You’ve seen it before…

Someone claiming to reveal the “best affiliate marketing programs” or the “top affiliates for bloggers”, etc.

But this is different.

We wanted to find an empirical answer to the question of the best affiliate programs for bloggers. Backed by actual, real data.

So, we analyzed over a thousand income reports from hundreds of bloggers to really determine the most effective, profitable affiliate programs for bloggers.

To see the results at a glance, check out the below infographic. Then, read on for a breakdown of our methodology, some key findings and thoughts, and access to all 165 top-ranked affiliate programs.

Want more? Get access to our list of the 165 best affiliate programs, organized by category and rank.

Methodology

While gathering data, we had a few key requirements for the income reports we collected. They had to:

  • be less than 5 years old
  • show earnings consistently above $1k/mo
  • show itemized affiliate earnings

Once we verified a blogger’s income reports met the above qualifications, we recorded the reported earnings from each of their affiliate programs. These were taken as average values from their three most recent income reports, where possible.

Once complete, we had a large data set showing the different affiliate program earnings of hundreds of bloggers.

However, we couldn’t use something like the mean or median values to compare the programs due to the uneven usage rates, with some affiliate programs having many users and others having relatively few.

And we couldn’t just add up the earnings of each affiliate program and use the totals to rank them. This would bias the results in favor of the biggest affiliates or those who were exceptional at promoting particular programs. Such an approach only works if we wanted to generate a list of the biggest or most successful affiliate programs.

Instead, we sought to determine efficacy. We wanted to know how effective an affiliate program was, relative to others, at generating income among all bloggers. The end result result would be a list of rankings that reflect how likely a given affiliate program would be a significant affiliate income source for a blogger.

To do this we needed to be able to weigh the affiliate programs of a $1k/mo blogger the same as we would a $100k/mo blogger. We also wanted to be able to account for the usage rates without making it the only determinant.

To accomplish these goals, we started with a frequency distribution.

For each blogger, we ranked their top five highest-earning affiliate programs from 1-5 (beyond the top five, affiliate earnings tended to dwindle into relative insignificance). Then, we counted how frequently each affiliate program appeared at each rank (called the Rank Frequency). Finally, we assigned values to each rank (called the Rank Value). The value of each rank is shown in the table below:

RankRank Value
#16
#25
#34
#43
#52

This means that three #5 rankings were equivalent to a single #1 ranking. So, in practical terms, a lower-earning affiliate program could be considered quite effective if a larger number of bloggers were making money with it, even if it wasn’t their primary earner.

To arrive at a score for an affiliate program, first we multiplied each Rank Frequency by its Rank Value. This left us with five sets of values (one for each rank), which we could then add together to get a final score. We like to refer to this final score as the Compound Affiliate Score (CAS).

The Top Affiliate Programs

The proliferation and adoption of the Bluehost affiliate program seems to have made it the most dominant individual program on the web. Its CAS far outpaced all other individual affiliate programs. It’s a favorite among bloggers of all stripes and can be a reliable earner regardless of niche.

There are also some surprise entrants on the list, most likely a testament to their profitability and ease of promotion/conversion, even if the overall size of these programs is smaller than the big names on this list.

We would have liked to segment this data further by niche, but due to the range of niches, the disparity in data between niches, and the amount of overlap between categorically different blogs, this would not have been a useful or accurate reflection of each niche.

The Top Affiliate Networks

First, it’s important that we define exactly what we mean by “affiliate network”.

For the purposes of this study, an affiliate network is one that allows affiliates to promote a huge selection of products/services from many different vendors. For example, the Amazon marketplace features products from millions of vendors. This allows Amazon affiliates to promote hundreds of millions of products.

Obviously, you can’t compare such an affiliate program to the affiliate program of a single company like Bluehost.

This category also includes traditional affiliate networks that host the affiliate programs of many different companies, like ShareASale and Awin, as well as performance networks that promote Cost Per Action offers, like MaxBounty.

To the surprise of no one, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in this category, having by far the highest CAS in the study. It is the oldest, biggest affiliate program on the web and has shaped the entire landscape of affiliate marketing. They have something for everyone and the fact that their cookie awards a commission for anything bought on the site makes it a winner for any blogger.

Get The Complete List

There are tons of affiliate programs we couldn’t include in our infographic. But you can still get access to them!

We’ve compiled the 165 top-ranked programs into a Google Docs spreadsheet just for you. The list is broken up into 21 categories. Within each category, the programs are ranked using the methodology described in this post. We’ve also provided a short description of each company along with direct links to the homepage of each.

That makes this list of affiliate programs one of the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere. Use it to find new programs, see where yours stack up, and grow your affiliate income.

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