Long before there was Rakuten Linkshare, there was simply Linkshare.
This affiliate network started out in 1996 during the very earliest days of affiliate marketing.
Long before “gurus” started posting pictures of their rented Ferraris parked outside their rented mansions.
The company was already well established in the affiliate marketing game by the time they were acquired by Rakuten in 2005.
And the final step in that process was rebranding the business to Rakuten Marketing…but you’ll have to forgive the odd mention of Linkshare here and there.
It’s a nostalgia thing.
For those of you who don’t know, Rakuten Marketing is a huge Japanese e-commerce company that has acquired a number of other companies instead of trying to compete with them.
Linkshare was just one of many.
But I’ve had my account for almost 20 years now, so it’s an interesting exercise to look at where they are today.
So let’s get started with our Rakuten affiliate network review.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what it’s like for a new affiliate signing up for this network.
First things first, head over to their signup page.
Then complete a longwinded, but single page, application form.
You do need to have an active website so that you can complete the signup process – you’ll be asked for domain details as well as how much traffic your site gets:
Don’t freak out about the traffic, but do make sure you have a site that’s likely to fly through their approval process.
If in doubt about how to do that, check out our in-depth guide on how to create an Amazon affiliate site – different affiliate network, but the principles are the same.
Do Not skimp on the cost of a domain name and some basic hosting – you’re far less likely to get declined by any network than if you’re using say, Wix or Blogger.
In fact, using a freebie blog or website builder is one of the quickest ways to wind up in the declined bin.
And finally, expect to wait at least 5 working days for Rakuten Marketing to review your application.
What brands can you promote?
Back in the early days of affiliate marketing companies were tripping over themselves to find affiliates to promote their products.
And that included some particularly big brands.
In my case that was Creative Labs – I joined Linkshare solely to promote their soundcards and speakers via an affiliate site I no longer own.
Linkshare has always had the “juice” to land the clients other affiliate marketing networks chase after.
So, the question here is: Does Rakuten Marketing still represent brand names that are worth promoting?
The answer is an unequivocal “Yes”.
Here are a few quick examples:
We think the above brand names give you an idea of just how varied the affiliate programs on Rakuten Marketing actually are.
And there’s approximately 1,000 of them to choose from.
Yes, some other affiliate networks have more programs, but a lot of them are generating little or no cash for their business.
The Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) really comes into play with affiliate networks – 20% of the programs generate 80% of the revenue.
Plus you can also earn money by accepting “Paid placement” offers from merchants, which is basically them renting banner ad space on your site.
But it can be very profitable for advertisers and affiliates alike.
Ease of Use
Having tons of great companies to promote isn’t worth much if affiliates wind up struggling with the interface.
And way too many companies are guilty of crimes against UI.
Rakuten Marketing has been around for a long time though, so their interface obviously gets the job done, right?
Well, it does…but it also hasn’t changed in almost two decades.
Like not at all – the affiliate publisher dashboard looks the exact same as the day I signed up with them.
Basically, it doesn’t look as polished as some of the other affiliate networks…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
After all, do you want your affiliate dashboard to win awards for design, or just be incredibly easy to navigate?
I prefer function over form when it comes to this stuff.
But I get that other people will think the Rakuten Marketing interface is ugly what with all the drop-down menu shenanigans and dated look and feel.
It is ugly.
But it gets the job done.
There’s a reason why Rakuten hasn’t tried to “fix” this – it ain’t broken.
Finding affiliate programs
So, now that you have an account it’s time to track down some affiliate programs to promote.
This is where you’ll find yourself being very grateful for the simplistic interface.
You can click on ‘Programs’ and then ‘Categories’, browsing through the different programs to find one that ticks all the boxes for you:
Or you can run a basic keyword search from the navigation menu to find programs/offers in your niche.
Once you’ve found a program you’d like to promote, then simply click on ‘Apply’.
Some programs will automatically approve your application, but most of them include some form of “manual approval” process.
The only thing missing here is being able to filter or sort the programs by their EPC.
For shame, Rakuten Marketing!
An affiliate shouldn’t have to guess how much money they stand to make – it should be right there in front of them.
Creating affiliate links
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned affiliate or a total newbie – you want the process of creating an affiliate link to be as intuitive as humanly possible.
And with Rakuten Marketing it definitely is – all you have to do is navigate to your ‘Advertisers’, and then click on ‘View Links’:
Review the options available to you (Text/Email, Product Links, Banners/Images) and then choose the type of link you want for your page:
And then simply click on ‘Get Link’ to generate your affiliate code in HTML format.
