I was talking with some friends recently and it was mentioned that affiliate tracking can be confusing!
Too often, affiliates do not understand how the tracking process works and end up missing out on what could have been a huge piece of the commission pie! Understanding how to use tracking cookies in affiliate marketing, to our advantage, is key to getting great results!
This is going to be technical, but the solutions are straight forward. If you’re not interested in the WHY, please skip the background information and scroll down to the “What if I Don’t Know My Chocolate Chip from My Oreo Cookies”
Background on How Affiliate Program Tracking Systems Work
There are three ways to accomplish affiliate sales tracking and affiliate links tracking. They are hand entered referral ID’s, first touch cookies and last touch cookies.
If you’re wondering “what is a tracking cookie“, it is simply a very tiny file or entry in a register, that is placed on your pc by a website. While cookies get a bad reputation, many of them are very useful. They often do simple things like enable you to stay signed in to yahoo when you move from one browser tab to another. The tracking cookies in affiliate programs simply contain the ID number of the person that referred you and should get credit for your sale. Affiliate program tracking cookies are relatively harmless to the consumer in most cases and can be a benefit for you when you properly get credited for a sale even if on a second visit the customer did not come through your special link.
The first touch cookie system gives the credit for the sale to the FIRST person to get the eventual customer to open the link. Once the tracked link is opened (and the tracking cookie deposited in the visitors browser) that customer is forever (not quite forever but some tracking cookies are good for 10 years!) locked under that particular affiliate. If a sale is made, at all, regardless of who eventually talks them into the sale and sends them through their link later, the sale will be credited to this first affiliate.
The last touch cookie system gives credit for the sale to the LAST person to direct the customer to the page. Regardless of how many times the customer has been to the page, the last person to send the customer there and get the sale receives the credit. Each new affiliate link places a tracking cookie and displaces the previous tracking cookie.
The Referral ID system requires the purchasing customer to enter the ID number or name of the person that referred them. While this is perhaps the fairest system for those that build relationships with their customers/clients, this system is notorious for decreasing conversion (the number of people that go from looking to buying). This system requires no cookie and the person registering from a completely different PC will not make an ounce of difference. While fair, this is used very little today in affiliate marketing due to the poor conversion. (In a way, MLM replica websites, which are not true websites from a SEO perspective, use this. The link has an embedded distributor ID. No cookie is placed, but the ID is read. This method auto-enters the referral ID. However in this matter those who do not return to exactly your site are lost as far as commissions go.)
In both the first and last touch scenarios, the affiliate program may also chose to use IP tracking. This is done in the main database and enables the appropriate affiliate to get credit for the sale even if the customer cleared their cookies. This cookie+IP combination is something that affiliates often have a love-hate relationship with. It does help ensure that credit for the sale goes to the correct affiliate. Nanacast is an example of a company that uses a combination system of “last touch cookie” and “IP tracking”. “First touch cookie” plus “IP tracking” likely also exist but I am not aware of a specific example.
Solutions for First Touch Affiliate System Cookies
A First Touch Cookie favors link spamming and Twitter marketing. It takes advantage of the “I got here first” principle even if it does not close the sale. It is ideal in places where the purchaser may not know you well enough to be willing to hunt you down to specifically purchase from YOUR link. First touch cookies are incredibly common. I cant say for sure that they dominate the industry but that may be the case.
Twitter is a first touch cookie’s dream environment. It becomes all about getting your link opened the most times, even if you do not build the relationship that will make the sale. Tweetspinner, SocialOomph and other Twitter scheduling tools are tools of choice for this method of tracking. (Please be observant of the FTC regulations regarding affiliate links on Twitter.) These cookies really help you out on twitter because they give you insurance against losing the effort you put into tweeting it, to someone else.
These cookies are not particularly suited for Facebook, where people are not as prone to click willy-nilly. On Facebook people are more likely to track down who they want to do business with and the relationship is far more vital.
If first touch cookies are in play, and someone has seen the page, yet wishes to purchase from YOU, then you need to assist them in clearing their browsers cookies BEFORE sending them to your link.
First touch systems often put a lot of effort into devising new methods to insert cookies in to browsers and also to protect affiliate internet cookies from clearing.
