We understand that starting your affiliate marketing journey can be overwhelming, with various models to choose from and countless strategies to master. This guide aims to simplify the process and set you on the right path to success.

In this guide, we will walk you through the various affiliate marketing models, from Pay Per Click (PPC) to Pay Per Action (PPA), and more. We will delve into the advantages and disadvantages of each, and explore how they can align with your goals and skillset.

With real-world examples and actionable insights, this guide will serve as your road map to selecting the most suitable affiliate marketing model for you affiliate business idea.

Our goal? To make your decision-making process less daunting, more informed, and ultimately, more profitable. So, let's get started on your path to affiliate marketing success. Your journey begins here.

What is an affiliate marketing model?

An affiliate marketing model is a framework or structure that defines how affiliate marketers earn revenue by promoting products or services offered by businesses. It outlines the methods and strategies used by affiliates to generate traffic, leads, or sales for the company they are promoting.

Affiliate marketers are typically rewarded with a commission or other forms of compensation based on their performance, which is measured by specific actions taken by the customers they refer.

The importance of selecting the right model

Selecting the right affiliate marketing model is crucial for both affiliates and businesses. For affiliates, the appropriate model can help maximize their earning potential and ensure a steady stream of income.

It also allows them to align their marketing efforts with their skills, interests, and resources. For businesses, choosing the right model is essential for managing marketing costs and ensuring a high return on investment (ROI).

A suitable affiliate model can also help attract the right partners, increase brand exposure, and drive targeted traffic to their products or services.

Types of Affiliate Marketing Models

There are several affiliate marketing models to choose from, each with its unique characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. Here's an overview of the most common models:

  • Pay Per Click (PPC): Affiliates are paid for every click they generate to the advertiser's website. This model works best for affiliates with strong traffic generation skills and businesses looking for increased brand exposure.
  • Pay Per Sale (PPS): Affiliates earn a commission for each sale made through their referral. This model is suitable for affiliates with strong conversion optimization skills and businesses aiming for a direct increase in sales.
  • Pay Per Lead (PPL): Affiliates are compensated for each lead they generate, such as a sign-up, subscription, or form submission. This model works well for affiliates with expertise in lead generation and businesses looking to grow their customer base.
  • Pay Per Action (PPA): Affiliates are paid for specific actions taken by the customers they refer, such as making a purchase, downloading an app, or completing a survey. This model is ideal for affiliates skilled in targeted marketing and businesses aiming for a measurable ROI.
  • Cost Per Mille (CPM): Affiliates are paid based on the number of impressions, or views, their affiliate link receives, with payments typically calculated per thousand impressions. This model is perfect for affiliates with high-traffic platforms and businesses seeking to enhance brand visibility and awareness.

As a beginner in affiliate marketing, understanding these models will help you determine which one aligns with your strengths and objectives. By selecting the right model, you can set yourself up for success in your affiliate marketing journey.

Pay Per Click (PPC) Model

The Pay Per Click (PPC) model, as the name suggests, is an affiliate marketing framework where you, the affiliate, are paid for every click that you direct towards the advertiser's website.

This model doesn't concern itself with whether the click leads to a sale or not; the primary focus is on driving traffic. Hence, the more traffic you can channel to the advertiser's site, the greater your earning potential.

Pros and Cons

  • Simplicity: One of the major advantages of the PPC model is its simplicity. You don't need to worry about conversions; the goal is just to get people to click the link.
  • Immediate returns: With PPC, you can potentially start earning right away. Each click translates into immediate revenue.
  • Lower potential revenue: Given that advertisers pay only for clicks and not for conversions, the cost per click (CPC) is usually low. This means you need a high volume of traffic to earn significant income.
  • Click fraud risk: One significant drawback of the PPC model is the risk of click fraud, where individuals or bots repeatedly click on a link to inflate the numbers artificially.
Tips for Success with PPC
  1. Select relevant products: It's crucial to choose products that resonate with your audience to ensure a high click-through rate.
  2. Optimize ad placements: Make sure your ads are placed strategically to maximize visibility and clicks.
  3. Use analytics: Leverage tools like Google Analytics to track your clicks and overall performance. This will allow you to adjust your strategy as needed.
  4. Continuous testing: Test different ad formats, placements, and messages to identify what works best for your audience.

A classic example of a PPC program is Google AdSense, where you place Google's ads on your site, and you get paid for each click. Remember that while AdSense can be a great way to monetize a blog or website, it requires high traffic volumes to generate substantial income.

Please note that while the PPC model may seem relatively straightforward, achieving success with it requires strategic planning and continuous optimization.

