How to start an affiliate program

If you want to have hundreds or thousands of affiliates promoting your products for you, you have many options.

You can hire affiliate networks such as Commission Junction (now owned by ValueClick), LinkShare or Performics. They handle the tracking and money - and charge you a healthy percentage. Those companies charge a few thousand dollars to get your affiliate program established.

There is also a wide range of smaller affiliate networks to choose from. They charge smaller fees.

You can hire someone to put their affiliate tracking software on your server. You can buy a CGI tracking script - or you can start an affiliate program by writing your own script.

You can also use web-based tracking systems which charge a monthly fee.

One thing to ask affiliate networks is who owns and controls the email addresses of affiliates. If they're YOUR affiliates, you want to be in control of those valuable names.

If you're thinking of using any of the networks as a merchant, I strongly recommend you sign up as an affiliate first - free - and test the service your affiliates will be receiving.

Want to do more research on how to start an affiliate program? Here are the main options:


Quick, easy and budget priced: AffiliateShop

AffiliateShop offers an easy, quick and effective way to set up an affiliate program.

It offers you the ability to pay-per-lead, pay-per-click, pay-per-sale, or pay using several of these methods (e.g. pay 5% on sales and $0.05 per lead). It also can pay out step wise (e.g. pay 5% for less than 100 sales and 10% for above 100 sales).

AffiliateShop has anti-fraud protection, so that affiliates cannot generate fraudulent click throughs. The software has full tracking and real time statistics for you and your affiliates, and can easily track two-tier programs.

AffiliateShop is partnered with TroySystems to allow you to cheaply send bulk checks to your affiliates. The US Treasury has printed checks on TroySystems equipment since 1984.

AffiliateShop can quickly integrate with most third party shopping cart systems, Microsoft ASP scripts, UNIX and NT Servers and can easily export data to other databases such as MS Access and MS SQL.

All software is hosted on an AffiliateShop server meaning the set up time is minimal. You can have an unlimited number of affiliates, even multiple affiliate programs.

Affiliate Shop is good value for money, with a setup fee of $395 and a monthly fee of $45. AffiliateShop offers a 30 day free trial, and can typically be set up in less than a single day.

AffiliateShop is very quick to set up and easy to use and I highly recommend it.

A popular budget-priced option: Interneka

Tomas Brikman of Interneka has a popular, budget-priced third party tracking solution.

Tomas says it isn't as advanced as MyAffiliateProgram but it has all the features that AffiliateShop has.

"Our customers are small to medium web sites that can't pay $500 for affiliate software. That's why we are offering a really good deal for merchants who are in need of affiliate software," he says.

Check it out here

Popular with affiliates: ShareaSale

Your affiliates will approve if you choose to go with ShareaSale. It's a large network offering hundreds of programs - pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead, and pay-per-click programs. More than 700 merchants. It has a strong pro-affiliate attitude and despises parasites. Has lots of datafeeds. Highly recommended.

Large network: Commission Junction

Commission Junction, launched in 1998, has a large network of merchants. You can quickly establish a pay-per-lead or pay-per-sale program, and benefit from publicity generated by this prominent affiliate network. Here's the description from the site:

"With a pay-per-lead program, you pay a commission when an authorized affiliate refers a customer to your site and that customer fills out a form or performs another action that allows you to follow up on the sales process.

"With a pay-per-sale program, you pay a commission when an authorized affiliate refers a customer to your site and that customer buys a product or service. The purchase may occur when the visitor is at your site or it may occur at a later time.

"Whether you want to start a new program or upgrade your existing program, we can get you started in a matter of days at a price that any organization can afford. We professionally manage all the details of your revenue sharing operations including affiliate sign-ups, approvals, tracking, reporting, and commission payments."

The system works well. A huge advantage of using a large network is that it promotes your program for you. Also, Commission Junction consolidates payouts (payouts from other CJ programs get lumped together into one large check), making it a favorite of affiliates.

