Run, track & manage your own affiliate marketing program
Having run a few successful affiliate marketing websites I know how successful they can be for companies.
Why you should trust my recommendations? I’ve run multiple successful affiliate websites and also managed multiple affiliate programs client-side. My main property attracted over 300,000 visitors a month and resulted in a self-employed remote lifestyle with a staff of three part-time writers. I have worked with AWin, Commission Junction and all major networks both as an affiliate and as a publisher.
There are really 2 main ways to make an affiliate marketing program happen for your company.
- Join an affiliate marketing network
- Run your own program using affiliate marketing software
Let’s start with number 1 and then move on as this post is focused on companies who want to run their own Affiliate Marketing Program, and are looking for the best software to do it.
- Run, track & manage your own affiliate marketing program
- 1: Joining an affiliate marketing network
- 2: Run your own program using affiliate marketing software
- What do I need to look for when I am looking at affiliate marketing software?
- Affiliate marketing software comparison
- What is the best affiliate marketing software?
- 1: Post Affiliate Pro
- 2: tapfiliate
- 3: refersion
- 4: Omnistar
- 5: Voluum
- 6: Everflow
- 7: Tune
1: Joining an affiliate marketing network
There are benefits to joining an existing and established network like AWin (affiliate window), CJ Affiliate (Commission Junction), ShareaSale and more.
These benefits include:
- Access to thousands of affiliates by being part of their affiliate directory
- Coaching, suggestions and guidance on how to set up and run an effective affiliate program
- Being on a network where someone else worries about approvals, payouts and uptime
Some of the challenges can be:
- Getting lost in all the other companies in the network
- Less control over the affiliates experience
- Cost of set up, fees and ongoing commissions you have to pay to the network itself
Now let’s start learning how to run your own affiliate marketing business and the best software to do it. I’ve evaluated the best affiliate marketing software.
2: Run your own program using affiliate marketing software
Running your own in-house affiliate program doesn’t have to require a huge amount of effort. The available hosting affiliate solutions have made this easier and easier over time. You will need to work harder to find advocates and affiliates but the best place to start is with your existing customers. Some ideas for where you can promote your program:
- In welcome emails when people join your mailing list
- In post purchase emails
- On your order confirmation page
- In your cart abandon emails (why not? making money is different to spending money for people)
- In targeted look-a-like audience adverts in facebook
- In retargeting display ads on adwords
- A link in your website footer
- Post it on your social media channels
The benefits of running your own program include:
- Full control over all the things
- Save money on fees and commissions to the platform
- Update, change and edit offers to affiliates as you like
- Get backlinks from affiliates linking to your site, rather than linking through a networks site (big deal this one)
- Direct relationship with affiliates and influencers
- Speed and agility to change and adapt as you need to
Some of the challenges of running your own program include:
- Having to figure most of it out yourself, unless your SaaS provider can help (set up is pretty easy)
- Managing payouts to affiliates (usually doable through PayPal etc easily)
- Keeping it fresh if you want to do updates to your campaigns and branding
- Having someone in the business own it.
Let’s assume you’ve decided to run your own program and you need to know what affiliate marketing software you should use.
What do I need to look for when I am looking at affiliate marketing software?
When looking for the best options for the software the obvious feature is that it was fully hosted. Almost a no-brainer these days. I didn’t want to host our own software and have to manage upgrades and updates.
The rest of the requirements I wanted were as follows:
- Global affiliate options – allow our affiliated to be in any market and any country in over the world.
- PayPal Payouts – allow us to easily payout to affiliates where ever in the world they are.
- Own domain in referral URLs – ensure we get backlink benefits from links to our website.
- MLM options – Allow people to recruit other people under them.
- Multiple Commission Tiers – allow us to offer increased commissions to top performers, or offer different categories of rewards. e.g. a top tier could be our VIP affiliate commission rate which is 15%, as opposed to the starting bracket which could be 10% payout.
- Custom Affiliate Portals (affiliate has their own landing pages) – allow our affiliated to have their own custom landing pages to promote in their publishing. This ideally would still be ‘hosted’ on our domain, but it’s quite a challenge for it to be so it wasn’t a blocker.
- Reporting for the business and affiliates – allow us to see how each affiliate is performing and for them to easily see how they are doing. Automated and regular scheduled mail progress updates would be a bonus.
- Easy to build and access asset library (banners ads etc. for affiliates to cut and embed) – quick and easy access to banner images, links and other promotional assets for customers.
- Coupon Management – this is also not a ‘must have’ but it would be nice for affiliates to be able to offer a coupon for redemption at checkout. This would need to integrate with our Shopify store. The negative of a coupon is that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a link back to the site; but it’s still someone promoting our company so all good.
