Two-tier programs exist in the minority of affiliate programs; most are simply one-tier. Referral programs beyond two-tier resemble multi-level marketing (MLM) or network marketing but are different: Multi-level marketing (MLM) or network marketing associations tend to have more complex commission requirements/qualifications than standard affiliate programs.[citation needed]

The terms of an affiliate marketing program are set by the company wanting to advertise. Early on, companies were largely paying cost per click (traffic) or cost per mile (impressions) on banner advertisements. As the technology evolved, the focus turned to commissions on actual sales or qualified leads. The early affiliate marketing programs were vulnerable to fraud because clicks could be generated by software, as could impressions.


Websites consisting mostly of affiliate links have previously held a negative reputation for underdelivering quality content. In 2005 there were active changes made by Google, where certain websites were labeled as "thin affiliates".[30] Such websites were either removed from Google's index or were relocated within the results page (i.e., moved from the top-most results to a lower position). To avoid this categorization, affiliate marketer webmasters must create quality content on their websites that distinguishes their work from the work of spammers or banner farms, which only contain links leading to merchant sites.
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