Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to make money online and monetize your website or social presence.
The only problem is finding the best affiliate programs and networks that you can trust and make good money with.
There are several vendors that will be obvious however there are many networks that may not be high street brand names but are some of the best companies to help you connect with the brands you want to work with.
So if you want to make a full-time income from your blog, website or social profiles I will help you to take a big leap towards becoming a super affiliate.
In this guide you will learn:
- Affiliate Marketing Basics
- The Best Affiliate Network Criteria
- A list of the best affiliate programs and networks
- How to find the best affiliate programs and products
- Tips for Affiliate Marketing Succes
- Common Affiliate Marketing Questions
Affiliate Marketing Basics
Affiliate marketing is simply referring customers to products and services that you recommend in exchange for a commission. This comes at no additional cost to the person you are referring and as such is a perfectly legitimate way to make money.
Not all affiliate programs are born equal and it is important to sweat the details when deciding who you want to work with.
Different affiliate programs have different terms, it's important to understand how these work if you are going to be successful.
Difference Between an Affiliate Program and an Affiliate Network
You may see me referring to both affiliate programs and affiliate networks so it's worth me distinguishing the difference from the outset.
As you know affiliate programs are when a company offers an affiliate commission when you promote their products or services online. This refers to the relationship between yourself and the end company selling said products.
An affiliate network, on the other hand, is a third party company that hosts many different affiliate programs in one place to make it more convenient for publishers since it's a lot easier to manage multiple affiliate programs in one dashboard.
Keep an eye out for affiliate networks that are signing up directly and then skimming off the top. Sure they are offering a service of convenience but if you can get a higher commission rate by going direct, you should!
Not all merchants support a self-hosted affiliate program but if they do then it's the best route to take to maximize profits and ensure you benefit from recurring commissions.
Tip: I mention the above comment of recurring commissions because I had an affiliate network that paid me a one-off $20 fee but they were getting a recurring commission for the lifetime of the users I referred. Had I signed up directly in the first place I would probably have made a lot more.
Cookie length is a big factor that can affect your returns from affiliate marketing. Amazon, for example, being the behemoth it is, only offers a 24 hour cookie period though their argument for that would be that their website converts far better than your typical eCommerce website and since it also shows recommended products based on the users history if they jump over and buy a different product you still earn the affiliate commission, not too bad!
Other vendors, usually the smaller outfits offer various cookie lengths like one week, one month and occasionally a never expiring cookie so you will earn the commission if they sign up a year later provided they haven't cleared their cookies and still use the same device that is!
Depending on the type of product and the vendor it is coming from you can expect to see affiliate commissions vary from as low as 1% up to 50%.
Usually, products on the higher end of the commission offered are info products such as eBooks and online courses or other digital downloads that could include software, apps or videos.
Amazon's affiliate commission rates vary based on product category and location and were recently revised to this new way of deciding the commission rates as it was historically set to start around 6% and rise up to 8% but after careful consideration, this was changed.
Ultimately if different categories offer different profitability levels it makes total sense, and Amazon isn't the only affiliate network to revise their terms.
Several others I work with have changed their terms in the past year to include different rates for recommending new customers and existing customers as well as home branded products vs items being resold that are manufactured by others, again offering diminishing returns.
Tip: Don't be distracted by the highest commission percentages, the quality of the product should always be the determining factor.
Recurring commissions are one of the most beautiful things for any super affiliate out there. Many recurring services such as hosting, VPN and autoresponders pay an affiliate commission for each renewal period the customer pays.
If you sign up a customer on a monthly cycle and they continue to use the service you get a payment each month.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a great thing to look out for when comparing which products to spend time marketing if you can build up a good number of sign-ups and maintain a good churn rate you can quickly start seeing some great returns.
What is churn? Churn is the rate of new signs ups vs drop-offs from your list or product, if your churn is positive then your monthly income will continue to keep growing.
High Ticket Vs High Volume
Many of you may be familiar with the term high-ticket items, this just means an item that has a high selling price, typically a high-ticket item also provides more value and should last an extended period of time but when we talk about affiliate income we are typically looking at the sale price.
