Affiliate Networks – Considerations and Processes

Posted on 23. Aug, 2012 by in Digital Marketing

For any affiliate program, choosing the right affiliate network is key. Getting it wrong means that the program won’t prosper and it will be difficult to recruit quality affiliates and drive the program’s growth. So how would you go about deciding which to choose? And how many should you work with? Here are some helpful guidelines of what to look for, to ensure that you choose the best fit for your brand.

There are numerous affiliate networks out there and sometimes it can be quite confusing to decide which one is most appropriate for your brand. A good place to look is on the Affiliates 4U Forum, where each affiliate network is listed and you can get a snapshot of which merchants are working with each network. Or if you decide to use an agency, like LBi, to run your program, they will have a wealth of knowledge and insight into the most suitable networks for your brand and will be able to manage the whole network selection process for you.

Once you have a shortlist of suitable networks, then it’s worth looking at their sites to find out more about each network, and there should be a more detailed client list. One key thing to note is that each network will be shouting about their own account management levels, reporting capabilities and reach to affiliates, so it’s important to delve a bit deeper to get to the crux of what they will offer your individual affiliate program. The level of support will very much vary, dependent on how significant your brand is.

Affiliate Networks

  A key way to help differentiate between networks and what they are offering is to set up an RFP process. This way, each network will put together a pitch that is tailored and bespoke to your affiliate program for you to review. We would recommend having a shortlist of no more than 4 networks to send in their proposals. From there, you would select the ones that have the best responses and invite them in to present. This is a key time to ask them questions in a lot more detail. Don’t be afraid to ask how your affiliate program fits into their overall portfolio and what level of support you will get. This is a crucial factor to consider, and you need to ensure that the network you choose is going to give you the levels of support that you need.

So what if you like 2 of them and can’t decide? There’s no hard and fast rule as to how many affiliate networks you can work with. But as a guide, most UK affiliates are signed up to most of the affiliate networks in the UK. A successful affiliate program can run on just one network exclusively, and this means all resource is consolidated which may benefit you from a commercial and service perspective depending on the contract you agree. However by running on 2 networks, it can deliver up to an additional 20% in revenue and also increases competition between the two networks. You need to make sure the additional revenue is not outweighed by the additional time and resource needed to manage this second network though!  Remember you’ll have to do things twice – sending out newsletters for example. The final consideration is that most networks will want exclusivity – and when you are running the pitches you need to make it clear to the networks if you are going to be running the program on one or two networks.

When you have decided on the network(s) that you would like to work with, it is recommended that you implement a Service Level Agreement. This way, anything that was agreed to in terms of roles & responsibilities, along with their account management will be clearly documented and everyone is clear as to what is expected from each party. Service Level Agreements with a network are common place for affiliate programs that are managed by an agency, as the roles can be clearly defined – helping you get the best out of everyone.

To sum up, choosing an affiliate network is a crucial part of ensuring the success of your affiliate program. However if you are short on resource and time, an option is to outsource the whole process to an agency and they will run the program on your behalf, utilising their long standing relationships with the networks to negotiate preferential rates.  If you do decide to go it alone, doing the research is a key factor, and by following a pitch process it allows you to see their proposal for your individual affiliate program. Don’t be afraid to ask around in the industry to get feedback either – people will be more than happy to share their experiences, where they are good or bad!

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  • Matt Bailey


    A good article but you do seem to omit the fact that there are options outside of working with affiliate networks. More and more brands and agencies are beginning to see the benefits of either building their own technology or utilising a 3rd party, such as my company Performance Horizon Group, to provide them with an alternative to working with a network.

    The landscape within affiliate marketing is changing.


    • Anon

      Are new-to-market brands best suited to in-house technology rather than a network though? Aren’t Networks or Agencies better placed for this?

      • Matt Bailey

        HI Anon,

        Completely dependant on the brand in question, the vertical they operate in and a few other factors. Also, didn’t realise that this was a discussion about new to market brands, more about any brand in the space.


  • Rachael Spowart

    First of all, I do think it’s important to highlight the
    additional options that are available in this ever changing landscape. As
    you’ve kindly mentioned Matt this is obviously an area of the market that is
    evolving at a strong pace and although we don’t want to omit tracking solutions
    from the new network process, I do appreciate the point that Anon has made.

    I think that if you’re emerging into a new market, whether you
    are a strong brand or not, there are some fundamental setup factors that have
    to be taken into account and many brands may be nervous around executing those
    basics without the knowledge/support of an established affiliate network. I
    think this relates to the access a network or agency can offer to their pool of
    affiliates of which a new to market brand can capitalise and build from.

    They also have account managers who help market the program and
    great tools for communication, lots of affiliates signed up and can provide a
    host of PR around a new program. At this stage of the game with tracking
    solutions the impression can very much be that these are more well suited to
    established brands who want to advance on the data they can access, build and
    grow their stronger affiliates from this insight and effectively save money.

    Although I appreciate fully and support tracking solutions such as PHG I think
    they are suited to bigger brands to manage their partners more closely.