What’s The Difference Between CPA, CPL, And CPS In Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing has become a popular avenue for individuals and businesses to earn passive income, but with its rising popularity come new terms and acronyms that can be confusing for newcomers. If you’ve dipped your toes into the world of affiliate marketing, you may have come across terms such as CPA, CPL, and CPS, but what exactly do they mean? Understanding the differences between these terms is crucial for determining the right strategy for your affiliate marketing efforts. In this article, we will demystify the definitions of CPA, CPL, and CPS, and shed light on how they impact your earning potential in the affiliate marketing realm. So grab a cup of coffee and let’s unravel the intricacies of these affiliate marketing terms together.

CPA (Cost Per Action)


CPA, or Cost Per Action, is a pricing model in affiliate marketing where advertisers pay a fee when a specific action is taken by the target audience. This action can be anything from making a purchase, filling out a form, downloading an app, signing up for a trial, or any other measurable activity that the advertiser considers valuable. Unlike other pricing models, CPA focuses on the completion of an action, rather than just generating leads or sales.

How it works

In a CPA campaign, advertisers work closely with affiliate marketers or publishers who promote their offers. When a user engages in the desired action, such as downloading an app or making a purchase, the publisher earns a commission from the advertiser. The commission earned by the publisher is typically based on a predetermined rate or percentage agreed upon between the advertiser and the publisher. Advertisers set specific criteria that must be met for the action to be considered valid, ensuring quality leads or actions.


One advantage of CPA is that it allows advertisers to pay only for actual results rather than for impressions or clicks that may not lead to desired outcomes. This pricing model ensures that advertisers get the desired actions from their target audience. CPA also offers flexibility in terms of the types of actions that can be considered valuable, allowing advertisers to align their goals with the specific actions that best suit their business objectives.


One disadvantage of CPA is that it can be more expensive compared to other pricing models. Since advertisers pay for specific actions, the cost per action can vary widely depending on the value and complexity of the desired action. Additionally, tracking and monitoring the actions can be more challenging, requiring reliable tracking systems and analytics tools to accurately measure and evaluate the campaign’s success.

CPL (Cost Per Lead)


CPL, or Cost Per Lead, is another pricing model commonly used in affiliate marketing. In this model, advertisers pay a fee for each lead generated by the affiliate marketer. A lead refers to any potential customer who shows interest in the advertiser’s product or service by providing their contact information. This information could include email addresses, phone numbers, or any other data that allows the advertiser to directly engage with the lead.

How it works

CPL campaigns involve publishers or affiliate marketers promoting the advertiser’s offers and attempting to generate leads through various marketing channels. When a user fills out a form or provides their contact information, the publisher is rewarded with a commission. Advertisers typically set specific criteria for what constitutes a valid lead, ensuring quality leads that have a greater chance of converting into paying customers.

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CPL offers advertisers a more cost-effective way of acquiring potential customers compared to other pricing models. By paying for leads, advertisers have an opportunity to engage directly with potential customers who have shown an interest in their product or service. This allows for personalized and targeted marketing efforts, increasing the chances of converting leads into sales. Furthermore, CPL campaigns provide valuable data and insights into the effectiveness of the marketing strategy.


One drawback of CPL is the risk of receiving low-quality leads or leads that may not convert into actual paying customers. It is crucial for advertisers to work closely with affiliate marketers who understand their target audience and can generate leads that are more likely to convert. Additionally, determining the quality of leads can be challenging, requiring continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the leads obtained are valuable to the advertiser’s business.

CPS (Cost Per Sale)


CPS, or Cost Per Sale, is a pricing model in which advertisers pay a commission to affiliate marketers for each sale generated through their promotional efforts. Unlike CPA or CPL, CPS focuses on the actual sales made by the affiliate marketer, rather than just leads or actions. Advertisers pay a predetermined commission percentage or fixed fee for each successful sale originating from the affiliate marketer’s promotional activities.

How it works

CPS campaigns involve affiliate marketers promoting the advertiser’s products or services and enticing their audience to make a purchase. The affiliate marketer earns a commission only when a sale is made as a result of their marketing efforts. Advertisers provide the affiliate marketer with unique tracking links or codes to track the sales generated by each affiliate, ensuring accurate attribution and commission calculation.


One advantage of the CPS model is that advertisers only pay when there is a confirmed sale, mitigating the risk of investing in marketing efforts that may not yield any results. This pricing model incentivizes affiliate marketers to focus on driving quality traffic and optimizing their promotional strategies to maximize sales. Additionally, CPS campaigns offer greater control and transparency in measuring Return on Investment (ROI) for advertisers.