It’s that easy – 3 clicks and you’re done.
It would be incredibly useful if all affiliate networks paid their affiliates in the same way, but that’s simply not the case.
Never take payment schedules or timeframes for granted i.e. the other network pays you weekly so you assume that all affiliate programs are the same.
Let’s take a look at how affiliate payments are handled by Rakuten Marketing though.
All affiliate payments issued by this network are net 60, which simply means you’ll get paid whatever commissions you earned 60 days after you earned them.
So, let’s say you ran a Halloween promo in October – your payment would be authorized by the affiliate program manager in November, and you’d then get paid in December.
I have heard rumors/complaints about affiliate payments being delayed by months – in one case it had turned into net 150.
That was resolved with a phone call though.
Some affiliates are quick to blame Rakuten for this, but they can only issue payments that have been approved.
You can choose to receive your affiliate commission payments via direct deposit (bank transfer), PayPal or check.
From experience, being paid by check by a US affiliate network can lead to an additional delay of several weeks in getting paid.
And then you have to explain to your bank what an affiliate company is, and that the check is real.
Over and over again.
It’s also worth mentioning that certain payment methods aren’t available in some countries e.g. there are no check payments for affiliates in the UK, Germany, France or Australia.
This is the minimum amount you have to earn before Rakuten Marketing will send you a payment via your preferred method.
Thankfully the payment threshold for this affiliate network is very small – just $50, in fact.
You can obviously increase your minimum payout to a much higher amount.
But you have to change this under ‘Marketing Channels’ instead of ‘Payment settings’ for some weird reason.
The good news though is that you can adjust your payment threshold as a Rakuten affiliate.
It’s always good to know that you can reach out to a customer support team if and when you run into problems, or just have a question.
Rakuten Marketing affiliates will find their knowledge base useful for the vast majority of queries – it does a good job as a publisher help center.
But failing that, you can use chat or email support internationally, and they also provide toll-free phone support in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Rakuten Linkshare affiliate program feedback
It’s all well and good to review an affiliate network based on my own experiences and perceptions of it.
But it’s always valuable to throw a wide net out over the Interwebs and see what we can land in terms of feedback from the marketers using this particular affiliate network.
One recurring theme I found was late or delayed payments.
Here’s one example of that:
But…we know that the program is net 60, so that might explain the issue above.
I also found some complaints about accounts being terminated for no apparent reason:
When you look at Section 20 of the ‘Rakuten Publisher Agreement’, it basically says, “We can terminate your account for any reason and we don’t have to explain our actions.”
Like it or not, your position as a Rakuten affiliate is far from guaranteed.
But what I also found was a surprising number of affiliates complaining about low conversion rates.
Is this possible?
Is it likely to happen across the entire Rakuten affiliate marketing platform?
That’s not really plausible.
Conversion problems usually stem from crappy merchant landing pages, unexpected shipping charges, etc.
It would be very difficult for any affiliate network to stay in business if none of their affiliates were making money.
So there’s a slight whiff of confirmation bias here.
Rakuten Marketing Summary
Year established: 1996
Number of merchants: 1,000+
Offer types: Per sale, Per lead, and paid ad placement offers.
Weighing it up
Now let’s review how the Rakuten affiliate network fares overall, taking the good and the bad into account.
- Rakuten has the leverage to get big names on board with their network
- Easy-to-use interface – ideal for newbies and experienced marketers alike
- The sign-up process for a new Rakuten affiliate only takes a few minutes
- Creating an affiliate link or banner is very straightforward
- Lots of customer support options available to you
- They’ve been in business since 1996, so understand the market better than most
- They don’t display the EPC for any merchants programs – this is absolutely baffling
- They appear to have earned themselves a reputation for delayed payments
- An archaic interface that hasn’t been touched in almost two decades
And that brings us to the conclusion of our review of the Rakuten affiliate network.
Rakuten Marketing is still an important player in the affiliate marketing scene, but their platform now looks very dated when compared to others.
With that said, the important stuff for you as an affiliate lies under the surface – the merchants they represent.
And there are several dozen brand names you’ll find are exclusive to this affiliate network.
It’s that kind of competitive advantage that can put you one step closer to making a full-time income from affiliate marketing.
And it is entirely possible to replace your 9 – 5 income with money earned from affiliate sites.
We’ve done it.
So we’d like to help you shortcut the learning curve experienced by most new affiliates.
All you have to do is pay attention and take notes during our free affiliate marketing tutorial.
You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Tell us where to send your invitation, and we’ll take care of everything else.
Oh, and don’t forget to follow us on YouTube.