An overview of affiliate subnetworks

Posted on: Wednesday 24 July 2019

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This summary offers an overview of subnetworks within the affiliate space and gives clarity about their business practices and ‘ways of working’.

This is spilt into three sections:

  • Section 1. An overview of subnetworks

  • Section 2. Challenges when working with subnetworks

  • Section 3. Subnetworks ‘ways of working grid’

Thanks to Acceleration Partners and Awin for putting together the content and thanks to Digidip, Skimlinks, Yieldkit, Sovrn Commerce, Admitad, Clickwork7 and Shopping Links for sharing their business practices.

Section 1. An overview of subnetworks 

Subnetworks are a collection of publishers operating as a single publisher on an affiliate network or affiliate agency. Where affiliate networks provide the service and tracking solution for advertisers, subnetworks make the advertiser programmes and the tracking available for their sub-publishers to use without the need to sign up to an affiliate network. Subnetworks join affiliate networks as a regular publisher would, where as a sub-publisher signs up to join the subnetwork instead. This also allows the sub-publisher to access advertiser programmes across multiple affiliate networks all in one place.

Subnetworks often offer additional services, reports or tools to their sub-publishers that can make it easier for them to monetise their websites. For using a subnetwork and its features, a sub-publisher can expect to sacrifice a percentage of their commission earnings from generating a sale.

Section 2. Challenges when working with subnetworks

Transparency. Subnetworks don’t always make it clear as to which sub-publishers they work with. More specifically, information on which publishers are currently hosting affiliate links for a particular advertiser may not be immediately available. This has a few knock-on effects, mentioned below.

Auditing. Because of the lack of transparency, auditing an advertiser’s full publisher base becomes a challenge. This means that there is potential for sub-publishers that were barred from promoting a particular advertiser programme on an affiliate network to join the affiliate programme through a sub-network. This can also apply to sub-publishers who conduct fraudulent activity or break advertising guidelines.

Communication. The additional layer of complexity also makes it difficult for advertisers to communicate with specific sub-publishers without having to address the subnetwork as a whole. In reverse, this can prevent a sub-publisher from being able to communicate their own value to a particular advertiser programme.

Branding. Where a regular publisher would apply to an advertiser’s programme directly, advertisers do not have visibility on new sub-publishers joining their programme through a subnetwork. This prevents the advertiser from conducting the necessary checks in regards to the suitability of a sub-publisher from a branding point of view beforehand.

Section 3. Subnetworks ‘ways of working’ grid

Acceleration Partners interviewed seven subnetworks (11 in total were contacted – seven of which accepted, and are listed below) to gain a deeper understanding about their business practice and ‘ways of working’. The grid is designed to give buyers the information they need to be able to make an informed decision about who they work with. The grid covers the following 10 areas:

  1. Does the subnetwork offer technology to publishers in order to automatically transform URLs into affiliate links?
  2. Does the subnetwork have a manual publisher vetting process?
  3. Can the subnetwork blacklist publishers on behalf of an advertiser?
  4. Does the subnetwork offer transparency of publisher traffic?
  5. Does the subnetwork have the capability to create shared IDs by publisher on their network?
  6. Can the subnetwork create a separate account for content and incentive publishers?
  7. Is a subnetwork service free to use for advertisers? i.e. no override and/or upfront tenancy free
  8. Does the subnetwork provide free access to their platform?
  9. Does the subnetwork provide automated performance reports?
  10. Does the subnetwork provide dedicated account manager support?


You can download the 'ways of working' grid below. Thanks to Digidip, Skimlinks, Yieldkit, Sovrn Commerce, Admitad, Clickwork7 and Shopping Links for sharing their business practices.

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