The year 2020 has ended and reshuffled many things, including affiliate programs. Then 2021 came and the ranking of some of the best affiliate programs was simply begging for an update.
The 2021 update
To say that things are unpredictable is to say nothing at all. Many industries still suffer while others soar during the pandemic.
The update to our ranking reflects just that. What’s been changed:
- Data updated on some affiliate programs
- Travel vertical has been removed. To see if travel offers or programs are worth considering, I recommend our article on the travel niche. However, because other more profitable alternatives to this niche emerged, the travel vertical has been replaced.
- Category added: cryptocurrency.
The Definition of Affiliate Marketing Programs
Affiliate programs, similarly to affiliate networks, provide you with offers you can promote online. Unlike the latter, affiliate programs serve as additional sales channels for big companies. People can just sign up for these programs, get a link, and convince others to click it on their blog/videos/review sites.
You can identify these links because of the ‘ref=’ or ‘referrer=’ part embedded in them. Hover over such links with a mouse button on landing pages and you will easily identify this type of link.
This parameter tells the product owner who they owe this sale. Like any good businessmen, the product owner has to track sales to manage their business effectively.
P.S. Don’t buy this flashlight. And that is a dummy link to prove a point.
Or is it?
Disclaimer: There are no actual affiliate links in this article.
Choosing an Affiliate Program
You need to know which programs are a waste of your time and which are kosher, right? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
I’ve prepared a brief list of factors that you need to take into consideration when choosing a program. I’ve also done the tedious, boring part for you and graded various programs to form the ranking of the best ones.
But that comes later.
Sorry for the build-up, but I need you to keep reading to have more opportunities to advertise my flashlight.
Advertising Digital vs Physical Affiliate Products
The awesome tactical flashlight from the beginning is a physical product (here’s the link again: BUY NOW). It has to be manufactured, stored, and shipped. Physical products are expensive to operate. That’s why the affiliate commission for this product type is usually lower and oscillates around the 4% mark.
On the other hand, a flashlight smartphone app is a digital product. Virtually no storage, shipping, or reproduction costs.
This causes payout rates to be much higher, with 60% commission not being uncommon.
Sounds sweet? Why didn’t I choose to advertise an app instead of a product then?
There is a small catch with digital products. It is related to how they calculate this seemingly generous commission. More on that in the following chapter.
Affiliate Programs Commission
The commission itself is usually a percentage of a sale. On some occasions, especially for web hosting products, the commission is a fixed price per sale.
There may be several additional factors that shape a commission of an affiliate marketer:
- The commission may increase if you sell more.
- There may be some promotions for new program joiners.
- The commission rate may be different for each product within one program: harder-to-sell products may have a higher commission.
Here’s the catch I’ve mentioned earlier: sometimes, often for metasearch engines such as Booking.com, the affiliate commission is calculated as a percentage of what this intermediary company (Booking.com in this example) earns, and not of what a customer pays.
It’s not such a sweet deal anymore. Think about it:
If Booking.com brags about the 20% average commission rate, it is not of the $2000 price for a 5-star hotel in Bali, but of the percentage that this hotel pays to Booking.com.
Booking.com takes 15% of its partners’ earnings. In this example, it would be $300. Your final commission of the price a customer pays is around 3%.
But I’m not mad.
3% of the $2000 hotel is still $60 just for putting one link on a web page. I can live with this, so can other affiliates and so can you.
What matters in my ranking is the final percentage of what a customer pays.
The second crucial factor of each program is the referral cookie lifetime. This rather technical term describes the time window from the initial click to the purchase in which you are eligible for the commission.
The rule of thumb is: the longer the time window the better for affiliates
A short cookie lifetime can make any program less appealing.
An affiliate marketer can promote any product they have for a solid 5% commission.
Not with the absurd 1-day cookie lifetime.
It’s eBay, they have auctions. The majority of them last for 7 days. It means that someone would have to click your affiliate link and make a purchase on the last day of the auction. Otherwise, you don’t get any commission.