A deep understanding of your audience, combined with data-driven decision-making, is the key to a successful PPC affiliate marketing campaign.

Pay Per Sale (PPS) Model

The Pay Per Sale (PPS) model, also known as Cost Per Sale (CPS), is an affiliate marketing payment model where affiliates are paid a commission for each sale made through their affiliate links.

Unlike the PPC model, where earnings are based on clicks, the PPS model is entirely performance-based; affiliates are rewarded when their marketing efforts directly result in a sale.

Pros and Cons

  • Higher Commissions: In the PPS model, commissions are typically higher than those in the PPC model because the advertiser is paying for a confirmed sale, not just a click.
  • More Sustainable: This model can provide a more sustainable income stream for affiliates, especially when promoting high-value products or services, as you earn with every successful transaction.
  • Depends on Conversion: The PPS model entirely depends on the affiliate's ability to convert traffic into actual sales. If the traffic doesn't convert, no commission is earned.
  • Delayed Payments: Because of the validation process to ensure the sale is legit (i.e., no refund request), payments in PPS can often take longer.
Tips for Success with PPS
  • Know Your Audience: To succeed with PPS, you need to understand your audience's needs and wants thoroughly. Promote products or services that your audience is likely to buy.
  • Build Trust: People are more likely to buy from someone they trust. Focus on building a relationship with your audience through consistent and valuable content.
  • Leverage Reviews and Testimonials: Customer reviews and testimonials can significantly influence buying decisions. Consider writing detailed product reviews or share testimonials if available.
  • Optimize for Conversion: Ensure your site, landing pages, and even the products you promote are optimized for conversion. This could involve improving site speed, having a clear call to action, or improving the quality of your traffic.

An example of a PPS program is Amazon Associates, one of the largest and most well-known affiliate programs. Affiliates earn a commission for every sale made through their affiliate links. The commission rate varies by product category, but it's a clear example of a PPS model at work.

Pay Per Lead (PPL) Model

The Pay Per Lead (PPL) model is an affiliate marketing payment scheme where affiliates are paid for generating leads for the advertiser.

A lead refers to contact information or in some cases, a sign up that can potentially lead to a sale. In this model, the affiliate's job is to drive traffic to the advertiser's website and encourage visitors to complete a specific action, such as filling out a form, signing up for a trial, or subscribing to a newsletter.

Pros and Cons

  • Easier Conversion: Since the visitor doesn't have to make a purchase for the affiliate to earn a commission, the conversion process can be easier compared to the Pay Per Sale model.
  • Wide Range of Offers: There are a variety of lead generation offers available in many different industries. This gives affiliates the flexibility to choose offers that best match their audience's interests.
  • Lower Commission Rates: Because a lead doesn't necessarily guarantee a sale, commission rates for PPL offers are typically lower than those for Pay Per Sale offers.
  • Lead Quality Matters: Advertisers are interested in quality leads. If the leads provided by the affiliate do not convert into customers, advertisers may choose to end their relationship with the affiliate.
Tips for Success with PPL
  • Target the Right Audience: Ensure that your audience aligns with the advertiser's target demographic. The more relevant the audience, the higher the chances of generating quality leads.
  • Use Effective Call to Actions: A well-crafted Call to Action (CTA) can significantly increase your lead generation rate. Make sure your CTA is clear, concise, and compelling.
  • Optimize Your Traffic Sources: Test and optimize your traffic sources to find out what works best for generating leads. This could involve using different marketing channels such as SEO, email marketing, social media, etc.

An example of a PPL program is insurance or loan companies. They often pay affiliates for each visitor they refer who completes a quote request form. The company gets a new lead that they can market to, and the affiliate gets paid for the referral.

Pay Per Action (PPA) Model

Pay Per Action (PPA) is an affiliate marketing model that pays affiliates when a specific action is completed. This action could be anything from a form submission, a sign-up, a download, or a purchase.

Unlike the Pay Per Click model where the focus is on clicks, or the Pay Per Sale model that focuses on sales, the PPA model is all about getting the user to take a specific action.

Pros and Cons

  • Defined ROI: Advertisers only pay when the desired action is taken, making it easier to measure return on investment (ROI).
  • Broad Range of Actions: Since PPA involves a wide variety of actions, affiliates have a lot of flexibility in choosing what type of offers to promote.
  • Risk of Fraud: There is a risk of fraudulent activities, as some might attempt to generate false leads or actions to earn commissions.
  • Higher Level of Complexity: PPAcampaigns can be more complex to set up and manage compared to other models because they involve tracking user actions.
Tips for Success with PPA
  • Understand Your Audience: Success with PPA often comes down to understanding what your audience is interested in and what actions they're likely to take.
  • Choose the Right Offers: Not all PPA offers are created equal. It's important to choose offers that align with your audience and have a good conversion rate.
  • Optimize and Test Continuously: Like with any marketing effort, continuous testing and optimization can help you maximize your success. Test different offers, ad placements, and messaging to see what works best.

