Is Affiliate Marketing a Pyramid Scheme?

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for individuals and businesses to earn a commission by promoting products or services. However, questions often arise about whether affiliate marketing is legitimate or if it resembles a pyramid scheme. In this article, we will explore the key differences and provide guidance on how to evaluate affiliate marketing programs. 

Is Affiliate Marketing a Pyramid Scheme?

A pyramid scheme is a fraudulent business model in which individuals earn money primarily by recruiting others rather than by selling legitimate products or services. These schemes often promise high returns and rely on an ever-expanding network of participants. The structure resembles a pyramid, with those at the top earning the most, while those at the bottom typically lose their investments.

Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, is a legitimate business model where individuals or businesses promote products or services on behalf of a company. Affiliates earn a commission for each sale or action generated through their marketing efforts. It's a performance-based system where success depends on driving actual sales or conversions, not on recruiting new participants.

Key Questions to Evaluate Affiliate Marketing Programs

To determine whether an affiliate marketing program is legitimate or resembles a pyramid scheme, consider the following questions:

#1. Does the Affiliate Program Promote Real Products or Services?

Legitimate affiliate programs promote tangible products or valuable services. Ensure that what you're promoting has real value to customers.

#2. Is There a Focus on Recruitment?

Pyramid schemes prioritize recruitment, while affiliate marketing centers on promoting products or services. If recruitment is the primary focus, it could be a red flag.

#3. Are Commissions Tied to Sales or Actions?

In affiliate marketing, commissions are earned through successful sales or actions (e.g., sign-ups, clicks, or leads). Pyramid schemes often reward recruitment rather than actual sales.

#4. Do You Believe in the Product or Service?

An important aspect of affiliate marketing is genuine endorsement. Promote products or services you believe in and have experience with to maintain credibility.

Affiliate Marketing Examples

Let's examine some affiliate marketing programs to illustrate the concept:

Kajabi is an eLearning platform. Affiliates earn a commission for each customer they refer who purchases a Kajabi subscription. The commission structure is straightforward, with no recruitment-based earnings.

TalentLMS is an internal learning management system. Affiliates receive a commission for promoting this software. The focus is on providing the right solution to potential customers, not on recruitment.

LearnWorlds and TalentCards are alternative learning management systems with affiliate programs. The commission structure varies, but the emphasis is on matching the right product to the customer's needs.

Loom is a video messaging platform. While the affiliate commission is relatively low, affiliates promote it because they find it valuable and believe in its effectiveness.


Affiliate marketing is a legitimate way to earn commissions by promoting products or services you believe in. It differs significantly from pyramid schemes, which prioritize recruitment over the sale of real products or services. 

When engaging in affiliate marketing, focus on promoting valuable offerings and serving your audience's needs. Remember that affiliate marketing should complement your core business, not replace it.

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