Affiliate programs still tend to use cookie technology, not like trackers such as Voluum that has introduced the direct tracking method. A method that is immune to:
- clearing cookies
- changing browsers
- cookie dying out.
eBay is an exception from the average lifetime of 60 days. Pay close attention to the cookie lifetime policy when choosing an affiliate program. I know I did in my ranking.
Payout conditions of affiliate programs
Companies usually pay their affiliates monthly, with a few exceptions. If cash flow is a problem, you may be interested in joining an affiliate program that pays up more often than the rest.
The other condition for a payout is the requirement to reach a certain amount of money.
Yep, you not only have to earn something (and some companies even charge you if you don’t earn anything for a few months) but you have to earn above a certain threshold (usually $100) to access your money.
Companies don’t want to be bothered with small few-dollar payouts.
My ranking of the best affiliate programs rewards companies that make payouts more than once a month with extra points.
Take that, the majority of companies!
Most companies welcome all affiliates. You just have to have any thematically-related web page that you may post their affiliate links on. But when some companies do impose restrictions they may do it with a bang.
A prime example is Airbnb. Their initial requirement for affiliates is to own a website that has at least one million visitors per month.
One million or they won’t even talk to you.
That’s where their generous (10% allegedly, although the exact value is kept a secret) comes from.
As I think that companies should give all affiliates a shot at promoting their stuff, I deducted some points based on the severity of acceptance criteria.
The points made above shine a light…
…shine… like the flashlight…. Get it? Here’s the link again: BUY NOW
Ok, moving on.
There are other things that matter but are harder to measure. The general business stuff such as:
- The size of a market. Most of the markets’ are worth millions or billions on a global scale. YoY growth is a much better indicator of the market’s potential profitability. It’s not the size that matters, it’s the number of niches with low competition.
- The competition. Some competition is good, it is an indicator of a healthy market. But strong competition… yeah, you don’t need strong competition.
- Average EPC. This depends heavily on the market. For example, gaming computers and accessories cost a lot of money, so even a small percentage of commissions are worth a lot.
Types of Affiliate Marketing Programs
Affiliate programs vary in terms of how and where they are advertised. Based on that, we can distinguish the following types of affiliate programs:
- Social – These programs work best when advertised on social media either via paid traffic or influencers.
- Search – Affiliate offers are discovered via the search engine, organically, or by paid advertising.
- Content – This type of affiliate program is advertised on articles, review sites, or blogs, hidden in a text.
- Coupon – Many sites gather coupons and discounts, and an affiliate program may offer exactly that.
- Email – You have probably received hundreds of these. Email affiliate programs are still a big contender.
Everything that I have just described should be taken into consideration to make a fully informed decision.
Or you can simply read my ranking.
The Ranking of the Best Affiliate Marketing Programs
You can read the following ranking in the voice of the WatchMojo lady or people from WhatCulture: “And here are our top picks for the e-commerce vertical”:
E-commerce Affiliate Programs
- CJ Affiliate. It’s the go-to place to find offers from various vendors. Many of the programs from other verticals are partnered with CJ Affiliate. They claim that they have a record 400-day cookie lifetime, but an affiliate marketer has to remember that many partner programs use a shorter lifetime.
- Shareasale. It shares a similar business model to our number one. Shareasale has, even more, offers to choose from than CJ Affiliate (6000 to 3000). The only reason it has fallen short of the first place is the ridiculously long cookie lifetime CJ Affiliate claims to have.
- Ebay Partner Network. Having even more offers than Amazon, it would seem like the perfect place for any affiliate. However, because of the auction model used by the majority of sales and the ridiculously short cookie lifetime, it cannot go any higher than fourth place.
- Clickbank. It is a decent affiliate program that sells digital products. Because of this, their commission for an affiliate marketer is very generous (40%) and it is calculated not as a percentage of what Clickbank earns (which is 7.5% plus 1$) but as a percentage of the offer owner’s revenue. Additionally, the payout is made twice a month, which is always welcome.
