CPA vs Affiliate Marketing: What You Need to Know

Updated by
James Parsons
on Nov 10th, 2022
Written by
Posted in Resources

If you want to make money as a middleman between a customer and a product seller, you have two options; you can take up affiliate marketing, or you can get into the world of CPA. What’s the difference, and which is better?

Affiliate Marketing

First, let’s take a look at affiliate marketing. You’ve certainly heard of it; it’s all over the web. Affiliate programs are available for just about anything. Amazon has one, with their Amazon Associates program. Video games have them with benefits for players who sign up other players. Even small companies often offer affiliate programs, because paying a few bucks to customers to turn them into advertisers and brand advocates is cheaper than running comparable ad programs.

How Affiliate Marketing Works

The basic premise of an affiliate marketing program is simple. On one end, you have the customers. On the other end, you have the store, like Amazon, selling products. In the middle, you have the affiliate marketer. As an affiliate marketer, it is your job to curate a list of products in a given nice and do everything you can to sell them. This might mean writing reviews, it might mean creating user guides, it might mean advertising, and so forth.

Your goal as an affiliate marketer, with this website full of products and reviews, is to get users to use your affiliate-flagged link to purchase products. With Amazon, for example, you create links to a product with your affiliate ID appended to the end. From there, any product the user buys during that session of browsing counts as an affiliate purchase for you. You got the user there, so you get a commission out of whatever they buy. If you refer them for a $5 widget and they decide they need a $1,000 TV, you get a cut of that TV.

As an affiliate marketer, you have a lot of work to do to be successful. You need to build a website. You need to choose a niche. You need to research the hell out of that niche and find a place where you can succeed without unnecessary competition. You need keep that site up to date and making money. Most successful affiliate marketers also run wide networks of sites, so they have a number of different income streams.

CPA Marketing

Now let’s compare affiliate marketing with CPA marketing. First of all, what does CPA stand for? It’s Cost Per Action, or sometimes Cost Per Acquisition.

CPA is available for just about anything, the same way as affiliate marketing. You can find it for a variety of products and services, in a wide range of niches.

How CPA Works

One difference between affiliate marketing and CPA is that usually affiliate marketing comes from the manufacturer or seller of the products. CPA, on the other hand, comes from networks with a range of offers from various sellers, more like a marketplace than a single store. Becoming a part of, say, Joe Blow’s Affiliate Shack gives you access to just what Joe Blow sells. Becoming a part of a CPA network can give you access to a lot of different offers from various manufacturers in different niches.

CPA also doesn’t rely on a sale. You still have the same customer – CPA – seller layout, but instead of requiring a sale to get paid, you can get paid for other actions. They might be form fills, or email submissions, or sales calls, or ebook downloads, or app installs, anything else the seller wants. Essentially, you’re being absolved of the need to sell. Instead, all you need to do is hook the customer up with the sales people of the seller. Some CPA offers will give you a bonus if the sale happens, while most just pay you for the lead.

If all of this sounds an awful lot like affiliate marketing, well, you’ve found out the dirty secret of the industry. CPA marketing is a subdivision of affiliate marketing, with a slightly different framework and a different process.

Which Should You Use?

Which is better

So, the debate between affiliate marketing and CPA marketing is often one that comes down to the simple choice of which you should use to make money. Which is easier? Which earns you more?

The fact is, there are so many affiliates and so many CPA networks out there, with so many products and so many offers to pick through, that it’s impossible to recommend any one system, network or product above all others. Even the best high-converting offer earns you nothing if your site is terrible and you can’t sell. Conversely, you can make a ton of money out of bland, low-payout offers with a great site and a low-competition niche.

Here’s the thing; you can do both. In fact, you very likely should do both. If you design your site properly, and you integrate your ads into your content with appropriate disclosure, you can do very well.

Someone coming to your site might be looking for something somewhat related to the products you offer. If you’re limited to just affiliate marketing, you lose the conversion, because the items you have on offer aren’t exactly what the user wants. If you have a few CPA offers scattered throughout, however, then the user can contact various sellers to ask about a product that meets their needs. Rather than a bounce, you get paid for a lead.

One benefit of affiliate marketing is the lack of human contact necessary to be successful. I can easily write dozens of blog posts with affiliate links peppered in, and make money from people clicking through. I don’t need to talk to anyone at the seller, I don’t need to be a pushy salesman directly to the customer, I just set it up and make money.

CPA networks, meanwhile, often require an interview process before you can get started. This means at a minimum that you need to be in contact with the manager of the CPA network.

On the other hand, you can be successful with CPA without a website. You can run successful CPA ads on Facebook, for example, without needing a landing page and a website between the user and the seller. You just need to know your audience, know your niche, and have plenty to spend on ads.

When you bring both methods together, that’s when moneymaking harmony sings. Design a nice site in a good niche, run CPA offers and affiliate links, and make money from a dozen different sources at once.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James is a content marketing and SEO professional who enjoys the challenge of driving sales through blogging while creating awesome and useful content.

Join the Discussion

  1. Alan S.


    It would seem CPA is much easier to track, but affiliate marketing has higher earning potential with the right partner.. decisions decisions!

  2. Mesha


    Do both..

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