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After I introduced affiliate marketing and its origins in the first article, today everything revolves around the different affiliate marketing tracking methods. I will also explain the advantages and disadvantages of each tracking method.

Success-based billing is the basic idea of affiliate marketing, in order to achieve this performance-based remuneration of affiliates, there are some technical measures, so-called tracking methods to measure the smooth allocation of transactions. In the following I will present the different tracking methods cookie tracking, URL tracking, session tracking, pixel tracking and database tracking with their advantages and disadvantages.


URL tracking uses a link that contains special parameters or IDs of the affiliate as a recognition scale. When a website visitor calls up the merchant’s website, the affiliate partner’s ID is transmitted, which leads to a clear identification of the visitor’s source. The partner ID is appended to the URL of the website operator, e. g. http://www.radbag.de/Partner-ID45624G24.


Due to the uniqueness of the partner ID, it is not possible for website visitors to reach the merchant’s website from other sites with the same partner ID. Another advantage of the URL-tracking method is the consistency of the tracking process, so that the session can be tracked regardless of the browser settings of the website visitor. This is particularly advantageous if the website visitor uses the browser in incognito mode and therefore no user-defined data can be transferred.


However, URL tracking also has serious disadvantages, which is why it is used in practice only in a few cases. The big disadvantage of URL tracking is that the affiliate is only remunerated if the website visitor performs a successful action directly after forwarding to the merchant’s website, which is also remunerated (purchase, subscribe to newsletters, app download). This has the consequence that if the customer carries out this action at a later time, the affiliate partner receives no commission. Especially in times of the mobile Internet, cross-channel tracking is indispensable. URL tracking cannot meet this requirement and is therefore only used by the large affiliate networks in combination with other tracking methods.


Cookie tracking is one of the most widely used tracking methods in affiliate marketing. Cookies are small files that are stored by various web applications when a website or mobile app is called up on the website visitor’s end device.  By storing cookies in web browsers, information about the Internet user is stored, this information is used to identify Internet users. Thanks to the storage of user information, recurring website visitors can be identified. The cookies can either be saved permanently or only for a specific period of time.


The cookie tracking ensures clear identification of the affiliates. When an Internet user accesses the Affiliate’s website, cookies are used to store the Affiliate’s ID in order to read it at a later point in time. By storing cookies, transactions can also be assigned to the affiliate at a later point in time. This is especially relevant because most transactions on the Internet are not spontaneous purchases, but purchases from repeat website visitors. The disadvantage of URL tracking, that only direct purchases can be remunerated, is compensated by cookie tracking. The runtime of the cookie tracking is predefined. In most cases this is between 30-60 days. In some exceptional cases, persistent cookies are also conceivable, which means that the affiliate will also be remunerated for transactions in the far future.


But the cookie tracking method also has a serious disadvantage. Every internet user has the possibility to delete cookies from the browser, which is a big disadvantage of cookie tracking. Deletion of cookies is a setting option in every Internet browser.

The Internet browser Google Chrome also offers the possibility of surfing in incognito mode, which means that it is not possible for website operators to store cookies on the end devices of Internet users from the outset. Another disadvantage is the lack of cross-device-tracking, so that the same Internet user cannot be tracked across multiple devices.


With Session Tracking, each Internet user is assigned a unique session ID for identification. The session ID stores user-specific information, such as the affiliate partner’s ID, and transfers it to the respective browser. If the internet user now clicks on an advertising medium of the affiliate and reaches the merchant’s website and performs a remuneration-based service, the affiliate receives the agreed commission as long as the session is not interrupted by the internet user. This is because, at the latest, when the Internet user closes the session by closing the Internet browser, the session can no longer be uniquely identified. This is a serious disadvantage for the affiliate, as it is not possible to trace the origin of the user, even if the browser is changed. The advantage of session tracking is that this method works without storing cookies.


