Affiliate marketing 101: Choosing between an independent merchant and an affiliate marketing network

Online affiliate marketing has been around for more than a decade now. It’s a popular income-generating scheme where a content-oriented website promotes a merchant site’s products. With every successful sale, the affiliate site earns a commission that’s usually much more lucrative than what most cost-per-click ads can offer.

One of the most common questions people ask me about affiliate marketing is whether I prefer doing affiliate deals with independent merchants or if I like to go to affiliate network sites, such as Commission Junction and LinkShare, to do my business.

Like a lot of things in life, my response is, “It depends.”

Both models have unique strengths and weaknesses and both have their risks and rewards. I decided to write this post to help out anyone out there who’s having a dilemma of the affiliate type. Let’s get started:

Selling affiliate products from independent merchants


Perhaps the biggest advantage you can get from selling products directly from an independent affiliate merchant is that you can have a direct business relationship with that merchant.

No barriers! The only thing positioned between the merchant and their customers is you – the affiliate marketer.

And, because you have a direct working relationship with the merchant, there’s the opportunity for you to negotiate your affiliate commission.

Yes, folks, if you manage to create a great business relationship with your merchant, there’s virtually nothing stopping you from negotiating better commission terms with them, especially if you’ve got the bumps to prove your affiliate marketing prowess.


Selling products from independent merchants is not without its disadvantages. Consolidation is tough, especially if you’re running an affiliate marketing campaign promoting several independent merchants across a wide range of niches.

Tracking affiliate sales, commissions, and other metrics can become a daunting task if you’re promoting several independent affiliate merchants. Also, promoting several merchants at the same time means having to deal with several point persons.

If time is a commodity that you can’t afford to waste, you might want to steer away from promoting affiliate products from multiple independent merchants.

Selling affiliate stuff from affiliate networks

Consolidation is the single biggest reason why a great number of affiliate marketers use affiliate networks.

With an affiliate network, there’s no stopping you from choosing any number of merchants to promote across a wide range of categories. And, no matter how many merchants you choose to promote, everything will be taken care of, so all you need to do is promote and sell.

An affiliate network provides affiliate marketers with a central reporting and tracking system which shows all the data that marketers need for any specific period.

The metrics that affiliate networks provide include:


-Clickthrough rates



And, most importantly, affiliate networks take care of providing their affiliates with a wide range of marketing tools they can use on their websites and email marketing campaigns.

Also, with affiliate networks, affiliate marketers enjoy the convenience of receiving a single check for all merchant commissions upon reaching a certain payout threshold.

Some of today’s biggest and most active affiliate networks are,,, and Google’s very own Affiliate Network.

So, which of the two should you choose? Independent merchants or affiliate networks? It depends entirely on how you feel about the advantages and disadvantages we’ve pointed out above.

The important thing for you to take away from all this is that you should choose whichever can bring you maximum convenience and profitability. If you are one who is more concerned about business relationships, you probably want to choose to promote independent merchants. But, if it’s convenience and access to hundreds of affiliate programs you’re after, choose affiliate networks.

Let me know your thoughts.

  • Nicole Munoz

    I think that if you are new and just starting out… try a network first! It will allow you to compare the data from a wide variety of prospective products to market… the key here is to just CHOOSE one and get started! Most people login to sites like CJ and get so overwhelmed by all the choices and competition, they suffer from paralysis by analysis!

  • JR

    Interesting that you excluded clickbank from the networks. Any reason? Personally I think CB sux but obviously some people like them. Since 95% of my revenue comes from the SellHealth network I’m gradually dumping vendors who use that network despite the fact that some products are quite good and fit into my health sites.