A good example of a PPA model in action is the Uber affiliate program. Affiliates are paid for every new rider they refer who takes their first ride. This is a specific action that's easy to track and directly tied to Uber's core business model.

Pay-Per-Impression (PPI)

Pay-Per-Impression (PPI), also known as Cost-Per-Mille (CPM, where "mille" stands for a thousand in Latin), is an affiliate marketing model in which an affiliate is paid based on the number of impressions or views that an advertisement receives.

In other words, the affiliate gets paid each time the ad is displayed, regardless of whether the viewer interacts with the ad or not.

An "impression" is simply a metric that counts the number of times an ad is displayed on a website or appears on a user's screen. In PPI, the advertiser pays for every thousand impressions, which is why it's also referred to as CPM.

Pros and Cons

Pros of PPI:
  • Easier to Earn: Affiliates can earn money simply by displaying ads, without requiring the viewer to click on the ad or make a purchase.
  • Predictable Revenue: With a steady stream of traffic, affiliates can generate a predictable income based on the number of views their website receives.
Cons of PPI:
  • Low Earnings: The payout for PPI is usually low compared to other models, like Pay-Per-Sale or Pay-Per-Click, unless the affiliate has a high-traffic website.
  • Dependent on Traffic: The success of PPI relies heavily on the amount of traffic the affiliate's website receives. Websites with low traffic may struggle to earn significant income from PPI.
Tips for Success with PPI
  • Drive Traffic: Since earnings in PPI are based on the number of ad impressions, it's crucial to attract a significant amount of traffic to your website. This can be achieved through various methods such as SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, and more.
  • Placement of Ads: The placement of ads on your website can greatly influence the number of impressions. Ads placed in prominent locations tend to receive more impressions.
  • Quality of Content: High-quality, relevant content can attract and retain more visitors, leading to more impressions. Targeted Ads: Display ads that are relevant to your audience. The more relevant the ad, the more likely it is that your audience will engage with it, making advertisers more likely to continue working with you.

For instance, a food blogger with substantial daily traffic partners with a kitchen appliance brand to display their ads. The blogger's website attracts many cooking enthusiasts who might be interested in kitchen appliances.

In this scenario, the advertiser pays the blogger for every thousand impressions their ad receives. Over time, this accumulates into a steady stream of income for the blogger.

Remember, success with PPI, like any affiliate marketing model, requires time, effort, and constant optimization. Test different strategies to find what works best for your specific audience and niche.

Two-Tier Affiliate Programs

Two-tier affiliate programs, sometimes referred to as multi-level marketing (MLM), is a more complex form of the standard affiliate marketing model.

In a two-tier program, affiliates earn commission for their direct sales or conversions, but they can also earn additional commission by recruiting other affiliates, often referred to as sub-affiliates.

When these sub-affiliates make a sale, the original affiliate earns a secondary commission. In essence, the first tier is the affiliate's own sales or conversions, while the second tier is the sales or conversions achieved by the affiliates they recruited.

Pros and Cons

Pros of Two-Tier Affiliate Programs:
  • Additional Revenue Stream: Affiliates have the potential to earn from their own sales as well as from the sales made by their sub-affiliates.
  • Passive Income: Once a capable sub-affiliate has been recruited, they can generate consistent secondary commission with little to no effort from the original affiliate.
Cons of Two-Tier Affiliate Programs:
  • Dependence on Sub-Affiliates: The success of this model largely depends on the performance and reliability of the recruited sub-affiliates.
  • Time-Consuming: Recruiting, training, and managing sub-affiliates can be a time-consuming endeavor.
  • Risk of Oversaturation: If too many affiliates are promoting the same product or service, it could lead to market oversaturation, making it harder for all affiliates involved to make sales.
Tips for Success with Two-Tier Affiliate Programs
  • Choose Sub-Affiliates Wisely: The success of your two-tier program hinges on the performance of your sub-affiliates. Ensure they have the necessary skills, resources, and motivation to succeed.
  • Mentorship and Support: Provide guidance and support to your sub-affiliates. Sharing your strategies, resources, and experiences can help them succeed.
  • Quality over Quantity: It might be tempting to recruit as many sub-affiliates as possible, but it's often more beneficial to focus on the quality of your sub-affiliates rather than the quantity.
  • Monitor Performance: Keep an eye on the performance of your sub-affiliates. This will allow you to identify any issues early and provide the necessary assistance to keep them on track.