Solutions for Last Touch Affiliate System Cookies
The Last Touch Cookie favors the building of relationships, where you are able to hold the hand of the customer and be sure that they go through your link for the final purchase. This works best on Facebook and Skype/IM marketing. A last touch cookie is pretty straight forward when the link points directly to the sale page. It is often more confusing when that link points to a “halfway point” such as a webinar.
To make the most of last touch systems on Twitter, only the last handful of days/hours before the event or launch is particularly critical. You could spend all week advertising on twitter for an upcoming event launch, yet when the customer comes back near time, and is looking for a link, and grabs someone elses (that takes them to the same place) do not be surprised when you do not get the sale.
Because each new cookie displaces the last cookie, methods to protect affiliate internet cookies are rarely considered because you WANT to bump out the last guy and close the sale.
When Last Touch Occurs After a Non-Tracked Webinar or other Signup/Registration
One important piece of information to know is exactly which page is handling the tracking. In the case of events which may have multiple landing pages, it is VERY important to consult your affiliate program director to find out which one specifically enters the customer into the affiliate computer (this is always the same one that would give the customer their own affiliate ID). Today, many classes and events are announced at the tail-end of a free webinar. In the case of “last touch cookies” (explained below, and quickly becoming a favorite by many for these events) even though clicks on the webinar sign-up page appear to be tracked, and a cookie being placed, the cookie is not locked to a person until they made the purchase. What this means is that in these cases, webinar enrollment is unimportant. What does matter was who’s link they came through most recently before they got to the sales page. Too often, affiliates falsely assume that the webinar registration locks the cookie in place. This is usually not the case (check with your affiliate program director) and usually the webinar registration is important only for the sales pitch but from a sales crediting perspective only final sale is important.
For example: Lets say John is a customer. He has seen the “Free Webinar” announcements repeatedly on Twitter and Facebook and looked at them countless times. He first opened Jen’s link, but once he opened another link, that no longer mattered since this is last touch. He knew that this was affiliate and he wanted to help his friend Bob out, so he went to Bob’s link, opened it, and signed up for the webinar. A few days passed and sometimes he would open other people’s links, not knowing until he opened it that they were to the same event, and from Jan, Jill and Becky, in that order. He didn’t think anything of it because he had been a good friend and registered for the webinar with Bob. Now he attends the webinar, thinking he’s with Bob, but currently with Becky. He listens to it, and goes to the sales page and looks around. At this point, if he purchased, Becky would get the sale. Bob would be out in the cold. However, John wants to think about the purchase, and closes the page. Two days later when he’s ready to purchase, he cant find Bob’s link so he grab’s Jack’s. Now Jack’s cookie displaces Becky’s cookie and Jack gets the sale.
What if I Don’t Know My Chocolate Chip from My Oreo Cookie??
Often times, even if you’re a fan of reading fine print, it can be difficult to find out which tracking cookie type a particular affiliate host is using. In the case of Nanacast, which we are using for this class launch, you can find the information here, with the particular focus on points 1-5 under “Affiliate Management”. Other systems will have their information in different places.
However, even if you do not know, there are 3 steps you can take that will help you earn your commission in at least 75% of all cases. I know that this will NOT work in the case of “First Touch Cookies with IP Tracking” as the tracking is done on the host side and you can not un-do it.
- Have your client close the sales page in their browser.
- Walk your client through clearing their browser’s cookies. In Firefox (the browser of choice!) this is done by going to the upper toolbar and selecting Tools -> Clear Recent History… -> Put a Check next to Cookies -> Hit the Clear Now Button. In Internet Explorer version 8, this is done by going to the toolbar and selecting Tools -> Internet Options -> General Tab -> Browsing History section -> “Delete..” Button -> Put a Check next to Cookies -> Hit the Delete Button.
- Give the client YOUR affiliate link and have them complete the transaction/purchase/final enrollment. This will help ensure they do not open anyone else’s link in the meantime.
That’s it. That simple. It’s not 100% perfect but it is the best you can do.
There are no perfect affiliate program tracking systems, all three of them have their pros and cons. What is important is to understand what a tracking cookie is, how the systems work, and how to leverage them to get great results. Perhaps even more important is to understand them well enough so that you properly explain them to YOUR affiliates. When your affiliates get good results, you come out smelling like roses! Hopefully this answered many questions you may have had about how to achieve dynamite results with affiliate program tracking systems.