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Affiliate Marketing vs Digital Marketing: 9 Differences Between Affiliate Marketing and Digital Marketing

March 10, 2024

The 9 differences between affiliate marketing and digital marketing are:

  1. Who does the work
  2. Elements involved
  3. Skills required
  4. Purpose
  5. Product needed
  6. Scope
  7. Tasks involved
  8. Audience dependency
  9. How the marketer is referred to

The fundamental difference between affiliate marketing and digital marketing is that affiliate marketing is just a smaller component of digital marketing. An affiliate marketer earns specifically from promoting products or services for a brand. On the other hand, digital marketing encompasses diverse skills such as SEO, social media marketing and management, content creation, PPC advertising, email marketing, and analytics. The method of earning with digital marketing depends on which specific business model you choose.

Digital marketing involves identifying customer personas. A MarketingSherpa case study shows that personas impact the success of marketing campaigns. It can increase web page visits by 100% and visit duration by 900%. Thus, as a form of digital marketing, affiliate marketers must find an effective content strategy to help with community building and audience engagement. This strategy may include selecting a profitable niche or understanding innovative content formats.

In the following article, we look at both business models and break down the 9 differences between affiliate marketing and digital marketing that beginners should know. 

Affiliate Marketing vs Digital Marketing: Comparison Table Overview

Comparison Parameters

Digital Marketing

Affiliate Marketing


Any advertising-related activity that leverages digital channels to reach an audience for the purpose of brand awareness or product promotion. 

Form of digital marketing where third-party marketers promote branded products for a commission.


You can market your own product or take on clients to handle all or part of the marketing activities for their business.

No direct ownership of product. You promote products on behalf of another brand to earn a commission.


Very broad, comprising many strategies and marketing channels like content marketing and local lead gen.  

Specific form of marketing that involves coordination with an affiliate partner who receives a commission-based payment only if results are delivered.

Skill set

Encompasses various skills. Digital marketers usually specialize in one or a few skills and offer a service to clients.

Can benefit from knowing a broad range of digital marketing-related skills, but content creation and relationship building are especially important.


Comprehensive activity with many moving parts that seek to satisfy various objectives.

Three main components include the affiliate marketers, the brand with the product, and the end customer.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a strategy where a brand outsources marketing activities to third-party marketers, called affiliates, that promote the brand’s offer on their behalf in exchange for a commission. This segment of digital marketing is big business, as according to TrueList, over 80% of brands use an affiliate marketing program. An affiliate marketer promotes for a brand by using an affiliate link, which is a custom website link that tracks and credits marketing-related activities like sales for the affiliate marketer. 

3 Types of Affiliate Marketing

  1. Involved affiliate marketing - When the marketer promotes a product they actually use or have used before. 
  2. Related affiliate marketing - Promoting a product or service within the niche or category the affiliate has expertise in. 
  3. Unattached affiliate marketing - Affiliate has no connection to product or service being promoted.

Affiliate Marketing Pros and Cons

Affiliate Marketing Pros

A low-barrier and low-cost business model

A chance to diversify your income stream

Easy to set up, and you don't need any prior experience to start

Affiliate Marketing Cons

The business model has a high failure rate (90%-95% of people will fail with affiliate marketing)

Lack of control over the affiliate programs or your commissions

No customer loyalty or chance for recurring sales

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is marketing using the internet or mobile devices to reach potential customers. The growing use of digital platforms for information, entertainment, and commerce drives the continuous expansion of the digital marketing market. The majority of people spend at least 5 hours on their phones daily, per Statista’s data. The Global Digital Marketing Market report of projects that its value will reach $1,310.3 billion by 2033. also expects the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of digital marketing to be at 13.6% from 2024 to 2033.