For example, in a two-tier affiliate program, John sells e-books and earns a 20% commission for each sale. He then recruits Sarah into the program. Sarah also sells e-books and earns her 20% commission. However, because John recruited Sarah, he earns an additional 5% commission on every sale Sarah makes. This way, John earns from his own sales as well as a percentage from Sarah's sales.

In the end, the two-tier affiliate program can be an excellent way to maximize earnings in affiliate marketing, provided you have a reliable and active network of sub-affiliates.

Choosing the Best Model for Your Business

Assessing Your Niche and Audience

The first step in choosing the best affiliate marketing model for your business is understanding your niche and audience. What are their interests, behaviors, and preferences?

What problems are they looking to solve, and what kind of products or services can help them? For instance, if you're in the tech niche, your audience might be interested in the latest gadgets and software.

A Pay Per Sale model, where you earn a commission for each product sold, could work well here. On the other hand, if you run a personal finance blog, a Pay Per Lead model might be more appropriate, where you get paid for every user who signs up for a credit card or savings account using your affiliate link.

Evaluating Your Marketing Strategy

Next, consider your marketing strategy. Some affiliate models might align better with your strategy than others. For example, if you rely heavily on content marketing, promoting high-quality products or services that you can weave naturally into your content could be a good fit.

This would likely lean towards a Pay Per Sale or Pay Per Lead model. If you focus on search engine marketing, a Pay Per Click model might be more appropriate. This is because you could set up targeted ads and earn revenue every time someone clicks on your affiliate link.

Determining Your Resources and Capabilities

Finally, consider your resources and capabilities. Some affiliate marketing models require more time, effort, or financial investment than others. For instance, running successful PPC campaigns often involves testing and optimizing ads, which can be time-consuming and require a certain level of expertise.

On the other hand, a Pay Per Sale model might be easier to manage if you're just starting out. You could start by promoting a few products or services that you're familiar with and gradually expand your offerings as you gain more experience and resources.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to which affiliate marketing model is the best. It depends on various factors, including your niche, audience, marketing strategy, and resources. By carefully considering these factors, you can choose the model that will maximize your chances of success in affiliate marketing.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Model

When embarking on an affiliate marketing journey, it's important to select the model that best fits your needs and goals. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Industry: Different industries may lend themselves to different affiliate marketing models. For instance, the pay-per-click model might be more appropriate for industries where online advertisement is more effective, like fashion or home decor, while the pay-per-sale model might be more suited to high-value goods like electronics or software.
  • Target Audience: Understanding your target audience is crucial. If your audience is more likely to make impulsive purchases, a pay-per-sale model may be advantageous. On the other hand, if your audience requires more nurturing and time to convert, a pay-per-lead model may be more suitable.
  • Conversion Rate: Consider the typical conversion rate of your industry. If conversion rates are generally low, a pay-per-click or pay-per-impression model might be more beneficial.
  • Commission Structure: Evaluate how the commission structure aligns with your profit margin. Some models, like pay-per-sale, can provide higher commissions but may also require more effort to convert.

Assessing the Compatibility of Different Models with Your Goals

Before choosing an affiliate marketing model, you need to clearly define your goals. Are you looking to maximize revenue, increase brand awareness, or perhaps generate leads?

For instance, if your goal is brand awareness, a pay-per-impression model may be your best choice, as it emphasizes visibility.

However, if you're more interested in lead generation or sales, a pay-per-lead or pay-per-sale model might be more suitable.

Adjusting and Optimizing Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy Over Time

Remember, the beauty of affiliate marketing is its flexibility. You can always adjust your chosen model if it's not meeting your expectations or if your business goals evolve. Keep a close eye on your campaign's performance metrics.

If one model isn't delivering the results you want, don't hesitate to test another. It's all about finding what works best for your specific circumstances.

For example, you might start with a pay-per-click model because it seems less risky, but as you become more comfortable and gain more understanding of your audience's behavior, switching to a pay-per-sale model might yield better results.

Ultimately, choosing the right affiliate marketing model is about understanding your business, your audience, and your goals, then testing and optimizing until you find the perfect fit.

Best Practices for Affiliate Marketing Success

Building Strong Partnerships

Successful affiliate marketing is grounded in strong partnerships. Whether you're partnering with a merchant as an affiliate, or recruiting affiliates as a merchant, trust and transparency are paramount.