- Amazon Associates. One of the biggest affiliate programs on the planet. It has all the offers there are (around 12 million). The only problem is their short cookie lifetime (1day). Amazon had also recently cut down its commission rates by half, hence the relatively low rank.
Crypto Affiliate Programs
- Paxful. Paxful is a crypto marketplace where you can trade your currency with other people. What Paxful offers their affiliates is the option to build your network of affiliates. You earn a recurring fee for people you have invited (50%) and a smaller fee for people they have invited (10%). Note that this percentage is only from escrow fees but, on the other hand, they last a lifetime.
- CoinMetro. It offers varied commission rates of 10 – 40% of their fees (which are varied, but usually around 1.5%). The good news is that those fees are recurring. On top of that, CoinMetro runs a prize-pool raffle of 2% of all affiliate’s earnings, and each month, one lucky affiliate gets the pool.
- CryptoHopper. It allows you to earn a steady 10% commission on each referred subscription. This is a recurring commission that you will get for as long as the referred user pays for their account. For signals, there is a 15% commission rate.
- LedgerWallet. Similar to the number 3 on our list, you get a 10% commission for all referred sales. The lower spot is a result of a lack of another threshold, like for signals with CryptoHopper.
- Coinbase. Coinbase gives its affiliates 50% of their fees of referred users. The fees vary but they oscillate around 1.5%, The only problem is that you will get this commission for the first 3 months only. This is a huge downside when comparing to other higher-ranked platforms.
Dating Affiliate Programs
- Cupid media. Not the winner you expected, huh? They are not a well-known brand, such as their lower-ranked competitors. But they run a lot of niche dating services, which makes them a better choice than the mainstream dating programs. Both the commission and cookie lifetime is above average in this vertical.
- People media. The close runner-up. The thing that prevented it from gaining the first spot was a slightly lower commission rate (50% to 75%). Like its winning competitor, People media also operates niche dating services.
- Match.com. The first big name on this list. It has the same commission rate as number two, but the cookie lifetime is much shorter (1 day on desktop, 30 days on mobile).
- Eharmony. The second commonly recognized brand. Their 20% commission rate is a modest one but the 45 day cookie lifetime may be of some consolation.
- EliteSingles. A tough niche to operate, but this may be an advantage if you feel confident enough. They use a fixed commission, 7$, but it is rewarded not on sale, but a completed personality test. So the conversion rates should be higher. This program can be found on CJ Affiliate.
Web Hosting Affiliate Programs
- WPengine. Like with all programs from this vertical, commission is fixed for every subscription plan they have. The minimum 200$ payout value is nothing when compared to the staggering 7,500$ maximum. The half-year cookie lifetime is very good and the brand is recognizable.
- Liquid web. It has slightly worse conditions than the winner ( still rather impressive $150 – $3,000) but it’s still a very good and popular affiliate program.
- Cloudways. Another solid affiliate program with a much more modest commission ($50) but a very long cookie lifetime.
- Siteground. The fourth and fifth place should be shared ex aequo between Siteground and Kinsta affiliate programs. The thing that elevated Siteground a tad higher is customer-friendly weekly payouts.
- Kinsta. Last but not least but not first. Same commission (50$) and a cookie lifetime (60 days) as Siteground, but you have to wait a whole month to receive your payout.
Educational Affiliate Programs
- Coursera. Sometimes the most recognizable are the best, and that is the case of Coursera. The average 32.5% commission rate is the best in the industry and a cookie life is a reasonable 30 days. They don’t have as many courses as Udemy, but I will stick with a more generous commission structure.
- Udemy. The online platform with the biggest number of courses available. Shame that they couldn’t outbid Coursera’s commission. 20% is still ok though.
- Skillshare. The skill-learning platform with fixed commissions, $10 per signup. It doesn’t sound like much but the big number of courses makes it easy to advertise.
- DIY.org. Formerly known as Jam, this platform hosts courses aimed at kids. It’s a smaller market than, for example, Coursera, but it’s also a less explored one. You get $5 for every sign-up.
