Affiliate or Partner?

Affiliate or Partner?

Which is it? Is it just a name?

What's in a name?

Put loosely you could say that 'affiliate or partner?' is a simple question. Affiliate refers to the marketing and remuneration model - and partner refers more to how the relationship is viewed. But of course it goes deeper than that!

So, let's take a deeper look at the terms used in this great industry of ours.

Affiliate Vs Partner


As we asked in our blog article in 2020, what is it about that name ?

the word affiliate

Broadly, the wikipedia entry covers it all pretty well - and its a mixed picture as it covers any kind of affiliation. Because it's a generic term, it gets applied very broadly for any kind of business relationship - including in financial services and legal frameworks.

We of course know it in relation to performance partnerships and specifically to those managed by the affiliate networks. The word affiliate has been used for lead generation since the start of online marketing, with William Tobin of PC Flowers & Gifts in 1989. However, the word 'affiliate' has become tarnished by some uses in the advertising arena.

Since then, use of affiliate could be said to have diverged into different areas. We regularly use divisions into Leadgen affiliates, Search affiliates and multiple others, according to the channels they're most active in. And basically the tracking and payment model is what makes it all work. The different variations in payment for action are used for different scenarios - for a % of sale, to cost per click or even a display-style cost per (000) impression.

We even see affiliate applied to the relationships in Multi-Level-Marketing - which is a very different world indeed! So many have shied away from it's use to avoid all of that.


Econsultancy in 2017 argued that there were 10 types of 'marketing partner', of which it counted affiliate as just one:

  • Affiliation -
  • Content - more a pure SEO partnership
  • Distribution -
  • Charitable -
  • Joint products -
  • Licensing -
  • Loyalty -
  • Product placement -
  • Shared stores -
  • Sponsorship -

In reality, several of these have started using the affiliate and performance based model to track and manage activity. The 'affiliate' model has become an accepted method of tracking and acknowledging brand to brand partnerships.

Brand to Brand Partnerships

This change was marked by the launch of Performance Horizon, now Partnerize with the express intent to formalize these inter-merchant partnerships. Since then, Impact and several other providers have launched and grown.

This new application of the affiliate tracking model is now so central a part of the online world that the mainstream affiliate networks are also joining in, as in this article from Awin.


Yet another variation that started being applied back in the 2000s, meaning the publisher of a website - but specifically one who monetises using affiliate linking. Since then of course more of the mainstream publishing houses, such as News International or Hearst are also using the affiliate model for monetisation, either via secondary networks or systems such as Skimlinks or Digidip, via mainstream networks or direct with key partners.

Performance Marketer

This is a much looser term - and in part it removes the relationship element to make this sound more like a dry media buy. In reality it can include PPC agencies or any organisation that operates even loosely on a performance basis.

Bob Glazer in his book, Performance Partnerships made that subtle change to return the symbiotic element of the relationship to the equation. In the context of what we know as the 'affiliate industry' this is a much more useful name - though he ring-fenced it to Acceleration with a ® - so it is unlikely to be more widely used by others in the industry.


A term that's risen in prominence and morphed in layers of meaning over the last 10-15 years, though the concept is not that new. 20 years ago there were bloggers and websites with large engaged audiences, that would charge an affiliate 'tenancy' (or more recently, placement) fee for specific positioning on their websites. That would be as a supplement to the affiliate commissions payable on any sales.

The development of social media over recent years has shifted the table enabling monetisation across so many other channels. The affiliate model is now being widely used across many of these, with the appropriate disclosure messaging in place. Instagram even has it hard-wired in the platform with full guidance for posters.

All Names are Relevant

Whatever we call the website, blog, search and social publishers, all names are relevant. This as a topic for affiliate conferences will keep coming up of course; the more we try and rationalise the terminology, the more muddy the waters get.

To keep your Partner (or Affiliate, Referral or whatever) program fresh, you of course need to keep on top of new entrants with a rolling plan for discovery and recruitment. With millions of affiliate to brand connections, the Publisher Discovery platform is the ideal resource for doing just that. Take a trial today and find your new partners.

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Affiliate Network Global Analysis

View the networks' share of affiliates and links in this recent White Paper. This is from a recent analysis of affiliate networks and SaaS partnership providers and you can see our latest research and download the White Paper here:

Affiliate Network Global Insights >

Affiliate Networks >