Before you can launch your new affiliate program, you need to decide on the right affiliate marketing platform to use – but what exactly should you be looking for anyway?

First, it helps to think about the components that will make your affiliate program work in the first place – like reports and tracking, referral rates, the affiliate area, campaigns, creatives, and emails, for example. When deciding on which platform to use, you’ll want to look for features that make these things easier, more streamlined, or integrated with the tools you want to use.

In this post, we’ve created a brief guide to some of the most essential features to aide you in the process. Let’s get started!

Software or network?

Do you want to be more hands-off, or manage everything yourself? This is a key question to ask because it will determine whether you choose to use affiliate software or an affiliate network. Affiliate networks can be good for getting access to a lot of pre-qualified affiliates at once, but using affiliate software in combination with your own site can give you more control, more freedom, and potentially – more money.

Here are just a few pros and cons to consider:

Affiliate network pros:

Affiliate network cons:

  • You’ll have to pay commission fees, service fees, and network fees (among others)
  • You won’t have access to any affiliates who aren’t on the network

Affiliate software pros:

  • Overall lower costs of operation compared to networks
  • More versatility, control, freedom, and customization
  • You’re not limited in terms of the affiliates you bring on board

Affiliate software cons:

  • It requires more technical expertise and can be more complicated
  • All of the marketing is up to you

Alternately, you might prefer a non-network affiliate platform that is managed off-site, requiring less WordPress knowledge and technical skills, but not necessarily beholden to the limitations or costs of an affiliate network. Whichever type of platform works for you, there are some standard features you can expect in order for your program to be able to function properly:

1. An interface that enables both you and your affiliates

At the most basic level, you need a solution that is going to let you manage your affiliates, campaigns, and referral rates – and your affiliates need a place to go where they can monitor their own performance, have access to creatives, and seek assistance if needed.

As the publisher (admin), you may want to do things like:

  • View your top earners
  • Edit and update affiliate accounts
  • Set affiliate referral rates
  • Add, review, and approve new affiliates
  • View and export reports for things like referrals, affiliates, visits, and campaigns
  • Upload and manage creatives
  • Customize your affiliate payment emails

An affiliate area (or affiliate dashboard) can go a long way when it comes to keeping your affiliates active and engaged. If it’s easy for them to stay involved, see their progress, and get the materials and support they need, they are more likely to succeed – and that means less dormant affiliates down the line!

Your affiliates may want to do things like:

  • View their earnings, payouts, and commission rate(s)
  • View their performance statistics
  • Easily access creatives
  • Get custom affiliate URLs
  • Change their email and notification settings

2. Integrations with the tools you plan to, or already use

It’s important that the affiliate platform you use works well with any platforms, plugins, or other eCommerce, membership, or communication tools that you use in order for you to manage your program effectively and keep the process user-friendly for your affiliates.

For example, maybe you’re a savvy WordPress user who manages your own membership site. In this case, you probably want your affiliate platform to integrate seamlessly with your membership plugin, your email marketing services, forms, and other important elements of your site.

Some common integrations include:

  • Gravity forms
  • MailChimp
  • Paypal
  • Stripe
  • Restrict Content Pro
  • Paid Memberships Pro
  • WooCommerce
  • Easy Digital Downloads

3. Reports and tracking

One of the most important aspects of running an affiliate program is tracking and measuring progress and performance. Without data, how can you figure out what’s working and what’s not? When choosing an affiliate platform, this should be high up on your list!

Key performance indicators (or KPIs) include things like conversion rate, reversal rate, click-through rate, cost per click / lead / sale, incremental sales / revenue, number of sales actions, active affiliate rate, return on ad spend, average order value, and traffic growth. Many affiliate platforms provide some kind of tracking, but these are just a few of the most important data sets you want to be able to access.

When evaluating an affiliate platform, ask:

  • Is it easy to measure affiliate performance?
  • Does it provide detailed reports, data, and graphs for referrals, affiliates, visits, and campaigns?
  • Can you export reports and referrals to .CSV?
  • Can you filter reports by day, week, month, quarter, and year?

