What are CPC, CPA, and CPS Models in Digital Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing - Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Jussi Hyvarinen

What are CPC, CPA and CPS

Jussi Hyvärinen

I'm Jussi, with over 25 years of expertise, I help entrepreneurs navigate the online business world. My services include tailored recommendations, step-by-step tutorials, and insightful reviews to help steer your business aspirations. Please reach out if you need assistance with your online business plans or have any questions.

CPC (Cost Per Click) measures the cost for each click, CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) measures the cost for each action, and CPS (Cost Per Sale) measures the cost for each completed sale in digital marketing.

The world of digital marketing is constantly changing, and there are many ways for marketers to earn money. Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular methods for generating passive income.

However, understanding the different earning models can be difficult for beginners. This guide is here to help those starting out or already on their way.

In this article, we're focusing on three of the most popular earning models in affiliate marketing - CPC (Cost Per Click), CPA (Cost Per Action), and CPS (Cost Per Sale).

This guide will dissect each model, discussing their ins and outs, helping you decide which model aligns best with your goals.

Let's dive in and explore the CPC, CPA, and CPS models.

Key takeaway: CPC, CPA, and CPS affiliate marketing models offer distinct advantages. CPC is ideal for high-traffic sites, CPA for specific user actions, and CPS for generating income from direct sales.

Successful affiliate marketers often blend these models to maximize their earnings, matching each model to the most suitable content and audience type.

Understanding the Basics

To ensure a better understanding of CPC, CPA, and CPS models, let's start by establishing the basics of these earning models.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

The Cost Per Click model, commonly known as CPC, is an online advertising model wherein the advertiser pays a publisher every time a potential customer clicks on the ad.

This model is heavily utilized in search engine advertising, display advertising, and affiliate marketing, especially in niche sites. The core advantage of CPC is its straightforwardness – earn each time someone clicks your affiliate link.

Cost Per Action (CPA)

Cost Per Action, or CPA, is a more complex model compared to CPC. Instead of paying for clicks, advertisers pay for specific user actions. These actions could range from purchasing, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a form.

While the CPA model involves a higher level of user engagement, it tends to offer higher commissions, making it an attractive choice for many affiliate marketers.

Cost Per Sale (CPS)

Cost Per Sale, also known as CPS, is an affiliate marketing model where commissions are earned upon the completion of a sale. As an affiliate marketer using the CPS model, you will earn a percentage of the sale made through your affiliate link.

The defining feature of CPS is that it carries the highest risk but also the highest reward. The risk stems from the requirement of a completed sale for earning commission, but the rewards are much higher payouts compared to CPC and CPA.

Understanding these basics is the first step towards mastering the various earning models in affiliate marketing.

Next, we'll take a dive into the benefits and drawbacks of each model, giving you a clearer perspective on which model aligns best with your affiliate marketing strategy.

In-depth Analysis

With the basics defined, let's venture deeper into each earning model's unique characteristics, advantages, and drawbacks. This knowledge equips you to select the most suitable model for your affiliate marketing endeavors.

Deeper Look at Cost Per Click (CPC)

Monetizing your site with ads

CPC is relatively straightforward but also complex in terms of achieving profitability. One needs to understand click-through, cost-per-click, and conversion rates to maximize earnings.

Despite the apparent simplicity of this model, CPC requires a strategic approach that considers traffic quality, ad placement, and compelling ad copy to drive click-through rates.

The drawback of CPC is its lower earning potential compared to CPA and CPS since you're earning per click, not per conversion. But, if you have a high traffic volume, CPC could be a lucrative choice.

In the CPC model, the number of clicks on your ads is pivotal. You can improve your click-through rates by making your ad copy more compelling and strategically positioning your ads on your page.

Regularly monitor your ad performance and tweak your strategies based on what's working and what isn't.

Unpacking Cost Per Action (CPA)

CPA is the middle ground between CPC and CPS in terms of risk and potential earnings. The key to success with CPA is to drive quality traffic likely to convert and perform the required action, such as signing up for a service or making a purchase.

CPA often has higher payouts than CPC, but driving users to complete the required action is more challenging. You need to align your audience's interests with the offers you are promoting to increase the chances of conversion.

The CPA model requires a deep understanding of your audience and the actions you want them to take. Optimize your affiliate website and promotional materials to align with your audience's needs and preferences. 

Use persuasive and engaging content to encourage them to take the desired action, like registering for a service or purchasing.

Exploring Cost Per Sale (CPS)

CPS tends to offer the highest payout but is also the most challenging to achieve. To succeed with CPS, you must thoroughly understand your audience and promote products or services that align with their needs and desires.

The risk here lies in the dependency on final sales to generate income. However, CPS could provide the highest returns on your efforts with the right product and targeted traffic.

In the CPS model, each sale directly contributes to your earnings. Here, trust and relevance are fundamental. Promote highly relevant products from trustworthy and credible brands to your audience. This way, you can increase the probability of sales, leading to higher commissions.

Maximizing earnings from any affiliate marketing model requires continual optimization and experimentation. Understand your audience, test different approaches, learn from the results, and refine your strategies.

Now let's look at a few real-life examples of how sites utilize these models in their businesses.

