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Affiliate management & commission tracking software/services reviews

When Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame decided that he was going to sell books via the Internet in 1996, many mocked his foray into ecommerce. Today, most people who are familiar with the word "Internet" also recognize "Amazon".

There's no doubt that one of Amazon's keys to success was the implementation of an affiliate program - Amazon is often credited with being the first ecommerce site to implement a successful affiliate partner revenue share scheme.

We're only 10 years down the track from Amazon's pioneering work and now there are hundreds of thousands of ecommerce merchants providing an affiliate revenue share program. For many companies, without an effective affiliate program they would cease to exist.

Our picks of the pack - affiliate software

Server based affiliate software (applications you install on your own site):

** RECOMMENDED ** Post Affiliate Pro - (review below)

iDev Affiliate  - (review below)

Remotely hosted affiliate management services

AssocTrac (review below)

3rd party affiliate management

Offers Quest - (see service review below)

Affiliate Management Software

In order to run a successful affiliate program, it is crucial to have the right software for the task. Affiliate tracking software is very complex as it needs to perform a variety of roles:

  • Affiliate link generation

  • Cookie setting

  • Commission calculation

  • Banner/Text link display

  • Affiliate reporting

  • Administration reporting

  • Multi-tier calculations

  • Payment processing

  • Mailing functions

  • Anti-fraud functions

There are many affiliate management and commission tracking software products and services now available. They can be summarized in the following categories. 

  • 3rd party affiliate tracking and management

  • Remotely hosted software (merchant administers)

  • Locally hosted software

These are priced anywhere between $100 and $10,000, plus in the case of third party and remotely hosted solutions there may be a maintenance and/or commission fees. Like any ecommerce tool, reviewing the various software packages and services can be very time consuming with many hidden traps and fine print. 

Locally hosted affiliate software

One of the great things about running your own software is that you don't have to worry about monthly fees, that you can usually alter the code to suit your purposes and the fact that any affiliate links generated will point directly to your site instead of a third party. This is especially of benefit in relation to link popularity, a factor that many search engines use when calculating rankings.

I've used and reviewed many applications over the years and I'm always surprised by the range of pricing in relation to what you get for your money. Many of the high end priced packages really lack in features.

I recently installed Post Affiliate Pro - a very economical package. I was very impressed with the range of features, some of which you'd expect to find in packages costing thousands of dollars. Post Affiliate Pro is very economical; so if you're on a tight budget (or even if you have cash to burn), it's definitely worth reviewing.

Some of Post Affiliate Pro's features:

  • Multiple commission options - referral, per click, per sale and per lead (flat or recurring), custom commissions on a per affiliate basis

  • Split commissions 

  • Automated fraud protection

  • First party and flash cookies + IP recording to ensure that leads are recorded correctly as this is a big concern for affiliates.

  • The ability to set cookie duration

  • Full transaction history

  • Affiliate communication system (newsletters and sale notifications) with customizable email templates.

  • Extensive reporting in various formats, including Excel export and pie charts

  • 11 language packs

  • Customizable interfaces

  • Supports PayPal, MoneyBookers, Bank Wire and Check affiliate payments + custom methods as specified by merchant.

  • Refund and chargeback management

  • Generates search engine friendly links

  • Support for standard, rich media and rotating banners

  • Popup and popunder support

  • Affiliate interface news feature for relaying announcements to your publishers

  • Sale and affiliate signup automatic or manual approval

... and that's just really scratching the surface.

Installation of Post Affiliate Pro was very easy, but the company also offers free installation services. For the price tag, I think you'll find it difficult finding a better affiliate software package. On top of all that, the company offers a 30 day money back guarantee.

Another affiliate software package that I feel is worthwhile investigating is iDev Affiliate  as it contains all the features a merchant would need for running a successful affiliate program - and then some.  

Here's just a few of the features available in iDev Affiliate 

  • Graphical representation of referrals, unique referrals, and commissions.
  • Customizable payment schedules.
  • Powerful data export features
  • User friendly interface
  • Printable reports
  • Commission tracking to 100 levels.
  • Easy to set up
  • Compatible with most merchant accounts, shopping carts and content/membership management systems
  • Excellent sales tracking - Session management, IP logging & cookies 
  • Customizable pages (headers/footers/signup etc.)
  • Customize fields on signup forms.
  • Broadcast/single email features with customizable fields. Send email in HTML or text format
  • Affiliate search and edit functions.
  • Commissions adjustment functions.
  • Fraud prevention features.
  • Supports recurring billing/subscription sites.
  • MySQL back end
  • Automatic affiliate signup or pre-screen
  • Comprehensive stats for both affiliate and administrator
  • Set custom rates for specific affiliates
  • Flat rate or percentage based commissions

I've seen iDev Affiliate implemented on a number of well known sites and as an affiliate of these sites, I've enjoyed using it - very easy to navigate and the information is nicely laid out. You can also test iDev Affiliate interfaces (administrative and client) via the live demo on their site.

3rd Party Affiliate Management

One way you can go about incorporating an affiliate program is to utilize a 3rd party network. The network will look after all payment processing, creative storage, fraud control and most of the communications with affiliates. This leaves you free to attend to your core business.

This can be a very expensive option at times as the network may charge setup, monthly maintenance and commission fees on the commissions paid to affiliates. For example, if you pay an affiliate $100 the network may slug you for an extra $30. You may also be required to maintain a minimum deposit - depending on the network it could run into thousands of dollars.

It's very important that if you decide to pursue this option that you find a network who actually cares about your success rather than just taking your money. Many networks run on quantity rather than quality.

One of the better 3rd party providers we've worked with is Offers Quest. Offers Quest provides no minimum buy-ins, no long term contracts, plus flexible advertising rates. You can elect to run your affiliate program based on clicks, leads or sales.

One of the best aspects of Offers Quest is that they are industry veterans and work very closely with each advertiser - you never feel as though you are dealing with a faceless company. Ron, Bill and the Offers Quest team strike a very good balance of ensuring that the merchant gets the best ROI (Return on Investment) and that affiliates receive fair commissions - it's a win-win situation for all parties. If your affiliates are happy, it means they are receiving a good income - if affiliates are receiving good income - so are you.

Remotely hosted affiliate management software

In this model, powerful software is made available for use by merchants, but it is hosted on the software companies' own servers. Rates can run into hundreds of dollars a month just for access, plus there is usually a substantial setup fee involved. The other issue is that some more unscrupulous ASP's (Application Service Providers) may harvest lists of affiliates for their own use. If you decide to go down this path be very careful and read any contracts carefully.

The benefits of using remotely hosted affiliate software is that these solutions tend to offer a complete range of features to cover a myriad of affiliate program options. To gain all these features in a stand-alone software package would cost many thousands of dollars. By leasing the software, it becomes more affordable.

Any upgrades to the software are seamless and security is also the responsibility of the ASP.

One of the most popular remotely hosted affiliate management applications is AssocTrac. This software was developed by Corey Rudl, one of the worlds' most successful Internet Marketers. Corey's company has covered just about every aspect imaginable in AssocTrac - far too many to list here.

Visit AssocTrac

Recruiting affiliates

Once you have your affiliate program set up; you're going to need affiliates! - preferably "Super Affiliates". 

Super Affiliates are those elite partners who tend to account for over 90% of all affiliate generated sales. Check out my article on general tips relating to the recruitment and management of affiliates.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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