A popular way to monetize visitors is by offering reviews of products and services and then adding affiliate links to your website pointing to the vendors.
Those vendors will then pay you a commission on any sales that resulted from your reviews, typically in the 1-6% range for physical products, 20-30% for SaaS-based services and 50%-70% for information products.
Affiliate websites are one of the most profitable online businesses and have boast of the highest margins in the online income-generation space.
Pure affiliate sites don’t even need to deal with customer service since they only act as lead-feeders to other vendors, who take full care of the customer.
One of the most popular affiliate programs for online earners is Amazon Associates, which focuses primarily on physical products (with a nearly unlimited choice), but they're by no means the only game in town, nor do they pay particularly high commissions.
In fact, there are many other affiliate networks that host tens of thousands of merchants willing to pay you a commission for any leads that you send their way, and many of them pay out at much higher rates than Amazon.
In the end, it’s always a good idea to have a mix of affiliate networks in the bag since you don't want to depend on a single one.
If you put all your eggs in a single basket and your relationship sours for some reason, you run the risk of being kicked out of the network with your revenue going to zero from one day to the next.
But if you cater to merchants from a mix of affiliate networks, then you’ll always have revenue coming your way, and should your relationship go south with any one of them, you can at least replace them while experiencing only a temporary dip in your overall earnings.
Now, not all affiliate networks are created equal. Some networks are legit and some are very shady.
The shady ones don’t report all sales and pocket the unreported commissions and many delay payments unnecessarily compromising your income continuity.
For this reason, I’ve created a list of the top 5 affiliate networks who always pay on time, offer competitive commissions and will never (ever) pocket one penny that belongs to you.
Disclosure: Although I receive affiliate compensation for some of the links below at no additional cost to you that compensation in no way influences my recommendations, which are strictly informed by my years of digital marketing experience working with clients large and small. My aim is to always recommend tools that will offer you the best return on investment.
What Are the Best Affiliate Networks?
ShareASale is a leader in the industry, providing affiliate partners with a wide range of training seminars, merchant recommendations and marketing classes to help you grow your affiliate business.
Although they don’t offer as many big-brand names as their competitors, they do host over 4,500 small and medium-size merchants, including Thinkific, WPEngine, and Masterclass.
Where they truly excel is in the merchant search capabilities. For example you can easily find your ideal candidates by filtering their merchant database by EPC, start date, alphabetical appearance, commission amounts and cookie length, among other options.
They have a simple sign up process, easy to use affiliate link creation tools, and excellent reporting.
ShareASale Features that Stand Out
- Signup and approval process more straightforward than competing networks
- 4,500+ merchants with lots of offers to choose from
- Best in class for merchant and offer searches
- Payment terms are net 30
- Pays out on the 20th of each month
- Payment methods: direct deposit, check or Payoneer (no PayPal)
Now the Cons...
- Although they offer good support, their customer service interface is quite lacking (e.g. hard to find their phone number on their website)
- Lacks big-brands
- User interface needs a refresh (btw, this is a common complaint for most affiliate networks)
Find Out More About ShareaSale Here.
Awin is an award-winning global affiliate marketplace with over 13,000 merchants in 180 countries. Big brands include: AliExpress, ETSY, HP, Lonely Planet and Hotels.com.
They are a leading affiliate network in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. and provide excellent support through trouble tickets, phone and an extensive wiki support site.
Their approval process is straightforward, but you’ll also need to be approved by individual merchants, which can sometimes delay your affiliate links a little bit.
Awin has created a powerful search tool to make it easier for you to select from among 4 million products to promote. More importantly, they created a powerful algorithm to identify the best-performing merchant programs across their network.
To simplify the creation of affiliate links, they’ve developed a WordPress plugin that automatically converts product links into trackable links with a single click.
Awin Features that Stand Out
- Wide range of merchants and offers to choose from
- Pays on the 1st and 15th of the month
- Minimum payment threshold is $20
- Payment terms: net 15
- Clear statistics in affiliate dashboard
- Payment methods: direct deposit, wire transfer
Now the Cons...
- Signup process is a bit cumbersome
- Weirdly they require a small refundable $5 deposit with your application
- Must be approved by individual merchants
- No PayPal or Payoneer as payment methods
- Sometimes payments can take a long time (depending on the merchant)
Find Out More About Awin Here.
Without a doubt, Amazon Associates is perhaps the most popular affiliate program on the land. Why are they not number one on this list? Because their commission rates are extremely low compared to the competition.
