Affiliate Tracking Links

As we’ve seen in the Sales Cycle, moving the customer through that cycle to the shopping cart is the heart of online marketing. At the appropriate point, the affiliate provides hyperlinks that send their prospect to the merchant. This is where the “rubber hits the road” in the affiliate/merchant partnership. The key is to have the right links to the right landing page at the right time.

The merchant should provide landing pages that will work at various stages in the sales cycle. The affiliate must place those links within the right context of their content.

It is very helpful if the merchant provides a very flexible linking structure so that the affiliate can adjust them for correct movement down the sales cycle.

When appropriate, merchant links should take the visitor to the home page and when appropriate the merchant should offer “deep linking” so the visitor can be sent to the appropriate point in the sales cycle perhaps closer to the shopping cart.

How Link Tracking Works

The affiliate tracking process is managed by a partnership between merchants, affiliates, and usually an Affiliate Network. The Affiliate Network acts as an independent 3rd party in the transaction providing reporting, taking responsibility for process accuracy, and paying the affiliate.

Some merchants have their own affiliate tracking system in-house. This approach has both good and bad points. We’ll talk about the benefits of each later.

When a visitor clicks on an affiliate’s link a tracking cookie is placed on their computer by the code embedded in the link. Cookies send information about the visitor to both the network and the merchant so they can track details of the sale.

Here’s a simplified chart of the relationship…

affliate marketing tracking

The steps work like this…

  1. Affiliate gets links in the form of banners, text links, or dynamic images from Merchant/Network and places them on their site.
  2. The Affiliate site’s visitor clicks on that link and it takes them to the Merchant’s site. This loads a “cookie” onto the Visitor’s browser.
  3. The merchant reads this cookie and knows which Affiliate site prompted the click by reading the cookie. If the Visitor doesn’t buy on the first visit but buys on a subsequent visit, the Merchant still tracks the cookie and makes sure that it has not expired. The number of days that a cookie is active is called Return Days.
  4. Once the Visitor buys, the Merchant sends the transaction details to the Network where it too can read the cookie and complete the affiliate transaction. The Network can see exactly which link started the process and other transaction details for reporting to both the merchant and affiliate.
  5. The Merchant makes payment to the Network and they take their share of the sale. The Network then provides payments and reporting to the affliate.

Link Structure

Because in most cases affiliate links are managed by a third party affiliate network like LinkShare, ShareASale, or Commission Junction, actual linking structure is determined by them. This means each Network will have their own structure and way of doing it.

The typical affiliate link for LinkShare looks like this:

You can see that most link coding is created by adding a parameter to the HTML. The “HAu1SQdrPCo is the affiliate ID which indicates which affiliate generated the click. The 101543 part of the code indicates link details including type if link (text, banner, etc,) and the landing page. The “10000062” indicates the merchant.

Every affiliate (and of course merchant) should be very familiar with the linking structure for each network. This will enable them to understand the links and how to change links to meet their needs yet still track sales.

Tracking code for each Network will have variations on the structure but will always have an Affiliate ID and some indication of which page the link will go to.

Below is an example of a ShareASale link code…

In this link “28894” is the code for the merchant, “191798” is the code for the affiliate, and “6637” is the code for the landing page. Notice that you have additional parameters that you can add if you wish. The “urllink” parameter lets you choose your own landing page and the “afftrack” lets you add your own tracking code. ShareASale offers a very flexible linking structure as you can see.

Banner Links

Code for banners will also ad information about the image source location as well.

Here’s the code for a LinkShare banner…

<a target=”_new” href=””>

<img src=”” border=0></a>

Text Links

Text links work the same way and also add the text string for the marketing message…

<a href=””>Clearance</a>

This link provides a link on the word “Clearance that takes the visitor to the clearance landing page.

Datafeed Links

Datafeed links work exactly the same way and usually contain a combination of text links and product links. Click here to see a typical datafeed page. Notice that besides links the datafeed contains product information. This content can be found by the SE spiders and can help get better listings in the SERPs.

DRM Links

A Dynamic Rich Media link could contain any combination of text, banner, and product links. They are based on javascript and are served by either the network or the merchant. Click here to see a sample of what a DRM looks like. The beauty of a DRM is that it requires just one line of code on the affiliate’s site. Here’s the code that an affiliate would add to their page to create this link.

<script src=”[SITE.CODE]”></script>

The affiliate would replace where you see [SITE.CODE] with their affiliate ID and the correct tracking would be added to all the embedded links. Notice that the actual file, DRM_Hot_9up_550.jsp resides on the GigaGolf server. When GigaGolf changes the original file the changes would be automatically reflected on the affiliate’s site. In this case GigaGolf changes the content on their Hot Products DRM every month.

So that’s some details on linking structure and how it applies to the various types of links. Contact BitCom if you have any questions.