Tracking Web Visitors – Learn How Affiliate Programs Work
As more and more companies are establishing their businesses on the Internet, affiliate programs have risen in popularity as a strong internet marketing tool. Assigned affiliates get rewarded for directing traffic and potential customer to the company’s website. This is an excellent way to earn some extra cash on your website, as an affiliate. Learn all about it!
Tracking web visitors to the correct affiliate
Thursday, Dec 20, 2007
Tracking web visitors is in the very core of the whole affiliate marketing business. If affiliates didn’t get paid for their referrals, the whole machinery would break down. So how does the tracking work?
A combination of tracking efforts
Tracking is done using several methods:
- Affiliate codes
- Tracking URL
- Cookie tracking
- IP tracking
All methods are used in combination to prevent visitors from falling through the sieve.
Affiliate codes and referral codes
When you sign up to an affiliate program, you get an individual affiliate code that is uniquely associated with your affiliate account. By telling your visitors to supply your affiliate code (or referral code) when they sign up with a merchant, the visitors will be connected to your affiliate account.
The codes to be used are found within your user area at the affiliate program site. Referral codes may also be combinations of your affiliate code and a specific code for some ongoing promotion within the affiliate program. By using such a code, you can give your visitors access to the promotion while receiving your affiliate commission.
Of course, there’s always a risk that the visitor forgets to specify the code when signing up with the merchant. This risk can be minimized by using tracking url’s.
In all banners and other links to the merchant that you put up on your site, use in your newsletters and so on, your affiliate code is part of the link url.
When a visitor follows your link to a merchant site, the merchant notes your affiliate code and registers the visitor as a customer referred by you.
The connection between customer and affiliate is usually carried out using cookie tracking.
When a customer first enters a merchant website, a cookie file containing the identity of the referring affiliate is stored on the customer computer.
Later on, when the customer makes a purchase at the merchant site (or takes some other payable action,) the merchant reads the cookie and finds the affiliate information. The agreed commission is credited to your affiliate account.
The cookie on the customer computer may be valid for a shorter or longer time, this time being referred to as the cookie period or cookie duration.
Merchants typically apply cookie periods from 30 to 90 days, but some cookies are valid “forever” and some expire as soon as the customer leaves the merchant site.
Affiliates prefer merchants with long cookie periods, simply because this increases the value of their referrals.
Customers being referred by several affiliates
If a customer comes to the merchant site a second time using a tracking url from another affiliate, the customer cookie is updated with the new affiliate code. The first affiliate is forgotten.
This makes it meaningful to have your visitors return to your site as often as possible (especially when working against merchants with long cookie periods.)
A few users prevent cookies from being placed on their computer – for fear of being spied at or the like. Even though their fears are uncalled for when it comes to merchant cookies, the behavior occurs.
To handle this problem, some merchants supplement their cookie tracking with IP tracking. This means that when a customer enters the merchant site using a tracking url from an affiliate, the merchant registers the customer IP address and registers it to the referring affiliate account.
In this way, when the customer makes a purchase at the merchant site, even if there’s no cookie on the customer computer, the connection to the correct affiliate can be established thanks to the customer IP address being recognized.
Of course, if a user changes computers, both cookie tracking and IP tracking risk being put out of action.
For example, if a person uses an office computer to visit a merchant site through an affiliate link and then performs a purchase from his or her home computer, there may be no cookie for the merchant to read, and the IP address may not be recognized.
Catching these visitors is more difficult, but then again, as long as you’re using referral codes or promotional codes as described above, this is not a problem.
Usually very good coverage
Despite all these methods being used in combination, you can not be entirely sure to catch all visitors. Nevertheless, at least 99% of all referrals on the web are properly captured, making this more of an academic question.
The tracking of web visitors generally works fine, and you can expect to receive due payments for your referrals!