What is the difference between a Private and Public Affiliate Network?

Affiliate Network

What’s the difference between a public and private affiliate network? Which one would be best for you?

There is an entire galaxy of Affiliate Networks out there, and no two look exactly the same. However, almost all of them fall into one of two categories. 

They’re either Public or Private.

Most affiliates find offers through a variety of private and public networks, but for newer affiliates, it can be a bit more confusing. 

The names are quite self-explanatory, but it’s important to understand that each has a role to play, and one isn’t inherently better than another.

In a rush? Skip straight to the essentials here!


What is a Public Affiliate Network?

A public or open affiliate network is one that just about anyone can join. It’s much like registering for a social network. You have to put in a bunch of information about yourself and, generally, banking details as well. As you do want to get paid eventually, right?

But there’s no or very little upfront screening of the affiliate himself. He just signs up and is good to go. 

From there, he can look through the list of offers that the affiliate network currently has available, choose from them, build his link, and start sending traffic. 

Now, some – even most – of the offers may require manual approval to run. This will generally involve making a request or going directly to your affiliate manager for approval.

What are the benefits of a Public Affiliate Network?

So what are the benefits of public affiliate networks? The primary one is in the name: they’re public. 

The barrier to entry is low. Just sign up and get started. 

New affiliates generally do not have any other choice. Public Affiliate Networks are all they’re likely to be able to access. Without a history of success, they’re going to have a hard time breaking into private affiliate networks – or good ones anyway. 

Public affiliate networks give them the chance to start running campaigns, gain experience, slowly increase daily ad spend, and develop a history of success. 

This higher monthly ad spend, combined with a history of success, can be used to demonstrate one’s value when applying to join more exclusive private ad networks. 

What are the drawbacks?

If the primary upside of public affiliate networks is that they are open and that you can just show up and start, then that is also its greatest weakness. Since everyone can pick up and run these campaigns, oftentimes, the competition is going to be rather fierce. Further, they’re not going to be the best. They’re not going to have the best payouts, and they’re not going to be the most interesting. 

Since anyone can run offers on public networks, companies concerned about brand identity are often going to avoid them. They just don’t want to take the risk on an affiliate that isn’t going to read the offer guidelines and potentially cause real, expensive damage to their brand. 

So the best offers and the highest payouts are generally going to be on private networks. Even on public networks, the best offers will generally not be open. 

What is a Private Affiliate Network

You probably already have a relatively good idea of what a private – or closed – affiliate network is. It’s the opposite of a public one, you or your company needs to apply to join. 

This will generally involve describing yourself, your past successes, your current spend volume, location, etc. Some private networks want reams of information about you and your activity before approval; others want relatively little information. 

But what they have in common is that you can’t just sign up. You apply. 

And, like most organizations that pride themselves on quality and exclusivity, the better the network, the harder it is to join. 

Think of it as a private club. They can’t let just anyone in. Only affiliates of a certain caliber are going to be accepted in the best. And in return for maintaining a very high quality of affiliate, companies are willing to make available much better, much higher paying, much more sensitive offers.

What are the benefits of a Private Affiliate Network?

And that’s exactly what private affiliate networks have: sensitive, high-paying offers. Offers that are generally substantially better than those available on public affiliate networks. 

Their offers are better, their payouts, and… their affiliates are better. 

This is, of course, a generalization. But private networks simply wouldn’t exist if the offers they had weren’t any better than those available all over the internet on public networks. 

What are the drawbacks?

While the offers available are often of higher quality, there are drawbacks here. Both for advertisers trying to make their offers available to affiliates and for the affiliates themselves. 

The first and most significant drawback is the fact that there simply are going to be fewer offers to choose from on a given private network. Many specialize in certain verticals or GEOs. So to be very successful, most affiliates will have to participate in several different private networks in order to have a solid supply of good offers on deck.

Another drawback is that these networks often don’t like passive members. If you don’t send traffic to a public network, no one really cares (most of the time). However, if you apply to join a private network, run one offer, and then ghost your affiliate manager and stop sending traffic, well, you’ll probably not be a member for much longer.

Private networks have better offers, but they also expect more of the people they let in. They expect a level of professionalism regarding brand safety (making sure your ads and placements reflect well on the business), monthly ad spend, and responsiveness. If you stop checking all the boxes that you promised to check when you applied, you’ll get the boot in short order. 

It’s not just a matter of meeting the criteria, it’s a matter of continuing to meet the criteria throughout your engagement.

There are, however, other options. Public and private affiliate networks aren’t the only games in town.

Direct Affiliate Programs

This is the top of the stack, the capstone on the pyramid, the highest totem on the pole. 

Both private and public affiliate networks operate by taking a slice of your revenue. Whatever price you’re getting on conversions is not what they’re getting paid. Far from it. 

Some networks keep their cut low in order to be competitive, but sometimes it can get up to 30% (or more) of the conversion payout – and you’re the one taking the risk! 

For this reason, a lot of affiliates will try and get they’re best performing offers from the advertiser himself. That is to say, they try to cut out the middleman. 

Now, this isn’t always possible, and it certainly isn’t easy. One of the main reasons that companies use networks to manage their affiliate programs is because they simply don’t want to have to deal with managing all these affiliates themselves. They don’t want to dedicate the resources to it. 

Some companies will let you apply to their program directly. Some don’t have programs at all. Others technically don’t have programs available to individual affiliates but will be willing to cut a deal if you can demonstrate that you’re driving a significant number of conversions.

Just remember that direct is as good as it gets. Networks are great for gathering a lot of offers in the same place, but when it comes to pure payout, direct is king.


The affiliate network plays an extremely important role in the affiliate advertising world and, consequently, in the broader digital marketing industry. 

They allow affiliates to browse many different deals in one place and give advertisers access to a large number of potential affiliates – without having to dedicate resources to their management. 

As we have seen, private networks and public networks have formed to meet the specific needs of various advertisers. 

So if you’re breaking into the affiliate marketing world or are even just wondering about the terminology used therein, now you know a little bit more about how this growing sector operates.


There are a lot of different kinds of Affiliate Networks out there, but they all fall into one of two camps: public or private.

Public affiliate networks are available for anyone to join – though not all offers are generally available to all members. The best are usually approved upon application. 

Private affiliate networks require an affiliate to prove that he meets certain criteria. Private affiliate networks tend to have better offers with higher payouts, and more difficult KPIs. Private networks will also have offers from companies that are significantly more concerned with brand safety. 

Direct offers are offers received directly from the advertising party and not through a network. These offers tend to be the best for affiliates as they have the highest payout, but they can be hard to get.

Mobinner is a high-performance Ad Network and Demand-Side Platform. Since 2017, we’ve been helping customers build brands, acquire users, and drive conversions. See how Mobinner can help you reach your goals. 

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