8 Best Affiliate Platforms and Software (that I am all using myself)
Updated: Sep 10
Since affiliate marketing is our main source of revenue at Tooltester, we're signed up with 100s of companies. Previously, I told you about the 10 things that make me happy as an affiliate.
The affiliate network (or software) you choose obviously plays an important part in how convenient it is to promote your products.
Therefore, let me explain what I like and dislike about each of the systems we use. I will start with fully managed affiliate platforms (e.g. Awin) and then also discuss SaaS solutions (e.g. Ambassador).
Affiliate Platforms vs Software Tools - Pros and Cons
The advantage of affiliate software is mainly the price. It's far cheaper to set up and run. But as mentioned, you will have to make sure enough interesting affiliate partners land on your platform. Another disadvantage is fraud prevention. Big affiliate platforms usually have detection systems in place. While most software tools also offer this, you'll have to do more fraud prevention yourself.
What Affiliate Platforms Are Companies Actually Using?
I thought it could be useful to provide an overview of the affiliate platforms some of our partners are using. The most popular one here is Impact with seven of our partner relying on it. Other popular ones are Ambassador (4 times) and Partnerstack (3 times). Six of our partners are using their own proprietary affiliate system.
Let's now take a look at the details for 8 affiliate platforms:
The German AWIN network (formerly Zanox) is the leading affiliate platform in the world after having taken over ShareAsale, Affili.net and many others. For me as an affiliate it's an okay platform. It's not the easiest to use as the menus are pretty complicated due to the high number of features. My guess is also that it's not the cheapest one to set up either.
Deeplinks: yes (via Link Builder)
Pricing: no information
What I like: good selection of companies, provides all features that I need as an affiliate like automatic payments via bank transfer in different currencies.
What I dislike: it's complicated to use. Credit notes won't be emailed.
Although they also belong to Awin, it doesn't look like ShareAsale will be switched off anytime soon (however, you can never be too sure). I use it mainly for the Weebly affiliate program and I have to say it's one of my favorites. It loads fast, the menus are intuitive and I really have everything I need in there. The only drawback I can think of is that there is only one SubID. Sometimes I would like to track different values, which is not possible here unfortunately.
SubIDs: yes (however no multiple IDs)
Pricing: $550 access fee + $100 minimum deposit
What I like: a no-nonsense platform that does (nearly) everything an affiliate wants, good reports and good payment options
What I dislike: everything looks a bit old and it would be nice to be able to add multiple link tracking extensions.
Impact is another US-based affiliate platform and refreshingly modern. It's slick, loads fast and has an interesting selection of affiliate partners to choose from. We use it for Squarespace, Namecheap and BigCommerce among others. Similarly to the other big platforms, the menu can be slightly confusing but it seems like this is something you have to live with if you are using one of the big guns.
Deeplinks: yes (via the link creator)
Pricing: no information
What I like: the design is nice and everything loads fast. They do bank transfers in different currencies. The reports are useful. There seems to be also a white-label product.
What I dislike: although not quite as bad as Awin or CJ, I find that Impact's usability could be better
US-based CJ is one of the classic affiliate networks and also very big with offices around the world. It's got a huge number of affiliate companies, including very big ones like GoDaddy and Constant Contact. My main complaint about CJ is that their platform is so terribly slow. Whenever you are trying to load a report it takes at least 5-10 seconds until anything appears on your screen. It also has been pretty consistently like this in the past decade that I've been using them.
Deeplinks: yes via Bookmarklet
Pricing: no information
What I like: similar to Awin there are a huge number of interesting companies, they have all the important features and also do bank transfers in various currencies.
What I dislike: as mentioned, it can be a pain to use due to its sluggishness. Sometimes I also receive email notifications for affiliate campaigns that I never signed up for, which is annoying.
Partnerstack (formerly Growsumo) is a pretty new affiliate platform. They are a bit in between a serviced platform and a SaaS application as there is a marketplace behind it all. The tool is pretty decent, allowing you to create deep links, for example. Unfortunately, subID tracking seems to have been implemented as an afterthought, which is strange for an application of this price point.
SubIDs: yes (here's a guide), unfortunately finding those sales in the reporting is rather clunky
Pricing: starts at $800 per month + a %-fee for any commissions generated
What I like: the interface is modern and probably the one I like best. It's very smart that they also allow you to connect your Stripe account for payments so you can avoid expensive Paypal fees.
What I dislike: no subIDs, it's unclear to me why such an important feature doesn't exist.