However, you will still have to promote your affiliate program yourself. A large percentage of the affiliates who sign up through a major affiliate network will be newcomers who don't know how to sell on the Net.

If you want to pay someone a commission for taking care of most of the details, this is a good option.

Check out Commission Junction here


Performics is a highly professional, large affiliate network with some well known brands. Performics' clients include: America Online, Blair Corp., Bose, CompUSA, Eddie Bauer, HP Shopping, Kohl's, L.L.Bean, PC Connection, RedEnvelope, Verizon Wireless, and more than 200 others. Performics is owned by DoubleClick.


LinkShare is a large network which handles revenue sharing arrangements.

LinkShare Corporation has created a software solution to track leads that result in immediate or long-term sales. As well, it has established a network to help publishers of sites and online retailers. The software enables merchants and sites to share feedback information and customer analysis. It costs several thousand dollars to set up. LinkShare organizes things, does the tracking and handles payments. LinkShare offers consolidated affiliate payments, direct deposit for U.S. affiliates, and user defined minimum payment thresholds. LinkShare has attracted many big names, including Dell. You benefit from the publicity it generates.

More networks

ClickBank allows sellers of information products to set up a simple affiliate program very quickly, easily and very cheaply. Because it is so easy, you will be sharing space with a fairly mixed crowd. ClickBank accepts payments by credit card for you, and charges a percentage of each sale. It has about 100,000 affiliates. This is a very popular solution.

PayDotCom is a budget-priced ClickBank competitor, offering some features not offered by ClickBank.

ClickXchange will enable you to build your own affiliate program paying per-click, per-lead, per-sale, or per-impression. ClickXchange has over 150,000 affiliates in its network, and all advertiser accounts include a customized affiliate sign-up process that merges into your site.

DoubleClick advertising network, now owned by Google, works with direct marketers on per-lead and per-sale advertising solutions. It's also a useful resource for online advertising information.

I want to do it myself: QuickPayPro

QuickPayPro is an advanced shopping cart system with affiliate tracking built in. It is a hosted solution with a MySQL back end. It is completely automated, freeing up your valuable time and resources that can be better spent marketing your products, rather than wasted doing paper work.

The program automatically accepts new affiliate sign ups, and provides detailed and useful stats, including click throughs, conversion rates, expenses, profit and more, for both you, and your affiliates. Referrals are tracked reliably, using both cookies and IP address association.

The system also allows you add unlimited products to your catalog, and both you and your affiliates can link to specific products and track the effectiveness of those links.

The system can integrate with, InstaBill, PayPal, and ClickBank, enabling you to automatically process sales, and send out electronic checks to your affiliates with the click of a button.

The system costs $37 per month, with a trial for the first month costing only $1.

So far, I'm very impressed with this system. This is one you should seriously consider.

Click here to find out more about QuickPayPro.


Web-based system: My Affiliate Program software

My Affiliate Program software is made by KowaBunga! Technologies, a sister company of Invisio.

Features include: Fully-automated setup; admin and members' page; banner location tracking and verification; email your affiliate members; monthly account statements; export your affiliate information; tracking click-throughs, sales and commissions; automatic reminders; SMART sales report; online sales history; variable commission structure; two-tier commissions and lifetime commissions support. Perl/cgi, runs on Unix/NT.

Major improvements were made to this software in 2001, adding even more useful features and options, too many to list here. The company is well known for its superb support. Take a close look at this option.

Thousands of merchants are using this My Affiliate Program.

Another good do-it-yourself option: Paul Galloway

Paul Galloway offers is Synergyx, full-featured two-tier affiliate program software with an e-commerce platform. It's perfect for anyone selling digital products because it offers a "time-expired-authentication" digital product download system. For those who need it, a shopping cart is included as well. Everything resides on your server, so you maintain complete control. Highly recommended.


