ShareASale: A Full Review Of The Leading Affiliate Program

 

Peter Jobes

ShareASale is an affiliate marketing network based in Chicago. Having been in business for nearly 20 years, it’s fair to assume that ShareASale knows a thing or two about attracting customers through the use of affiliates.

The objective set out by ShareASale is to ‘provide customers with an advanced Affiliate Marketing platform,’ and to deliver it using industry-leading customer service and support.

The technology utilised by ShareASale is impressive, too. ShareASale’s service offers real-time tracking so users will know the moment a banner is clicked, and segmentation that helps to group specific affiliates together.

But before we decide to take a closer look at what ShareASale really brings for affiliates and merchants alike, let’s aim to get a deeper understanding of what affiliate marketing actually is.

What is affiliate marketing?

Patt Flynn, of Smart Passive Income summarises affiliate marketing well: “Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s (or company’s) products. You find a product you like, promote it to others and earn a piece of the profit for each sale that you make.”

Fundamentally, affiliate marketing consists of three parties that interact with one another. Firstly, it’s important to consider the role of the merchant. This party can also be labelled as the ‘creator’, the ‘seller’, the ‘brand’, the ‘retailer’ or the ‘vendor.’

Merchants are the party that physically creates the products that will go on sale. A good example of this would be the likes of Dyson – a company that produces vacuum cleaners. Merchants can come in all shapes and sizes, however, and while some companies are seismic multinational endeavours, others can literally consist of one person creating their own goods and preparing them for sale.

Another key party involved in affiliate marketing is, unsurprisingly, that of the affiliate. This party can also be known as the ‘publisher.’ Affiliates don’t necessarily have to be a large scale company, and can themselves be individual workers. Small scale affiliate marketing businesses are capable of earning a few hundred extra pounds each week through sales commissions, while large companies are capable of building tens of millions of pounds through this approach.

Naturally, the affiliate is the most significant party involved in affiliate marketing. The way that affiliates tend to work is that they promote one or more products that belong to their affiliated business in a bid to encourage sales – for which they’ll be reimbursed.

There’s plenty of ways for affiliates to promote specific products to audiences, and a common practice is through influencer-style campaigns whereby the affiliate publishes a positive review of the product they are attempting to sell.

Other affiliates create their own website as a means of showcasing a wide range of affiliated products, which can be seen in the example of This is Why I’m Broke.

Finally there’s the party of the consumer. We may talk of the merchant and affiliate being key players in the world of affiliate marketing, but the whole approach would collapse without the consumer’s presence.

The consumer will need to find their way onto the pages of the affiliate, or at least see their promotions of the merchant’s products. Today, social media has become an excellent hotbed for affiliate marketing, with some affiliates keeping open about their conflicts of interest while others remaining a little more discreet about their prospects of gaining a commission from sales.

Handily, tracking systems can monitor the success of affiliates based on the volume of customers that click through to certain products and begin the checkout process. Typically, consumers won’t pay more money upfront for an affiliated product, but the commission for the affiliate will be included in the listed retail price.

ShareASale Overview

ShareASale Main

At the start of 2017, global affiliate network, Awin acquired ShareASale to help the company to further peddle international opportunities for domestic advertisers and publishers.

Since its formation in 2000, ShareASale has amassed a stong list of clientele consisting of some big industry players like Weebly, StudioPress and Zazzle to name but a few.

The company has over 3,900 affiliate programs from an extensive list of merchants that cover virtually every niche when it comes to eCommerce. ShareASale also prides itself on favourable customer service records and operates a dedicated phone line that’s open throughout the week.

By using ShareASale’s service, affiliates can promote the products that suit their business by calling on the company’s deep linking tool, or by utilising the 2,000+ merchant data feeds available.

ShareASale helps users to create engaging videos to be embedded on affiliate sites as well as providing relevant deals and coupons. Affiliates can also use the site to upload banners and text links that redirect to merchant products efficiently.

The raw stats appear to be promising for affiliates and merchants alike, but let’s invest a little more time in getting to grips with what the user experience is really like for affiliates and merchants alike:

Affiliate experience

Setting yourself up with a ShareASale affiliate account is a doddle. The process consists of five steps which involve run of the mill security measures like setting up a username and website ID, as well as submitting your own site information along with relevant email addresses and banking information.

