Affiliate Network Programs

There are dozens of quality Affiliate Networks that suppliers and affiliates can choose to work with.  Competition among affiliate networks has historically been fierce, and given the today’s economic turmoil, the competitive bar has been raised considerably.

We assume (perhaps incorrectly) that by definition, most affiliate networks have the requisite product offerings, critical mass (supplier and affiliates) and technologies to meet the needs of suppliers and affiliates alike; otherwise, who would decide to work with them?  In their attempt to stand above the industry’s marketing noise and clutter, every affiliate network attempts to project unique capabilities, strengths or approaches to set them apart from their competitors; for the average supplier and affiliate, it’s generally hard to decipher how much of network posturing is real versus spin.

Generally speaking, affiliates look for several key criteria when assessing which network (or networks) they want to partner with:

Affiliate Network-Selection Criteria

  • Critical Mass:
    - Number of suppliers / merchants/ advertisers in the network
    - Number of merchant offers
    - Frequency of new offers
  • Revenue / Earnings Potential:
    - Base commission/spiff structure
    - Low earnings threshold
    - Ease of finding keyword / traffic restrictions for an offer
    - Frequency of network’s payment schedule
    - Reliability of supplier / network payments
    - Other key revenue attributes (e.g., bonus commissions, conversion rates, etc)
  • Technology – Dashboard backend functionality / usability
  • Customer Service

These are all valid (and absolutely necessary) selection criteria that all affiliates should use in their vetting process; however, based on our experience, it’s also a critical imperative that the network you choose to partner with has a solid understanding of the travel industry.

Knowledge about specific industry verticals or product lines is what in our view fundamentally separates the leaders from the pack. After all, the more knowledgeable a network and its staff are about the travel industry in general – and, more specifically, the various individual segments that comprise it – the more effective, efficient  and creative they are in helping both the travel supplier and the travel affiliate craft successful affiliate marketing programs.

To underscore our point, take a moment and think about your business by asking yourself the following questions…would I rather seek tax advice from my accountant or my lawyer?  Should I shop for office equipment and supplies at the grocery store or at an office supply retailer like Staples or OfficeMax?  Would I prefer to consult with a doctor or an HMO administrator when something physically ails me?

In each case, the ‘generalist’ (i.e., lawyer, grocery store and HMO administrator respectively) could provide you with some advice regarding your need or inquiry, but we think you would agree that the ‘specialist’ (accountant, Staples / OfficeMax and doctor) would be a far superior knowledge source, and therefore more likely to provide you with all of the ‘right’ information, products, services or advice you need.  Likewise, the same holds true for Affiliate Networks – working with a product manager ‘generalist’ may suffice for most affiliate products, but to be really successful in selling travel products and services, particularly those which are more complex ( and therefore more profitable), you should only work with specialists.

Given that as measured by virtually every economic gauge, travel is the world’s largest industry, and that travel is also one of the three largest online retailing sectors, and that a recent estimate by JupiterResearch pegs travel sales as representing about 10% of all affiliate marketing spend, one would think that extensive – if not sector specific – travel industry knowledge and expertise exists in the affiliate marketing network world.  Unfortunately – and much to our amazement and dismay – the reality is that these attributes and skill sets are largely lacking in the affiliate network world today.

We don’t mean to imply that the current network players are devoid of any travel industry talent, rather, that any talent that does exist in most networks in very thin and difficult to locate. We would argue that these thin talent ranks within the networks is one of the key reasons why the travel industry (both travel suppliers and travel affiliates) have yet to realize their true potential in affiliate marketing.

The following list represents a snapshot of some of the major affiliate networks that offer travel products and programs:

  • www.CJ.com Commission Junction claims to power almost half of the top 500 web retailers’ affiliate marketing programs, and appears to have the largest and most diversified travel supplier portfolio, counting more than 222 travel merchants, including 3 of the ‘Big 6′ Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) – Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline – as customers.
  • wwwLinkshare.com LinkShare is another of the top networks in terms of scale and scope, and focuses on major brands in each vertical, claiming more than 600 merchants under contract. Travel brands in LinkShare’s network include the remaining 3 of the ‘Big 5′ OTAs (Orbitz, Cheaptickets and Hotwire), as well as Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Enterprise Car Rental, among a slew of others.
  • www.google.com/ads/affiliatenetwork/ Formerly Performics, Google acquired Peformics as part of its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick in March, 2008. Rebranding as Google Affiliate Network (GAN) several months later, Google has quietly been investing in GAN ever since, with particular focus on upgrading Performics’ existing Dashboard reporting system.We have not been able to estimate GAN’s overall or travel industry supplier roster, it seems clear that GAN seeks high-volume sales merchants (e.g., Verizon, Kohls, Sears, Barnes & Noble are representative examples of GAN’s merchant customers) and is rather picky about who is let into the ‘club – candidate suppliers apply for acceptance, match Google’s high quality standards and are subject to a rather lengthy pre-qualification interview with a member of the GAN team.As an aside, here’s one interesting travel related case study about family travel searches (produced by Performics in 2007) that you may want to check-out: “How Surfer Moms Search for Travel”
  • www.ShareASale.com Best known for their exceptional customer service, reputation for integrity and inexpensive cost structure, ShareASale purportedly has contracts with more than 2,200 merchants. However, the vast majority of their merchant base is comprised of small vendors/brands; based on our review of their supplier listings, we found 25 travel merchants (medium- to small sized brands such as isango.com, e-zrentacar.com, etc.).
  • www.affiliatefuture.com Headquartered in London, UK, with offices in Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, France and the US, Affiliate Future is the one network that actually can claim to have travel industry experience – and lots of it! Launched with just one supplier in 2004, today Affiliate Future has more than 800 advertisers, many of them in the travel vertical, including major industry players like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and RIU Hotels.Though they have made a major push to broaden their supplier base into general retailing, travel still represents a huge chunk of Affiliate Future’s overall business. They know travel, have very good technology and appear to have a solid reputation amongst their affiliates…three good reasons we think they’re worth a look by both travel suppliers and travel affiliates.
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