Is a multi-network strategy good for an affiliate program? If I am a merchant looking for an affiliate manager or OPM should I go with one that advocates running the program on multiple networks? If you don’t want to read everything here I will give you the simple answer up front here: NO!!!!!! NO!!!!!! NO!!!!!
Emerson Cod from Pushing Daisies (vastly underrated show) says it well:
And Samuel L. Jackson has a good answer from Django Unchained:
Or if you want it said a bit more emphatically you can watch this clip from Inglorious Basterds:
There are some OPMs and some affiliate managers that will recommend running on 2, 3, or more affiliate networks. We recently took over a program that for some reason was on 5 different networks. Personally I don’t see much of a reason to run on more than one. There might be some reasons with some specific programs that have some specific needs that might justify running on two networks in some special circumstances but 99% of the time I would advocate for running on one affiliate network.
Now for this discussion I am talking about affiliate networks that handle retail products, not CPA networks or lead gen networks or ebook networks or anything like that. You get into those areas and this is a totally different discussion. The networks I am talking about here are Shareasale, CJ, Avantlink, Linkshare, EEAN, Impact Radius, Affiliate Window, and the like.
Running a program on multiple networks can lead to a number of problems and complications and the benefits to running on multiple networks just aren’t there. Here are a few of the reasons I will almost always advocate running on a single network:
1. Duplication of work – If you are running on multiple networks the workload on the affiliate manager increase greatly. Every regular task you have to do you have to multiply across the different networks you are running on. What could have been a 5 minute job to upload a new set of banners is now a half hour job. The couple minutes it takes to run a report suddenly turns into 15 minutes if you have to pull it from multiple sources. Everything you have to do you have to do multiple times.
If the OPM or affiliate manager has to spend their time duplicating their work across multiple platforms that takes time away from doing things to grow your program like recruiting and optimizing affiliates. And because of the added work they will probably charge you more for the same results since it is more time consuming for them.
2. The affiliates you want will go to where you are – Rarely (very, very, very rarely) will you ever come across a solid affiliate who won’t work with you on any of the major networks. Occasionally you will run into cases where the network terms of service restrict which affiliates they work with like Shareasale not working with toolbars but if you have a plan as to what types of affiliates you are looking for you can pick your network based on what you are looking to accomplish with your affiliate program.
Side Note: If Shareasale.com doesn’t have a particular affiliate in their network you probably don’t need that affiliate in your program. It is a very good sign they are doing something that wouldn’t be beneficial to your affiliate program.
If you recruit a solid blogger that really likes your products they will sign up where you are. In some cases there might be a bit of a learning curve for them if they primarily work on one network and you are running on a different one but this is something a quick walk through of the network interface will fix. But most of the big affiliates are already in all the networks.
Someone trying to push for running on multiple networks will try and convince you that you need to be on multiple networks in order to attract affiliates but that just isn’t the case anymore. Nearly all the big affiliates including the coupon/deal sites are on all the networks and rarely will you find a top performer that will refuse to work with you because of the network you choose assuming you are choosing one of the bigger networks.
3. Duplicate order problems – When you are dealing with multiple networks you better be sure you have some good processes in place to make sure the orders don’t track on multiple networks. There are many times where, depending on the tracking technology, a sale will be reported on multiple networks. There are some ways around this but they aren’t always fail safe. If you run on one network you will never have this problem.
4. Different technologies – Each network tracks orders differently and the pixel integration is different on each network. Some of them are very easy to work with, some are a bit more complex. And when you start adding multiple pixels there is always potential for something to go wrong. The different networks also have different technical ways of handling feeds, different API integrations, different link formats, and so on. This unnecessarily complicates a lot of different aspects of your affiliate program.
5. Different terminology and reporting – What might be total sales in one network could be affiliate sales in another and revenue in a third. Each network has different names for their stats and reconciling between different networks can be a PITA. Reporting is formatted differently as well and the amount of information available is different everywhere so trying to compile a solid set of numbers takes much more time than if you were just running on one network.
All in all running an affiliate program on multiple networks creates more headaches than running on one networks and makes pretty much everything more complicated. So why do some OPMs suggest this as a strategy? They can charge you more since they will be doing more work and spending more hours on your program. But there won’t be any additional revenue from their extra efforts compared to the results you would see if they focused on one network and maximized the program in that network.
As an affiliate manager I much prefer mainly focusing on a single network. It gives me more time to become an expert in that one network, gives me more time to master the tools in that network, gives me one point of contact if there are any problems with the network, and greatly simplifies my day.
So what network should you run your affiliate program on? I can’t give you an answer to that question with all certainty but 80% of the time you will be best served going with Shareasale.com. 19% of the time I might recommend Avantlink.com (they have some pretty sweet tools for the affiliates to use), and the other 1% of the time it would either be CJ, Impact Radius, or EEAN but those occasions would be rare and there would have to be some specific, special reason I would recommend one of those networks.
I am sure I am overlooking some valid reasons for running your affiliate program on a single network and if you can think of one please leave a comment. And please, if you have any questions or need any clarification please let me know.