ShareASale Dashboard

There’s a $5 fee attached to the creation of your account that goes towards a background check, but the cost is returned to users once their accounts get setup.

From there on, affiliate accounts that are inactive will be removed if their balance is less than $25. If an inactive affiliate account has a balance between $25 and $50, a $25 fee will be taken once a month, until the balance is zero – and is closed.

But don’t worry, ShareASale will keep users alerted if their fees are in danger of sending their account below its minimum allowed balance. Unlike some competitors, ShareASale seems notably transparent about their fees and tend to be very good at helping their affiliates to avoid unexpected costs and charges.

Because the setup is designed to ensure that merchants and affiliates have as happy a relationship as possible, these fees act as a way of guaranteeing that, as an affiliate, you can help drive conversions for the merchants you work with. However, it may be a good idea to only take the plunge in signing up once you have a healthy amount of website traffic arriving onto your pages and are ready to fully commit to the brave new world of affiliate marketing.

At this stage, it’s probably a good idea to highlight that there are other affiliate marketing platforms out there that are geared more towards casual affiliates who would rather grow into the industry at a slower pace. Organisations like CJ Affiliate can make for a good option in this case due to them not requiring a minimum balance within your account.

The usability of ShareASale’s platform will undoubtedly delight plenty of affiliates, regardless of the format that they’re using to market merchants’ products.

The platform provides a huge range of product categories for affiliates to choose from, meaning that a huge pool of prospective businesses can work with them risk-free. ShareASale also has over a thousand dedicated partners, which is an unignorable level of prospective business for most serious affiliates looking to broaden their horizons.

ShareASale has to be regarded as extremely user-friendly – especially when considering the range of options that its developers have packed into an easy to follow menu system. Offers are quick and simple to access, analyse and compare, and the dropdown display for affiliates means that a vast array of options can be viewed in moments.

When time means money, the ease in which users can find their reports, activity metrics, payment summaries and traffic reports means that ShareASale must be regarded as the ideal platform for ambitious affiliates looking to build their presence in the industry.

There’s also a building case for ShareASale to be regarded as one of the industry’s most flexible affiliate marketing programs. Both regular and video-based publishing models can be used via the site to really diversify the ways in which users can reach prospective customer bases.

Crafted with merchants in mind

Merchants are expected to fork out a little bit more money than their affiliate counterparts – well, a considerable amount more – but after all, it’s ultimately their products that are being sold so this tends to follow the associated industry norms.

Merchants

It will set merchants back $650 to sign up (this price includes an all-important ‘network access fee’ and a $100 initial deposit). The ramifications of this price tag are far-reaching. Although affiliates may be concerned about the network of merchants they’ll have access to bulking-en-masse at the size of the sign-up costs to ShareASale, it actually means that they’ll only be put in touch with serious businesses that have already put their money where their respective mouths are. This will likely mean that affiliates will be dealing with companies that possess more resources which will, in turn, mean there’s more revenue to be made.

Merchant Fees

The cost may be a little confusing at first for merchants, but included in the price is an ‘ad-serving charge’ that provides ShareASale with the money to create on-page ads, buttons, banners and link texts while also enabling the platform to accurately screen the affiliates that sign up. It would appear that ShareASale is re-investing the higher sign-up costs with the aim of improving the level of service available to both merchants and their affiliate-based counterparts – ultimately supporting the notion that you get what you pay for.

The hefty sign-up costs also go towards the funding of ShareASale’s merchant services feature – providing merchants with invaluable industry insights through the medium of webinars, welcome kits and program diagnostics tests to name but a few benefits.

Overall, merchants can sleep safe in the knowledge that their money is at least being put to good use, with ShareASale ensuring that there are plenty of perks for those who choose to fork out.

Of course, with all that’s going on under the bonnet of ShareASale, it’s fair to say that merchants will need to invest a little bit of time into their campaigns. Given the array of advertising tools at their disposal, to make the most of their money, merchants are encouraged to build the right banners and links to ensure that the advertising of their goods can easily be transferred into the domain of the affiliates.