It should go without saying that you should only ever promote products that provide value. If you don't believe in it and wouldn't buy it if you were in your customer's shoes, please, do yourself and mankind a favor, don't promote it!
Because high ticket items often sell for a lot of money that usually means the commissions are also high though that isn't always the case when an item is expensive to manufacture and has low-profit margins AND is being resold by a third party (like Amazon).
The best high ticket items are acquired either by working directly with the creator/manufacturer or through a smaller affiliate network than someone like Amazon.
The reason most super affiliates prefer high ticket items is that it's considered easier to convert 100 prospects on a $1000 product than it is to convert 10,000 people to buy a $10 product, both of which would gross $100k in revenue.
But, I know that is not always the case and that brings me to another approach high volume.
High volume products shouldn't be overlooked! When everybody is turning right, it's profitable to turn left! Be contrarian, it pays!
Let me explain.
There are several factors that might make you think twice about whether high ticket items are good for you or not.
There are a few other things to look for.
The first is trends, if you are a trend spotter and looking for the next big product then often you can make millions selling low ticket items before it's on the radar of the masses and most importantly your competition.
The other is competitiveness.
If everyone is promoting high ticket items and not pooling the time and resources into promoting smaller items you might find you can produce enough high-quality content to rank on page 1 of Google for ten different low ticket items before you can rank on the first page for one high ticket item.
The point here is, don't be scared to do the opposite of the competition, throw out conventional wisdom once in a while and test, test test.
and yes I have made a considerable amount of my affiliate income from low ticket items, but no I am not going to disclose those products and niches today,
Criteria for Evaluating the Best Affiliate Networks
Here is my list of the best affiliate networks to find profitable products and services you can start promoting from your website or blog.
Before we get to the list I want to cover the different criteria used to select the best affiliate programs and networks.
I have been making an income as an affiliate in one way or another since 2006, a long time ago and when I made those first few dollars I was happy just because I had a proof of concept, it worked!
Over the next decade, I realized there are lots of factors to look at when trying to find a good network or program to join.
So here are the most important factors to consider
Range of products
The range of products a particular network can offer is a good thing to look at for a couple of reasons.
Firstly it's much easier logging into one site to manage multiple products, this can be a great time saver and help you stay more organized. It doesn't mean you should go for quantity over quality but finding a balance helps if possible.
It also helps you reach the minimum payout terms, often different networks and programs won't actually pay out until you reach a threashold which can sometimes mean making $100 before you get to see any of the money.
If you are selling low ticket items that are also low volume or you can't consistently rank on Google for the product and generate conversions you might be stuck with money in lots of different affiliate networks that you can't even withdraw.
That sucks, and yes I have been there, I have probably lost thousands over the years if you accumulate all of the dust left behind.
But it's a lesson learned and I don't do that anymore, and fortunately, you can learn from my mistakes too.
When we look for a good affiliate program or network we also want to take a look at the software they use to run the affiliate dashboard.
Some dashboards instantly make sense and it's easy to find adds and look at detailed sales reports, others on the hand can suck!
As you gain experience signing up for different affiliate programs you will notice that some use the same software and interface while others use their own custom built system to manage everything.
Both can be good but it's more often a bespoke self-built system might not be all that user-friendly unless they are one of the top affiliate networks out there.
Trust is another big factor, ultimately whether you are working with an affiliate network or directly with a brand you are trusting them to be honest about the clicks and conversion data.
While this might be rare these days, especially with large and trusted vendors it has happened to be before and I have caught companies out for not counting sales.
Another thing you have to trust is that they will maintain their links, I have had affiliate links before lead to 404 pages when I came back a month later to check them, you then have to contact them to let them know their links are broken.
Not very professional!
You will, of course, have to go through a certain amount of trial and error but my aim is to outline affiliate networks and programs that I have used and know can be trusted.
Support and Management
Good support is important for any product and that is no different when finding good partners to affiliate yourself with.
Without this you are going to have a bad experience promoting their products and reporting on your sales and progress, even worse this may impact your customers, the people you are recommending these products to, in which case that's a big red flag.
Many affiliate programs will assign you an affiliate manager, somebody that you can contact directly when you have a question about anything from the products, links and offers to your tracking data and sales.
