On the surface most of the performance marketing networks seem very similar – acting as intermediaries between advertisers and publishers and offering many of the same basic services including tracking technology, reporting tools, payment processing and payment aggregation. But dig deeper and you’ll find that there are substantial differences between the largest networks with each having developed its own unique flavor over time.
We asked some industry leaders that know and understand the networks to give us their take on the differences. We started with outsourced program managers (OPMs) because they work with a variety of networks and a range of client programs.
First up, Heather Paulson president of the Paulson Management Group, Inc. PMG offers Affiliate Program Management, Search Management, and Social Media Management services. PaulsonManagementGroup.com is the only OPM currently producing and integrating affiliate videos into the affiliate networks as well as worked with an eco friendly client to introduce a patent pending affiliate widget to the affiliate community. Advancements in affiliate media technology are dependent on the networks technological capabilities and Paulson is in a position to know the networks intimately since over the last 10 years she has launched and managed programs on all of the major networks – Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network (formerly Performics), ShareASale, PepperJamNetwork and more. Ms Paulson is on the Advisory Board for Affiliate Summit and Affiliate Classroom.
We asked her a few questions to get her take on the networks.
AffPlan: What are the major network differentiators?
Paulson: Cost, vertical strengths and technology are primary differentiating factors. There are tier one networks such as Commission Junction, Buy.at, Linkshare, Zanox, Google Affiliate Network, which offer unique technology differences surrounding affiliate communications, reporting, media integration, and regional as well as vertical strengths. There are also many CPA networks such as Bridaluxe, Market Health, XY7.com, MediaTrust, ROI Rocket, AzoogleADS, which ride off either proprietary tracking solutions or are on DirectTrack or LinkTrust tracking and reporting platform which all offer unique differences and opportunities.
A great example of a prime difference in the system architecture within a network is the AzoogleAds network this is an open network system where affiliates can apply to the network and once accepted can run any of the offers within the network rather than having to have their individual applications be vetted (Manually approved) for each program that they apply for within that network, such as would happen in many of the other 350 US networks that exist today. In an open network environment the affiliate partner once approved and active is quickly able to start marketing all of the programs that reside within that network where in a closed network system the affiliate would have to apply to each program within the network separately and wait for their application to be manually approved for each program (Vetted by the program manger) unless of course the program was an an auto-approve system.
Another example of network technology differences that a merchant might want to be informed of before choosing the right affiliate network partner would be sub id level tracking data. PPC affiliates are attracted to networks such as AzoogleAds and Commission Junction as well as other affiliate networks that offer SUB ID tracking so search affiliates can track their performance at a keyword level. SUB ID tracking is also helpful to remnant ad buying affiliates who purchase remnant ad space across mass network ad distribution platforms and need to have each campaign monitored per page or site across the distribution points within that ad network.
There are many different “types” off affiliates within all affiliate networks that can be categorized by their marketing style or performance. Some networks offer you the ability to group these affiliates so you can easily send each affiliate group specific updates and announcements via intra network emails by either textual content or HTML newsletters concerning their marketing media needs, or other brand or product related news. The ability to group and manage affiliates within a network also allows the merchant to reward and incentivize specific performance groups with custom media, coupons, or campaigns. There are affiliate networks that do not offer the opportunity for you to perform “intra network” communications or grouping and this can impede the merchants’ ability to communicate with affiliate partners if it is imperative that the merchant strategies depend on direct communications with the affiliates.
Consulting with a professional affiliate management agency concerning which network and network launch plan is right for their brand and their program goals and terms of conditions is a “significant” factor in the success of the program and the overall dependencies of the success of their other online channels as well. Affiliate management agencies or OPM’s (outsourced program managers) are experienced with working with many networks and have experience to help merchants ascertain which direction should be taken concerning choosing the right affiliate network. Often times as well an OPM will have a relationship with that network and can offer discounts and savings to the merchant concerning launch fees and other network fees by negotiating on behalf of the merchant.
One important new development in the affiliate space is that many merchants who find success with one network are now inclined to launch their product or service within multiple networks to increase their online presence as well as sales through the affiliate channel. Multi-network launches and management take an extreme amount of organization, collaboration, as well as vast knowledge concerning each networks strengths, opportunities, threats, and trends. Tools such as AffiliateReporting.com is something that Paulson Management Group, Inc will be using to ensure multi-network reporting is streamlined and well attuned to the goals for each of our clients. Affiliate Reporting.com is the first and only multi-network reporting aggregation service in existence and will lend itself as a vital tool in streamlining a merchants multi-network reporting efforts.
AffPlan: What’s not so obvious?
Paulson: Program strategies. There will be many technical differences that merchants will not be aware of unless they have firsthand knowledge of each network’s core technological strengths. An affiliate programs brand management and overall media strategies will be determined based on the networks technology and how that technology is wielded to ensure success of the program.
As an example in Commission Junction merchants are able to locate affiliates within the network via a recruiting tool that can assist merchants in pushing offers for their program to new affiliates, this is an intra network recruiting strategy that we at PMG use for our Commission Junction affiliate program accounts and many of the other networks do not offer this type of technology. Another example would be if the merchant wants to allow social media affiliates to market their brand; WebGains is the only network currently that has incorporated a shortened URL function within their network allowing for social media traffic monitoring of affiliates in Twitter as well as other social media venues. The merchants affiliate program strategies have to be able to be realized with the technology the network provides so careful scruitinization of each networks technological capabilities is an important factor in choosing the right network for the merchants needs.
An important consideration as well for merchants concerning what might not be realized is the relationships that the affiliate network might hold within the affiliate community. Relationships that affiliates hold with these affiliate networks are the primary factor that propels success of the program within that network and the transparency level in this channel is high especially on affiliate forums such as AbestWeb.com and AffSpot.com. So merchants should research and learn how affiliates regard each network as it can vastly affect the success of an affiliate programs sustainability within that network. Merchants need to understand that affiliate partners are the marketing force behind their programs and any affiliate networks success, it is important to hear affiliates as a community to ensure their needs are being met and respected by the networks.
AffPlan: You seem to like CJ, do you have a special relationship with them?
Paulson: Over time we have developed relationships with many affiliate networks, we have a running affiliate network list and are now offering single and multi-network launch strategies so building affiliate network relationships has always been a focus for PMG. I have years of experience working with the Commission Junction affiliate network either as an affiliate or affiliate manager so their technology is well known to me. Most of the clients we work with are larger eCommerce brands that need dedicated pro active affiliate management and support. Commission Junction is able to offer a high level of reporting as well as technology factors to those larger brands that assist PMG team members in launching new media initiatives such as affiliate videos which are easily integrated into Commission Junction. ShareaSale, PepperJamNetwork, Google Affiliate Network, LinkShare, Buy.at, Zanox, there are so many fantastic affiliate networks in our space all offering varied opportunities to each merchant so a thorough check of the channels landscape is important when choosing to work with any affiliate network.
AffPlan: What else makes you want to work with a specific network?
Paulson: We choose the network based on our clients goals, strategies, vertical, as well as many other factors. As an example some merchants might need to batch their sales or leads after carefully scrutinizing them to ensure they are valid and commissionable, the merchant can then batch or send sales or leads to the network to ensure affiliates are commissioned. Other merchants might prefer a pixel tracking system. Not every network offers batch processing so it is extremely important for merchants to speak with a professional management company concerning this choice and options and if they are not having their programs professionally launched and managed by an affiliate management agency with experience then at least to have a consultation would help save them undue time and cost.
Lisa Picarille is an online content strategist and consultant. She blogs at www.lisapicarille.com.