- Social Sharing – this probably lives under the asset library. A place where people can easily share pre-formated posts for facebook and twitter etc. Ideal click to post or cut and paste to post.
- Fraud detection – more to protect affiliates than us e.g. if robots are hijacking inbound links. Fraud detection just seems like a smart choice.
- Click Reports (not just commission reports) – I’d like publishers and all our affiliates to see what links are getting clicked, not just what links are generating sales.
- Commission Reports – how much money they are making on our program.
- Easy integration with Shopify or WordPress
Affiliate marketing software comparison
|SMB or Enterprise
|Post Affiliate Pro
|Affiliate + Marketplace
|Omnistar (OSI Affiliate)
|Affiliate + Marketplace
What is the best affiliate marketing software?
I’ve scoured the interweb and this is the list and breakdown of the best affiliate marketing software with details and pros & cons of each.
1: Post Affiliate Pro
In brief: post affiliate pro is mature and feature rich. They have all the things you need and possibly more for your company to run an effective affiliate marketing program. It will allow you to grow in to the future.
This is a very extensive, affordable and easy to use platform. It understands what makes a good small business affiliate program work and it’s well thought out. These guys have been around for a long time which is why you’ll be hard-pressed to find something this feature-rich at this price or even more expensive.
If you want a quick way out then try their 14-day free trial and see what you think.
Post Affiliate Pro with pricing. It’s a little higher than some others like tapfiliate, Omnistar and even reversion but only just. And you get value for money which is why this should be on the top of your shortlist.
Post affiliate pro starting pricing really suits small to medium businesses and startups. You can quickly set up and manage a program with a 1:1 affiliate relationship arrangement. It’s been around for a long time and really established itself as a market leader.
There is no bad decision with post affiliate pro, as long as you see the feature you need to be listed, you’ll be making a good choice and it will grow as you grow.
- More asset options that you can poke a stick at. Page peels, banner rotators, light boxes, flash, etc.
- Can handle CPM commissions. A unique feature that one.
- GeoIP reporting
- Recurring commissions
- Performance and Bonus reward options
- Unlimited affiliates
- MLM options
- You can run private campaigns to a select group of your affiliates. Think of it like a VIP affiliate campaign option.
- More commission options than beers at Oktoberfest. CPA, MLM, Lifetime commissions, performance rewards. Even SplitCommission which is allows you to reward all affiliates involved in a sale.
- A personalised landing page for affiliates with their name on it.
- Mass payments option
- iOS App
- Android App
- Honestly…none that I feel worth mentioning.
post affiliate pro integrates with: more networks, CMS and eCommerce platforms that I can list. Here are the main ones.
- Big Commerce
In Brief: With its open API, integration to Zapier, wide range of commission options and good looking interface AND affordable price tag, Tapfiliate gets my vote for companies looking for affiliate marketing software to grow and promote their business. It’s future-proofed and quick to set up and configure.
Straight away I can tell you that look and feel of tapfiliate affiliate software is the best looking of the lot. Modern, clean and easy to work with. This is a big plus for me. A modern interface and layout makes me also believe, rightly or wrongly, that the software is probably built more recently, and therefore efficiently as changes in programming languages have developed so significantly over the last 10 years.
You get a free 14-day trial so you can try it out and see how it feels.
A platform built with an API integration always gets a big tick from me as ensures (typically) it’s open and flexible into the future.
Pricing is affordable. A little more than Omnistar but you’re probably getting more value for money as even the base tier includes Zapier integration, MLM and SEPA payout info. The second tier is not a huge step up and you get things like multi-domain options.
The dashboard and control panels are responsive which is great on mobile and the reporting is clear – click, conversions, geo-located commissions, pending payments and commission amounts.
The asset manager includes Banners, Text Links, Feeds, Videos and Social Posts. Most people will use text links so that makes it easy. Interestingly I know that there is the option of a coupon but it’s not in my login currently.
- Your URL in links – good for backlinks
- Pre-formatted shareable social media posts
- White label – so affiliates login to the affiliate area and it looks like your brand/company/website.
- Supports 6 international languages
- Customisable payout methods. This is a big plus rather than being stuck to one payment gateway.
- Custom sign-up fields – this allows you to add other fields you want from affiliates. Another big plus even if it was just to put a ‘where did you hear about us’ field at sign up.
- One-off commissions per sale – so if you refer someone and they buy a pair of shoes the affiliate earns some money
- Recurring subscription commissions – if you have a software company, app or similar where people pay you monthly fees and so you pass on a monthly commission to your affiliates.
