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Have you heard of affiliate marketing?
If you’re in the marketing industry, chances are you have. However, not too many people really know what it actually is, how it works, or how to build their own affiliate marketing program (check out this post to learn how).
Table of Contents
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when businesses build a partnership with influencers or bloggers in their industry that have their own online audience and pay them for the leads sent to the company’s website. This is usually a percentage commission or a flat fee per conversion.
This type of relationship is typically mutually beneficial for both sides: one side gets relatively affordable advertising, and the other gets paid for said advertising.
Why do you need affiliate marketing software?
Very good question.
It seems like something you could orchestrate on your own, right?
Allow me to explain:
Influencers and bloggers have built a loyal following, people who come back to their sites again and again. These loyal readers trust the content they find on the blog.
When these bloggers or influencers write about your company and recommend your products to their audience, “warm leads” are sent to your website. On average, businesses that have an affiliate marketing program receive their highest rates of conversion from affiliates.
Because these leads are so crucial to your business, you need to stay organized with each of them. Affiliate marketing software provides an easy way to manage and communicate with affiliates, so that you know you are making the most of your affiliate program.
One note: If you’re just starting out, you can use UTM codes. UTM codes append extra parameters to the end of your website’s URL. This enables you to track conversions from different affiliate partners in Google Analytics (or any other analytics tool). However, scaling a program this way is limiting because 1) it takes time and energy to create affiliate codes for every affiliate, 2) there is no way for affiliates to sign up themselves, 3) you have to manually pay affiliates, and 4) there is no cookie window, so affiliates probably won’t earn as much commission as they would with a real program. This can be demotivating for an experienced affiliate or influencer.
Let’s take a closer look at the best affiliate software tools out there.
5 out of 5
What is PartnerStack?
PartnerStack enables companies to leverage affiliate partnerships in order to grow revenue, increase distribution, and go to market more efficiently. Some of our best affiliate partners use PartnerStack. It happens to be my favorite affiliate software and many of our SaaS (software) partners use it to run their affiliate programs. I like it because it’s the slickest interface and easiest-to-understand tool out there. It’s amazing how many affiliate tools are clunky to the point of being unusable (ehem ShareASale).
Who should use PartnerStack?
PartnerStack is great for companies who want the ability to manage all of their affiliate marketing channel programs with a single dashboard. The software features a full suite of marketing, affiliate, and referral solutions with real-time reporting and payouts. PartnerStack users include Unbounce, Instapage and Leadpages as well as Bill.com, CallRail, and Vimeo. Plus, because they have a big ecosystem of partners, they’ll actually help you acquire more affiliates to join your program.
- Intuitive, clean, simple dashboard — the best in the business
- Easy payout process for partners (can connect right to your PayPal or bank account)
- Ability to manage and refer clients while keeping it all together under one roof
- Can reach out to partners directly within the platform for any questions or concerns
- PartnerStack sends out updates to its entire database of affiliates with new programs and offers — so they market your program a bit for you
- Product integrations may take some time
- Platform can sometimes run a bit slow
- Lacks some integrations
- Still expensive for small operations
PartnerStack has three general pricing tiers, but you must talk to a member of our team to determine specific pricing. The lowest price point seems to be around $500/month.
You can check out some of the PartnerStack integrations here.
5 out of 5
What is Impact?
Impact is one of the biggest names in affiliate software. That’s because it’s one of the best affiliate software programs on the market. In addition to PartnerStack, it’s the platform that many of our affiliates use. It hosts a “partnership cloud” that manages a “partnership economy” supporting those using affiliates or influencers. Impact’s customers include Airbnb, Microsoft, Uber, eBay, Amex, Capital One, Disney, Adidas, NBC’s Peacock, Walmart, Target, and more, and it’s only continuing to grow.
Who should use Impact?
Impact is great for every marketer and business out there. They’ve created a partnership platform that lets brands engage people for influencer and affiliate marketing or wider business development, connects publishers with brands and influencers, and helps creators monetize their personal brands. Plus, it provides the infrastructure both to track the content and collect revenue for every piece of the affiliate marketing puzzle. However, the price makes it prohibitively expensive for smaller companies.
