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Affiliate marketing networks each offer a unique mix of services, tools and prices. Exploring your marketing needs as a merchant or affiliate is an essential first step in choosing the right network.

Once you've decided to use affiliate marketing to increase your income, it's time to choose the right type of network. Affiliate marketing networks offer numerous strategies, tools and services that connect you to the right merchants and web publishers, leading to more product visibility. Choosing the best network for your needs requires some thought and research. Here are some key factors to consider.

Reliability and Reputation

With Cost-per-Click (CPC) advertising, you will be charged every time someone clicks on your ad. Choose a network that does its part to carefully screen affiliates and connects you with high-quality publishers. Reputable affiliate networks generally link you with publishers that are less likely to engage in fraudulent activities, resulting in less waste of precious advertising dollars. Clickbooth, for example, has a compliance department that puts publishers through a stringent approval process to increase advertiser satisfaction.

High Number of Niche Affiliates

The way that Cost-per-Action (CPA) programs work, you pay a percentage or flat fee per sale or lead. To make your product more visible, you'll need an affiliate marketing network that connects you with a large number of affiliates in your niche. For example, if you are selling an e-book on job interview techniques, the ideal network gives you access to a large number of career coaches and personal development bloggers. Consequently, you're targeting people who will potentially purchase your product.

The process works the same way for promoting services. A network that links you to relevant affiliates gives you access to potential customers who will then enter their contact information on your site, sign up for a newsletter, fill out a survey or contact you with questions about your service.

Compatible Services

Not all affiliate network companies offer the same types of services. For example, on Clickbank you can only advertise digital products, whereas Commission Junction accommodates physical products that require shipping or delivery.

Cost Management

Affiliate marketing networks typically charge merchants a set-up fee. Higher fees are not always a bad thing. Some of the more expensive services provide access to higher quality affiliates and customer service. Compare monthly fees, commission percentages and product implementation charges before choosing a network.

Customer Service

When you're first getting started with affiliate marketing, it helps to have a marketing strategist review your site and suggest compatible merchants and affiliates. Some affiliate marketing networks offer this type of service to help get you started. Ongoing access to customer service is also important in case you have complaints or questions.

Network Interface and Communication Tools

Review the communications on the company's website to ensure that everything is clear and easy to understand. If the interface is confusing, you'll waste a lot of time deciphering your next steps. If you need online tools that allow direct communication with affiliates to advertise special offers, look for an affiliate network that offers a well-organized and highly frequented newsletter forum.

Reporting Features

Accurate and easy-to-understand reporting features are an important part of choosing the best network. If you plan to work with a large number of publishers or merchants, you'll want real-time reports that track profits by link type, providing both a detailed account and summaries of amounts earned.

Global Marketing

Not all affiliate marketing networks have a global reach. If you have a product that you want marketed in different countries and in multiple languages, choose a company that provides this service and accepts payments in numerous currencies. Such companies often let you define targets by demographics, geography or website content.