- Fixed price or percentage-based commissions – sell a thing and get $5 or sell a thing(s) and get 5% of the order value.
- Affiliate tiers – you can give different groups of affiliates different commission levels. Good to incentivise top performers or similar.
- Performance bonuses – for those affiliates who are really keen you can give them targets to hit where they get bonus awards
- Team commissions – quite unique this feature. Have a team working on an affiliate program
- Automate onboarding however you like using the Zapier integration. e.g New affiliate signs up so you trigger a welcome email from Mailchimp, then generate a coupon code for them to promote, then follow up with another email a week later etc.
- API – as I mentioned in the description, Tapfiliate has an API which means if you wanted to you could build a custom front end or other unique features via the API.
- Some advanced features missing but most probably wouldn’t be needed by most companies
tapfiliate integrates with:
- WIX Stores
- Big Commerce
- Wp Easy Cart
- And more…
In brief: refersion have both a network and the ability for you to run your own 1:1 program on their network. This means you have your own white label affiliate program with branded page AND you can also be a part of their affiliate directory for affiliates to find you that way. It’s popular, effective and you really can white-label it nicely.
Refersion have a 14-day free trial which is a good start. You can log in, kick the tires and see where it ends up for you. The interface is attractive and you get a good feel for your current position quickly.
Reversion is slightly more feature-rich compared with tapfiliate or Omnistar but less enterprise than Tune or Voluum. I say this mostly as there is an enterprise-level offering and the reversion marketplace which is where all refersion affiliate programs can be listed. Marketplace inclusion is optional.
One of the features I like about refersion which I’ve seen on the Shopify integration and guess it’s a conversion page options for most of their plugs is a pop up that says ‘Thanks for your order’ and then says ‘Refer your friends and get a rebate!’. Under that, it says active your link, when you click it provides a link immediately that they can share on social media (via ready to share buttons) or anywhere else they want to. Pretty cool.
I’d recommend refersion quite happily. I’ve signed up to a couple of programs with them and like how it works from the affiliate end. It ticks most of the boxes I had in my list.
- Nice UI to work with
- Personalised affiliate portal – white label.
- Good reporting
- Fixed or recurring commissions
- Automated approval options
- Good integration options
- Clicks & Conversion reporting
- Real-time reporting
- Affordable pricing – especially considering you get unlimited affiliates and visits. The limit is on conversions which is currently limited to 130 affiliate orders a month.
- You can get listed in the reversion marketplace for free.
- Coupon tracking
- Referral links
- Set commissions by product or down to the SKU level if you have a lot of variants
- API options
- PayPal affiliate payment option
- Gift Card payout option
- Fewer integrations than some but if you’re on any of the big platforms like Shopify, Magento, Big Commerce or WooCommerce then who cares. And you can always custom integrate easily with their pixel with a snippet of code.
refersion integrates with:
- Shopify (and Shopify Plus)
- Big Commerce
In brief: Companies and retailers that just want to run an affiliate program that promotes their online business. e.g. You sell handbags and you want people to promote your website selling handbags. Or you sell an online course and you want people to promote your course, and maybe sign up friends to promote your courses also (MLM). Easy and quick to set up and run. Ideal for non technical people.
I first started using Omnistar back in 2014. I’m a huge fan which is why it’s easy to promote them. My requirements checklist I have listed above is pretty much complete with Omnitracker (OSI Affiliate). It’s missing some bit which I’ll explain below.
The interface is clean and easy to use, the social sharing options are super easy for affiliates to use.
The beat most partners by 1 extra day with a 15-day free trial.
Affiliates get excellent reporting – it’s simple and quick. They get clicks, unique clicks, impressions, leads and conversions in your affiliate dashboard.
For reporting, they also break out social results. So if you share on facebook, twitter or LinkedIn you get unique reporting on clicks and conversions for social channels only.
You can have a link direct to your website for your affiliates to earn direct income from commissions.
There is also the option for your affiliates to share a link with other people to sign up to be affiliates. This is the MLM or multi-tier feature of the software. So if people become affiliates for your company under them, they get a cut.
Just to recap that bit: they can have two unique links. One for them to get direct commissions from referrals to your website. One they give to people to also sign up as an affiliate under you – multi-level-marketing. (MLM)
A feature they don’t offer is the ability to have your own branded and customised page.
If I said one thing about this option:
My feeling on Omnistar is that it’s a simple, fast option with an affordable starting price.
