Whether you sell carnivorous houseplants or vegetarian meatloaf, your success depends on reaching your target audience. Since influential creators in your niche wield influence over your target audience, partnering with the right ones can help you leverage their popularity and authority.
You can use an affiliate marketing platform to find creators popular with potential customers and partner with them to increase brand awareness and drive sales. Here’s how affiliate marketing works, plus popular affiliate marketing platforms for online businesses.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing strategy where an online merchant compensates an influencer or creator (the “affiliate” or “affiliate marketer”) with a commission for sales generated by the affiliate’s promotion of a product. It’s a form of revenue sharing.
Typically, businesses provide affiliates with unique affiliate marketing links, which affiliate marketers can then share on their websites, social media channels, and other platforms to promote to their followers. This allows businesses to attribute sales to specific influencers and compensate them accordingly.
Benefits of affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing offers a low-risk marketing strategy that’s easy to scale with your business. Here’s an overview of the benefits:
Minimal upfront investment
Starting an affiliate program offers online business owners the chance to promote products with little to no upfront investment. Many affiliate marketing platforms offer free plans or free trials, so you don’t need to put up funds to get started.
Affiliate marketing is a low-risk, long-term marketing strategy. You can decide how your affiliates get paid and design your program to minimize risk based on your specific goals.
For example, many programs pay affiliates per saleor click, meaning you only incur costs when a desired action occurs due to the affiliate’s efforts. This performance-based model ensures that your marketing budget is directly tied to actual outcomes, making affiliate marketing a relatively cost-effective strategy.
Niche targeting ability
Running an affiliate marketing program can help you connect with creators uniquely positioned to promote your company, and joining an affiliate platform can help you connect with creators who are qualified to promote your products and services.
What is an affiliate marketing platform?
Affiliate marketing platforms (also known as affiliate marketing networks) are websites that connect businesses with influencers and content creators to establish affiliate partnerships.
Businesses post opportunities to an affiliate marketing program site, and affiliates join the network to browse affiliate programs, identify potential partnerships, and sign up or apply. Businesses can also proactively reach out to influencers through the platform.
A reliable affiliate network can help you identify the right influencers for your products or services and help you manage your affiliate marketing program. Many platforms allow you to generate affiliate links, review results, and pay affiliates directly within the platform or via payment integration. Some also offer additional marketing tools like customer outreach templates and contact automations.
Top affiliate marketing platforms
- Shopify Collabs
- CJ Affiliate
Affiliate marketing platforms offer a wide range of features at various price points. Some are for businesses in specific industries. The best affiliate marketing platform for your business depends on your budget, target audience, and goals. Here are 10 of the most popular affiliate networks and their pros and cons:
Shopify Collabs helps you connect with affiliates and offers customizable affiliate links and codes. Eligible creators can also apply to the Collabs Network, which streamlines the affiliate marketing process for brands and creators.
Through the Collabs Network, eligible Shopify affiliates gain access to a network of brands, allowing creators to generate their affiliate marketing links. There’s no need for you to approve each new partnership. You can also create applications to enable creators to pursue a specific affiliate relationship not covered under general program rates.
- Automatic payments via PayPal or direct deposit
- Advanced reporting
- Streamlined partnerships with Collabs Network
- Affiliate link generator
- No start-up or monthly expenses
- 2.9% payment processing fee on commission payments
Founded in 1998, CJ Affiliate is one of the oldest affiliate networks on the market. The platform serves businesses selling digital and physical products. Finance, travel, software, and retail are particularly popular niches. CJ Affiliate verifies influencer activities before making initial payments and provides ongoing program compliance monitoring and fraud detection services.
- Custom commission rates
- Affiliate payment via direct deposit or Payoneer
- Shopify, WordPress, and Adobe Ecommerce (Magento) integrations
- Fraud detection and monitoring
- Advanced reporting and tracking
- User-friendly interface
- Contact the CJ Affiliate team
Upfluence can help you find affiliates, generate promo codes and affiliate links, and track commission payments. You can pay affiliates directly within the platform, and international payments help you partner with affiliates around the world. Upfluence also provides outreach templates, making it easy for you to approach influencers on the platform.
- Shopify, WooCommerce, and Adobe Ecommerce (Magento) integrations
- Automated payments
- International payments
- Social listening tool
- Outreach templates
- Analytics dashboard
- Contact the Upfluence team
Trackdesk provides advanced automation features to help you recruit and pay affiliates and track affiliate income and performance. Although the platform doesn’t include native payment functions, it integrates with PayPal and Stripe to automate transactions.