- Can be used by any part of the affiliate cycle for any sized organization
- Incredibly knowledgable and organized client support
- Almost endless data points to track and analyze
- Lowest enterprise pricing for large businesses
- Great affiliate dashboards to motivate your partners (you’d be surprised how many dashboards suck)
- Ability to make “shallow” funnel conversions and pay at different affiliates at different reward levels
- Ample support for influencer marketing
- Due to its complexity, it takes some time to learn the platform and get it running
- Can be challenging to filter some reporting sections
- Very expensive
You can contact Impact for a demo, whether you’re a brand trying to grow your affiliate program, or a creator and publisher looking to be part of those programs. Generally, programs start at $5k per month or more.
Impact can be integrated with a wide variety of third-party applications. Find the full list of Impact integration partners here.
5 out of 5
What is Ambassador?
Ambassador is an all-in-one referral software that provides a way for marketers to increase referrals, customers, and revenue through leveraging word-of-mouth advertising. Their software simplifies the referral marketing process by automating enrolling, tracking, and rewarding partners, influencer marketing, and affiliates. I find it pretty easy to use.
Who should use Ambassador?
Ambassador is ideal for marketers of B2B and B2C brands who want an all-in-one software for affiliate marketing that allows them to streamline and automate the process of enrolling and managing their company affiliates, partners, customers, and more. The software also allows marketers to segment their ambassadors. Customers include primarily consumer businesses like Zillow, Shinola, Kumon, Eaze, eSalon and Madison Reed.
- Versatility in payment methods, including cash (PayPal, bank transfer, Dwolla), gift cards, store coupons, and voucher codes
- Excellent customer on-boarding and ongoing support
- Intuitive ease of use
- Fully featured/easily track all of your progress
- Easily customized campaigns
- Given that it is a robust platform, it may take some upfront effort to get it set up properly
- Requires ongoing commitment and focus to make the program successful
- May need website developer assistance to install
Ambassador offers plans based on the size of the company. You can contact the company for a demo and pricing.
Ambassador integrates with a variety of third-party applications. Find the full list here.
5 out of 5
What is Refersion?
Refersion is an all-in-one affiliate and partnership management tool for ecommerce businesses. Easily onboard affiliates, manage campaigns and pay partners natively with PayPal or Refersion’s own payment system. Plus, Refersion deals with your taxes — a pretty big differentiator. Refersion also has very accurate tracking — their first-party & multi-domain/store tracking follows GDPR and CCPA compliance.
Who should use Refersion?
Refersion is a great tool that’s geared toward ecommerce companies. Customers include Bosch, Puravida, Performix, and Webflow.
- Excellent tracking across ambassadors, affiliates and influencers
- Versatility in payment methods, including PayPal, Refersion Pay, and even gift cards.
- Slick dashboard and intuitive interface
- Easily customized campaigns
- Great integrations with a large number of platforms and tools
- Access and manage tax information like W-9 and 1099s natively
- As with every referral or affiliate program, it does require a small upfront engineering investment to get set up
- Customers on G2 complain about the system’s incompatibility with popular tool Chargebee
- Doesn’t have quite the payment customization that some other platforms do
Refersion offers plans that start at $89/month, which enables you to track up to 130 orders per month and create tiered, incentive-based commission structures.
5 out of 5
What is OSI Affiliate?
OSI Affiliate (previously Omnistar) is an easy-to-use referral marketing software that lets marketers easily create and manage their affiliate marketing program. The software makes it easy for businesses to recruit and empower influencers, affiliates, and customers to promote their brands.
Who should use OSI Affiliate?
OSI Affiliate is great for marketers who want to build their own in-house affiliate program that expands their marketing channels by creating a sales-driven customer referral program.
- Simple, easy and straightforward to use and implement
- Excellent customer support
- Good for getting simple affiliate programs up and running quickly.
- Easy-to-use dashboard
- Integration with numerous third-party applications
- Limited payout options
- Integration with CRMs only provides name and email
- The knowledge base leaves some to be desired
OSI Affiliate offers both monthly and annual plans, as well as a 15-day free trial.
