Brook Schaaf is big on setting realistic expectations for his clients.  As president of Schaaf Consulting, a Los Angeles-based firm specializing in outsourced, turnkey affiliate program management, Schaaf has more than eight years experience in online marketing having previously managed in-house programs,, and Brook SchaafOver the years he’s grown programs from virtually nothing into multimillion dollar channels for merchants.

That’s why we enlisted Schaaf to share some of his frank insights into the difference between the online performance networks. As an OPM and a former program manager Schaaf has relationships with all the networks and is skilled at finding and recruiting new performers, cultivating and tracking relationships with existing ones, delivering the support and customer service, detecting fraud, and evolving methodologies to optimize performance.

AffPlan: What’s changed at the networks over the last 10 years?

Schaaf:  Well, in the last few years there has been a positive shift among traditional networks and rather than seeing OPMs as rivals, the networks are working with us. We work closely with them starting with the sales process.

The old thinking was that OPMs competed with networks. The new thinking is that OPMs are agencies that can bring networks business. Any good OPM can grow the program and thereby increase revenue to the network. The networks that have made these changes have indicated that they’ve been very happy with them. For our part we greatly appreciate the strength and productivity of these relationships.

AffPlan: So, in your opinion, what are some of the differences between the networks.

Schaaf: The Big Three – LinkShare, Google Affiliate Network (GAN) and Commission Junction – all have similar  footprints, meaning they have a similar base of active affiliates. LinkShare tends to have higher pricing and exclusivity. Traditionally they have only done batch tracking but I understand they offer pixel tracking now. CJ offers more functionality – more robust technology for email blasts to affiliates. GAN does the best job of categorizing merchants and affiliates. All three companies have sharp people and any retail program you want to launch would probably do fine. Merchants would have access to the types of affiliates they are looking for within the Big Three. We are also happy to work with other networks, including ShareASale, which offers great technology at price point lower than the other three.

AffPlan: Who does what well?

Schaaf: In the race, I think it’s CJ and Google and then LinkShare. CJ offers less contact info for affiliates like LinkShare and Google, but for the most part we have tight relationships with affiliates and that’s not such a big factor. I wouldn’t hesitate to launch a retail program in Google or CJ or LinkShare.  LinkShare is harder to work with if you have search affiliates because of the batch tracking-  though, again, I understand they also offer pixel tracking now.. ShareASale is also appropriate for retail and in some cases the biggest bang for the buck. I might go with AvantLink if I was dealing with products in the outdoor space.

AffPlan: If a program isn’t doing well in one of the big networks, is switching to another network the answer?

Schaaf: If the program is failing at a major network, you’re probably not going to cure anything by switching networks.  If the merchant has failing conversation rates and changes aren’t working, it could be that affiliate marketing is not right for your business. And we will be frank with clients if that’s the case.

Lisa Picarille is an online content strategist and consultant. She blogs at