The CPS model may not be suitable for all businesses, especially those with lower profit margins or higher-priced products. For these businesses, paying a commission on each sale may significantly impact profitability. Additionally, compared to other models, CPS campaigns can require more effort from the affiliate marketer to generate sales, as customers need to complete a purchase for the affiliate to earn their commission.

Comparison of CPA, CPL, and CPS

Pricing Model

CPA, CPL, and CPS differ in their pricing models. CPA focuses on specific actions taken by the target audience, CPL revolves around generating leads, and CPS centers on actual sales made. Advertisers pay for different outcomes, allowing them to choose the pricing model that aligns with their campaign objectives and budget constraints.

Advertiser’s Perspective

From an advertiser’s perspective, CPA offers the advantage of paying only for desired actions, ensuring greater control and cost-effectiveness. CPL allows advertisers to acquire potential customers and engage with them, potentially leading to future sales. CPS provides a more direct correlation between marketing efforts and sales, with reduced risk and the ability to track ROI more accurately.

Publisher’s Perspective

For publishers or affiliate marketers, CPA campaigns offer flexibility and a wider range of actions to promote. CPL campaigns provide the opportunity to generate leads and potentially earn commissions based on the number of leads generated. CPS campaigns present the possibility of earning commissions for every successful sale, with the potential for higher earnings compared to CPA or CPL.

Risk Factors

Each pricing model carries its own risk factors. CPA can be more expensive, as advertisers pay for specific actions. CPL carries the risk of low-quality leads or leads that may not convert into sales. CPS campaigns require more effort from the affiliate marketer to drive sales, and there is a risk of investing time and resources without any guarantee of sales.

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Suitability for Different Business Models

The suitability of CPA, CPL, and CPS depends on the nature of the business and its goals. CPA is suitable for businesses looking to drive specific actions, such as app downloads or trial sign-ups. CPL is ideal for businesses focusing on lead generation and building a customer database for future marketing efforts. CPS is suitable for businesses with products or services that have high-profit margins, as the commission paid per sale can be absorbed.

Factors Influencing the Choice

Nature of the Offer

The nature of the offer plays a significant role in determining the appropriate pricing model. If the goal is to acquire new customers, CPA or CPL may be more suitable. If the focus is solely on generating sales, the CPS model would be the best choice. It is essential to align the pricing model with the desired outcome of the marketing campaign.

Target Audience

Understanding the target audience is crucial in selecting the right pricing model. Different audiences may respond differently to various types of actions or incentives. Analyzing the behavior and preferences of the target audience can help determine which pricing model will be more effective in capturing their attention and driving the desired actions.

Relationship with the Affiliate

The relationship between the advertiser and the affiliate marketer is vital in affiliate marketing. Trust and communication between both parties influence the choice of pricing model. An established and reliable affiliate marketer may be capable of driving quality leads or sales, making CPL or CPS a more favorable option. Conversely, a new or untested affiliate marketer may benefit from the CPA model to demonstrate their ability to deliver desired actions.

Campaign Goals

The goals of the marketing campaign play a crucial role in deciding the pricing model. Is the focus on generating leads for nurturing and future sales, or is the primary goal to drive immediate sales? Determining the campaign goals will guide the choice of the appropriate pricing model that aligns with those objectives.

Budget Constraints

Budget constraints also influence the choice of pricing model. CPA campaigns may require a higher budget to cover the cost of each desired action. CPL campaigns may require a lower upfront investment but can accumulate costs over time. CPS campaigns involve paying a commission on each sale, which may affect profitability for businesses with tight budgets.

Choosing the Right Model

Identifying Campaign Objectives

To choose the right pricing model, it is crucial to identify and prioritize the campaign objectives. Clear objectives help determine which pricing model will best support those goals. Consider whether the focus is on lead generation, acquiring new customers, or maximizing immediate sales.

Understanding the Target Audience

Understanding the target audience’s behavior, preferences, and motivations helps in choosing the right pricing model. Analyze how the target audience is likely to respond to different types of actions or incentives. This insight ensures that the chosen pricing model resonates with the target audience and increases the likelihood of achieving campaign goals.

Analyzing the Affiliate Network

Evaluating the affiliate network is essential to assess the capabilities and track record of potential affiliate marketers. Review their performance history, expertise, and quality of generated leads or sales to determine which pricing model would best suit their strengths. Consider the affiliate network’s reach, audience demographics, and industry experience.