While Amazon Associates has by far the largest suite of products to promote compared to any other network, they do pay mere cents on the dollar (e.g. a huge chuck of their inventory pays out 1-2% commissions).
Having said that, they do have the highest conversion rates of all networks, simply because Amazon is a master at converting visitors into cash. Have you ever visited Amazon when you were looking for something and not purchase it?
In fact, when someone visits Amazon through one of your affiliate links, there’s a good chance they'll end up buying a lot more than what you have on offer—and you’ll get a commission for the entire purchase!
So, as long as you have a well put-together affiliate site with decent traffic, there’s a good chance you’ll always make decent money with Amazon, and this consistency is definitely a plus.
However, you should also complement it with other affiliate networks to round out your online affiliate income.
Amazon Affiliates Features that Stand Out
- High probability of visitors being upsold well beyond your linked product
- A virtually unlimited list of products
- The entire Amazon site is engineered to convert
- Unlimited niches available
- Trusted platform with tens of millions of captive customers with a Prime membership (read: customers pre-conditioned to make multiple purchases!)
Now the Cons...
- Famous for making multiple revenue-impacting changes to their terms and conditions without notice, which can sometimes negatively affect your commissions
- Known for reducing commission rates without warning
- Cookie duration is only 24 hours (if someone clicks on an Amazon affiliate link of your website and makes a purchase 25 hours later, you don’t get paid)
- Low commissions compared to other networks on this list
- Unclear terms of service (i.e. often worded to be vague, likely on purpose to give themselves more enforcement leeway)
- Not good for information product niches or services in general
Find Out More About Amazon Associates Here.
One of the oldest affiliate networks, CJ Affiliates processes over $15 billion in annual sales with over $1.8 billion paid out annually to affiliate partners.
They have a straight forward signup process and have over 2,800 brands in their roster, including big brands like GoPro, Lowes, Zappos and Verizon, plus a huge number of smaller brands.
The signup process is straightforward and they offer support through an extensive knowledge base and live chat (no phone support).
They also offer excellent real-time reporting and reliable monthly payments.
In addition to affiliate links, they also allow you to create a number of product widgets, like slideshows, collages and a grid featuring products from multiple vendors.
Finally, they give you the ability to offer ad space on your site for merchants on the network.
CJ Affiliates Features that Stand Out
- Straight forward signup process
- Easy to use
- Large number of merchants in many niches
- Wide selection of link creation tools
- Can sell ad space on your site
- Payment terms: net 30
- Payment regularity (all payments scheduled for the 20th of each month)
- Minimum payment threshold: $50 dollars
- Payment method: check or direct deposit
Now the Cons...
- You have to generate sales before being approved by individual merchants. Once they verify that some sales have come from your site, they’ll approve you (this chicken and the egg approach is a bit weird)
- No phone support
Find Out More About CJ Affiliates Here.
With about 1,000 merchants, including big-name brands like Microsoft, Nvidia, NordVPN and JetBlue, Rakuten is the smallest of our top-rated affiliate networks but definitely manage to punch above their weight.
Their platform is really easy to use so it’s great for beginners, they have high-quality tutorial videos and excellent reporting tools that tell you where every penny comes from at all times.
In addition to affiliate commissions they also allow you to monetize visitors by placing banners (i.e. traditional advertising). They can also pay you per sale as well as per lead (keep in mind that per-sale commissions are dramatically higher than per-lead.)
Rakuten has excellent 24/7 support and a good knowledge base. They offer phone support only in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Everywhere else, they offer live chat and email support.
The sign-up process is quick and easy, and the affiliate link creation process is straight forward.
Let's now look at their pros and cons:
Rakuten Features that Stand Out
- Ease of use
- Big-name merchants
- Advanced deep-learning tools
- Offer types: per sale, per lead and paid-ad placement offers
- Quick signup process
- Great customer support
- Payment terms: net 60
- High-quality analytics
- Great reporting of sales
Now the Cons...
- They pay monthly, but not necessarily on the same day every month. Their payment schedule tends to be more irregular than their competitors.
- Their UI looks a bit dated compared to other players, however it does deliver the goods (this is just a matter of esthetic)
- Can’t sort affiliate programs by EPC
Find Out More About Rakuten Here.
What to Do Next?
Sign up to multiple affiliate networks, browse through their products and merchants to find those that best match your niche and your site's content, screen them by commission level and EPC, add affiliate links to your content and begin earning affiliate commissions.