There’s also the prospect of a 20% transaction fee associated with every sale that’s made via ShareASale. Merchants are required to pay this surcharge whenever an affiliate enables a purchase. After 60 days, merchants will be required to hold at least $10 in their ShareASale account, and at least $25 after 120 days. Luckily, these fees should be relatively meagre and even if the balance isn’t available in the merchant’s account, it will simply be charged the difference each month.

All these fees may seem daunting for merchants, but this doesn’t need to be the case. ShareASale has spent the last 19 years developing a marketing haven for mid-to-large sized businesses filled with ambition to scale. Because of this, the platform possesses a much higher quality array of tools, support, and affiliates on hand to deal with the marketing of merchants’ goods.

Over the years, ShareASale has gained extra popularity among merchants because of the diversity of promotion available among publishers. Products can be marketed via a wide range of channels including email, PPC campaigning, social networks, mobile advertising and desktop applications.

This opens merchants up to a vast network of prospective consumers that they would otherwise be unable to interact with.

In the case of the merchant, ShareASale is ever-present from the very start to end of each sale that’s made, and in a way that’s refreshingly unintrusive. Affiliates shouldn’t expect to have much communication with their respective merchants. The platform promotes a large degree of trust between parties. While this method can widely be regarded as a convenience when both merchants and affiliates alike will no doubt have deadlines to observe, there can be the odd risk of confusion permeating some marketing campaigns.

Key features

Merchant Features

Create customised ads that compliment your brand with the help of ShareASale’s nifty array of tools crafted towards merchants.

ShareASale pride themselves on offering a large range of advertisement types, including purely text-based content, images, banners, widgets, dynamic ad spaces and pop-ups. The best thing about this service is the level of customisation available and how easy adverts are to craft regardless of merchant skill levels. Custom ads can be changed in the matter of a couple of clicks and may be edited in just about any way the merchant would like.

This is undoubtedly a useful perk for merchants who will be looking to instil the right tone and style to suit their brand within the adverts that affiliates use – after all, the chances are that many audiences will be getting their first taste of the merchant’s brand within the affiliate’s marketing approach. However, the ad customisation feature isn’t something that ShareASale takes much interest in. Sure, the platform is there and very useful, but you’re essentially out on your own when it comes to crafting advertisements.

This should be regarded as a blessing and a curse. If you’re willing to put the work in, ShareASale will enable you to build alluring ads for prospective buyers, but then what merchants have the time to explore an advertising tool and create eye-catching content from scratch?

This feature very much caters to merchants who are happy to dig in and build something great with a blank canvas. This inevitably means extra effort – which may feel like a kick in the teeth for some considering the sign-up costs involved – but the great thing about ShareASale is the fact that its features are customisable to the point that adverts can be crafted exactly as the merchant intends.

Intuitive reports and tracking services are a couple of fantastic perks for both affiliates and merchants looking to create an account with ShareASale.

They’re smart and highly insightful – but it’s fair to say that ShareASale’s reporting and tracking features aren’t quite the most usable on the internet. Much like the case of ShareASale’s custom ads function, it certainly requires a little bit of practice to learn the ropes with the various networks of charts and figures – but once you’ve learned the ropes the reports available from this platform will soon become your best friend.

This aspect of ShareASale’s platform has been the source of some major online renovation in recent years, and although a relatively steep learning curve remains, the quality of insights that affiliates, in particular, are provided with is unparalleled within the industry.

Users are now capable of shedding new light on the metrics behind earnings-per-click, reversal rates, average sale amounts and average commission rates – thanks to a fairly recent update from ShareASale.

For affiliates, finding merchants to promote is pretty simple. Simply go “Merchants” to join programs and check the commission amount.

Find Merchants

Another feature that’s certainly worth a shoutout is ShareASale’s real-time reporting function. This metric helps users to view sales as they’re taking place in real-time. Gaining access to this level of information makes for an excellent tool in predicting trends and figuring out optimal posting methods and tactics.

ShareASale also allows users to group different stores together to gain the level of combined reporting insights that are unavailable in other affiliate marketing platforms. This level of analytics also ensures that individual commissions are segregated to each website.