- Shopify, PayPal, Stripe, and Wix integrations
- Advanced automation features
- Flexible commission structures
- Automated recruiting tools
- Real-time reporting
- Allows unlimited affiliate partnerships
- $0 for up to $5,000 in monthly revenue
- $79/month for up to $19,999 in monthly revenue
- Custom pricing for unlimited monthly revenue
LeadDyno allows you to customize an affiliate website with the look and feel of your brand, and paid plans also include a custom domain name and one-on-one setup support. The platform also provides automated email functions that let you invite customers to participate in your affiliate program. If enabled, the Affiliate Invitation Email function automatically invites new customers to join your affiliate program. You can customize the email and include a one-click sign-up link in the email body.
- Branded recruiting portal
- Flexible commissions
- Integrated payments via PayPal and Coinbase
- Over 25 direct integrations, including Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce
- Affiliate leaderboard and real-time tracking
- Unlimited affiliates
- 30-dayfree trial
- Four payment tiers
Affiliatly provides a low-cost option for you to recruit and manage affiliates. Pricing is based on number of affiliates—not revenue—so it can be particularly cost-effective for businesses with smaller affiliate programs. You can also upload creative assets to the site to make it easier for affiliates to promote your products.
- Automated payments via PayPal
- Provides tracking by link, QR code, or coupon code
- Advanced reporting
- Allows up to two affiliate tiers
- 90-day free trial offered
- Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and SquareSpace integrations
- Six pricing tiers, including:
- $16/month for up to 50 affiliates
- $129/month for unlimited affiliates
Rewardful is specifically designed to support software-as-a-service (SaaS) company affiliate programs with a commission structure that accommodates scenarios like subscription upgrades, downgrades, free trials, refunds, and cancellations. Although direct ecommerce integrations are limited to Stripe and Paddle, all plans offer API access, allowing you to set up integrations with other platforms. Paid plans include a custom domain and unlimited team-member access to the platform.
- PayPal payment integrations
- Fraud detection
- Subscription-focused commission parameters
- Supports multiple currencies
- User-friendly interface
- Three payment tiers, including:
- $49 a month for up to $7,500 a month in affiliate revenue
- $149 a month for over $15,000 in affiliate revenue
ShareASale is a well-known affiliate marketing platform with more than 270,000 affiliate members, making it a great starting point for building affiliate partnerships. In 2022, the platform generated more than $17 billion in affiliate sales.
ShareASale pre-screens affiliates, offers fraud protection, and supports targeted outreach to affiliates by performance data, niche, and relevance to your brand. You can also segment active affiliates by groups and run reports, adjust commission terms, or provide assets based on group.
- Real-time performance updates
- Advanced reporting
- Customizable commissions
- In-platform payments
- $625 joining fee
- $125 minimum deposit
- $35/month access fee
- 20% recurring commissions fee
PartnerStack helps you recruit, activate, track, and reward affiliate partners, with a particular emphasis on SaaS businesses. Its reporting features include revenue and payment tracking. It also allows you to track lead progress through the sales pipeline.
- Advanced analytics
- In-platform recruiting features
- Affiliate groups
- Automatic payments
- Salesforce, Hubspot, and Stripe integrations
- Email automation for partner outreach
- Allows incentive targets for top partners
- Customizable onboarding
- Contact the PartnerStack team
Everflow can help you manage affiliate campaigns as well as other marketing efforts, including media buying and influencer marketing programs. Although Everflow has a steeper learning curve than many other affiliate networks, the platform pairs each business with a dedicated account manager, and customer support is available 24 hours a day.
- Advanced analytics and performance tracking
- 24/7 customer support
- Affiliate groups
- Shopify, Salesforce, and Facebook integrations
- Integrated payments
- Supports other marketing use cases
- Starts at $750/month
Affiliate marketing platforms FAQ
How do you choose the right affiliate marketing platform to use?
The best affiliate platform for your affiliate marketing efforts depends on your budget, goals, and intended use. If you’re just starting, look for features like direct ecommerce integrations, automated payment and recruiting, and fraud detection.
Can you use multiple affiliate marketing platforms at the same time?
Yes. If you use multiple affiliate platforms, pay special attention to pricing terms to ensure you aren’t doubling up on costs. Many platforms charge monthly fees instead of a percentage of revenue.
How do you become an affiliate marketer?
These four steps can help you earn affiliate income:
- Build your following.
- Join an influencer marketing platform.
- Approach brands directly.
- Share affiliate links with your audiences.