Making contact straight away is a great way to show you are keen and can lead to valuable benefits like exclusive vouchers and offers you can promote to your audience.
They may also set up landing pages for you on their website and general help and tips that will help you become a super affiliate far quicker than being head down 247 and not reaching out.
The Best Affiliate Networks
Okay, the part you have been waiting for, after so many people asking me "what are the best affiliate networks?" I have decided to create this list and keep it up to date as often as possible.
The big daddy of the eCommerce world owes a lot of its success over the years to the hundreds of thousands of associates (affiliates) that have worked tirelessly to create content to promote products on their site.
Many people don't realize just how many sales are being driven by independent authority websites and blogs to Amazon and while the data isn't available I can confidently say it's a lot!
The benefit of partnering up with Amazon is that it opens up a massive range of physical products as well as info products, Kindle eBooks and more.
If you run one website or multiple there's a very high chance you will be able to find lots of high-quality products you can talk about on your website or craft custom articles and guides around.
As mentioned Amazon adjusted it's commission percentages in 2017 and 2020 with some product categories going down to 1-2% commission.
Despite this Amazon remains one of the best affiliate programs you can sign up for however this change has got a lot of website owners and bloggers that rely on affiliate income to turn to alternatives and seek out smaller networks to work with.
If you are an experienced affiliate marketer then you will already know that diversification is key and you want to avoid having all of your income controlled by one or two entities. If they pull the rug from under you it can mean the end of your business, if you work with several networks simultaneously you can hedge against this kind of catastrophe.
Note: Amazon moves the goalposts whenever they want, in April 2020 they cut the commission rates in half for all categories, in some cases, it was more than half. This means what used to be 6 or 7% per sale is now more like 3%. They also slashed the rates in February 2017. The bottom line is, the Amazon commission rates change, and while it's a convenient system, other affiliate networks have much higher payouts.
Sign up here for Amazon Associates.
eBay Partner Network
Everyone knows eBay but not so many know that you can earn money by referring people to buy specific products and sign up.
The eBay Partner Network (EPN) has been around for a long time and it has been tried and tested by yours truly along with tens of thousands of other marketers and content creators.
Like Amazon, eBay features a wide range of physical products spanning pretty much every niche imaginable, due to their recognizable brand and conversion optimized website you can expect decent conversion rates.
You can earn between 50% and 70% of the auction fees made on any sales and the cookie duration varies from 24hours for Buy it Now products and 10 days for products that are listed for auction.
Keep in mind eBay don't sell products themselves, instead, people like you or me can list new or used products on the website for sale. eBay earns a fee from the sale and your commission is based on that amount not the price of the product being sold.
Sign up here for eBay Partner Network.
ClickBank is one of the daddies of info products and have been going since 1998, a lot longer than I have been involved in the space.
Suffice to say they have a lot of products so there is a high probability that you will find an info product you can sell on your website or blog if that kind of product makes sense.
The website is easy to use and you can filter and search products to find what you are looking for then use the details to find products that are popular sellers, trending or brand new if launch jacking if your thing.
If you are a content creator you might want to consider creating an info product of your own that you can sell on ClickBank and get other affiliates to promote for you, they make the process pretty easy for you.
As the saying goes "Power in Numbers" you can profit from affiliate marketing without being an affiliate yourself, or spoil yourself and do both.
That's what the true masters do!
As I said pretty much every niche is covered, while it's mostly digital goods they do also sell physical products also.
The commission rates and cookie duration vary based on the vendor and product you are selling which is typical of an affiliate network like this.
Join ClickBank here.
Commission Junction / CJ Affiliate
Commission Junction is another big name in the affiliate marketing space with a wide range of digital and physical goods, many don't know they are now CJ Affiliate (By Conservant).
Personally, I think they should have stuck with the original name but hey ho, the site still does exactly what it says on the tin and hasn't changed a massive amount in terms of usability and the opportunities available.
CJ Affiliate attracts major brands and advertisers so you are sure to find some names you recognize when browsing through the dashboard.
CJ have invested a lot of time and money into building some of the best promotional tools available and also have in-depth resources to help new affiliates get up to speed and benefit from their years of experience.
Sign up here for CJ Affiliate.
