I get a lot of inquiries about launching affiliate programs for companies. One of the main topics that requires clarification, explanation, and discussion revolves around the affiliate network options, which network is right for that company, and what’s the difference between a “major affiliate network” and “CPA affiliate network”? I will discuss some of the main differences between affiliate networks and CPA affiliate networks from my experience managing affiliate programs over the years.
1. Publisher/Affiliate Transparency – probably the main factor differentiating major affiliate networks and CPA networks is affiliate/publisher transparency, which refers to the Advertiser being able to know the name, website, category and description of each individual affiliate in their program or applying to their program. On the major networks like CJ, Linkshare, and Shareasale you are able to access all this information, which is helpful when approving or declining each affiliate into the program. It is also great to have these data points so you can tailor your communication to their specific needs or background. It also makes it easy to contact the affiliate directly when necessary. In general, CPA affiliate networks do not provide this access to affiliate data and therefore there is no approve/denial process or the ability to reach out directly to them to work with them on the program. In my opinion, this is a major deficiency of CPA networks because it prevents actual “affiliate management” from taking place. Note: not all “offers” need affiliate management to gain traction on CPA networks, so I don’t want to suggest that this makes or breaks the performance of the program. However, I personally think intensive, personalized affiliate management works best to grow a program to its fullest potential.
2. Communication – along the same lines, CPA networks tend not to have any way to send your participating affiliates an affiliate newsletter communitcation or email communication, which is one of the main ways company news, promotions, deals, and other information is pushed out to the affiliate base. Major affiliate networks have email communication tools (except Google Aff Network) that allow affiliate managers to send newsletters and messages about the program to the affiliate base. With CPA networks you usually have to go through the network themselves to communicate to an affiliate.
3. Ability to Recruit New Affiliates – The major networks like CJ and Linkshare allow you to use their internal email systems to send recruiting emails inviting affiliates to join your program, which is a major advantage to growing the program with niche affiliates. They do charge for this, but it’s extremely effective if done properly and can be measured by grouping the sign-ups from the invite email and then running a report on them a little while later to see how much revenue the recruits produced. CPA networks to my knowledge do not have this ability to send recruiting mailers directly to “non-joined” affiliates in their database. Since this is one of the main ways my company grows affiliate programs, the ability to recruit from the network’s affiliate base is essential to growing a program over time, especially with niche affiliates.
4. Publisher/Affiliate types – I have found (after managing affiliate programs for 10 years) that the major networks like CJ, Linkshare, and Shareasale have mainly webmasters, search publishers, coupon/deal sites, large web properties, loyalty portals, cash back sites, bloggers, and other types of web-based affiliates as their main types of affiliates in the networks. I have found that CPA networks have some web-based affiliates, but have quite a bit of email publishers, incentive sites, and search publishers. Over the years, the CPA networks have added quite a few bloggers and webmaster to their bases, but in my opinion it doesn’t compare to what CJ, Linkshare, and Shareasale have built up as far as web-based affiliates goes. My personal feeling is that web-based affiliates are the most desirable to work with and are essential to building a large, productive affiliate base over time.
Major Affiliate Networks are Ideal for: Online retailers, brands, ecommerce, some lead gen, and some per sale offers. Offers that are too niche may not gain traction on major networks and therefore fail to meet expectations.
CPA Affiliate Networks are ideal for: Per sale (CPA) offers and lead generation. CPA networks are great for single product offers and lead generation. Although with any network you have to watch the quality like a hawk.
These are just some of my perspectives on the differences between Major affiliate networks and CPA affiliate networks. I try to steer people towards the right type of affiliate network for their company. A lot has changed over the years and I don’t want to generalize, but these are what I have observed and experienced with affiliate networks over the years. If you would like to discuss your affiliate network options or would like to launch an affiliate program for your company, just contact me and we can discuss! Let me know your thoughts and have a great day!