When getting started in affiliate marketing for the first time, some affiliates encounter debates on forums, or independently ask about the difference between CPA and affiliate networks. It’s an important question, as it helps to know the difference between these two types of networks, and the offers available through both channels. However, some affiliates get confused about the difference between signing up for a CPA offer and an offer from an affiliate network. Here’s some information to help clear up that confusion.

CPA Networks

CPA is known as a cost per action; therefore, a CPA network is simply an acquisition-focused business. CPA networks are known for generating ample traffic instantly. They like to partner with affiliates that can help deliver this immediate traffic for campaigns. Offers associated with lead forms, downloads, trial offers and purchases are paid out in a flat monetary format.

Affiliate Networks

An affiliate network functions as a middle man between affiliates and merchants. Affiliate networks want to work with affiliates that are seeking long-term partnerships. By doing so, they get to cultivate a large and loyal following of affiliates that can send traffic to various merchants. Merchants rely on these types of networks to host and track affiliate programs, as well as partner with a database of affiliates able to generate traffic for the product and service being offered.

Let’s Talk Money

Clearly, commissions found in a CPA network are flat rate dollar amounts. However, if you want a wider range of commission models to increase your earning potential, then an affiliate network can offer this. Besides having CPA or CPL (cost per lead) offers, affiliate networks also offer revenue share (a percentage of the actual purchase), tiered revenue share commissions, referral commissions, and sometimes even a combination of two or more of these models. In certain cases, some CPA networks may also serve as an affiliate for other larger networks that need additional traffic. On the other hand, affiliate networks tend to stay away from serving as affiliates in CPA networks.

Things to Consider

Regardless of whether you choose to sign up for an offer through a CPA or affiliate network, or both, there are some important things to consider. The first consideration is to read the terms and conditions for the merchant offer. While lead generation offers may be appealing and may appear simple, some merchants have very strict compliance guidelines and conditions for methods of promotions, which are sometimes overlooked by affiliates. These restrictions can apply to both CPA and affiliate networks.

Another consideration is the amount of volume you can generate. CPA networks have a reputation for their affiliates having the capability of generating high volume traffic. If you’re a newcomer to affiliate marketing, you may want to consider this beforehand. Affiliate networks are seeking long-term partnerships with affiliates and it is understood that it may take longer for those partners to cultivate higher volume traffic.

Another item to consider is whether or not the networks with whom you partner are offering you the best real-time stats to measure ROI effectively. Affiliate networks spend time and money to upgrade and enhance their reporting capability. It’s an important detail to look for before signing up to an offer. CPA networks do have reporting; however, keep in mind that merchants and CPA networks debate about which parties’ reports are more accurate. As an affiliate, test the software of both types of networks and see which platforms you prefer prior to investing time and money in promoting. Regardless, experienced affiliates enjoy the benefits of measuring their own success through third-party metrics, such as Google Analytics. While it is not a complete replacement for affiliate marketing reporting, it is still a wise option for measuring your site’s performance and traffic.

There is much to learn about the differences between CPA and affiliate networks, so we strongly recommend you continue to read resources, such as AffiliatePrograms.com and other resourceful sites for information. But, what we really want to know is, what would you prefer: CPA or affiliate networks? We welcome your questions and comments below.

About the Author

Nicole Young is an affiliate manager at the company Share Results. She entered the world of affiliate marketing after moving to Montreal in 2009. Aside from building strong relationships with her affiliates, Nicole spends her days overseeing the growth of the programs she is managing, negotiating deals, blogging, assisting affiliates with the development of their marketing campaigns, and staying up-to-date with industry news and trends.