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Affiliate Program vs Affiliate Network: Which One to Choose?

Rewardful Team

There are countless ways to market your product—and even narrowing it down to affiliate marketing can lead you to a crossroads: are you looking at an affiliate program or an affiliate network?

It might sound like they're similar, but there are significant differences to note. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what the benefits and challenges of each of these tactics are, and how you can choose which one is right for you.


What is an Affiliate Program?

Let’s set the stage and make it clear what we’re working with here. 

How Affiliate Programs Work

An affiliate program is a direct arrangement between a merchant (a business selling products or services) and affiliates (marketers who promote these products or services in their own network). It's a structure where you reward affiliates for directing customers to your products or services. Here are some key details on how it runs:

The Benefits of an Affiliate Program

Challenges of an Affiliate Program

When an Affiliate Program Makes Sense: An Example

Affiliate programs work for all types of businesses, but it generally works best if your business has a clear assortment or product. Think of a SaaS product for freelancers. 

Let’s say your company built a time tracking and invoicing tool for solo entrepreneurs, you can engage with influencers in that industry to promote your product. When sales occur through their efforts, you reward them with a commission.

Related: The Best Commission Setup for Affiliates

What are Affiliate Networks?

An affiliate network works on the same (or similar) principles as a program, but with some important differences in the relationship between businesses and affiliates.

How an Affiliate Network Works

An affiliate network serves as an intermediary between merchants (you) and affiliates.

Essentially, it is a platform connecting various merchants and affiliates.

Businesses can join the network, enlist their products, and affiliates select what they wish to promote. And when it comes to affiliate commissions, the network handles the hassle. For example, tracking sales and disbursing commissions, and retaining a percentage for themselves.

Benefits of an Affiliate Network

Challenges of an Affiliate Network

When Working with an Affiliate Network Makes Sense: An Example

Imagine a bustling virtual marketplace filled with different stores (merchants) displaying their items, while salespeople (affiliates) select the products they'll advocate. The marketplace manager (affiliate network) takes care of the administrative functions.

Comparing Affiliate Programs and Affiliate Networks

Now you know how both these programs work, it’s time to compare them from different perspectives.

Merchant Perspective

Affiliate Program:

Affiliate Network:

Affiliate Perspective


Seasoned Affiliates:

For Different Business Sizes

Small Businesses:

Large Businesses:

Affiliate Network vs. Affiliate Program: Making the Decision

The following factors will help you choose what will be more successful for you.

Analyze Your Business Needs and Goals

Consider What's More Suitable for Your Product or Service

We already gave some examples of where each works best, but keep the following guidelines in mind:

Niche Products or Services - Affiliate Program:
Mass Market Products or Services - Affiliate Network:

Keep Market Trends and Affiliate Needs in Mind

It’s not just about what’s right for your business, it’s also about what the market and affiliates want. Do your market research and keep an eye on what’s happening within your industry to align your strategy. At the same time, stay in contact with (possible) affiliates to find out what setup they prefer. After all, you need them to get on board to make your affiliate program or network successful.

Make Your Affiliate Program or Network a Success

Whatever option you choose, make sure you build a solid foundation. If you’re ready to start building your affiliate program, check out Rewardful and set up your affiliate program today.

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