Some commentators originally suggested that affiliate links work best in the context of the information contained within the website itself. For instance, if a website contains information pertaining to publishing a website, an affiliate link leading to a merchant's internet service provider (ISP) within that website's content would be appropriate. If a website contains information pertaining to sports, an affiliate link leading to a sporting goods website may work well within the context of the articles and information about sports. The goal, in this case, is to publish quality information on the website and provide context-oriented links to related merchant's websites.
In contrast, the European Union's "Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive" restricts websites' ability to use consumer data much more comprehensively. The EU limitations restrict targeting by online advertisers; researchers have estimated online advertising effectiveness decreases on average by around 65% in Europe relative to the rest of the world.:58
Designed to create a huge amount of traffic at all times, these sites focus on building an audience of millions. These websites promote products to their massive audience through the use of banners and contextual links. This method offers superior exposure and improves conversion rates, resulting in a top-notch revenue for both the seller and the affiliate.
Affiliate marketing is commonly confused with referral marketing, as both forms of marketing use third parties to drive sales to the retailer. The two forms of marketing are differentiated, however, in how they drive sales, where affiliate marketing relies purely on financial motivations, while referral marketing relies more on trust and personal relationships.