- Social Media Sharing
- Own URL for links (good backlinks)
- Directory of influencers you can approach
- Asset manager
- Coupon options for affiliates to hand out their own coupons
- MLM or Multi-tier options so affiliates can recruit under them
- Good support. Omnistar have been around a long time so I’m guessing they have built a good team. They also have a lot of easily digested materials for on-boarding you as you start your affiliate program
- Good starter price – You can get in for $47 a month to get it rolling with plenty of tracking requests and up to 200 users. More than enough to start your affiliate program and see how it works.
- No unique landing page per affiliate.
Omnistar (OSI Affilaite) Integrates with:
In brief: Voluum is part advertising platform part affiliate marketing software. It offers advanced analytics, multi-campaign options and a business version to level up and run a network. Not ideal for small businesses looking for a single business solution, but worth looking at.
Voluum has evolved (possibly pivoted) over the years. It is definitely a more robust platform that starts at a really affordable price point.
The ability to run multiple campaigns automatically means for the company that wants to just say ‘please promote my business’ will not need all the features that come with this. If you have dedicated marketing staff who are quite smart, then it is a powerful platform that offers the ability to run a lot of campaigns and affiliate based activities effectively.
The reporting is rich and you can drill in pretty deep if you want to.
My problem with these platforms is that if you don’t have someone who is dedicated to making it work, it can just too much to manage and handle. You’ll end up running one campaign and never leveraging all it can do. If you do have someone on your team who can commit to making this work, and they can work on ongoing campaigns to make your company successful, then it’s a good choice.
An advanced feature that also makes this better value for money is the traffic distribution AI. This algorithm automates your traffic so it lands on pages that are more likely to convert. So you can run multiple inbound offers and the AI will help route it correctly.
Voluum is affiliate advertising tracking first and foremost but it delivers well as an affiliate marketing platform too.
- Pixel tracking – this allows more accuracy in your reporting and accuracy in tracking. Avoids blocking from URL redirects
- Multiple conversion tracking
- Good on-boarding
- AI that routes traffic to the most likely conversion page, algorithmically.
- A/B testing – test different conversion goals and see what works better.
- Good asset modules
- Will require some commitment. Onboarding is good but not a super simple platform due to its wide range of features.
In brief: This is more of a platform for running advanced affiliate and advertising platforms. People who want advanced analytics who also want to run multiple affiliate programs or offerings within one piece of software. Companies that want to run a platform for both affiliates AND advertisers. More that you need for a single small company running a program.
For interest sake I asked in online forums which affiliate marketing software I should use and Everflow was mentioned by one person. I’m not sure if that’s a vote or a lack of votes.
Everflow is pretty nerdy so it will help if you like really getting into the analytics and data to make it most successful. It can run a program for one company, but it can do much more too.
Everflow costs more than some, less than others but you do get features that match the price. Everflow really suits people who are interested in running more than one partner program and more than one channel. It’s an affiliate platform and more than just affiliate software.
The analytics go deep. If the sales presentation includes the option for pivot tables I begin to zone out. I expect the software to present data quickly and simple, but such are my needs.
If you’re time-poor, only have a single company and don’t care for detailed reporting, it might not be for you.
If you are a larger company managing affiliate, influencers and strategic partners – this will be more suitable for you.
Finally, I’m always a bit disappointed in affiliate marketing platforms that don’t run their own program on their own software.
- Full customer support at all pricing levels. This ensures a good customer experience for you as a business.
- You can manage unlimited partners and channels. That is as many affiliates/partners can sign up for your program as you like and
- Hosted on google cloud so should be able to scale and flex if your program is huge.
- Coupon codes available
- Fraud protection to ensure your affiliates conversions are genuine and not powered by robots
- Built-in email capabilities to reach out to your affiliates
- Advanced reporting
- $200 start is a bit steep for a lot of smaller companies.
- Not for the time-poor or those not so interested in advanced analytics and numbers.
Check out everflow here
Enterprise SaaS Affiliate marketing platform.
In brief: Tune is serious partner management and affiliate network software. Smaller companies or companies looking for a SaaS affiliate platform, parent management platform or performance marketing platform with serious firepower (and fees).
Tune boasts some large customers. It’s a platform that is more about partners and performance marketing than a 1:1 affiliate solution. If you have a network you need to feed you can load this up, share out your campaigns and campaign details, then track it back to your networks where ever it comes from. You can bring on advertising partners who can recruit advertisers and then report and reward based on results.
If you’re looking for an enterprise solution and work with advertising partners, check it out. If you want a 1:1 relationship with your affiliates and not work with partners, then skip this.
- Serious firepower
- Good mobile and web tracking
- Relationship managers available
- White labelling
- API with plenty of end points
- Enterprise-level stuff