Start by choosing partners whose products and brand values align with yours. Then, keep the lines of communication open. Share successes, discuss challenges, and work together to improve performance.

A great example of this is Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income. He only promotes products he has used and believes in, and he regularly communicates with his partners to ensure his promotional efforts align with their expectations.

Focusing on High-Quality Content

High-quality content is the foundation of successful affiliate marketing. It helps you build trust with your audience, improve your search engine rankings, and increase conversions.

Aim to provide valuable, engaging content that answers your audience's questions and solves their problems. This could be blog posts, videos, podcasts, or social media posts.

Take Wirecutter, for instance. They are a product review site owned by The New York Times Company that is known for their in-depth, high-quality content. They spend dozens of hours testing and reviewing products so they can provide their audience with the best recommendations.

Regularly Analyzing and Optimizing Your Strategy

Lastly, make sure to regularly analyze and optimize your affiliate marketing strategy to track your performance, identify what's working and what's not, and make data-driven decisions.

This involves monitoring metrics like click-through rates, conversion rates, and average order value. Make it a habit to test different tactics (such as different types of content or marketing channels) and see what works best for your audience.

For example, Amazon Associates can use Amazon's comprehensive analytics dashboard to monitor their performance and identify opportunities for improvement. This constant assessment and adjustment is what makes Amazon Associates one of the best affiliate programs for beginners.

Remember, affiliate marketing is not a set-and-forget strategy. It requires ongoing effort and adaptation. But with the right approach and consistent effort, it can be a powerful tool for growing your online business.

Case Studies: Success Stories in using the right Affiliate Marketing Model

Examples of successful affiliate marketing campaigns

The Wirecutter

This site started as a small blog and grew into a massive product review site. The Wirecutter uses a Pay Per Sale (PPS) affiliate model, partnering with a range of retailers.

They earn commission each time a reader makes a purchase through one of their links. They provide in-depth reviews and comparisons, helping consumers make informed purchasing decisions.


This site specializes in helping people build custom PCs. They use a combination of the Pay Per Click (PPC) and Pay Per Sale (PPS) models.

They provide detailed product information, compatibility guidance, and price comparisons from different retailers, earning money each time a user clicks on a link or makes a purchase.

Analysis of strategies and models used by top performers

  • The Wirecutter: The Wirecutter's success comes from their focus on quality content. They invest significant resources into testing products and writing detailed reviews. This creates trust with their audience, which increases the likelihood of readers making purchases through their links.
  • PCPartPicker: PCPartPicker provides a unique service that is highly valuable to their niche audience. They simplify the complicated process of building a custom PC, which keeps users coming back to their site. They also offer price tracking and alerts, adding additional value for their users.

Lessons learned and key takeaways

  • High-quality content is crucial: Both The Wirecutter and PCPartPicker invest in creating high-quality, valuable content. This helps build trust with their audience and increases the chances of users clicking on their affiliate links.
  • Understand your audience: Both sites have a deep understanding of their audience's needs and preferences. This allows them to provide the right products and services, which leads to higher conversion rates.
  • Diversify your income: PCPartPicker uses both the PPC and PPS models, which helps diversify their income. If one model underperforms, they still have revenue from the other model.

The key to success in affiliate marketing is to choose the right model based on your niche, audience, and capabilities. Then, focus on providing high-quality content and services that meet your audience's needs. By continuously analyzing and optimizing your strategy, you can increase your chances of success.


To encapsulate what we've traversed in this guide, let's quickly revisit the key points. We began by exploring the concept of affiliate marketing and the importance of choosing the right model.

We then delved into five primary affiliate marketing models: Pay Per Click (PPC), Pay Per Sale (PPS), Pay Per Lead (PPL), Pay Per Action (PPA), and Pay Per Impression (PPI). Each model was discussed in detail, including its definition, pros and cons, and tips for success.

The next step is now in your hands. The information provided in this guide is designed to arm you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about the best affiliate marketing model for your unique business.

Remember, your choice should align with your business's goals, resources, capabilities, and the needs and preferences of your target audience.

In conclusion, affiliate marketing is a dynamic and potentially lucrative field with numerous opportunities for success.

The choice of the right affiliate marketing model can play a significant role in how effective your campaigns are, and consequently, the results you achieve.

It's important to remember that affiliate marketing, like any other business endeavor, requires commitment, time, and continuous optimization. The road to success might be challenging, but with the right model and strategies in place, the journey can be incredibly rewarding.




Essential Resources Every New Affiliate Marketer Needs