Craig Belcher's AffiliateTracking charges a flat rate - $104.95 the first month and $29.95 a month thereafter. "It's a good choice for small webmasters," Craig says. "If you're planning to have over 50,000 affiliates we can set you up with a dedicated tracking server as well. Pricing starts off at $700 a month for a dedicated tracking server and tops out at around $3000 a month . . . we don't charge 20% of the affiliates' commissions either. A flat monthly fee for both pay per sale and pay per click programs."


AffiliateGuerrilla software is installed on your own site - not a 3rd party solution. It is designed for Windows hosted web sites. It allows up to 5 levels of commissions, fixed or percent. It allows both standard products and subscriptions. It is integrated with PayPal so website owners can start their own affiliate program without a merchant account or shopping cart.
You can add affiliates or sales manually. It is only $89.

DirectTrack Systems

DirectTrack is the software that was originally developed by advertising network DirectLeads to track their own affiliate program, and is now being marketed as a hosted tracking solution.

The set-up cost is $750 and they charge a "nominal fee for bandwidth and traffic".



UK based AffiliateWindow is a complete affiliate tracking and management software suite. "The program can be easily installed into existing e-commerce solutions in a matter of minutes," says managing director Kevin Brown. Ltd manages the affiliate relationships, "taking away much of the financial cost and administration of running an affiliate program allowing the affiliate merchant to focus revenues and staff in other areas".

AffiliateWindow was launched in 2000. Pricing: ?999 followed by support at ?300 a month.

PDG Shopping Cart software

PDG Shopping Cart software is a fully featured shopping cart software with affiliate link tracking piggy-backed on to it. An SSL-enhanced version costs $US750.


Do-it-yourself sites, articles, and books

For a superb article on how to operate an affiliate program, get a copy of Ken Evoy's Make Your Site Sell. It's incredibly good value for money, and comes with a 224-page FREE manual for affiliates.

December 10, 2004

Comments (68)

AnneMarie Callan
Said this on November 22, 2006 At 09:31 am
That is an amazing comprehensive article. I can't imagine anything could have been left out. As it is information that I was searching for, I'll give it 100% for excellent free information. Thank you
Brady Lewis
Said this on December 30, 2006 At 10:57 pm
Great list. It is very helpful.
Brady Lewis
Jason Latour
Said this on February 20, 2007 At 11:58 pm
Wow! I know this article is old but what great information. Just what I was looking for to start up an affiliate program.
Jay Latour

[Thanks. The original article was written years ago, but the info has been often updated since then. Allan.]
Ionut stoianovici
Said this on March 18, 2007 At 07:38 pm
You are helping a lot of people! That's very nice! Thank you!
Nic Sinclair Henleyhosting
Said this on June 28, 2007 At 12:49 pm
Great artical very useful but does any one no if theres a way of seting it up with out paying any money up front? iam going to keep looking any how and i dont find a company that will do it for no up front charge then i may just have to start one anyone want to help me ?
cheers nic

[You can start an affiliate program at ClickBank with an upfront fee of only about $50. I wouldn't want to base a business on attracting merchants who couldn't afford to pay $50. Allan.]
Said this on June 30, 2007 At 09:33 am
Thankyou! I always wondered how people seemed to have affiliates on their own site.
Peter Koning
Said this on July 9, 2007 At 07:16 pm
In addition merchants should consider the investment beyond just the technical solution. You need to address the recruiting, hiring, managing/motivating, and firing of affiliates. Look at your resources, strengths and weaknesses. Some merchants do this themselves and others rely on OAM or Outsourced Affiliate Managers.
Networks can do some of these functions as well, but then it's usually on their terms and has a cost.
Damon Marshall
Said this on July 12, 2007 At 06:57 pm
An excellent article! As a small online business we have been looking at the options of affiliate marketing at great detail of recent months. Can anyone suggest any good providers for small businesses like
Regards, Damon