OSI Affiliate integrates with more than 30 applications. You can find the complete list here.
4 out of 5
What is Kartra?
Kartra is an all-in-one online business platform that makes it easier for you to run your business, along with managing and tracking affiliate sales with its built-in affiliate management system. It’s a really popular affiliate management tool and has some of the best reviews on the web.
Who should use Kartra?
Kartra Affiliates is designed for internet marketers and for both beginners and experienced users. The software features an intuitive design based on drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-made templates, which helps the learning curve. For seasoned users, Kartra is a robust and flexible engine that allows for complex, customized, and advanced automated marketing campaigns and sales funnels.
- Eliminates the need for all the usual collection of various software solutions
- Great for those with a need for a membership platform
- Set up includes inline, easy-to-understand instructions
- Easy-to-use page builder
- Flexibility and numerous configuration options
- Can have more of a learning curve with more advanced features
- User interface can sometimes be a bit slow
- Email tech support could be quicker
Kartra offers monthly subscription plans. You can contact the company for pricing details. Usually plans start at $200+/month.
Kartra offers more than 20 integrations, including custom integrations.
4 out of 5
What is ShareASale?
ShareASale is an efficient and fast affiliate marketing network that helps both businesses and affiliates with growing their affiliate program and increasing their income. The company also offers real-time tracking and click attribution to boost productivity and efficiency, as well as improve on marketing strategy.
Who should use ShareASale?
ShareASale is designed for all sizes of business looking for a fast and efficient tool that streamlines the process of building and growing their affiliate marketing program.
- Clickstream attribution
- Real-time tracking
- Easily run campaigns for multiple shops under one account.
- Easy to generate custom links to the store product page with your affiliate ID
- Fairly easy to join the program with zero experience working with affiliate programs
- Portal interface is a little outdated
- In most cases, you can only see what the referring page the purchase came
- The recruitment tool can be slightly challenging to use for some people
- Fees get very expensive at scale, because you pay a percentage fee of revenue driven through the platform
ShareASale starts at $550, and then varies depending on average order value and commission sizes.
8. CJ Affiliate
4 out of 5
What is CJ Affiliate?
CJ Affiliate by Conversant, previously known as Commission Junction, is one of the leading affiliate marketing networks. The company specializes in pay-for-performance programs and offers omnichannel, data-driven, and innovative solutions that connect businesses with customers.
Who should use CJ Affiliate?
CJ Affiliate is for businesses wanting to reach and connect with online consumers throughout the world and build productive partnerships between publishers and advertisers by making it easier to build an affiliate program and reward affiliates.
- Large selection of advertisers and verticals
- Ability to customize offers
- Boosted lead generation
- Fast revenue generation
- Global platform
- Admin could stand to be more intuitive
- No single support contact
- Report creation isn’t the most intuitive
You will need to contact the company for a price quote.
4 out of 5
What is FirstPromoter?
FirstPromoter is an all-encompassing SaaS affiliate marketing software that helps SaaS companies track, manage and optimize their affiliate marketing program. The software allows businesses to launch your own affiliate and referral program in minutes and features quick integration with Stripe, Recurly, Braintree, Chargebee or with FirstPromoter’s API.
Who should use FirstPromoter?
FirstPromoter is designed for businesses who utilize SaaS and want all-encompassing software for their affiliate marketing program. The step-by-step setup process makes it easy to launch the program, as well as track, manage, and optimize any type of referral-based marketing program for any kind of SaaS product.
- Provides fast and accurate customer service
- Customizable dashboard
- Fraud protection from suspicious leads
- Ability to set up multi-tiered commissions
- Track referrals without an affiliate link with direct URL tracking
- Reporting dashboards could be more robust
- Not much difference in features between Business and Enterprise plans
- Not many customer reviews are available
FirstPromoter offers three different plans, as well as a 14-day free trial.
FirstPromoter integrates with a wide variety of applications, including more than 1,000 apps using Zapier.
