Affiliate Marketing Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations – Part 2: Common Affiliate Program Models

As a continuation from Part 1 of Affiliate Marketing Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations today we look at what the most common affiliate program models are.

Affiliate marketing program model

Common Affiliate Program Models

CPA – Cost Per Acquisition

This is a term used to describe the action of acquiring a new customer. CPA can be used to describe a type of network (such as CPA network) or a $ or % payout to an affiliate for a particular action taking place.

CPC – Cost Per Click

This is a term used to either describe an affiliate marketing model where the affiliate earns on every click they send to a merchant or advertiser, exactly how Google AdSense works.


CPL – Cost Per Lead

This terms is used to describe an affiliate program model where an affiliate or publisher is rewarded once a “lead” is completed through a form or other means, such as a newsletter sign up. CPL programs can pay anywhere from $0.10 per lead to $150 per lead or more. These models are most common with programs in insurance, finance and education as examples.

PPS / CPS – Pay Per Sale or Cost Per Sale

This is a term used to describe an affiliate marketing model that pays out (generally) a percentage on a sale that took place for a tangible product. Depending on the product, an average PPS or CPS payout usually looks anywhere from 1-4% to 15-30%. The average CPS commission payout is usually between 8-10%.

CPM – Cost Per Thousand Impressions

The model of paying on impressions is most common in display networks, in international affiliate programs such as in China, and in ad buys. However it’s important to be mentioned here because it is in fact an option for an affiliate program and because the term is used within the industry.


MLM – Multi Level Marketing (Not Affiliate Marketing!)

Personally, not my favorite thing in the world, and not one that many people in this industry consider affiliate marketing, however, multi-level-marketing (also known as a “pyramid scheme” or "network marketing") is very popular with some types of products and term is sometimes used in the industry so it's important to mention it here.  It is NOT affiliate marketing. See this post here for more.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Affiliate Marketing Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations when we define commonly used terms related to reporting metrics and key performance indicators.


CB Affiliate Chris

11 years ago

This is a pretty great series for people who are new to affiliate marketing.

I made a short recap of it on my blog.

Sarah Bundy

11 years ago

Thank Chris, glad it was helpful for you 🙂


11 years ago

The amount of definitions used - just highlights how much affiliate marketing has changed. If you are dealing with the top tier,i firmly believe that it really boils down to how you are dealing with them in terms of them driving you traffic. Thus the term affiliate becomes redundant - I prefer partnership management, since this is what really counts.

Sarah Bundy

11 years ago

I love your term "partnership management". I couldn't agree more that's what it is. Partnership Management in Performance Marketing. Thanks for your feedback / comments!



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