Real-life Applications

To understand the CPC, CPA, and CPS, it's beneficial to see them in action. Let's explore some examples that highlight the potential of these earning models.

Niche Blog (CPC)

Consider a lifestyle blogger who writes about sustainable living. Google AdSense (a popular CPC platform) provided them with ads related to eco-friendly products and lifestyle habits.

The blog's compelling content and well-placed ads led to high engagement, substantial click-throughs, and revenue.

Review Website (CPA)

TechAdvisor, a technology review website, showcases an excellent example of the CPA model. They review tech products and include affiliate links in their content. 

The website earns a commission when readers click these links and complete a purchase. The site ensures content quality and aligns the products with their audience, maximizing conversions.

Fashion Influencer (CPS)

An influential fashion blogger on Instagram demonstrates the effectiveness of the CPS model.

They partnered with various fashion brands to promote clothes and accessories, receiving a commission for each sale made via their referral links. Their high follower count and engagement rates made this a lucrative avenue.

In the final section, we'll examine how you can combine these models to enhance your income further.

Combining Models - A Smart Strategy

In reality, many successful affiliate marketers do not stick strictly to one model. Instead, they combine models based on their content, audience, and the affiliates they work with.

For instance, a travel blogger might use Google AdSense (CPC) on their blog, offer a curated travel gear guide with Amazon affiliate links (CPS), and promote travel insurance packages (CPA).

By wisely leveraging CPC, CPA, and CPS, you can unlock lucrative opportunities in affiliate marketing.

In this comprehensive guide's next and final part, we'll look into effective ways of blending these models to elevate your affiliate marketing efforts.

Pros and Cons

Cost Per Click (CPC)


  • Simple and straightforward: You earn whenever a user clicks on your affiliate link, regardless of the final purchase.
  • Good for high-traffic websites: If your site or blog gets a lot of traffic, you can earn a good amount without depending on conversions.


  • Low commission rates: Compared to CPA and CPS, the commission rates for CPC are generally lower.
  • Risk of click fraud: Fraudulent clicks can result in your account being suspended by the advertiser or affiliate network.

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)


  • Higher earnings: CPA usually offers higher commissions because the advertiser gets a valuable action (like a sign-up or form fill-up) from the visitor.
  • Broad range of actions: It's not just about sales. You get paid if a user performs the specific action required, like downloading an app or filling out a form.


  • More challenging: Convincing a user to perform a specific action is harder than getting a simple click or making a sale.
  • Delayed payment: Since the action needs to be validated (to avoid fraudulent activities), payment may take a while to be processed.

Cost Per Sale (CPS)


  • High commission rates: Since the advertiser earns a sale, they can afford to give you a significant cut.
  • Wide range of products: Many e-commerce sites and digital products use the CPS model, giving you many options to choose from.


  • Dependent on conversions: You earn nothing if a user clicks your link but doesn't make a purchase.
  • Return or refund issues: If a customer returns a product or asks for a refund, your commission might be withdrawn.

Each of these models has its strengths and weaknesses, and the best choice will largely depend on your specific situation, including your website's traffic, your niche, and your audience's behavior.

It's common for affiliates to use a combination of these models to maximize their earnings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is CPM?

Cost Per Mille (CPM), also known as cost per thousand, is a standard metric used in advertising to denote the price of 1,000 advertisement impressions on one web page. If a website publisher charges $2.00 CPM, an advertiser must pay $2.00 for every 1,000 impressions of its ad.

What is the most profitable affiliate marketing model?

While there's no definitive answer, as it depends on the nature of the product or service and your target audience, many affiliates succeed with the CPS model because they receive a percentage of every sale.

That said, many niche sites utilizing the CPC model can make a significant income if they get a lot of traffic.

Is it possible to use more than one earning model in affiliate marketing?

Yes, many successful affiliates use a mix of CPC, CPA, and CPS models. The key is to understand your audience and tailor your approach to match their needs and behaviors.

How much can I earn with affiliate marketing?

The earning potential in affiliate marketing is virtually limitless. Still, it depends on factors like your niche, the time and effort you put into your campaigns, and your chosen monetization model.

Is affiliate marketing still profitable in 2024?

Absolutely. As long as people shop online, affiliate marketers will have opportunities to earn revenue.

How can I maximize my earnings in affiliate marketing?

This involves selecting the right products, optimizing your marketing strategies, understanding your audience, and staying up-to-date with industry trends and changes.

Is it better to focus on high-paying products or those that are easier to sell?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer. Some marketers have great success promoting high-ticket items, while others focus on lower-cost items with a higher sales volume. The key is finding what works best for your audience and marketing strategy.

How long does it take to start earning money with affiliate marketing?

It varies widely depending on factors such as the platform you're using, your marketing strategies, the products you're promoting, and your target audience.


In our exploration of affiliate marketing earnings, we looked at three models: CPC, CPA, and CPS. Each model has its advantages and applications, and understanding them can assist you in developing an effective earning plan for affiliate marketing.

Remember that the key is not to focus solely on one model but to understand your audience and niche and blend the models that best suit your goals.

Staying ahead in affiliate marketing requires constantly learning, adapting, and evolving your strategies as the digital marketing landscape evolves.

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