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Jun 26, 2008

Exclusive Data: Most-Active Affiliates Offer Inside Scoop on Top 5 Networks

SUMMARY: Sherpa has brand-new exclusive data from the country’s most-active affiliate marketers with the inside scoop on the top five affiliate networks.

PartnerCentric surveyed its top partners to discover what they think about networks and much more. Includes seven new data charts with information on:
- Who gets the worst customer service rating
- Why technology is so important
- Affiliate marketers feel shorted on attention from networks
- Emergence of Pepperjam

Affiliate marketing – via email, SEO, SEM or Web advertising – has made some serious money for online merchants. Indeed, several eretail brands have been built on the shoulders of this marketing channel.

At the same time, MarketingSherpa’s 2008 Online Advertising Handbook & Benchmarks says 48.6% of marketers think the ROI of affiliate marketing is ‘middle of the pack’ compared to other mediums – 27.9% even call it ‘poor.’ So, many affiliate marketers are looking to improve their strategies.

PartnerCentric has given MarketingSherpa a sneak peek at the results from their study ‘Affiliate Survey – Network Preferences.’ They received answers from 41 of their top affiliates who participated without incentivization during a two-week period in May 2008.

“We didn’t want affiliates that didn’t work with multiple networks – or those who had limited good or bad experiences – to skew the data,” says Wade Sisson, Director, Sales & Marketing, PartnerCentric. “The most active affiliates are the ones who do the most work and whose opinions matter the most.”

Affiliate marketers weighed in on what many consider the five major networks. Most track sales and record traffic similarly; some have specialties. The top five networks:
1. Commission Junction
2. LinkShare
3. Performics
4. ShareASale
5. Pepperjam

Here’s our analysis of the study’s most intriguing takeaways:

-> Takeaway #1. Pepperjam makes quick impact

This chart shows that most serious affiliate marketers use at least four out of five top networks. What’s interesting about this chart is the rapid growth of the 5-month old Pepperjam network.

17.5% of the surveyed marketers already use the infant network. And eBay recently signed on to work with Pepperjam – leaving behind the recognized leader, Commission Junction. That development occurred *after* the survey was conducted – an indication that the network’s quick rise may accelerate even more.

“The things that will be interesting to watch are: How does Pepperjam change over time?” Sisson says. “And does Pepperjam end up hurting Commission Junction?”

-> Takeaway #2. Commission Junction still dominates

Well, Pepperjam hasn’t encroached on Commission Junction much … yet. Commission Junction remains the 800-pound gorilla – the of affiliate marketing. Its fingerprints all over the Web. So, it isn’t shocking to see them dominate this question, with 57.5% of respondents saying it’s the ‘most used’ network. ShareASale came in second with 25%.

“And, the rest of the chart doesn’t mean that people don’t use Performics. It doesn’t mean that LinkShare is dying,” Sisson says. “After all, they are competing here against [Commission Junction] for the term, ‘most used.’ ”

-> Takeaway #3. Top reasons for using networks

Quality of the merchants and other advertisers was the key reason 76.9% of marketers said they used an affiliate network. No surprise there! But it’s interesting to see so many marketers rating technology (57.5%) ahead of customer service (47.5%) when deciding what’s ‘very important’ to them.

“Some of the networks do a better job with data feeds, which are hugely important in affiliate marketing,” Sisson says. “The better data feeds make it so much easier to for the affiliate to [manage] a program.”

-> Takeaway #4. Customer service is surprisingly low

Ouch! Apparently, none of the biggies – particularly Commission Junction, LinkShare or Performics -- are knocking the CRM ball out of the park. No one scored above 60% in terms of affiliates believing they provide ‘average’ service.

We can learn two distinct things from these three charts:
- Affiliate marketers feel shorted on attention from networks.
- CRM on the network level probably isn’t easy.

Customer service for affiliate networks entails approving membership in a timely manner, returning emails and phone calls for members, making inquiries about compensation checks, and tracking results. And the top networks do this for an endless number of affiliates.

Sisson stuck up for the networks. Performing CRM for them can be a thankless job, and he compares the job to a baseball umpire or a meteorologist. “Affiliates are really not thrilled with the customer service, but they are notoriously high-touch or low-touch people. Some of them want their service inquiries answered within five minutes, and some of them don’t want to be helped or hand-held at all.”

-> Takeaway #5. Affiliates: Networks mostly ‘average’

At first glance, this graphic suggests some rather ho-hum findings. Affiliate marketers think the networks are mostly ‘average’ in their services when compared to others. And, Commission Junction was the only network to generate above-average ratings in any category.

“But Commission Junction’s ratings are not a bad sign for the marketplace,” Sisson says. “You want the 800-pound gorilla doing the best job -- or at least the perceived ‘best.’ Because that’s the one marketers are using the most.”

Sisson then offered up a couple of zestier points that came from this part of the questionnaire, although not the graphic:

o LinkShare got the highest concentration of below-average responses.
o Performics showed some strong ratings despite more than 30% of respondents indicating they are not familiar with the network’s services.

To close, here’s a pair of quick hits from the PartnerCentric survey on reputation:

- Affiliate marketers are less likely to work with new networks and unknown merchants – being better safe than sorry. They move cautiously when mulling the email campaigns of lesser-known brands to protect their reputations.

- Affiliate marketers largely base reputation decisions on what they know about the networks instead of what they know about the merchant or advertiser. They place a lot of trust in networks to weed out the ‘bad guys.’

Useful links related to this article

Past Sherpa articles on affiliate marketing -
1,041 Affiliates Reveal How Merchants Should Improve Their Programs:

5 Steps to Finding the Best Performance Marketing Partners - How Lobster Gram Got Top Affiliates:

Merchants Gauge Role of Affiliates in Search Marketing:


See Also:

Comments about this Article

Jun 26, 2008 - John of tgw says:
41 of their top affiliates!! That's not exclusive data!! That's watercooler talk. There are thousands upon thousands of publishers who cross over affilate progams.. 41.. what a joke...

Jun 26, 2008 - of says:
Great research. PepperJam is centainly on the rise.

Jun 27, 2008 - Chris Heine of MarketingSherpa says:
John, thanks for your comment. Indeed, PartnerCentric has 11,000 affiliate partners that they could have pinged for this project, and they are not a newbie at surveying. As you can see in the 'useful links' section, they've done large samples in the past. For the reasons stated in the story, they strategically wanted a small sample to get the most-accurate analysis of each network's performance.

Jul 01, 2008 - Wes Mahler of Prosper202 says:
As mentioned above, only 41 affiliates polled does not give a true accurate count of the network usage. There are way more than 41 affiliate networks than even the amount of affiliates polled! Good information non-the-less, but 41 affiliates to determine the top 5-networks I don't believe is enough data to gauge the top-5 networks.

Jul 02, 2008 - Brian Littleton of ShareASale says:
Interesting article... I had different conclusions from the author, but I think it would depend a little bit on how the questions were asked - as in every survey. I'm curious as to why the author chose to leave both ourselves and Pepperjam out of the "CRM" graphs or the Network Summary.... especially in our case where we were listed fairly well in the other 2 graphs. Would be interesting to see the entire survey, I'll keep my eye on Partnercentric for updates if it is released.... Thanks for an interesting read!

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