Database tracking is one of the latest tracking methods in affiliate marketing. With database tracking, the partner ID is stored either from the URL or from the cookie together with the respective customer ID, so that not only individual transactions but also subsequent transactions can be assigned. Through this method, the affiliate is also paid a commission on future transactions. Consideration of follow-up transactions is a common method, especially in the case of lifetime commissions, as it is possible to achieve better identification by storing customer data including the partner ID. The most serious disadvantage of this method lies in the unequal treatment of affiliates, because new and active affiliate partners are not rewarded for the transmission of customers if the respective customer has already been registered in the database via another affiliate with its partner ID.


The method of pixel tracking is usually operated by affiliate networks, as in addition to the merchant, the affiliate network operator must also be notified by measuring the success, such as a conversion. The tracking pixel is a 1×1 pixel image in GIF format, which is implemented in an HTML code, usually on the thank you page of an online store, to notify the network operator when conversion is successful. The tracking pixel then sends the necessary information, such as total revenue and percentage commission to the network operator. Another special feature of my pixel tracking is that the affiliate’s link does not lead directly to the merchant’s website, but first of all to the affiliate’s web server. With this redirection via the web server of the affiliate network, the respective cookie is then set, which is read out later on successful conversion.


The clear advantage of this method lies in the simple implementation for the merchant, who only has to implement one HTML code on the success page. Another advantage of the affiliate’s security is that no orders are misappropriated by the merchant, as the affiliate networks are also notified of success as a neutral third party if the order is successful.

The only disadvantage is that tracking does not work if the website visitor has disabled viewing of images in his or her Internet browser.


A relatively new tracking method is fingerprint tracking. With this tracking method, a digital signature of the end device is created, which contains special information about the respective end device. The digital signature contains information on the browser version, the operating system, the language, and the add-ons used. Based on this information, a unique signature is created for each user. Identification based on this unique fingerprint is called fingerprint tracking.

Fingerprinting can only work flawlessly if the user initiates the commission-based transaction in the same browser and on the same terminal. The advantage of the fingerprint method is that no sensitive data is collected via the Internet user. It is also possible to recognize the user in different sessions as long as he uses the same terminal and the same Internet browser. This is one of the disadvantages of the fingerprint method, because as with most tracking methods, cross-device-tracking is not possible.


PostView tracking was first introduced in Germany in 2008 and is therefore one of the newer tracking methods in affiliate marketing. Since the beginning of postview tracking, it has been the subject of controversial debate due to its ease of manipulation. In PostView tracking, a visual contact between a website visitor and a merchant’s advertising material is already considered to be tracking-relevant. This means that performance-based measures such as sales or leads are already remunerated when an advertising medium is displayed without a click on the advertising medium being absolutely necessary.

A particular problem with PostView Tracking is the measurability of the perception of advertising media, since website visitors can perform a performance-based activity on the merchant’s website even without the perception of the specific advertising media. As a result, some affiliates had placed a large number of small advertisements on their own website in order to place as many cookies as possible from different merchants. Thus the affiliates were rewarded, although they did not make a significant contribution to promote a desired activity. Due to the potential for misuse, many merchants have banned PostView tracking as a tracking measure or have only allowed industry-known affiliates to unlock it.


Flash cookie tracking is an alternative method to ordinary cookie tracking. With conventional cookie tracking, cookies are set and stored in the website visitor’s browser. With so-called Flash cookie tracking, the cookies are not stored in the browser but in the Adobe Flash Player. However, this requires that the website visitor has the Adobe Flash Player pre-installed on his end device, which is a serious disadvantage of the Flash cookie tracking. Therefore, Flash cookie tracking is usually used as a supplement to the conventional browser cookie. Due to the storage in Adobe Flash Player, cookies cannot be removed by the cookie deletion in the browser, so that the user can be recognized when returning to the website, despite the deletion of cookies. Another advantage of Flash Cookies is the cross-browser tracking of user activities, so that all activities can be tracked via the end device’s browser.


Tobias Dziuba

Mein Name ist Tobias und ich bin Gründer & Geschäftsführer der Amazon Agentur Adsmasters GmbH mit Sitz in Düsseldorf.

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