[A similar question was asked on our affiliate forum recently. That would be a good place to look for an answer. Allan.]
nic sinclair
Said this on July 20, 2007 At 08:22 am
hey allan
what uv put at the bottom [of my last post] is a fair point. i hadnt known clickbank was that low, however it's less about the amount of money than my thinking that why should i pay up front when they take a cut of every sale. doesnt that allow them the ability to go ''pay as you go''. Of course all self respectable merchants can afford $50, most of us probs make that in the time we spend on your site, thats not a boast, i've been on here bloody ages. but if u risked $50 on 50 programs it adds up.
Said this on August 5, 2007 At 10:24 am
Hi allan i was looking to start a new affiliate program for my and and now that i read your article i learned a lot i start looking for an easy program because i am not big progammer
thank you
Said this on December 15, 2007 At 03:03 pm
Hey Allan,
Do you have any information on how to do a JV affiliate program? I know of an ebook that is distributed directly but could be easily marketed through an affiliate program... I would like to approach the author and ask to do a joint venture. I would want to be the 'instigator' to set it up and receive a % of all sales that come through the affiliate program - my take for bringing it to the author - he potentially explodes his sales as well... If you have info about how to do this or where to go I would be thankful... With all the options you have outlined in this article I'm sure there would be a solution but I am not sure what the best approach would be...

[You have lots of options. The simplest way would be to use ClickBank. It's cheap to set up, it handles affiliate payments, and nearly all affiliates are familiar with it. You could do the work and share the proceeds with the author. Another way would be to persuade the author to set up a two-tier program and you would persuade affiliates to sign up under you and receive a percentage of their sales. This would be a good question to ask on our affiliate forum. Allan.]
Psychic Medium
Said this on January 18, 2008 At 11:42 am
Talk about informative article! This will be the perfect guide for my goal of starting an affiliate program with my new social network...
Many Thanks!!
Said this on January 26, 2008 At 11:16 pm
Hi Allan, I am so glad I stumbled onto your site. This is VERY informative. Question: It seems that all affiliate programs are for digital products. I have a retail jewelry product and I wanted to have affiliates sell my product. There is a very high potential commission pay out - AND I want to get my product sold around the world! Just wanted your feedback on a retail jewelry product vs. digital products. THANKS again!

[There are tens of thousands of affiliate programs and millions of products sold via affiliate products. The vast majority of products sold are physical products, not digital downloads. If you have good products, an affiliate program is a good option. Allan.]
Said this on February 5, 2008 At 06:39 pm
I agree with most of the other commenters - a truly, all encompassing article. I came here with infinite questions about starting an affiliate program and I am leaving here with almost zero. Well done!
A recessed medicine cabinet hidden behind a picture frame
Said this on March 12, 2008 At 07:28 am
Hi Allan,
In comprehensive article on : How to start an affiliate program , you had recommended
Affiliate Network Pro software to Set up ones own affiliate network "just like CJ and LinkShare", says John Ross of AlstraSoft.

I have been reading consumer feedback on Alstrasoft's customer service and huge list of bugs that can't be set right unless one is a programmer.

Could you please recommend a few other softwares that I can buy to set up my own Affiliate Network as large as CJ, Linkshare or performics ? Your recommendation would be highly respected.
Thanking you

[Hi Divya, I haven't done it, so I can't give you a first-hand recommendation. Hundreds of ad networks and affiliate networks use DirectTrack. You could check it out. However, I'd be absolutely amazed if you could successfully set up something as complex as a large affiliate network without hiring a programmer. Allan.]
Said this on March 12, 2008 At 07:40 am
i don't see my comment up..?

[Because of spam, comments are moderated. They don't appear immediately. Allan.]
Said this on April 8, 2008 At 06:09 am
Great list. It is very helpful.
Said this on April 29, 2008 At 03:51 pm
Hi Allan,
I'm almost starting with my own affiliate program for my websites, and looking for more information, so checking your articles i receiving ideas to start as sooner is possible, thanks for your help!
Deidre Gunnels
Said this on May 12, 2008 At 06:02 pm
I use Google Checkout on my site, which affiliate program is setup to work with google checkout?