Types of Digital Marketing

  • Email marketing - Using email to update an audience about brand happenings and promotional deals.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) - Strategy to organically attract audience to a website by creating content with keywords that rank well in search engines like Google, YouTube or Bing. 
  • Pay-per-Click - Using paid advertising channels like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to drive traffic.
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) - Driving traffic from search engines with both organic and paid advertising methods. 
  • Social media - Leveraging a social media platform like Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook to build an audience to promote to. 
  • Content marketing - Creating of captivating content like blog posts, infographics, or videos to drive interest to the product or brand and build relationships. 
  • Lead generation - Using various digital channels to find potential customers for a specific business niche and then selling the leads you generate to an applicable business.
  • Network marketing - Building a network of salespeople to generate leads and close sales, where you earn from both the sale of products and recruiting salespeople. 
  • Influencer marketing - Collaborating with online influencers who have established audiences to market brand products. 
  • Affiliate marketing - Performance-based marketing where third-party marketers promote for businesses for a commission using special website links to track and award performance.

Digital Marketing Pros and Cons

Digital Marketing Pros

Allows you to focus on the right people and target and identify audience

A cost-effective way to engage with your audience

It is measurable and easy to track

Digital Marketing Cons

You need to learn about your target market and the understand the use of multiple digital marketing channels to get results

Google's algorithms changes regularly, requiring you to stay updated 

You need to strategize for mobile responsiveness and content marketing

9 Differences Between Affiliate Marketing and Digital Marketing

1. Who Does the Work

Third-party marketers are responsible for the actions of affiliate marketing, while brands or product owners come up with the digital marketing strategy themselves and use marketing teams when needed. 

2. Elements Involved

The only three elements involved in affiliate marketing are the brand with a product, the affiliate, and the customer. Digital marketing encompasses a comprehensive range of elements including market research (using tools like Google Trends and SurveyMonkey), strategy formulation, content creation (using platforms like Adobe Creative Suite), and analytics (using Google Analytics and HubSpot).

3. Skills Required

Affiliate marketing success demands mastery in specific digital marketing skills such as content marketing (using WordPress or Medium), SEO (leveraging tools like Ahrefs or Yoast SEO), and social media marketing (utilizing platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer). Digital marketing encompasses an enormous array of marketing abilities and digital skills, which is why most digital marketers choose to specialize in a few, such as SEO or social media marketing. 

4. Purpose 

The purpose of affiliate marketing is just to promote products in order to receive a commission, while the purpose of digital marketing is to spread awareness of the brand and generate positive public perception so customers purchase the brand's offerings.

5. Product Needed

Affiliate marketers don’t need to develop a product or service to sell, whereas a digital marketer either has their own product or works for a company that already has one.

6. Scope

Affiliate marketing is a branch of digital marketing. Meanwhile, digital marketing represents a vast field encompassing various strategies. It may include inbound marketing, performance marketing, and omnichannel marketing, integrating traditional approaches with modern techniques for comprehensive market engagement.

7. Tasks Involved

Affiliate marketing involves choosing a niche, finding an affiliate product within that niche, and promoting it through whichever marketing channel provides the best opportunity to reach your highest potential customer, usually by blog. Digital marketing involves differing tasks, depending on the digital marketer's role and specialty.

8. Audience Dependency

Success in affiliate marketing depends on maximizing exposure through targeted strategies like SEO for high search visibility, influencer collaborations on platforms like Instagram, and effective use of ad retargeting on Google Display Network. Whereas digital marketers can earn money by providing expertise, offering content creation services, or generating valuable leads.

9. How the Marketer Is Referred To

People refer to affiliate marketers as affiliates, while they can call digital marketers a range of names depending on their specialty, such as copywriter, social media manager, or SEO consultant.

Is Digital Marketing and Affiliate Marketing the Same?

Yes, digital marketing and affiliate marketing is practically the same because affiliate marketing is a form of digital marketing. Digital marketing is a broader term that covers affiliate marketing. If you’re a digital marketer, you can be an affiliate marketer. Likewise, if you’re an affiliate marketer, you are using digital channels to promote a brand or business, making you a digital marketer. 

How Is Affiliate Marketing Similar to Digital Marketing?

