apply a similar cost structure to a private competitor as a starting point.

The idea is to negotiate your way to a higher commission. The TV provider, for example, will not want you sending their leads to a competitor, and they know that even for a steep $140 commission, they earn $10 per television sold. It pays as a publisher to invest in due diligence to obtain this competitive edge and to maximize your profitability.

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 value calculation that I described above, for example, gets done for you here as many companies compete against each other to get publishers’ business in a competitive market environment.

The better affiliate networks (see below for the ones we recommend) also offer reporting, monthly payouts and a one-stop-shop for setting up multiple relationships with one easy application and account setup. They provide a central 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 determine 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 is the fit for you and your brand.

Amazon Associates – In A Class Of Its Own

First and foremost is Amazon Associates. As you may have noticed, we ranked them in their own category. This is because the Amazon Associates program is so comprehensive and unique, it can be used in tandem with other programs. Pretty much anything you find on Amazon you can refer in exchange for a commission. Their portal helps you search for products, and create creatives on the fly.

That being said, often times there will be a product that is also available on an affiliate network and will pay higher commissions than Amazon. The one thing to keep in mind is that Amazon Associates pays commissions on everything that’s in the consumer’s shopping cart, not just the product you referred them for.

We review the top affiliate networks in-depth so you can find out which is best for your needs.

CJ Affiliate By Conversant Review

#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. 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 factor. 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 our pick for best affiliate networks is a good match for you.

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.

CJ Screenshot

ShareASale Review

#2

Visit Website

ShareASale (SaS), another large-scale program, has weathered the changing landscape of affinity marketing since it launched in 2000. In January 2017, the company, along with its 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 35.5 million 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, it 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”) 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 quickly 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 Review

#3

Visit Website

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 paid on a set date every month.

Key Features

  • Ability to create rotating ad banners easily with one snippet of code improves site management capability
  • Excellent deep linking tools which allow 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
  • Dashboard is easy to navigate
  • 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

Publisher 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

Amazon Associates Review

Amazon Associates logo

View on Amazon

Its huge popularity, speedy shipping and the wide variety of products carried make becoming an Amazon affiliate a no-brainer for many publishers. It’s free to join and easy to create an account. They do have guidelines on how you display their products and links and are strict about these and other requirements.

You’ll earn a commission if your visitor purchases a product within 24 hours of their visit to Amazon (within 90 days if they put the item in their cart). And even if your visitor doesn’t buy the product you referred, you’ll still earn a commission if they buy other things during that visit. 

With a couple of product categories, you can earn as much as a 10% commission on sales through your website. However, most of the popular categories fall between 4%-2%. So depending on your site content, you may be able to earn more elsewhere.

We’ve found it is easy to use Amazon in tandem with any of the other affiliate programs listed in this article. While the commission is generally not as high, there is virtually an endless supply of products to promote.

Pros

Cons

  • Free to join and easy to set up an account
  • Brand trusted by millions of consumers
  • Broad range of niches
  • Solid reporting tells you what’s getting clicks and what’s selling
  • Many ad banner sizes and shapes
  • Share links on Twitter and Facebook
  • Manage multiple sites from one account
  • Robust Product Advertising API
  • Low commissions compared to some top affiliate programs
  • Can’t include affiliate links in emails to your readers
  • No PayPal payment option, but they do have direct deposit
  • Some user complaints about poor tech support

Publisher Terms

You’re initially approved for an account for 180 days. However, if you don’t make a sale through your affiliate links on your site within that time, Amazon will suspend your account. So it’s important to have a good strategy before signing up.

Screenshot

Here’s what it looks like when you are logged into an affiliate account. On the product’s listing, there is a banner at the top where you can get the image and/or text link to embed or link to.

Amazon Affiliate Screenshot

Didn’t Find An Affiliate Program Promoting The Product You Cover? Try These Networks

In our experience it can take searching a whole host of affiliate networks at times to find an active opportunity for a particular product or service you’re interested in promoting. If you came up empty with the top networks above, give these a try.

Affiliate Manager | FlexOffers | Impact Radius | LinkConnector

Affiliate Manager Review

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

Publisher Terms

  • 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 Review

FlexOffers logoVisit Website

FlexOffers has 10+ years of experience and more than 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 your content or interests.

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 can make it seem intimidating for those new to affiliate marketing

Publisher Terms

  • 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 Review

Impact Radius logoVisit Website

Founded in 2008 (by former founders of Commission Junction), Impact Radius differentiates itself 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”

Publisher Terms

  • Payout info not available on their website

Impact Radius Screenshot

LinkConnector Review

LinkConnector logoVisit Website

Like Impact Radius, LinkConnector focuses on quality. They also do what their name suggests and “links” and “connects” you with partners with whom they have built relationships  since 2004. Unlike other affiliates, with LinkConnector, merchants can 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) for 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 (i.e., 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

Publisher Terms

  • Payout info is not available on their website

LinkConnector Screenshot

How Do I 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 find opportunities to capitalize on their popularity.

Top Categories

According to Affiliate Summit’s Affiliate Marketing Statistics Benchmark Report, the top five categories that affiliates are promoting 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.

Make Money On Your Website In Other Ways

If you’re looking for other ways to make money on your website you may want to consider these Adsense alternatives. Keep in mind that not all companies offer affiliate opportunities, so having some ads on your website could be lucrative.

What affiliate marketing programs do you recommend?

About The Author:

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations in the late 1990s, Sally began a long career researching and writing about business, technical and scientific topics.

Her decades of experience as well as a passion to stay on top of the latest online tools and resources combine to help small businesses (and freelancers like herself) flourish.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

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14 Comments
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Oldest Most voted
Tno
September 2, 2018 9:50 pm

Have you contacted CJ support lately? I’ve opened 3 support tickets and the first ticket was around 3 weeks ago. Today, still no answer for any of my tickets. Anyone else having this issue? This is not a good sign. It’s more of a sign of a company ready to go down.

JD Coetzee
August 28, 2018 9:19 am

What is the best affiliate program that let’s me easily export specific products to Xml/Csv?
Thanks.

Harish Kumar
June 18, 2018 8:12 am

Thanks for feeding a great knowledge man, I am going to sign up with share a shale affiliate program, keep doing this quality work and keep sharing.

Sbsankar Sutradhar
June 17, 2017 10:45 pm

Thank’s for the List. I just started a blog and searching for Top Affiliate Programme. Your One Post is the Answer for my query.

(Admin)
Kimberly Alt
June 19, 2017 8:32 am

Glad we could help you find the best affiliate program for you! Good luck!

Hopkins
May 20, 2017 3:23 pm

hello nice article please i am a newbie to affiliate marketing. i am about launching my blogger site. is it advisable to use blogger for an affiliate and please what are the best two affiliate programs for non-US citizens tho my target audience is US

(Admin)
Jeff Butler
May 22, 2017 9:14 am

You can use Blogger to add affiliate links without any concerns. Our article above is geared towards a US audience, so we stand by CJ and ShareASale as the top two affiliate networks for publishers (and they both allow international Publishers).

Alex
April 8, 2017 6:51 pm

Your affiliate link for CJ goes to Rakuten.

(Admin)
Jeff Butler
May 22, 2017 9:11 am

This has been fixed, thank you!

MicGoogle
October 10, 2016 1:50 am

Thanks for this post

Allison Reed
January 20, 2016 9:16 am

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

BeauSian
January 20, 2016 6:15 am

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

JTBivens
November 8, 2015 2:26 am

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
November 9, 2015 9:59 am

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