- Teachable. This platform targets teacher. If you feel comfortable with this market, you will get a 30% commission for every signup done within 90 days.
Gaming Affiliate Programs
- Razer. If you are a gamer, there is not much to say. The company is synonymous with gaming accessories and equipment. For every purchase you facilitate, you get a 5% commission. And those gaming products are not cheap. It’s a 5% slice of a big cake.
- Logitech. Known mainly for manufacturing gaming mouses and keyboards, yet they do so much more. Logitech is a more mainstream company than a specialized Razer, which should make promoting their offer easier. Their commission rate is only one percent lower than Razers.
- Alienware. Part of the Dell empire, this company specializes in making gamer-oriented laptops. Very, very expensive laptops. 4% of the 3,000$ makes it worth the trouble. This program can be found on CJ Affiliate.
- Nvidia. If you’ve never heard of Nvidia, then you must be a Muggle. Or a console player. They are willing to share with you 2% of their revenue for a sale. The 90-day cookie lifetime leaves plenty of wiggle room to finalize a deal.
- Microsoft. Their gaming affiliate program offers similar conditions to Nvidia’s but a shorter cookie lifetime (60 days). But everyone knows the brand for sure.
Online Marketing Tools Programs
- GanttPRO. A tool for project management and team collaboration offers great terms for their affiliates. Their commission is solid and recurring (50% for the first purchase, 20% for the recurrent ones). The 90-day cookie lifetime, support, and training for all new affiliates make it a noteworthy program to try.
- PromoRepublic. It’s a platform for managing social media channels that offer over 100,000 post templates. The average commission rate is 25% and they claim that affiliates typically reach between $40-$1500/month.
- Ingramer. The well-known marketing solution for all those Instagrammers out there offers a 40-60% recurring commission rate (the final value depends on the sales for a given month) paid throughout the duration of the referred membership.
- Combin. This Instagram-focused marketing platform offers a 50% commission of its revenue for the first 6 months of membership.
- 4K Video Downloader. This simple tool proposes simple terms. you get 50% of what the platform’s earnings are. Refer to a more expensive solution, get more money. Simple as that.
Best affiliate marketing programs for beginners
Feeling a bit lost? Still not sure where to start? No problem. Below you will find the list of the best affiliate marketing programs for beginners. They are very profitable and easy to run.
- Match.com. Dating vertical is a typical starting point for most affiliates. Offers from this niche are easier to promote than, for example, web hosting services that may require using some tech language. And Match.com is a recognizable brand.
- Coursera. The reasons for choosing this affiliate program are the same as above. Easy vertical and a recognizable brand, what more a newbie may ask for?
- Clickbank. Although their UI falls behind the current design standards and may be hard to master, they have a lot of tools that are helpful for newbies. On top of that, the offers are all newbie-friendly.
- CJ Affiliate. They are not the easiest platform to start with, for sure, but a lot of interesting offers should justify a steeper learning curve.
- Paxful. If you have any knowledge of cryptocurrencies, go with this program while Bitcoin is a hot topic. You can cash in on the most widely-discussed subject in recent months.
What about referral programs?
A referral program is like an affiliate program. The goal is also to advertise a service, but this time, an advertisement is done by a service or product user, not by an external marketer.
Think about the platforms, services, and applications affiliate marketers use. Many of them have referral programs. You can advertise them to your fellow marketers for some extra cash.
How do I create an affiliate marketing program?
It’s easy. If you have a product or a service of your own, you only need a way to track its success. There are many ready-made platforms designed specifically for creating, managing, and tracking affiliate programs. If you want to get a taste of such a platform from the creators of the world’s greatest ad tracker, Voluum, sign up for a beta test of PowerAff. We know a thing or two about tracking!
Affiliate program opportunities to choose from
There are of course much more affiliate programs than just the ones I’ve listed. But the point was not to list them all but to find you the best affiliate programs from niches that are profitable even during or after the pandemic.
All programs still should be tracked to correctly count your payouts. For that, I recommend Voluum – the best affiliate ad tracker on the market.