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Tracking methods in affiliate marketing

After introducing affiliate marketing and its origins in the first article, today's post is all about the different tracking methods in affiliate marketing. I will also discuss the Advantages & disadvantages of the respective tracking methods.

Performance-based billing is the basic idea behind the Affiliate marketingIn 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 explain the different Tracking methods Cookie tracking, URL tracking, session tracking, pixel tracking and database tracking with their advantages and disadvantages.

URL Tracking

With URL tracking, a link that contains special parameters or IDs of the affiliate is used as a recognition feature. When a website visitor accesses the merchant's website, the affiliate partner's ID is transmitted, which leads to clear identification of the visitor source. The affiliate ID is appended to the URL of the website operator, for example

Advantages of URL tracking:

The uniqueness of the partner ID means that website visitors cannot access the merchant's website from other pages 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 website visitor's browser settings. This is particularly advantageous if the website visitor uses the browser in incognito mode and therefore no user-defined data can be transmitted.

Disadvantages of URL tracking:

However, URL tracking also has serious disadvantages, which is why it is only used in a few cases in practice. The main disadvantage of URL tracking is that the affiliate is only remunerated if the website visitor takes a successful action immediately after being redirected to the merchant's website, which is also remunerated (purchase, newsletter subscription, app download). This means that if the customer takes this action at a later point in time, the affiliate partner does not receive any commission. Commission receives. Cross-channel tracking is indispensable, especially in the age of the mobile Internet. URL tracking cannot meet this requirement and is therefore only used by the large affiliate networks in combination with other tracking methods.

Cookie Tracking

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 on the website visitor's end device when they access a website or mobile app. By storing cookies in web browsers, information about the Internet user is stored; this information is used to recognize Internet users. Thanks to the storage of user information, returning website visitors can be recognized, among other things. Cookies can either be stored permanently or only for a specific period of time.

Advantages of cookie tracking:

Cookie tracking ensures that affiliates are clearly identified. When an Internet user accesses the affiliate's website, cookies are used to store the affiliate's ID so that it can be read at a later date. By storing the cookies, transactions can also be assigned to the affiliate at a later point in time. This is particularly relevant as most transactions on the Internet are not spontaneous purchases, but purchases by returning website visitors. The disadvantage of the URL trackingThe fact that only direct purchases can be remunerated is offset by cookie tracking. The duration of cookie tracking is predefined. In most cases, this is between 30-60 days. In some exceptional cases, a permanent cookie is also conceivable, whereby the affiliate is also remunerated for transactions in the distant future.

Disadvantages of cookie tracking:

However, the cookie tracking method also has a serious disadvantage. Every Internet user has the option of deleting cookies from the browser, which is a major disadvantage of cookie tracking. Deleting cookies is a setting option in every Internet browser.

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

Session Tracking

With session tracking, each Internet user is assigned a unique session ID for identification purposes. The session ID stores user-specific information, such as the ID of the affiliate partner, and transfers this to the respective browser. If the Internet user now clicks on one of the affiliate's advertising media and accesses the merchant's website and performs a payment-based service there, the affiliate receives the agreed commission as long as the session is not interrupted by the Internet user. This is because the Internet user can no longer be clearly identified once the session is ended by closing the Internet browser. This is a serious disadvantage for the affiliate, as it is no longer possible to trace where the user came from, even if they change browser. The advantage of session tracking is that this method also works without storing cookies.

Database tracking

Database tracking is one of the newer tracking methods in affiliate marketing. With database tracking, the affiliate ID is saved either from the URL or from the cookie together with the respective customer ID, so that not only individual transactions but also follow-up transactions can be assigned. Using this method, the affiliate is also paid a commission on future transactions. Taking follow-up transactions into account is a common method, especially for lifetime commissions, as this allows better identification by saving the customer data including the affiliate ID. The most serious disadvantage of this method is the unequal treatment of affiliates, as new and active affiliate partners are not rewarded for referring customers if the respective customer has already been recorded in the database via another affiliate with their partner ID.

Tracking methods affiliate marketing

Pixel tracking

The pixel tracking method is generally used by affiliate networks, as the affiliate network operator must also be notified by the success measurement, such as a conversion, in addition to the merchant. 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, in order to notify the network operator of a successful conversion. The tracking pixel then sends the necessary information, such as total sales 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 via the affiliate network operator's web server. During this redirection via the affiliate network's web server, the respective cookie is then set, which is read again later if the conversion is successful.

Advantages & disadvantages of pixel tracking:

The clear advantage of this method is the simple implementation for the merchant, who only has to implement an HTML code on the success page. Another advantage is the security for the affiliate that no orders are misappropriated by the merchant, as the Affiliate networks a notification of success as a neutral third party.

The only disadvantage is that tracking does not work if the website visitor has deactivated the display function for images in their Internet browser.

Fingerprint tracking

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

The Fingerprinting can only work properly if the user triggers the respective commission-based transaction in the same browser and on the same end device. The advantage of the fingerprint method is that no sensitive data about the Internet user is collected. In addition, it is possible to recognize the user in different sessions as long as he uses the same end device and the same Internet browser. This is also one of the disadvantages of the fingerprint method, because as with most Tracking methods cross-device tracking is not possible.

Postview Tracking

PostView tracking was first introduced in Germany in 2008 and is therefore one of the newer tracking methods in affiliate marketing. Since the start of post-view tracking, it has been the subject of controversial debate due to the ease with which it can be manipulated. With PostView tracking, even one visual contact of a Website visitor with an advertising medium of the merchant as 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.

Problematic with PostView Tracking is in particular the measurability of the perception of advertising material, as website visitors can carry out a performance-related activity on the merchant's website even without perceiving the specific advertising material. This led to some affiliates placing a large number of small ads on their own website in order to place as many cookies as possible from different merchants. In this way, affiliates were remunerated even though they made no significant contribution to promoting a desired activity. Due to the potential for abuse, many merchants have banned PostView tracking as a tracking measure or only allowed affiliates known to the industry to activate it.

Flash Cookie Tracking

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

In the third part of the affiliate marketing series, I will focus on the different commission models to talk about!

Tobias Dziuba

My name is Tobias and I am the founder and managing director of the Amazon agency Adsmasters GmbH based in Düsseldorf.

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