Rakuten Marketing which is phonetically pronounced "luck-ten" is the affiliate network behind Rakuten.com Japans largest eCommerce website. Think of this as Japans Amazon and while their website is a household name in Japan it's relatively unknown in the west.
Rakuten Marketings offers and advertisers aren't limited to the Rakuten eCommerce stores inventory as Rakuten actually acquired "LinkShare" in 2005 and rebranded it as Rakuten Marketing.
This was the move that took Rakuten into the global marketplace!
Rakuten still holds many affiliate programs for other companies with customers around the world, not just in Japan.
The commission rates are set on a merchant basis as are the cookie durations.
Sign up for Rakuten.
ShareaSale is another large and successful affiliate network that has been around for some time and has a large number of advertisers and offers available.
Everything from Software, SaaS and physical products are available with varying commission rates and cookie durations due to the wide scope of product categories and profit margins.
I have had a lot of success over the years with ShareaSale and would have to put it down as one of my best earning affiliate networks over the years.
I have used it to create physical product authority sites as well as to sell various services including hosting, WordPress themes and other tools.
ShareASale also has a large number of exclusive affiliate programs, as some websites like to market themselves through more than one network having exclusives is also a win.
Don't let their slightly less intuitive user interface fool you, this one is a must-have if you run a website or blog about pretty much anything and you are looking for ways to monetize your content.
Sign up here for ShareaSale.
Affiliate Window / Awin
One of the biggest Affiliate Networks based in Europe AffiliateWindow is another solid platform where you can find a good mixture of physical and digital products but unlike some of the networks, Awin has a great range of high street retailers.
While Awin might be European and have a good range of European outlets they do have plenty of advertisers in the US, Canada and around the world.
Awin provides products to a global marketplace and while they have less than 2000 advertisers (still a decent amount) they host affiliate programs from some of the biggest brands both online and off.
I used Affiliate Window to monetize a clothing and sneakers blog and this one network gave me access to a dozen or so merchants in this space that were already on my radar.
The software is easy to use and feels intuitive from the start.
Since Awin works with publishers and content creators of all sizes they offer a lower minimum payout threshold which is as low as $20 and you can get paid via Paypal or other methods.
Sign up for Awin here.
FlexOffers has an extremely large number of advertisers and offers millions of products and while this can be a good thing it may also mean the barrier to entry is low.
You should know by now that it's about quality over quantity!
Another factor that I think accounts for the large number of programs that FlexOffers often have products that are listed elsewhere online and they are essentially just an affiliate themselves signing up other affiliates on a 2-tier affiliate structure.
With that said I have had some success using FlexOffers and do believe it's a good option especially for those who really do prefer to have all of their offers in one dashboard to save time and make it easier for reaching the minimum payout amount.
FlexOffers also have a lot of well-known brand names like JCPenney, Macys, Bloomingdales, Avon and Canon to name a few.
The FlexOffers platform does feature a lot of great resources to help beginners to affiliate marketing get past their major pain points and is well worth reading through.
Pepperjam hasn't been on my radar as long as the majority of the platforms mentioned in this guide but nonetheless provides a good service.
I discovered Pepperjam because an existing affiliate merchant I was working with moved to this network from one of the others, at which point I had to switch over all of my links, but this was a blessing in disguise as I quickly connected up with a couple of other merchants that I hadn't heard of before or seen on other networks.
These grew into equally profitable relationships so I have nothing but good things to say about Pepperjam.
Pepperjam has a good selection of major brands including BBC, BlueMountain, BodyBuilding.com, DJI, and Dockers.
One feature Pepperjam supports is an API and RSS Feeds feature, this means you can import a merchants entire product inventory to your website and create your own eCommerce store.
I use this network on several of my niche authority sites.
Max Bounty is an affiliate program I have only started using over the last few years that is a little bit like JVZoo in that it specializes in info products and software more than anything else.
While I have found the quality of programs and advertisers is much lower and features very few big names it does still have some good niche companies creating software, SaaS and info products to help a wide range of people.
MaxBounty seems to be popular with influencers and YouTube channel creators and one feature I found that was nice is that you get a dedicated affiliate manager who is accessible and very helpful and will also help match or beat commissions you are making elsewhere.
