Affiliate Marketing vs. Multi-Level Marketing: What's the Difference?

Jul 28, 2023

Understanding Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing where an affiliate is rewarded by a business for each customer or visitor brought by the affiliate's own marketing efforts. Essentially, the affiliate promotes a product or service and earns a commission for each sale they make. The sales are tracked via affiliate links from one website to another. Affiliate marketing is often chosen by individuals because it allows them to earn money passively, once the affiliate link is in place.

affiliate marketing

How Affiliate Marketing Works

The process of affiliate marketing generally involves four parties: the affiliate website, the affiliate network, the advertiser, and the buyer. The affiliate website promotes products with a unique affiliate link. When a potential customer clicks on the link and makes a purchase, the affiliate website earns a commission. The affiliate network serves as an intermediary between the affiliate website and the advertiser.

Defining Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing (MLM), also known as network marketing, is a strategy that some direct sales companies use to encourage their existing distributors to recruit new distributors by paying the existing distributors a percentage of their recruits' sales. The recruits are the distributor's "downline." All distributors also make money through direct sales of products to customers. Unlike affiliate marketing, MLM requires active selling and recruiting to generate revenue.

multi-level marketing

How Multi-Level Marketing Works

In MLM, products or services are sold through person-to-person sales. This means you're selling directly to other people, maybe from your home, a customer's home, or online. If you decide to become a distributor with an MLM, you'll earn money from your own sales of the product and from sales made by people you recruit into the program.

Key Differences Between Affiliate Marketing and Multi-Level Marketing

While both affiliate marketing and MLM allow you to earn money by promoting products, there are key differences between the two.

  1. Income generation: In affiliate marketing, you earn money by making sales through your affiliate link. In MLM, you earn money by selling products and recruiting others to sell.
  2. Structure: Affiliate marketing is a more linear structure where you're rewarded for sales generated through your link. MLM, on the other hand, has a multi-tiered structure where you're rewarded for your sales and the sales of those in your downline.
  3. Investment: Affiliate marketing generally requires little to no upfront investment, while MLM often requires an investment in inventory.


Choosing between affiliate marketing and MLM depends on your personal preferences, skills, and resources. If you prefer a more passive income and minimal investment, affiliate marketing may be the better choice. If you enjoy direct selling and building a team, MLM could be a rewarding option. However, both require effort, dedication, and a strategic approach to be successful.