4. An easy way to manage creatives

One of the most essential parts of affiliate marketing is creatives, so it’s important that the platform you choose makes it easy to add, edit, and manage any creatives you want to use. Features that allow for unlimited creatives as well as easy generating and copying of text links and HTML for banners and other images are also ideal!

5. Quality documentation and support

If you’re going to work in-depth with an affiliate platform, you want to be sure that there’s adequate documentation you can refer to if you get stuck! The technical side of running an affiliate program can present all kinds of different challenges, but knowing that you have a lifeline really helps.

Quality support is also essential. Does the platform you’re assessing have a proven track record of providing effective support to paid customers? This can make a huge difference down the line if you run into any issues that you can’t solve on your own.

6. A money-back guarantee (or trial version)

As with most software sold online, money-back guarantees are especially important because they remove any financial risk you assume when purchasing the product. A money-back guarantee is also a good indicator that the company you’re buying from is confident in their product – and confident that you’ll be satisfied!

Does the platform you’re evaluating offer something resembling a 30-day money-back guarantee? What about a trial version, or trial period? At least one of these options should be present for any legitimate affiliate marketing platform.

The master checklist

Networks aside, let’s recap the top questions to ask yourself when deciding if an affiliate marketing platform is right for you:

  • Does it work with my theme?
  • Does it integrate with my eCommerce platform, plugin, form builder, or other services?
  • Is it easy to set up?
  • Is it versatile and customizable?
  • Can I easily manage my affiliates?
  • Can my affiliates easily access their stats, payouts, creatives, and other resources?
  • Does it provide adequate reports and tracking features?
  • Is it developer-friendly?
  • Does it include any extras that appeal to me?
  • Is there adequate support and documentation if I get stuck?
  • Is it within my budget?
  • Is there a money-back guarantee or trial version?

Hopefully this post has given you some guidance when it comes to deciding on the right affiliate marketing platform for you, but keep in mind that the features you prioritize will depend on your individual goals. The platform you choose will play a major part in your affiliate program as a whole, so dedicating some time to making the right decision can’t hurt!

Do you have some advice to share when it comes to affiliate marketing platforms? What have you found to be most effective when it comes to your own program? Be sure to drop us a comment below!

Mandy Jones

About the author: Mandy is a content writer at Sandhills Development, singer/songwriter/musician, and founder of Looplicious. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she's a frequent traveler and animal lover with a passion for creativity and maker culture.

4 comments

  1. I have been in affiliate sales for 8 years, I want to tell you that I am not willing to invest in products that do not attract potential customers. I have gone through very bad times and I do not want to fall into the same, I need a lot of help, conosco
    everything that implies working as an affiliate, (autoresponders, google analytics, google adwords, clickbank, clicksure, clickbetter, JVZoo, SEO, google blogger blogs, how to place a banner and what it takes and advertising mails, blueprint, videos and post- cart). You have to invest, if you know !, but invest in products that really convert and attract.

         Thank you, I wish you had listened to me, now I just wait for your options and other tips to get ahead.

          See you soon, cordial greetings

  2. We once did implement affiliate wp but did not renew the license. Now recently we discovered a huge fatal failure with affiliate wp – every registering as affiliate partner get instant admin access with no reason through affliliate wp and this is a no go….
    As we cannot find any support without renew license we did not find and hint what kind of situation affiliate wp is unknowingly producing for customers…
    And I do not understand this company not having any wise forum on wordpress.org or just a confusing big knowledge base without any help…

    1. @dieter that happened due to a configuration on your site and not due to an error in AffiliateWP.

      In the General WordPress settings screen, your “New User Default Role” option was set to Administrator. This results in all new user accounts being assigned the Administrator role. Note, this is a setting from WordPress itself and not AffiliateWP.

      Setting the “New User Default Role” to “Subscriber” will resolve the issue.

  3. Nice post, Each an Every Affiliate Network you mention has their Terms & Conditions. It is very good information to work on to increase the revenue of yours. Thanks for this information again.

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