Commission rates are generally high due to the nature of the products being digital, not physical and the cookie period varies based on the product.
Keep an eye on MaxBounty, I think they are only going to grow in the coming years.
If software and info products are what you are looking for the check out JVZoo. They have a massive collection of products and while there is a mix of good and not so good quality products you can quite quickly work out what's hot and what's not by filtering by sales data or looking at the best sellers over various periods of time.
Since JVZoo is all software and info products mostly created by smaller independent outfits the affiliate commissions can be as much as 50% of the sale price, which is like a joint venture since you are sharing the revenue with the product creator, now you know what the JV in JVZoo stands for.
The info products on JVZoo cover a wide range of industries and niches however the software tools are mostly aimed at internet marketers, social media influencers, and content creators.
JVZoo is easy to use and their website is easy to navigate and find what you are looking for and features an affiliate knowledge base to help get you started making commissions.
They have also added some cool features and tools, one of which is an Amazon Alexa skill that can read out your sales reports.
JVZoo cookies are lifetime global cookies. This means your cookie will not expire until the customer clears their cookies or another affiliate cookie overwrites yours. Your cookie will also be applied to all of the vendor products you are approved to promote. As long as you are the last cookie set you will get credit.
Visit JVZoo here.
Webgains seems to be a network that is missing off a lot of articles online and definitely deserves more mentions.
Their dashboard and platform are a little different to most but you soon start to realize how easy it is to do reporting, find new products to promote and get in touch with your affiliate manager.
Webgains have 1800 advertisers and 250,000 publishers making sales in 230 countries.
The advertisers span a wide range of physical goods eCommerce websites through to services and digital products across a various niches and categories.
I have been using Webgains for a couple of years and have no complaints so far.
They also support product feeds making it easy to import lots of products to WooCommerce or another eCommerce store if you want to build an affiliate product catalog website.
Visit Webgains here.
ImpactRadius is a little different to most affiliate networks in that they host affiliate programs for companies but you have your own account for each so it doesn't benefit as much from having all of your data in one place.
Getting used to the ImpactRadius software might take a while but since so many big software and SaaS companies opt to go this route it might be essential if you are planning to promote those kinds of products.
Being a web developer and tech enthusiast I have used ImpactRadius for lots of different affiliate programs over the years and have gradually got used to it.
I am mostly including Impact Radius because its used by some major brands and I still see new companies popping up that use it all the time, it's not on the list for being user-friendly though so may be worth avoiding if you are a complete beginner.
But what about...
There are many many affiliate networks out there and ultimately some didn't make the list.
This is either because they aren't really suitable for this list or they are low quality and low volume.
SkimLinks and Viglink are interesting tools that automatically scan your content to find mentions of product names that it can automatically convert into affiliate links. You then share the affiliate commissions earned.
I used SkimLinks years ago and personally wasn't all that impressed, it often converted strange things into products and personally I think it's more important to have full control over all of the products you link to and where you link from, so personally I would pass on these tools unless you really can't think for yourself and seek out some opportunities.
Using Skimlinks and the like is very much a "spray and pray" strategy that I don't endorse.
How to find the best affiliate programs
Now you know the best affiliate networks to sign up to, the first part of finding the best affiliate programs should be obvious.
Start exploring these affiliate networks for specific products or products in your niche.
Evaluating Affiliate Programs
Once you have found some products you then need to evaluate the program by looking at:
Quality - Is it a quality product or service? Have you used it yourself and can you comfortably vouch for it? If not you need to do extensive research before putting your name to an unfamiliar product.
Cookie duration - Longer is better of course but don't let a short cookie duration put you off.
Commission percentage - You want to find products that pay a reasonable commission but always factor in what the profit margins are before turning your nose up at an offer. Also keep in mind they may have a more intricate commission structure than a flat 10% on all sales.
Freshness - There are several ways of evaluating how current a product is. Is the product new? Has it been recently updated? Is it regularly maintained and improved? Is it trending or a little outdated?
Sales Performance - Some but not all affiliate programs will display their sales data, if you have this information to hand then it can help you separate the quality products from the trash.
Once you have used the above criteria for finding some good affiliate programs to promote go ahead and apply to promote them.
