Affiliate Network vs. Affiliate Program: What’s The Difference?

Affiliate Network vs. Affiliate Program: What’s The Difference?

You will come across a lot of web entrepreneurs who use the terms affiliate networks and affiliate programs interchangeably. However, they probably don’t know that these two are technically different terms and are NOT interchangeable.

Affiliate networks or platforms are third-party affiliate marketplaces that bridge the gap between merchants and publishers or affiliate marketers.

On the other hand, affiliate programs are revenue sharing arrangements through which affiliate marketers receive a commission from different brands for driving traffic and sales for them.

Just a few weeks back, we explained how affiliate programs work and focused on the four parties involved in affiliate marketing – the merchant (the product creator/original seller), the marketer (you), the affiliate network, and the buyer.

In this blog, however, we will solely focus on the difference between affiliate programs and affiliate networks, as this is something a lot of people get confused about (and many others use these terms without realizing the inherent differences). So, here you go.


What Is An Affiliate Network?

An affiliate network is a marketplace where you can look out for merchants who are looking to partner with affiliate marketers or publishers like you. You can explore and compare a lot of affiliate programs that are part of the same network after you become a registered user, or publisher.

After you sign up as a publisher for an affiliate network, you earn the eligibility to access the full list of affiliate programs for which the network provides the tracking technology. When you enter your dashboard, you will be able to compare affiliate programs based on commission levels, cookie duration, and a lot of other things.

On the other hand, merchants who are registered with these networks can manage their affiliate partners, upload creatives, newsletters, feeds, and also set commission rates and define their own affiliate terms.

Usually, in order to sign up for an affiliate network, merchants need to pay a fee. Some networks also require merchants to pay a recurring fee every month and a small transaction fee for every sale generated through the network. However, as an affiliate marketer, you don’t have to pay anything to become a registered publisher on most networks.


What Is An Affiliate Program?

An affiliate program is a revenue-sharing arrangement in which affiliate marketers are rewarded by merchants for driving leads, sales, and qualified referrals. The merchant is the product creator and original seller, whereas the affiliate marketer works as an independent promoter of the brand who gets paid for his marketing efforts.

The reward that’s offered to affiliate marketers is referred to as the affiliate commission. The affiliates receive a monetary commission when their referred visitors to the merchant website complete a particular action. Some of the most common commissionable actions are when the referred users buy a product or submit a form.

The commission for a qualified purchase or referral, in simplest terms, is the payment received by the affiliate marketer for driving each sale, or in case the merchant counts each form submission as a qualified referral, it is the payment received for every lead.

Merchants who are planning to grow their business with affiliate marketing usually have two options to choose from. Either they can sign up for an affiliate network or use in-house and proprietary affiliate sales tracking technology to create and run their affiliate programs. As an affiliate marketer, you also have two options. You can either join the in-house programs or the programs that run on different affiliate networks.


Affiliate Networks vs Affiliate Programs: The Difference In A Nutshell

An affiliate program is a cost-effective and scalable model for businesses to reach out to a wider audience, tap into newer markets, and to sell their products. If you partner with a business as an affiliate marketer by signing up for their in-house program or by signing up through a network, you will get rewarded for the sales and leads you to drive.

An affiliate network is a collaboration platform that can help you to collaborate with a merchant to promote their products. An affiliate network offers publishers and affiliate marketers full access to a network of merchants. On the other hand, a network provides merchants with the all-important tracking technology.


Should You Join An Affiliate Network Or An Affiliate Program?

It’s true that some of the biggest brands, including the likes of Amazon,, and eBay rely on in-house and proprietary affiliate tracking technology. However, when it comes to tracking and reporting, many small to midsize businesses, and even some of the biggest brands, prefer to leave it to a third party.

Most affiliate marketers, especially beginners, prefer to join affiliate programs that are part of affiliate networks. As an affiliate marketer, you may join in-house affiliate programs as these programs generally allow marketers to work in close coordination with the affiliate team on the merchant’s side. However, if you are especially concerned about reliable and accurate tracking and reporting, joining one or more affiliate networks perfectly makes sense.

Most importantly, you should know how to find affiliate programs that are relevant to you, as it’s not the choice of the tracking technology, but a careful selection of niches, brands, and affiliate marketing verticals is what matters most for affiliate marketing success.

Leave your comment