10 things to check when choosing a tracking platform

If you decided to start your own affiliate business – go for it! It’s a great industry to be in and the one that with some skill and dedication can bring you real results, real fast. Now that we got that out of the way, there are important questions to ask yourself to set yourself up for success. Questions like: Which platform are you going to use? Will you go for an in-house solution or a third-party one? What features are important to get you started and which ones are extras that are good to have?

To help you out, we have created a list of 10 things you need to consider when choosing your next tracking platform. Here we go!

1.     Time

Depending on how fast you would like to start your affiliate business, there is a choice between using an in-house tracking solution and a 3rd party one. Developing an in-house tool is what many companies do, as it is highly customized to their needs and is usually connected with other tools they use to run their business (e.g. CRM). If you decide to go this way, you need to keep in mind that you will probably need at least 6 to 12 months to be able create a reliable tool that will provide some basic features to your affiliates and advertisers.

On the other hand, there are plenty of 3rd party platforms on the market, fit for every wallet and offering a variety of features, all “plug-n-play”. You can start your affiliate program within one day and immediately focus on making your business grow instead of worrying about platforms and features. Something to keep in mind: if you would like your new tracking platform to connect to any other tools you’re already using, ask the company upfront if an integration is already there or can be developed.

2.     Cost

Having an in-house solution might keep the tracking cost low but there are other factors to consider. The cost of development, maintenance and infrastructure is quite high, especially at the beginning, making the in-house solution quite expensive and thus difficult to afford for most affiliate networks.

In contrast, a 3rd party solution will help you keep your tracking costs “under control” if you select the right package for your needs. There are solutions that charge either based on clicks or on conversions. The click-based plans are not recommended for networks running CPI campaigns and will turn out to be far too expensive in the long run. The conversion-based model tends to be more interesting. In both cases make sure to check with the platform provider which package they would recommend for you, based on your marketing strategy and type of campaigns you run (average number of clicks / conversions per month), features required, and platform usage (e.g. storage for banners). The platform provider will then be able to give you an estimation for your monthly costs so that you can make an informed decision.

3.     Features

Creating an in-house solution will definitely allow you to develop features that are relevant for your business as well as create integrations with other tools. This is one of the main pros when a platform is tailored just for your needs.

“Sharing” a platform with other networks means that the features that are available for you are usually those commonly used by all networks and are not adjustable. This is especially true if you are not requesting any customizations. There is, however, an important point to keep in mind when using a 3rd party platform – you no longer need think which features to create nor worry about keeping your platform up to date, this has already been done for you. Software companies creating tracking platforms for affiliate marketers are usually very good at scanning the market and creating new features and solutions that help you grow as well as protect your business.

When choosing a tool, create a list of features that are important for your business (e.g. mailing system, fraud protection, smartlinks, API integrations, etc) and analyze the available options based on them.

4.     Ease of use

Something that those who are just starting their business often forget is that they will not be the only ones using the platform. This means you need to think of how user-friendly your selected tool is. Your account manager, your business partners (Affiliates & Advertisers) or even your finance department, are some of the potential users. Therefore, the tool and its functionalities need to be simple and easy to understand. If you are going to create a platform yourself, invest some time to test the UI and ask multiple users to test it and provide you some feedback. If you are going to use a 3rd party solution, search for references and definitely test the platform yourself. The fact that a platform has many features, doesn’t mean that users will be willing to use it, if it’s difficult for them to understand how to use them.

5.     Support

Support is often underestimated but is of utmost importance if you are fully relying on a 3rd party solution. When selecting your platform, ask for the support options the company offers (email, chat, telephone) and if there are any extra charges for them. There’s usually a trial period with 3rd party platforms – make sure you use this time to not only test the platform but to also test the support you receive as well as the available documentation. Modern tools are quite self-explanatory, and you will probably be able to find answers to your questions by yourself most of the time. It is, however, important to have a feeling that if something is unclear or you need help setting things up, your partner is there for you. This is one of those factors that can make or break the deal.

6.     Flexibility

If you decide to build an in-house solution, you can design it in a way that will allow you to connect it to any other tool that you are already using, like CRM, mailing system, etc. The custom solution offers a great deal of flexibility.

Selecting a 3rd party platform does not give you this flexibility. You can, however, bring this question up with your tracking platform provider and see if they can offer customizations you need. Talking about integrations or any other customizations is a great way to start a partnership and will make both parties committed to each other.

7.     Data: Where is your data hosted and how long is it stored?

As you can imagine, every click that enters your network is a piece of data that needs to be stored somewhere. Realistically, it’s almost impossible to keep all data stored forever. Therefore, 3rd party providers store your data for a specific period of time and then delete it, whereas others archive your data and can retrieve it upon request. Ask your provider about the procedures they use to store data to make sure to avoid unwanted surprises.

Additionally, most of the platforms are nowadays cloud-based. It’s always good to ask which solution your provider is using so that you can analyze how this can affect your daily business.

8.    Company ethics/user reviews

This might not be the first thing that comes to mind but it’s always a good practice to do some research about a provider whose tool you’re planning to use. Apart from a tempting pricing or a catchy marketing strategy, it’s important to check whether you can trust your provider of choice and whether they are able to support you long term. There are many comparison websites out there where you can find real customer reviews (e.g. www.capterra.com) to help you make up your mind.

Another way to do this research is to check directly with your business partners about their experiences and issues if they used this solution before or are using it now. It’s very important to select a partner who is able to support you long term and who will protect your data as well as data from your business partners.

9.    API integrations with 3rd party platforms

This is one of the last points we mention in this article but it’s definitely not less important than any other point. API integrations is a must-have for every platform that’s on the market at the moment, with only difference being the number of integrations a company has. API integrations make sure your platform can be automatically updated with offer changes (e.g. offer status, payout, etc.) as well as for reporting purposes.

If you go for an in-house solution, you need to do the integrations yourself, whereas most of the 3rd party solutions available on the market today have already solved this issue for you and come with a number of API integrations already available in the platform. Check with your provider of choice on how many integrations they have and what their plan regarding new integrations is. Many companies add new API integrations with every release, and these are the ones you want to work with.

10. Trial period

Before committing to any platform, it’s a good practice to ask for a personal demo and a trial period so that you can test the platform for yourself. Most of the tracking solution providers offer 15 to 30 days trial period and it’s advisable to make use of this time if you are truly interested in the platform. This will allow you to see its features and functionalities for yourself as well as to test the level of support you will get.

The points above are the main things one should pay attention to when choosing a new tracking platform. There are, of course, more things to consider but these will give you a good indication as to what to look out for. If you have any questions about this article feel free to drop us a line at info@venedash.io or contact us here.

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Your vene dash team