What’s the Difference Between Affiliate Programs and Networks?

Affiliate programs and affiliate networks are terms often used in the online business community, but what exactly is the difference?

An affiliate is a person or organization that is officially attached to another, often larger, commercial entity like a business. Affiliates can then further be broken down to Publishers and Advertisers.

Advertisers are companies that sell products directly on their website, some of the more common examples are Best Buy, Wal Mart, etc. and they often have large teams dedicated to advertising their products. Although a popular advertising solution, Google Adsense is not an affiliate. Publishers on the other hand are agents of marketing, who extend the customer reach of advertisers by means of sharing their product on their blog, website, word of mouth, etc.

By partnering together, Advertisers are able to sell their products to new audiences previously unreachable to them. In return, Publishers often get paid for their marketing support.

Affiliate Programs

An affiliate program is a direct agreement between an Advertiser and Publisher to market their product on their channels. Affiliate programs are done on a case by case basis and, as a result, there is a lot of flexibility in the types of agreements. What might be decided in one agreement could be considerably different from another. When engaging an affiliate program, Advertisers are often looking for Publishers that have good engagement and rank high in Google search results. Here are the pros and cons of affiliate programs:


  • Builds direct relationships between Publishers and Advertisers which can lead to a variety of opportunities down the road.
  • Flexibility in agreements based on what each parties goals are, which can also be scaled and adjusted over time.


  • Publishers may find it difficult to reach out to Advertisers, due to not knowing how to contact/find them, especially for larger companies.
  • There’s usually no established platform for commission payouts, which means babysitting referral data and trusting the Advertiser.

Affiliate programs can be highly lucrative but they require an extensive amount of communication ability and client retention- this is normally a great option for more established businesses.

Affiliate Networks

An affiliate network is essentially an online marketplace where Publishers and Advertisers meet, kind of like a social networking event. Affiliate networks provide both Publishers and Advertisers a stable platform on which they can work together, automating the commission's process, application approvals (to prevent inorganic traffic sources), and more. Affiliate networks also give Advertisers the ability to set standard affiliate rates, which streamlines their workflow. Here are the pros and cons of affiliate networks:


  • Publishers don't have to dig through the internet for affiliate programs, they have a large variety of Advertisers to choose from.
  • Advertisers have the ability to set up applications for Publishers in order to pre-screen them and make sure they’re a good fit. Also setting standardized commission rates requires less manual work.


  • Not all Advertisers are on affiliate networks and those that are, don’t necessarily use the same networks. The options on one platform could be vastly different from another.
  • Setting standardized commision rates may deter potentially valuable Publishing clients. The network also typically requires application approval for Publishers, which further raises the barrier of entry.

Both affiliate networks and programs have their up and downs. In my personal experience, I’ve found that a combination of both affiliate types is a good way to go, each with their own rewards. While there are many affiliate networks out there, I personally prefer because their platform is robust and trustworthy. The application process is idicative that they value quality over quantity. Check them out!

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Aleksey Weyman

Aleksey Weyman is a web designer, music artist and creator of Millennial Moderator