3 out of 5
What is iDevAffiliate?
iDevAffiliate is an affiliate tracking solution that supports customized commission payouts and offers extensive marketing features.
Who should use iDevAffiliate?
The software is great for small businesses looking for a basic affiliate software without all the bells and whistles. It performs all basic functions well at an affordable price.
- Does a great job with the basics at a good price point
- Nice features list is very nice with a few important bells and whistles
- Easy to use and customize
- Numerous cart integrations
- Customer service could use some improvement
- Templates may not be compatible with some website templates
- Some aspects may have a learning curve
iDevAffiliate offers both cloud and self-hosting plan options with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
iDevAffiliate integrates with nearly every cart/checkout system in the world. You can find the full list of integrations here.
3 out of 5
What is JVZoo?
JVZoo is an affiliate marketing platform for selling digital products. The platform makes it simple easy for sellers to promote, list and sell their products, as well as give affiliate marketers some products to promote.
Who should use JVZoo?
JVZoo lets you both host and create landing pages on their own website, so it’s best for professional marketers who want to fill the internet with offers. It’s main strength is that it lets experienced marketers gain access to product launches and a huge range of online courses, while setting up sales funnels and customized landing pages.
- More products to promote which relate to Online Marketing
- Not picky at all in approving vendors
- As a vendor, you get paid immediately if people check out through Paypal
- Easy to create a funnel
- Free to join
- In some cases, you have to wait at least 30 days to get paid
- For vendors, customer service could use some improvement
- Lots of videos and documentation available, but you have to pay to access it (a one-time fee).
It’s free to sign up with JVZoo. You can contact the company for more details about specific pricing.
JVZoo integrates with a variety of third party applications.
3 out of 5
What is Zaxaa?
Zaxaa is a platform where product owners can sell their products without handling any payment. Sales funnels are set up, giving businesses more time to concentrate on what matters. It also includes an email automation tool to make your marketing efforts more effective.
Who should use Zaxaa?
Zaxaa is good for businesses who want an easy-to-use affiliate marketing platform that helps them manage affiliates promoting their products with no extra effort on their part.
- Features beyond a shopping cart
- Easy-to-use platform
- Integrates with popular third-party applications
- Customer support can sometimes be slow
- Occasional tech issues
- Not as many integrations as other affiliate software
Zaxaa offers both monthly and yearly plans with zero set up fees.
Zaxaa provides integrations with several popular applications. See the list here.
The Affiliate Software Runner Ups:
There are many other options for affiliate marketing software available that aren’t included on this list. Here are a few of our runner-ups:
ClickBank is an affiliate marketing program that has been around for a long time and focuses on digital products, particularly courses. There are few affiliate marketing programs larger than this one. ClickBank is a good choice for those who are new to the affiliate marketing game, as you can join for free without an extensive approval process. But, you can’t control the issuance of refunds, and while the refund policy improves conversion rates but can decrease income
Trackier is a performance marketing software designed for any size business and is popular among creative networks and advertising agencies. It’s a great performance tracking tool, however, it doesn’t have as much focus on affiliate marketing and managing affiliates as some of the other software options on our list.
Like with Trackier, Tipalti offers some features for affiliate marketing, but not enough to be one of the top affiliate marketing software. The platform is primarily designed as a payment management and automation system, which can help with automating payments to affiliates.
ReferralCandy is a more of an e-commerce store plugin for referral program management, rather than a robust affiliate marketing software. It lets you leverage word-of-mouth marketing and provide incentives for referrals in a variety of forms, including cash, discounts, store credit, or even free products.
PayKickstart is a comprehensive tool for shopping cart management solution that offers several affiliate management features, along with building different types of commission programs. User experience and integration technical issues are few areas where this platform could use some improvement.
By using one of these affiliate marketing software solutions to help track the traffic from your affiliate marketing program, you will soon discover just how valuable affiliate marketing truly is. It’s also relatively inexpensive, especially compared to PPC advertising since you only pay for actual conversions.
For more information on how to start an affiliate marketing program, check out The Secret Growth Hack to Building Your Program.