An affiliate network is a platform on which merchants and affiliates can do business with each other on a commission basis. Affiliate programs are usually on a per sale or per lead payout basis. The 2 largest and most popular affiliate networks are Linkshare and Commission Junction. These 2 networks have done a great job enabling larger and small merchants to launch and grow productive affiliate programs. They basically provide the platform on which the advertiser and affiliate can work together. Most webmasters and SEO oriented affiliates first choose to work with CJ and Linkshare to keep things organized and all together in one place. It would get might cumbersome dealing with checks from hundreds of different companies. The big 2 have done a good job of bringing in quality e-tailers and lead generation businesses for affiliate to choose from. Both networks have built up large numbers of producing affiliates and lots of small producers. There still remains a big need to educate newbie affiliates about how to build sites and blogs as well as pay-per-click marketing to drive traffic to merchants.
So many 2nd-tier affiliate networks have sprung up in the past 5 year my head is still spinning. An affiliate has such a large selection of 2nd tier affiliate networks it can get really confusing. I recommend looking at them and seeing if there are any offers you are interested in marketing for. You may actually get some higher payouts on certain types of offers like lead generation programs. www.RocketProfit.com is a good network of this type.
You can also go direct to a merchant’s in house affiliate program. The main advantage of this is to get product knowledge from the affiliate managers and also to try for a higher payout from the merchant. This is all for now! Now go out and build some pages!