Make sure you have a property like a website, blog or social channel you can tell them about when you apply to improve your chances of being accepted.
The alternative to using affiliate networks is to seek affiliate relationships directly with brands and retailers.
You can do this by creating a shortlist of the products and brands in your space that makes sense for your content and audience.
Then visit each of their websites and search the page for the following words affiliate and refer and see if they have a link to an affiliate page about their program.
You will usually find this link in the footer but the best way to search a page is to hit Ctrl+F or CMD+F and then type the phrase you are looking for.
Some companies may have a referral program and not actually list it on their website.
So head over to our friend Google and search "niche/brand/product affiliate program" and see if you can find the page that way.
Here are three examples:
- sportswear affiliate program
- adidas affiliate program
- sneaker affiliate program
The below screenshot shows the results from searching "sneaker affiliate program" and as you can see nearly 7 million results and on the first page we have a mixture of sneaker stores with their specific pages advertising their programs through to affiliate networks and a major brand like Nike is in there too.
If no products or brands come to mind then that might be a problem, not only because it limits your ideas but also because it begs the question as to whether your content can be monetized.
That said you can monetize pretty much any niche or topic so it should be pretty difficult not to have any ideas.
There is one weapon left though, competitive research!
Take a look at other websites in the same niche or talking about the same topics and see what they are promoting to their readers and then reverse engineer and sign up for the same companies.
Tips for Affiliate Marketing Success
Here are some other useful tips and takeaways on affiliate marketing.
- Build an email list - This is the best way to build trust with your audience and deliver value with the occasional product mention.
- Create Sales Funnels - You can funnel your audience into specific groups and then send targetted email sequences to improve conversion rates.
- Consistency - Be Consistent with your content and marketing.
- Quality, not Quantity - This should be your new mantra.
- Honesty - Only Recommend Products you Believe in.
- Good copy - Make sure your content is both informative AND persuasive. If copywriting isn't your strong suit then pick up a couple of books as this is one of the essential skills to acquire.
If you follow the above guidelines it won't be hard to start making your first few dollars online with affiliate marketing.
Common Affiliate Marketing Questions
Here are some questions that come up often and are worth explaining here so that the affiliate networks and programs mentioned in this article make sense.
What is a vendor?
A vendor is a business who are creating/selling the product you are signing up with. Affiliate networks contain lots of different vendors.
What is a merchant?
This is another term you might see on certain affiliate networks and means the same thing as affiliate vendor. This is the company offering the products for an affiliate commission.
What does EPC mean?
EPC stands for earnings per click but that is very misleading as it's calculated as earnings per 100 clicks so should really be EPHC. This is often offered as a reporting metric by affiliate programs to help you gauge the value of your traffic when averaged out.
You will find ShareaSale and CJ both use EPC and offer 30 day EPC and 7 day EPC options.
Hold up, it gets more confusing while the EPCH approach is taken by most networks in the UK (and possibly some other regions) EPC is actually per click as it should be and not per hundred clicks.
Affiliate Window is an example of a site that calculates it this way so always check to confirm otherwise your reporting will be way off.
What does CR mean?
Some platforms will also show a CR which is a bit simpler and just stands for conversion rate and is represented as a percentage of the number of clicks converted to sales or leads.
Wow, that was a long one, hopefully, you made it to the end and picked up some valuable insights into where to start if you are ready to monetize your website, blog, YouTube channel or other social authority you have grown online.
Top Affiliate Networks - Final Word
So there you have it, all of my thoughts on the best affiliate programs and networks online in 2021 and how to find specific programs yourself.
There should be no reason why you can't easily find high-quality products that you can start promoting in a matter of days.
If you are a blogger, YouTuber, or have become an influencer on other social networks like Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest then why not start generating an income by recommending quality products and services to your followers.
Have any tips? I'm certain to have missed a few finds due to the size of the space so feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments below.
Want to see other ways you can make money from your blog or website? Check our guide on blog monetization.
If you are interested in affiliate marketing software then check out Referral Rock's guide on the best solutions.
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Web Designer, Digital Marketer & Entrepreneur with over a decades worth of experience helping small and medium sized businesses evolve and adapt to the modern digital marketplace.