What minimum features should I expect in an affiliate tracking solution?

Affiliate Wiz is just one of the many overwhelming choices of affiliate software solutions on the market today.  Before you even decide between a hosted network solution or a software solution, you should know what features to look for.  Once you know what features to look for, you must then decide between a software solution such as Affiliate Wiz, or a network solution such as Commission Junction.
  1. Automated Affiliate Signup Process

    A proper affiliate solution will come with a pre-built signup page.  This greatly simplifies the affiliate signup process for both the affiliates and the affiliate program's manager.  Your web site should prominently provide links to your affiliate agreement and to your affiliate signup page.

    Most affiliate programs including Affiliate Wiz support an automatic acceptance of new affiliates, or a manual approval process.  Some merchants prefer the manual process in order to weed out unqualified affiliates.

    The most important points to be made here is that the process should be simple for the affiliate, and efficient for the affiliate manager. 
  2. Simple process for Affiliates to obtain links

    The solution you choose to manage your affiliate program should provide an intuitive means for affiliates to obtain links, banners, and product images so they can quickly and easily begin promoting your web site.  You want to make their life easy since they are doing you the favor of promoting your site.  Most solutions like Affiliate Wiz will support sending an automated email to the affiliate as soon as they signup.  This email must contain the link to the affiliate console where they can obtain links, and should remind them of their login information.

    It is also vital that these links be categorized for easy retrieval by affiliates.  If you offer numerous links, banners and product images try to keep the number per category to a reasonable number.  Affiliates do not like to page through hundreds of banners to find one they like.
  3. Real-time reporting for affiliates

    As soon as affiliates start linking to your merchant web site, they want to know how well their web site is performing.  Real-time reports are preferred over delayed reports.  Affiliate Wiz tracks all stats in real-time.  The only delay would occur in the affiliate console if the affiliate manager has set the sales approval process to manual.  This process allows the affiliate manager to verify a sale before it is visible to the affiliate.

    At minimum the affiliate reporting console must display impressions and clicks.  It should also display total conversions of sales and or leads.  Affiliates also prefer a nice summary of their past commissions including how much was paid, how much they earned, and how much is owed to them.
  4. Advanced reporting for affiliate manager

    As the affiliate manager, you should require sophisticated and detailed reporting options.  After all, you need to know which affiliates are performing the best, which links are performing poorly, as well as many other metrics.

    Many common reports include:
    --an overall summary of clicks, sales and leads
    --average conversion times by affiliate and banner
    --sales, lead, and click summary reports
    --impressions, clicks, and click through reports
    --sales, lead and click detail reports
    --payment summary reports
    --export/import tools
  5. Simple methods of payment processing

    At the end of each month, or at some other regular interval, you will need to pay your affiliates for their commissions earned.  Your system will need to provide a detailed report of how much is owed based on your minimum check cutting policy.  It is important that your software solution support a minimum payout amount so you don't have to cut small checks.  The solution should also provide a simple means of exporting the data for importation into accounting software, or for uploading to PayPal.
  6. Other Considerations

    If you will be paying your affiliates on a per-click basis (CPC), then it is vital that the solution have built-in fraud detection to prevent duplicate clicking and to filter out spiders.  The last thing you want to do is pay affiliates for unqualified traffic.

What's next?  Which is right for me? A software solution or network solution?

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