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Since affiliate marketing is our main source of revenue at Tooltester, we’re signed up with 100s of companies.
From this unique perspective, I would like to show you what features affiliate publishers are looking for. Because, in the end, it’s essential your affiliates get value out of the software you are offering to them.
The affiliate software (or network) you choose obviously plays a crucial 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. Post Affiliate Pro).
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 find your program. Another disadvantage is fraud prevention. Big affiliate management platforms typically have detection systems in place. While most software tools also offer this, you’ll likely have to do more fraud detection yourself.
Before we dive into the comparison, I would like to explain two important terms I am going to use:
Deeplinks: the possibility to create affiliate links that go to specific pages, e.g. a help article or a product page, rather than just the homepage. This means affiliate marketers can link to pages that are more relevant to their content, which can massively increase conversion rates.
SubIDs: the ability to attach a string to referral links to provide extra information. For example “en” or “fr” could indicate the link came from different languages. Or for different advertising channels (Google Ads, Facebook etc.). The reporting needs to show these subIDs so the affiliate can efficiently optimize their campaigns.
Top 10 Affiliate Marketing Software & Platforms
Impact is one of the biggest affiliate platforms and refreshingly modern. It’s slick, loads fast and has an intriguing 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. I’ve noticed many companies moving to Impact recently, Hubspot and Jimdo being two examples.
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’s also a white-label product that Microsoft 365 uses, for example.
What I dislike: although not quite as bad as Awin or CJ, I find that Impact’s usability could be improved.
Partnerstack (formerly Growsumo) is a relatively new affiliate platform and is going after the SaaS market. From what I can tell, they are growing fast – I’ve seen numerous companies leave their old affiliate software in favor of Partnerstack. Webflow, Omnisend and Pipedrive are some of them.
They are somewhere 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 PayPal fees.
What I dislike: setting up subIDs is not easy, and it needs to be set up separately (I noticed that not all of our partners have this feature enabled)
The German AWIN network (formerly Zanox) is the biggest 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 the 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 marketing 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.
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 has been like this pretty consistently during 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. Another annoyance is that I constantly receive email notifications for affiliate marketing campaigns I never signed up for.
Amsterdam-based Tapfiliate has managed to attract quite a number of companies we work with. Among them are Sendinblue, Tidio, Ucraft and many others. After checking their prices I now know why. Considering their huge amount of features they are by far the cheapest affiliate tracking 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 affiliate software tools. 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 Tapfiliate 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. They also offer a free trial.
What I dislike: subID feature is more complicated than with other software (especially getting to the reporting). A few affiliate managers I work with also complained about the reporting features.
They were formerly known as HasOffers. Not too many of our partners are using them but the list is growing. Shopify, Dreamhost and IONOS are three prominent examples. From my affiliate point of view, I’d say that it’s one of the better affiliate software. It’s got all the features affiliates need. It’s even possible to build your own affiliate network on their technology.
The cheapest plan for advertisers starts at $499 per month and includes features like promo codes and fraud prevention.
Pricing: starting at $499 per month
What I like: the interface is clean and well organized. Everything loads fast and as an affiliate, I have all the tools I require.
What I dislike: the Performance Report only shows approved commissions, which makes it more complicated than it should be to get a pulse on how your campaigns are doing right now.
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. Free trial available.
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 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. It’s easy to get started thanks to their free trial.
What I dislike: so far, payments seem to be limited to Paypal. Their website is quite small and doesn’t have a ton of information. It also doesn’t look like they are gaining many new customers.
The Detroit-based company has grown quite popular in recent times. Companies like Strikingly and Ecwiid are using them. However, I also noticed companies leaving them, Hubspot and ConvertKit being two examples (strangely, their website still shows the ConvertKit logo). Personally, I don’t find them terrible, but I am not thrilled about the missing subID tracking. It’s very hard for me to understand 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”.
What Affiliate Software Are SaaS Companies Actually Using?
I thought it could be useful to provide an overview of the affiliate marketing software and platforms some of our partners are using. The most popular one here is Impact with 9 of our partners relying on it. Other popular ones are Partnerstack (6 times in our list). Eight of our partners are using their own proprietary affiliate system.
|Jimdo||Impact (previously: own system)|
|Shopify||TUNE / Own system|
|Webflow||Partnerstack (previously: Refersion)|
|Webnode||Post Affiliate Pro|
|A2 Hosting||Web Hosting||Post Affiliate Pro|
|Dreamhost||TUNE (previously: Ambassador)|
|Namecheap||Impact (previously: own system)|
|Benchmark Email||Email Marketing / CRM||Own system|
|Hubspot||Impact (previously: Ambassador)|
|Omnisend||Partnerstack (previously: CAKE)|
To be honest, I am a bit disappointed that there really is no simple and cheap solution that covers all of these essential aspects that a lot of affiliates require: good reporting, 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 Impact or Partnerstack.
Picking the best affiliate marketing software 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 or Post Affiliate Pro due to their very attractive price points.
Hopefully, there will be more referral software in the future that are not only attractive price-wise but also in terms of features. To your successful affiliate marketing campaign!
Questions, feedback? Please let me know in the comments!
29 Dec 2021 – Full update
22 Feb 2021 – Table added
09 Dec 2019 – LinkMink added