However, it’s worth noting that ShareASale doesn’t look too far beyond the making of sales, and thus only allows cost-per-sale models to be used when compiling insights. This, unfortunately, means that users can’t utilise the help of CPM, CPC and site-to-store models for analytical purposes.

Quality of support

ShareASale prides itself on the level of support it provides for users from both affiliate and merchant camps. The platform offers a help desk feature that’s available for users to consult as regularly as they need free of charge. Users typically find the quality of the helpdesk good in places too.

However, it’s worth pointing out that review websites like CoSpot have singled out ShareASale as being less attentive to customers than their rivals. While some affiliate programs are happy to offload a personal customer service representative to their respective merchants and publishers, ShareASale is much more geared towards letting their users get on with their tasks and have customer support stay on stand-by in case they’re needed.

As such, ShareASale would be best described as a self-service affiliate platform. While this may be problematic for inexperienced users, the level of freedom this leaves for the more experienced marketers among us is evidently refreshing for some.

ShareASale’s dedicated Help Centre is a good troubleshooting resource should something go wrong, and a host of Frequently Asked Questions are preloaded onto the website as a means of getting to the bottom of any problems early on.

The Help Centre also has a section that lists a range of downloads available to users, including a host of relevant users manuals and software to further aid the troubleshooting process.

Finally, as a built-in last resort, the Help Centre has a ticket raising system for users to notify staff of a persistent problem directly. ShareASale also includes a phone number that’s open for everybody to call – however the company stresses that telephone support is unavailable on Fridays between the hours of 2pm and 5:30pm CT.

Competitors

ShareASale is without a doubt one of the leaders in the industry of affiliate marketing, and certainly boasts a range of tools that would be the envy of many competitors.

But could any competitors out there stake a claim to topple ShareASale’s crown? Could merchants and affiliates alike find better value for money elsewhere on the market? Here’s a look at the biggest businesses in affiliate marketing along with an insight into how they match up to the ShareASale respectively:

1. CJ Affiliate

CJ

CJ Affiliate is an affiliate marketing website that was formerly known within the industry as Commission Junction.

Having been established nearly 15 years ago, ‘CJ’ has plenty of operational experience although has some ground to make up before it can boast the almost 20 years of operations that ShareASale possesses.

That said, Commission Junction’s stats are highly impressive. With more than 3,000 merchants active on the site, CJ has become renown for being trusted by multinational giants like Apple, Home Depot, Boden and TurboTax – along with plenty more impressive merchants.

Depending on your business needs, CJ’s impressive array of merchants can be good news or bad news. As an affiliate, it’s fairly obvious that the landscape will be a vastly more competitive one than that of ShareASale, and all applicants also need to be formally approved by merchants to actually be recognised by the platform as an affiliate. This means that there would be plenty of upkeep involved before you begin the signup process. Essentially your website, blog, or social media accounts will have to be spick and span before you begin the review process.

However, CJ Affiliate does appear to carry a good level of flexibility for affiliates to choose the right advertisers and products to sell than what most other affiliate marketing platforms can muster. The website is also free to sign up to which means that users can have a go for free if they wish – thus enabling a great opportunity to mix and match platforms.

CJ Affiliates enjoys plenty of acclaim across the World Wide Web, and review sites like We Rock Your Web even place the platform at number 1 in their list of affiliate marketing programs. However, it must be said that affiliates will need to constantly have at least $50 in their account to ensure that they can receive payment for their work.

2. Rakuten LinkShare

Rakuten

The power of Rakuten definitely cannot be underestimated. In business since 1996, when it existed as ‘LinkShare,’ Rakuten’s affiliate platform is one of the very oldest out there. Despite an evident wealth of industry experience, it’s fair to say that Rakuten LinkShare hasn’t quite scaled its operations in quite the same ways as the likes of CJ and ShareASale.

Despite this, Rakuten does have a health 1,000 merchants to choose from, including a few big players in the industry like Virgin Holidays, Hunter and Clarins. Much like with CJ Affiliate, it’s free to sign up to Rakuten as an affiliate, too.