Evaluating Risk and Profitability

Assessing the risk and profitability associated with each pricing model is crucial. Understand the potential costs involved in each model, including the likelihood of low-quality leads or sales. Consider the potential return on investment and the impact on profitability for each model as well. Balancing risk and profitability is key to selecting the most appropriate pricing model.

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Testing Different Models

Consider conducting tests with different pricing models. This allows for a comparison of the performance, cost-effectiveness, and suitability of each model for the specific campaign. A/B testing or running parallel campaigns with different pricing models can provide valuable insights and data to inform future marketing strategies.

Key Metrics to Consider

Conversion Rate

Conversion rate refers to the percentage of users who complete the desired action, whether it’s making a purchase, filling out a form, or downloading an app. Monitoring and analyzing the conversion rate is crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the chosen pricing model and optimizing the campaign’s success.

Earnings Per Click (EPC)

EPC measures the average revenue generated per click on the affiliate marketer’s promotional efforts. It provides insights into the profitability of the campaign and the earning potential for the affiliate marketer. Evaluating the EPC helps in understanding the success and efficiency of each pricing model.

Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)

ROAS measures the effectiveness of the marketing campaign by calculating the revenue generated compared to the cost of advertising. Monitoring the ROAS allows advertisers to determine the profitability of each pricing model and make informed decisions on allocating resources.

Lifetime Value (LTV)

Lifetime Value represents the predicted revenue generated from a customer throughout their relationship with the business. Considering the LTV provides insights into the long-term profitability and customer retention capabilities of each pricing model. It is essential to assess whether the chosen pricing model aligns with the potential lifetime value of the acquired customers.

CPA vs. CPL vs. CPS Examples

E-commerce Store

An e-commerce store may choose to utilize the CPS model as the primary pricing model. In this case, affiliate marketers would earn a commission on each sale generated through their promotions. This model encourages affiliate marketers to focus on driving sales and maximizing revenue for the e-commerce store.

Lead Generation Website

A lead generation website may opt for the CPL model as its primary pricing model. Affiliate marketers would earn a commission for each valid lead generated through their promotions. This model incentivizes affiliate marketers to drive high-quality leads, which can be nurtured into paying customers through targeted marketing efforts.

Mobile App Affiliate Program

A mobile app seeking to increase downloads may utilize the CPA model. Affiliate marketers would earn a commission for each app download generated through their promotional activities. This model allows the app to pay only for successful app installations, ensuring a cost-effective approach to increase user acquisition.

Email Marketing Campaign

An email marketing campaign may incorporate the CPA model, focusing on specific actions such as sign-ups or trial activations. Affiliate marketers would earn a commission for each desired action completed by the target audience. This model ensures that advertisers pay only for the actions that contribute to the growth of their email marketing database.

Emerging Trends and Evolving Models

Hybrid Models

Hybrid models combine elements of CPA, CPL, and CPS to create a customized approach that fits the advertiser’s specific needs. These models can provide flexibility and optimization opportunities, allowing advertisers to pay for a mix of desired actions, leads, and sales.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is becoming increasingly popular, where advertisers collaborate with influential individuals to promote their products or services. Influencers often use a combination of CPA and CPS models, receiving a commission based on sales generated through their influence or a fee for driving specific actions through their promotion.

Subscription-based Models

Subscription-based models are gaining traction, especially in industries such as streaming services or software-as-a-service (SaaS). Advertisers can collaborate with affiliate marketers to drive subscriptions, providing a recurring revenue stream. These models typically include a mix of CPA and CPS elements, combining commissions for sign-ups with ongoing revenue sharing.

Performance-based Partnerships

Performance-based partnerships focus on driving a specific outcome, whether it is sales, leads, or actions. Advertisers collaborate with affiliate marketers and set performance goals, paying for successful outcomes rather than traditional advertising channels. This approach ensures a more results-driven and cost-effective strategy.


In affiliate marketing, choosing the right pricing model is crucial for maximizing success and achieving campaign objectives. CPA, CPL, and CPS offer different advantages and disadvantages, and their suitability depends on factors such as the nature of the offer, target audience, campaign goals, and budget constraints. Analyzing key metrics, evaluating risk and profitability, and understanding the affiliate network are essential steps in selecting the appropriate model. Additionally, emerging trends such as hybrid models, influencer marketing, subscription-based models, and performance-based partnerships offer evolving opportunities and customized approaches in affiliate marketing. By considering all these factors, businesses can make informed decisions and implement effective affiliate marketing strategies that drive results.