One of the dilemmas that an advertiser faces in running, or looking to run, an affiliate programme is whether they should partner with just one affiliate network or two. Whether they are starting a programme from scratch, expanding an already mature one, or attempting to breathe new life into one that is under-performing, any affiliate manager is bound to ask themselves this question at some point.
One answer has become something of a commonplace in the affiliate world: if you have two networks they will compete with each other and the effect will be to boost overall performance. Running a programme on two (or more) networks, it is reasoned, keeps both on their toes.
Why The Single Network Approach?
But if this were true, why are there so many affiliate programmes, large and small, that only operate on a single network? Moreover, why do many that open on two (or even three) networks later consolidate to one? Challenging this commonplace is the starting point for examining the kinds of questions an affiliate manager can ask in order to help decide whether a single or dual network programme is best for them.
If you are working with one affiliate network at present and are thinking about launching a second, a good initial question might be: what do I want the other network to do that the current one is not? To launch a programme with a second network you should be sure of what additional services and resources would be available that you do not, or cannot, get with the existing one. Whilst there are many networks to choose from their core services of tracking, reporting and paying affiliates remain the same. But if an affiliate network is to be more a partner than simply a platform provider, advertisers should ask themselves what is of additional value to them in the extra services each offers.
Negotiating Different Network Interfaces
Very often, as an advertiser, you might be less inclined to have to negotiate two network interfaces in order to manage your programme. This is a commonly-cited reason for why advertisers remain with a single network: it offers the ease of having one place to go for day-to-day account management, reporting, billing and technical matters. These factors tend to be favoured by advertisers without the time to manage different network relations on top of those of their affiliates. The advantage of bringing on a second network, in this sense, should therefore be assessed against your ability to give enough time to the running of your affiliate programme.
Another commonly-heard argument for opening a programme on a second network is that the newcomer might have better affiliates than the incumbent. This is to some extent true: some networks claim to specialise in certain sectors and pride themselves on their record in them. But most large affiliates are joined to multiple networks, and those already promoting your programme enthusiastically should not have a problem switching to the new network if they are not already active there. Generally speaking, affiliates go where the advertisers are; the reverse is less common. Again, a useful question to ask a potential network is around their experience in your sector. Who do they work with currently and what do these advertisers think of them? If it is affiliates you are after you are much more likely to find them on networks that have a similar advertiser base.
Indeed, it is certainly worthwhile asking for affiliates’ feedback before you decide on another network. Look around at what the industry is saying about them: the forum at a4u, or independent surveys on affiliates’ views such as those by Econsultancy or bigmouthmedia, are good places to start. The reliability of tracking and payments are the two major issues that any affiliate will be super-sensitive to when it comes to choosing networks. Think like an affiliate and check these out. Similarly, given that the affiliate network pays its affiliates with your money, make sure this happens promptly. Some networks pay affiliates up front before they receive payment from advertisers.
Keep The Competition Fair
In a related way, ensure that your offerings on both networks are the same and don’t allow another network to finance a kick-back out of their own pockets to ring-fence certain affiliates. Instead, give affiliates the choice of which network they would like to work with you through and if they prefer the new network to the incumbent, allow them to switch. Ultimately however, opening with a second network, or consolidating to just one, is a matter for each advertiser individually. But this article has hopefully provided something of a checklist of considerations to help make that decision the right one.