Why direct affiliate partnerships are a key revenue driver for media companies

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Affiliate networks take a cut of your commission, that’s how they make money. For media companies and advertisers, that can mean missing out on growth opportunities. One way to avoid that are direct affiliate partnerships.

Direct partnerships are a win-win situation for both publisher and advertiser since neither will have to pay the network fees. Not to mention clear communication and transparency between parties leads to a better reader experience on the affiliate website.

In this article, we’ll dive into the advantages of establishing direct affiliate partnerships for media companies.

You can check here how brands like BuzzFeed, Wirecutter and Dotdash Meredith used direct partnerships to drive affiliate revenue growth →

What makes a good affiliate partner

Good affiliate partnerships are built on clear communication and data transparency. You and your partner need to have a discussion on how to get higher earnings from affiliate campaigns. 

The advertiser can tell you about their relationship with their customer and what works on closing a deal. You can tell them what type of relationship you have with your readers and what excites them. With this discovery, both of you can focus on generating high affiliate revenue.

The direct line of communication and transparent data helps you to react on time.

As an affiliate publisher, you work at the moment of sending traffic to an advertiser. And so if anything needs to be changed like the advertiser needs you to link to a different product, you need to react on time. 

If you’re connected only through an affiliate network the process gets slowed down as there is the middleman between the two of you. Plus you’d need to make sure the tracking and attribution work again. But if you establish a direct partnership, you can communicate directly to your partner, meaning you get to optimise quicker so you won’t miss out on any opportunities.

Why would media publishers want to use affiliate partnerships?

The simple answer is to cut out any middleman who can have an interest in your earnings. The first commission cut goes to an affiliate network which usually takes around 30%. Then you get your part. It’s different with direct affiliate partnerships.

You both will get the chance of earning more revenue and not splitting up the commissions.

Outside of earning more, there are four more benefits:

Transparent performance data

A middleman works with their own agenda. That’s part of the business. 

This can result in advertisers looking at different sets of data than you. You might not see detailed conversion data, or get full transparency on the amount of conversions you helped the advertiser achieve. That’s because the affiliate data tracking goes through a party that has an interest in a commission cut.

But if you and your affiliate partner decide to use a shared tool, or share your analytics, you’ll be looking at the same sets of data, letting both of you do what you do best – getting results.

Set your own terms

When an affiliate campaign goes through a middleman, the terms of the campaign go through them. Which makes sense. The advertiser needs to set up the campaign with the affiliate network, and you need to apply to the campaign through the network.

But if you decide to create a partnership, both you and the advertiser get to create your own terms. 

Why would you want to create your own terms?


Let’s say you’re connected to an advertiser through an affiliate network. This advertiser has launched a new campaign that your type of content is effective in generating sales for. But you have to apply for the campaign. You need to get approved. You need to set up the tracking to make sure you get a fair attribution. When you finally get to link to their campaign the initial hype is gone and you missed out on potential sales.

If you are in a direct partnership with this advertiser, they know the type of content you’re producing, and they know you’re the perfect channel for them to get traffic and sales. So they can contact you, saying: “We’re about to launch a new campaign for this product and we need you to create content on it”.

affiliate partnerships

“In direct partnerships, advertisers can often prioritize the partnership in custom ways. That might mean creating a landing page for the specific publisher that converts better and generate more commission.”

Simon Dichoe

Imagine how simpler it gets to optimise the affiliate campaign when you:

  • get a notification that the advertiser is about to launch a new campaign
  • can create relevant content around the product
  • get to link to the product on time, making sure your tracking is on point
  • get to monitor how your readers react to the campaign so you can optimise

Live data

Viewing the performance data live is another benefit. This is usually when both you and your affiliate partner decide to use a shared tracking tool.

Let’s say the product you’re linking to is in high demand. Conversions on the advertiser’s page go through the roof but it’s not reflected in your analytics. So you decide to feature a different article on top of your page that gets better CTR. Now you’re missing out on revenue. 

Looking at the same live data, you know that you can double down on this content piece. You can keep it featured on top of your page for longer, earning both you and your partner revenue.

When should you go into direct partnerships and when not?

Direct partnerships make sense when:

There are 2 common situations when creating a direct affiliate partnership with an advertiser is highly beneficial.

You do campaign pushes with high volume

Some publishing companies make quick campaign pushes. For example, you know that next Friday you’re publishing a new article on your front page and you want to monetise your links. Because your featured articles generate a lot of traffic you know it’s gonna be a hit and the advertiser will have a lot of sales coming through your article. 

Your affiliate tracking needs to be on point. You need to set it up and monitor the performance in case you need to optimise the campaign.

Both you and the advertiser should be looking at the same real time data to know what’s happening at the time you’re sending a lot of traffic to the advertiser. This quick optimisation and data transparency is only possible if you are in a direct partnership.

You run long-term campaigns and partnerships

Most advertisers use different affiliate networks for their programs and campaigns. They can close their campaigns on certain networks, switch to different ones, or offer better commissions on others.

“If that affiliate program closes on one network, but it’s still on another, publishers have to go and apply to that campaign on another network. Before that, they need to figure out that the campaign closed. For long-term partners, it’s just easier to be directly connected.”

Simon Dichoe

Every time they make this change, you have to apply to those changed campaigns, and networks. If you want to stick with this specific advertiser for the long haul, it makes sense to connect to them directly.

It’s a win-win situation where you won’t have to pay a commission cut to the middleman.

Direct affiliate partnerships don’t make sense if:

There are 2 scenarios when direct partnerships are counterproductive. 

An affiliate campaign already exists on a network

When the campaign already exists on an affiliate network and you want to start sending the traffic now. 

Establishing direct partnerships take longer time than applying to the existing campaign. Unless the advertiser is sitting by their desk, ready to agree to partner up the second you request it. You can guess how realistic that situation is. 

You link to 1000s of smaller advertisers

Each direct partnership comes with separate invoicing. 

Imagine having to invoice 1000 partners where each sale accounts for 15 €. It’s easier to link to them through an affiliate network so you can avoid this time-consuming labour.

(If you want to read more about direct partnerships, you can check out an interview with Todd Crawford, Co-founder at Impact.)