It’s fair to say that Rakuten has invested a lot of time and effort into creating a dashboard that’s a lot more user-friendly than its competitors. Considering that Rakuten’s affiliate platform is part of a much larger company, seeing this level of resources allocated to creating a neat website design is perhaps unsurprising.

What is pleasantly surprising, however, is the quality of the platform’s advertising tools. Rakuten lets users build a rotating advertising banner that paves the way for much more eye-catching forms of customer engagement.

While there’s plenty of innovation abound in Rakuten’s affiliate marketing offerings, sadly, it’s let down by a sporadic set of payment terms – meaning that affiliates may be kept in the dark as to when they’ll actually get paid for their efforts.

Despite the odd disappointing drawback relating to affiliate payment and the relatively modest range of merchants using the platform, Rakuten excels when it comes to advert creation – and the ability to craft rotating banners with just one snippet of code makes unmissable product promotion fairly easy to create. There’s also a very good deep linking tool that can help to guide customers directly to a predetermined product.

Price & Commissions

Past Revenue

Speaking of deals, let’s take a closer look at the prices involved with both affiliates and merchants that use ShareASale.

Affiliate commissions vary between programs and merchants.

Links & Commissions

ShareASale itself offers generous commissions:

  • $150 for every qualifying merchant that signs up through your link
  • $30 for every qualifying affiliate that signs up through your link

Affiliates enjoy a thoroughly convenient payment setup with ShareASale. Here, they can expect regular paydays made on the 20th day of every month. However, it’s important to note the caveat. Your payment will only be processed if you make $50 or more in sales. This makes the process significantly more difficult for the more casual affiliates among us who may be prone to the odd slow month.

Commissions

There’s a healthy level of flexibility for affiliates, too – and users can enjoy choosing between a direct deposit into a bank account or through the means of a personal cheque each month. While the notion of being paid by cheque is relatively rare, it’s great to have an option that other affiliate marketing companies don’t cater towards.

Merchants, as we touched on before, may understandably baulk at the sight of ShareASale’s initial $550 network access fee alongside the obligatory $100 minimum deposit. However, some consolation can be found in the fact that this contributes to raising the bar in terms of the quality on offer around the site.

For smaller businesses, these figures may well be inexcusable, but if you’re part of an ambitious enterprise, the notion of ‘getting what you pay for’ may be too tempting.

It’s also worth noting that a 20% transaction fee is due on any purchases made by customers. Again, for a smaller scale company, surrendering a portion of your revenue could prove highly costly, so it’s worth taking these deductions into account before you begin the signing up process.

Conclusion

The world of affiliate marketing is a dynamic one that’s constantly changing as social media and GDPR continues to challenge a tumultuous landscape.

Amidst the uncertainty stands ShareASale, as it has done for nearly 20 years. Its two decades of industry experience coupled with smart tools and excellent quality of insights has ensured its place among the very best affiliate marketing platforms available to affiliates and merchants alike.

Yes, the associated prices can prove costly for smaller businesses, and no there’s not a great deal of support when it comes to the creation of advertisements, but with one quarter of ShareASale’s partners being exclusive to them, there’s plenty of opportunities for budding affiliates to make some healthy revenue for the promotion of products.

With the added perk of fully customisable features and easy payment setups, there’s plenty of benefits for all. Just be sure to dedicate a little bit extra time towards learning the ropes and your business or website could return you some very healthy profits.

ShareASale FAQ

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is the process in which an affiliate receives a commission for promoting another business's products or services. The affiliate simply promotes a product or service and subsequently gets a piece of the profit from each sale they make. Commissions could be one-off or recurring.

Is there an approval process for joining programs?

Yes. Normally, whenever you'd like to join a particular affiliate program on ShareASale, there would be an approval process carried out by the merchant you're trying to join.

How much are commissions?

Affiliate commissions vary between programs and merchants. However, ShareASale itself offers pretty generous commissions:

$150 for every qualifying merchant that signs up through your link
$30 for every qualifying affiliate that signs up through your link

What are some alternatives to ShareASale?

There're numerous affiliate marketing programs. However, the most notable (in our opinion) are Amazon Associates, eBay Partners, Shopify Affiliate Program, Clickbank and Rakuten.

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Peter Jobes

Content Marketing Manager

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