The Technology Behind Affiliate Marketing

Tracking

Affiliate tracking is usually provided by a dedicated solutions provider. For the majority of affiliate programmes, this is provided by an affiliate network, though dedicated tracking vendors also contribute and some retailers use in-house solutions – notably Amazon.com.

Cookies

Affiliate cookies are generally benign and harmless, and should never contain any sensitive information, but they are occasionally blocked by antivirus or privacy software. To help maintain tracking if this happens they are usually combined with one or more of the methods discussed below.

Did you know?

Cookies are used to track most affiliate transactions. The first affiliate programme to use them was Amazon back in 1996!

Flash-based Tracking

In response to concerns that cookies could be blocked, (Adobe) Flash-based tracking uses the internal Flash local storage to perform a similar function to cookies. Flash cookies are harder to delete than normal cookies. Flash cookies can cause problems with some browsers – if they are not equipped to display Flash then they can break the affiliate linking process.

The HTTP “e-tag”

The e-tag implements a tiered approach to tracking – first checking cookies, then Flash Cookies, and then the “e-tag”. Essentially the e-tag is a piece of information logged in the web browser cache. The e-tag is now used by several affiliate networks and tracking products.

IP Address

Your IP address could be a way to identify you online. Some ISPs or locations (for example an office) may share the same IP address for several computers, so this is not foolproof, but it can be a useful backup to help identify different customers. The popularity of laptops, iPads and other mobile devices mean that one computer may use several IP addresses as it moves around.

IP addresses are not used in any mainstream affiliate tracking solutions to allocate commissions, but they are often used to help detect fraudulent activity and non-standard behaviour.

Residual tracking

Residual tracking allows affiliates to earn commission for an extended period, or even the life of a customer by creating a permanent association between a customer and the affiliate who referred them. This is typically done by associating a customer or member record with the ID of the affiliate associated with it (also known as database tracking). Once the merchant’s system knows that customer “A” is related to affiliate “Z” it can allocate the correct reward or commission whenever appropriate and does not rely on cookies or any other type of third-party tracking.  Often used by the online gaming community.

Promotion specific tracking

Some affiliates provide enough volume to justify the creation of exclusive campaigns and promotions. Because these offers are only for one partner it is reasonable to allocate all activity on that campaign to the affiliate partner. This can be done on an informal basis or can be tracked through some affiliate network.

The most common application of this is the ability to tie a specific exclusive voucher code to an individual affiliate. Every time the code is used the transaction is registered to that affiliate and overrides any other tracking cookies or information.

Now that you have a better understanding of the technology behind affiliate marketing, find out how to get started and start earning commissions in New Zealand with Slice Digital.