The Difference Between MLM and Affiliate Marketing

Many people confuse MLM and Affiliate marketing to be one and the same. Make no mistake, they are entirely different.

To understand the difference between MLM and affiliate marketing, you must understand that affiliate marketing is a benefit to both advertisers and publishers. A publisher promotes and sells a product or service earning a commission in return. An advertiser promotes his or her product, making the sell and paying the advertiser.

Multi-level marketing is commonly referred to as a pyramid scheme and can sometimes even be illegal.

A multi level marketing scheme operations by signing up new members to promote products that either do not exist or are highly marked up. If you are not at the top level of the pyramid, you stand to waste lots of time and make little or no money.

On the contrary, those at the top of the pyramid stand to make a lot of money by promoting a scheme that is most likely illegal in nature.

This is the number one difference between MLM and affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is very different from multi-level marketing. There are programs known as multi-tier affiliate marketing but it is not related to multi-level marketing. 

Multi-Tier Affiliate Marketing

  • Multi-tier affiliate marketing is based on tiers in the affiliate network. As a single-tier affiliate marketer, you are paid based on the direct sale or traffic you generate.
  • In a two-tier affiliate marketing program, you are paid for the direct sales or traffic generated for the merchant in addition to a commission from any traffic or sales that are referred by other affiliates that you signed up.
  • Multi-level affiliate marketing is similar in nature to multi-level marketing in regards to the more affiliates you sign up, the more money you earn.
  • However, the major difference between being in a multi-level marketing program and a multi-level or tier affiliate program is, there are actual products sold in affiliate programs whereas it is debatable in MLM.

Affiliate Networks

  • Affiliate Networks or programs and the marketing of them provide an excellent way to monetize a website and it is by no means a get rich quick scheme. 
  • Anyone promising you lots of money in a short period of time is not a reputable affiliate that you want to do business with. 
  • Legitimate affiliate networks have a proven reputation.
  • As an affiliate publisher or marketer, you share the profits with an advertiser for whose products you promote and sell. Your goal is to build a clean and crisp website with quality content that gains visitor trust. 
  • You then join affiliate networks as their partner in selling products and services.
  • As an affiliate, you promote products and services by first building the trust of each visitor in a "pre-selling" manner. 
  • The goal is not solely to sell your visitor but to provide them the information they are in search of, then out of loyalty they make a purchase from your site or your site directs their traffic to your affiliate who then makes a sale.

Finding Affiliate Products

  • When choosing affiliate products to market on your website, stick with those that are relevant to your content. Should you promote an affiliate product that is unrelated to your website, you leave the user confused and it's highly doubtful you'll ever make a sell. 

To provide an example, suppose I listed garden tools on this page. You didn't get to this site by searching for garden tools so my promotion of garden tools is totally out of place.


I want to summarize with a few quick bullet points.

  • MLM and Affiliate Marketing are totally different.
  • Should you decide to pursue multi-level marketing, do ample research to ensure you do not fall victim to multi-level marketing scams.
  • Only promote affiliate products relevant to your website.
  • Only join affiliate networks that are 100% free of charge. You should never have to pay money to make money.

Watch The Video to Learn More about Affiliate Marketing

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