[Here's a list of merchants who are using Google Checkout:
You could see what affiliate tracking system they're using. The few I checked either had an inhouse system or were using LinkShare. Allan.]
Abi Noah
Said this on July 28, 2008 At 02:07 pm
Thank you for this thoroughly researched and comprehensive list. As an affiliate marketer, I am always on the lookout for reputable affiliate networks. Although your information seems to be targeted mainly at merchants, I find it is really useful for me as an affiliate marketer

[If you use our site's search box, you can find: affiliate networks list (Don't use quotes.). Allan.]
Said this on August 22, 2008 At 02:52 pm
Thanks this is a very detailed post. Incredible. Thank you!
Dave Jackson
Said this on August 27, 2008 At 11:44 pm
Nice job. I've got two gems to add to the list
idevaffiliate ($99) and Post Affiliate Pro ($99) both have great features, reports, and stats. They also have a system tray tool to get live updates. This is a great article and I will be adding it to my resource section at

[Thanks for the tips. Allan.]
kyle rahimi
Said this on October 16, 2008 At 10:56 am
Very helpful information, saved me lots of time

Said this on November 4, 2008 At 11:16 am
Yes excellent information, currently looking into implementing an affiliate program on my own site. The only problem is I didn't realise how many options there were until I read this and now I'm even more confused as to which one to use!
Said this on November 17, 2008 At 06:37 pm
Said this on December 2, 2008 At 02:09 pm
Very informative article. I was going to write an article about clickbank and commission junction for my site by I think I will just refer my visitors to you.

[Thank you! Allan.]
Said this on January 8, 2009 At 03:01 pm
Hi Allan,
I just built a website (niche auction site) I want to propose a jv relationship with a few online communities in the same niche. Any advice on how to set it up?

[I'm not sure if you're asking about software or about other details. This would be a good question to ask on our affiliate forum. Allan.]
Said this on January 19, 2009 At 02:53 pm
Interesting post. From an affiliate marketers point of view, it is definitely worth signing up as an affiliate. Some networks make your job easy, give help and advice and positively encourage you to promote their merchants. Others don't really help at all and despite repeated emails asking for technical assistance I get none so give up and don't bother promting their merchants. From a fashion affiliate marketers point of view, I have found affiliate window and paid on results really good.
Said this on March 18, 2009 At 06:03 pm
Since the concept began with Amazon in the mid-1990's, the idea of earning money through an internet marketing affiliate program has taken the internet community by storm. Basically, an internet marketing affiliate program allows site owners to make money simply by hosting advertising pop-ups or banners on their websites or blogs
Peter Hamilton
Said this on April 27, 2009 At 04:02 pm
I would like to add another affiliate network software to the mix. is another application for managing an affiliate network that competes with DT. From what I understand, it is free...
Said this on May 31, 2009 At 04:13 pm
I'm so glad that I found this article and, therein, our new affiliate marketing provider!
Said this on June 12, 2009 At 09:14 pm
we have a club which has members we want those members to invite there friends and there friends
to do the same,,we want to reward clients with points
so that their next years club membership fees are free or
discounted by percentage of new members who they introduce join and pay

do you know of any thing like that

[You could try asking on our affiliate forum. Allan.]
Said this on June 20, 2009 At 08:48 pm
Can anything here be used for a service instead of a physical product?


[Yes. The affiliate program is just a way of tracking payments and tracking referrals, so it doesn't really matter if you're selling a physical product or a serivce. I see you've also asked the question on our affiliate forum. I've answered your question in more detail there. Allan.]
Said this on July 6, 2009 At 07:32 am
I enjoyed this article very much. I'd like to start a AP for my Local Internet Marketing business. My biggest question has to do with contacting the righ people to be affiliates.

