As the owner of a rewards site, I do not have a choice but to work with many different affiliate networks. That said, if I had the choice I probably wouldn’t work with a few of them. Affiliate managers and merchants often ask me which networks I like and which I do not like. Rather than complain about what I don’t like, I decided to put together my “dream network,” or what it would look like to take the best components of each and put them all together.
(As a bit of background, I’m not a “Super Affiliate” by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have some good niches and databases. I don’t market to a million people or do paid search at all. I’m pretty much your average content affiliate.)
Personal Communication: Hands down, ShareASale and buy.at do the best job of communicating on a one-on-one basis with affiliates. They make it easiest to talk to them via email, forum, Twitter, Facebook, and just about any other way that I could possibly want to talk to them. I know that I can get in touch with at least one person with either of these networks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Troubleshooting and Problem Solving: In a way this goes along with communication, but ShareASale definitely stands out for this. I’ve sent messages via ABW forum or Twitter and gotten responses from the management team there within an hour. Actual responses to my questions and not just passing the buck. Some networks make you wait 1-2 business days for responses. That isn’t acceptable when our industry never stops. Even worse, some of the networks hide behind “help desk” email addresses and names and you can’t just communicate with someone until you get an issue resolved. It’s infuriating and it can result in lost revenue for all of us (Linkshare, I’m talking to you specifically on this one). Trouble ticket/help desk systems can work well when there is accountability behind them but they aren’t helpful when you have emergency situations or not actual point of contact.
Finding and Applying to Merchants: While no one network stands out for this, some are definitely better than others. Commission Junction makes it easy to search for and apply to a whole list of merchants at once. I also seem to get good results on my search terms, even if I do not know the exact merchant name that I am looking for.
Coupons and Discounts: This is huge for us at Sunshine Rewards and we need to automate as much as possible. It doesn’t do us any good when we get hot coupons but can only download them once a day. We end up loading the coupons manually from the emails before we can download as much as 24 hours later. Because of this, I favor the networks that allow coupons to be downloaded as they are added such as Linkshare and ShareASale. The one way that Google excels in that they allow you to decide which types of coupons and discounts you want to download.
Reporting: Obviously most affiliates are going to favor real-time reporting over batch reporting. I like when I can manipulate the data in different ways easily. ShareASale and buy.at are the best for transactions coming up quickly. Commission Junction is great for allowing easy downloads that can be manipulated in different ways. Linkshare has the easiest way to find individual product sales, which can be important for some of my niche sites.
Credit Disputing: Often we have to report when we do not get credit for a purchase. Some networks do not have a mechanism for this at all. Both Linkshare and Commission Junction make it easy to file disputes for credits, and Linkshare even lets you “escalate” a denial for further review. This helps keep track of outstanding issues and ensure that they are actually getting to the merchants.
Newsletters: I would much rather get links in a newsletter than have to click on the “Get Link” in an email to generate the links. I don’t know how much this depends on the affiliate manager, but it seems like the Google, ShareASale, and Linkshare links are most likely to come right in the newsletter. I also like the ability that some networks have to send the newsletters to multiple people in my company because I am not the one who pulls the coupon links from the newsletters.
Video: I haven’t been using too many videos through the networks lately, but ShareASale makes it easiest for me to add their links to my own videos and many of their merchants have video links now. buy.at has a new video tool but I honestly haven’t used it because I haven’t come across any good videos for merchants that I am running with them. Video on the networks doesn’t matter too much to me because I find people click on the links around the embedded video anyway.
Advanced Tools: I love the Linkshare LinkGenerator and CouponSnap. As a blogger, there is nothing simpler than navigating to a page and then clicking on the little box on my browser to generate my link. If every network had these, I would do a lot more product reviews. ShareASale offers a pretty easy way to generate a link to a specific page as well, although you do need to go into the interface and do it. I like that deep linking functionality to pages where I want to refer my visitors to a full category of products. All of the networks are hit or miss to me on how easy it is to pull links for individual products. It seems that a lot of that comes down to the merchants as well.
I could go on for hours about other features and each of the networks specifically, but you would get pretty bored. These hit the high points for me. What would your dream network look like?