Affiliate marketing, being a type of digital marketing, is similar to digital marketing in terms of using online channels in service or product promotions. As an affiliate marketer, you are also a digital marketer because you promote a brand using digital channels or platforms. You can leverage social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube. Besides the use of online channels, here are different ways affiliate marketing is similar to digital marketing: 

  • Crucial role of content creation. Content creation is critical to digital marketing and affiliate marketing. Digital marketing might involve creating content for a website, ad campaigns, or social media. Affiliate marketers create content, typically reviewing or promoting specific products or services. According to an article by Lisa Murton Beets of Content Marketing Institute, 94% of B2B marketers use short articles or posts, while 84% use videos. Also, 9 in 10 B2B marketers use social media platforms to distribute content. 

  • Targeting and outreach. Like digital marketers, affiliate marketers also use targeted approaches to attract and engage with potential clients like SEO, content marketing, or PPC campaigns. 

  • Use of performance metrics and analytics. Similar metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and ROI often measure the success of digital and affiliate marketing. Both rely on analytics tools to track performance and optimize strategies.

Affiliate Marketing and Digital Marketing: 3 Tips for Beginners

1. Know Your Preferences

When you start your online small business journey as a digital marketer or affiliate marketer, you must know your preferences. You can experiment with the various digital marketing services and see what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing most. For example, you may be led into digital marketing because you saw the success of a famous content creator like MrBeast. However, once you get into the digital marketing work, you may find you actually prefer the data analysis required for a successful display ads marketing campaign instead of the scriptwriting and video editing ability needed for video content creation. 

2. Build Your Skills

Building your skills will influence your success in digital marketing and affiliate marketing. This will take time. According to Online Selling Experiment, most affiliate marketing campaigns don't regularly reach $1,000/month until between 18-24 months, if they ever reach that milestone at all. 

3. Improve Your Expertise

Improving your expertise will help you in building a community in digital marketing and affiliate marketing. An affiliate marketer needs to have a high level of marketing knowledge and an array of digital skills to produce optimal results. You need to know how to come up with an affiliate marketing strategy, choose which affiliate product makes sense with that strategy, and then promote it through the best channels to reach your target audience. You can choose a niche where you are most knowledgeable or interested. You may also want to narrow your focus on a particular skill, like offering SEO services or email marketing. Focusing on one niche and skill at a time allows you to develop expertise so you can charge higher rates for your skills and expand your overall arsenal of marketing abilities you can use in more complicated pursuits later on. 

Is Digital Marketing Better Than Affiliate Marketing in 2024?

No, digital marketing is not better than affiliate marketing in 2024 because affiliate marketing only forms part of the various ways to perform digital marketing. Digital marketing, aka online marketing, is a form of promoting brands to potential customers online. It uses multiple digital marketing channels, including websites, emails, or display ads. Digital can take many forms, such as paid advertising, affiliate marketing, and video marketing. You could use websites, videos, or emails to promote your affiliate link if you're an affiliate marketer.  

Why Local Lead Generation is a Better Digital Marketing Business Model Than Affiliate Marketing

Local lead generation is a better digital marketing business model than affiliate marketing because it gives you more control over your business. Both local lead generation and affiliate marketing involve niche selection and understanding SEO. But their major difference is the ownership of the assets. In local lead generation, it is you who own the digital assets, whereas affiliate marketers do not own the business they are promoting. 


Affiliate marketers earn by promoting their affiliate links using various digital channels. However, affiliate marketers do not own the business they are promoting. Should the affiliate partner decide to stop the business, the affiliate marketers do not have choice. Meanwhile, local lead generation is a type of digital marketing that uses various digital channels to find potential customers for a specific business niche. Once you generate the leads by ranking a website, you can sell it to an applicable local business or have it rented. It is you who gets to decide who to work with and how much to price your business. 

Affiliate marketing is also more competitive and prone to oversaturation than local lead generation because you compete with other affiliate marketers globally. Its low barrier to entry allows anybody to create content, promote affiliate links, and earn commission. In local lead generation, you can reduce the level of competition by selecting a locality or state. Whichever digital marketing business model you choose, success is largely based on how much effort you’re willing to put in. But if you want a more scalable business model where you get more control, start learning about the local lead gen biz model today. 

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  1. The 1 reason I prefer digital marketing over affiliate marketing is for the backend marketing aspect. I get to sell a product, and get the customer's info to market to them over and over again. Other than that, I'm a huge affiliate marketing fan.

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