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Affiliate links guide
Affiliate links and sales tracking explained
Affiliate links are usually in this format:
That link is provided from affiliate network used to track
affiliate sales. Can look little different.
This is the most used format, and we will use it for explanation.
On some affiliate networks, a small pic code (tracking pixel)
is supplied along with affiliate link code.
It is used to count number of ad views (text links).
somedomain.com is affiliate network domain or some domain chosen
to set tracking cookie to visitor browser.
"a=1" means affiliate ID, or your affiliate number (number "1")
"b=2" can be translated: link number of this product is "2"
"c=3" can describe creative, for example, banner or text
ad used, or something other.
Most important are these two: your account number and product
link number. Adding that link to your site, you have everything
set what is necessary to track sale.
After clicking on link, visitor is forwarded to somedomain.com
On somedomain.com, software reads url (values after question mark)
and, according to number of product link (b=2) visitor is redirected
to merchant website (landing page). In meantime, tracking cookie is set
on visitor's computer.
Cookie is small text file now residing on visitor's computer.
Affiliate network set this for tracking purpose. It contains your
affiliate number and merchant number, date, sometimes some other info.
Now visitor is on merchant site. If he bought something or signed
for some membership, he is forwarded to, let's call that "Thank you" page.
There is small code inserted (small image linked from affiliate network site)
on that page. That code pulls that image (tracking pixel) from network site.
Tracking software from network site, activated with that tracking pixel,
reads from cookie your account number and merchant number, and your
account is credited with sale commission (percent of product price).
If visitor didn't buy anything, cookie is still on his computer.
So, next time if he returns to merchant site and buys, you will get
commission. In case that he returns to the same merchant clicking
on some other affiliate link, that affiliate will get commission,
not you, because your info in cookie is overwritten with his info.
Cookie life is usually set from 1 day to 90 days, depending of merchant
and affiliate network. After that period, cookie is expired.
This kind of sales tracking (using cookies) is not perfect.
Many questions in affiliate network or other forums are looking like this:
"My friend (sister, brother, wife, somebody you know) bought something
on merchant site using my affiliate link, but my account is not credited
(I didn't get commission)."
Often is reason that some kind of software installed on that
computer is blocking that cookie (can be firewall, some peer to peer
software or even spyware cleaner, or browser is simply set to not
accept cookies) If spyware is installed on that computer, cookie can
be overwritten with an other ID, giving commission to the other
affiliate using that spyware.
If there is no cookie with your ID, no commission for you.
Also, if merchant is updating pages, he can "forget" to include
tracking pixel again. Rare case, but possible, like pixel switching game too.
Last cookie gets commission. That is the rule on every affiliate network.
What means that next click on another affiliate link will owerwrite last cookie.
That rule is abused from various adware/spyware/parasites, cookie stuffers (forced clicks)
Include cookie blockers above, and we can't say that tracking using cookies is reliable.
Some other ways of sales tracking were in use (direct linking, referral check, IP tracking), but
they didn't show better results...
There is separate article about Commission hijacking, describing tracking
problems with more details.
Affiliate links protection
Hide your affiliate links.
There are few ways to hide affiliate url on your site.
- Redirection with meta refresh tag
- redirection using scripts
- Few examples and more here: affiliate links cloaking
- Hide affiliate links using htaccess: cloaking and redirection using htaccess
- Hide and redirect affiliate links using PHP: PHP redirection examples
- PHP link redirection script with masking: PHP redirection script download
Next part: How to calculate product conversion rate
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