From Amsterdam, Tapfiliate has managed to attract a massive number of companies we work with. Among them are Sendinblue, Tidio, Mailjet and many others. After checking their prices I now also know why. Considering their huge amount of features they are by far the cheapest affiliate software.
So on paper Tapfiliate seems really great. The only issue I encountered has to do with subID Tracking. In the affiliate dashboard, you can indeed add subIDs as you can see in the screenshot:
However, getting the subID report is much more work than with other platforms. Rather than just going to the reporting section you have to actually download the reporting file. Also, I initially used the 'Source' field to separate my different target groups, which I later learned isn't intended for this purpose. So the devil is in the details with Tapfilite but once you've figured it out it's actually a pretty solid affiliate software.
Deeplinks: yes (instructions)
SubIDs: yes (although a bit complicated to manage)
Pricing: starting at $69 per month
What I like: it's a simple interface, very easy to understand and modern. Affiliates can use your usual link structure with a refID attached to it.
What I dislike: subID feature is more complicated than with other platforms (especially getting to the reporting)
Post Affiliate Pro
Czech-based Post Affiliate Pro is one of the first affiliate tools I ever encountered (primarily for the Webnode site builder). It's a decent-enough option, however, it really doesn't offer too many features. Even though there seems to be a campaign/subID option, I was never able to make it work properly. That's why I had to sign up for 7 different accounts for one website builder we are promoting. Not exactly convenient. Also I am sorely missing a deep link generator.
SubIDs: no (there is a campaigns feature I couldn't make work properly)
Pricing: starting at $97 per month
What I like: it's a lean interface and it's quite easy to find the relevant information. It loads fast and looks modern. It's also one of the cheapest options to get started with.
What I dislike: the missing possibility to use subIDs doesn't make it a great choice for international companies who promote different languages. Deep links should be supported too, obviously.
This affiliate software has its focus on SaaS companies (Software as a Service). Needless to say, Link Mink is a cloud-based software itself and offers attractive pricing options. We first heard of their service because ConvertKit, an email marketing service we are an affiliate for, switched to them (coming from Ambassador). They have a direct integration with Stripe, which obviously is very important for most SaaS companies.
The Starter plan is very limited and lets you only bring in only $1,000 in monthly revenue. To use automatic payouts and make up to $8,000 in monthly affiliate revenue you'll have to pay $65 for the Growth plan. The Business and Enterprise plans have the same features as the the Growth plan but allow for higher revenue thresholds.
Deeplinks: Yes, easy to create
SubIDs: yes, by adding the string &lm_meta=TRACKING
Pricing: starting at $39 per month
What I like: it's got a very clean interface and you can get started for very little money
What I dislike: so far, payments seem to be limited to Paypal. Their website is quite reduced and doesn't have a ton of information yet.
The Detroit-based company has grown increasingly popular in recent times. Companies like Hubspot, ConvertKit and Strikingly are using them. Personally, I don't find them terrible but I am not thrilled about the missing subID tracking. It's very hard to understand for me how such an essential feature can be missing (I guess I am repeating myself). At least you can generate deep links but it's also strange they don't explain it anywhere. One of our partners finally told me when I specifically asked for it. That's not how you should find out about important features.
Deeplinks: yes, not very intuitive though. You have to add "?url=" to your link.
Pricing: around $10,000 per year
What I like: it's a simple interface, very easy to understand
What I dislike: no subIDs (you already know this one) and the reporting could be more advanced. Also, the companies I work with only payout via PayPal (I suppose because Ambassador doesn't offer anything else). The affiliate link is a relatively ugly URL that starts with "mbsy.co".
To be honest, I am a bit disappointed that there really is no simple and cheap solution that covers all of these essential aspects a lot of affiliates require: deep link creation, subID tracking and a decent choice of payment options (not just expensive PayPal). If you are looking for an affiliate (full-service) platform, I would probably go with ShareAsale or Impact.
Picking one of the self-service platforms is probably a more price-centered matter. You heard me complain a lot about the missing subID tracking, and it's really a pity because your best affiliates will absolutely need this feature. In the worst case you can let them create multiple accounts, which isn't really convenient but a workaround. Considering all pros and cons, my suggestion in this case would be Tapfiliate due to the very attractive price point.
Hopefully, there will be more referral platforms in the future that are not only attractive price-wise but also in terms of features.
Questions, feedback? Please let me know in the comments!
22 Feb 2021 - Table added 09 Dec 2019 - LinkMink added