[Here's an article I wrote that will give you lots of ideas...
How to find and recruit affiliates
Said this on July 24, 2009 At 11:46 pm
Great list. Was looking to do some research on affiliates for a client of mine in a couple of weeks. Definitely saved me some time finding good info on Google. Thanks for putting this together.
Said this on July 26, 2009 At 03:24 am

is another very good solution for starting your own affiliate program.
Real time reporting, Geo IP data, impression count
Said this on August 2, 2009 At 04:14 am
Cool list, I just like the idea of owning an affiliate programme. I guess it works if you have grown popular online and are savvy with CSS and HTML.
Said this on August 19, 2009 At 10:59 am
yeah i liked the details on the affiliate programs but i have not understood completely.
Said this on August 20, 2009 At 07:52 am
Hello Allan and Dave

Allan ~ Well done. I found the information very helpful.

Dave ~ Thank you for adding additional information. Our company is trying to start its own affiliate program. Could I get your email address to ask you some questions regarding such programs?

Said this on August 24, 2009 At 10:48 pm
It really depends what resources you have available to you I believe. If you have some in-house staff that can take care of finding a good software and they can manage the affiliates, I think thats a great way to go, if not, affiliate networks will do the job, but they won't care as much as you do if you do it in-house.
Said this on September 21, 2009 At 05:46 am is out of business now.

[Thanks for the tip. Much appreciated. I've deleted that one. Allan.]
Said this on October 1, 2009 At 03:25 pm
I always wanted to learn about affiliate marketing...good article and great
Said this on October 4, 2009 At 12:37 am
I have used Commission Junction as well as Linkshare as a publisher, but haven't looked at becoming the one who is selling a product. It looks like the fees may be considerable for an individual, but they look very affordable for a small company. It seems the average is about $40-50 a month, which isn't bad at all. It's the commissions the company charges per sale that you really need to look out for.
Said this on October 5, 2009 At 10:09 am
I'm researching setting up an affiliate program for my "domain names for sale" website, Thanks for this helpful list of affiliate programs.

High quality, premium, intuitive type-in keyword domain names.
Said this on October 22, 2009 At 06:17 am
oh which one
Said this on October 30, 2009 At 02:49 pm
I appreciate the help. This page has been very helpful. We are looking to start an affiliate program for our furniture company but don't have a shopping cart system. We sell custom furniture with lots of choices so the customer needs to call us to complete the order. We want to offer a "cost per lead" structure and hope to find a good one out of the ones listed above.
Said this on November 21, 2009 At 09:37 am
Hi guys,
Could you advice me of affiliate networks that are good at promoting services to affiliates rather being a good billing solution? After all, it's the exposure what matters...

[That would be a good question to ask on our affiliate forum. Allan.]

Regards, Nick
Said this on November 24, 2009 At 10:47 am
It just seems like this is not something that a small business with small start up costs can do. But the article is great and so very comprehensive.
Said this on December 10, 2009 At 09:33 am
In my opinion, an affiliate network that provides you with all the tools and support you need, but also allows you to spend as much or as little as you like on setting up is the best option. If you use a pre made website on either a free blog system or by buying a domain on your own hosting its up to you. But it will be plenty cheaper than getting someone to do all the work for you and yet you don't lose out too much on the support side.
Said this on January 22, 2010 At 05:04 pm
I'll check some of these out; I've been wondering exactly how to set up an affiliate program for my business - since I provide a service rather than a product, I'll probably have to explore a little to find one that's suitable.

New comments are currently disabled.

Newsletter Sign-up

Sign-up Now!

How to make $1000 a month from scratch

Sign-up for our newsletter and receive our 77 page eBook "How to make $1000 a month from scratch".

Best of all it's FREE!

Your Host

Learn from an affiliate veteran.

Your host, , has been earning a good living from affiliate programs since 1998.

Want a BETTER article writer? We will write good articles just for you.

Content Kingdom