Since I started doing affiliate marketing, I have seen and heard the word “cookies” thrown around a lot. I sort of knew what cookies were before I started and that you could turn off cookies on your browser. The impression I got was that cookies are “bad” and you don’t want them on your browser.
Now that I’ve been in affiliate marketing for a while, I have found that cookies aren’t all bad. There is a particular use for them in affiliate marketing, and used properly, they are the key to earning commissions from your affiliate partners. However, they also can be used to cheat and get commissions where you have not done anything to earn them. So, I decided, of course to look into cookies, what they are, and how they are used (and abused!). Here is what I found:
What Is A Cookie?
An HTTP cookie (also called web cookie, Internet cookie, browser cookie, or simply cookie) is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user’s computer by the user’s web browser while the user is browsing. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember arbitrary pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields such as names, addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.
Cookies perform essential functions in the modern web. Perhaps most importantly, authentication cookies are the most common method used by web servers to know whether the user is logged in or not, and which account they are logged in with. Without such a mechanism, the site would not know whether to send a page containing sensitive information, or require the user to authenticate themselves by logging in. The security of an authentication cookie generally depends on the security of the issuing website and the user’s web browser, and on whether the cookie data is encrypted. This is from Wikipedia
What’s Stored in Cookies?
A multitude of information can be stored in a visitor’s cookies such as his or her IP address, visit duration, date and time of visit, your affiliate ID, and even your website name. This is the information that affiliate programs use in their analytics to help you and their companies track clicks, conversions, and calculate overall return on investment of your affiliate marketing campaigns.
How Are Cookies Used On Affiliate Marketing Websites?
When a visitor to a website clicks on that link, a cookie with the affiliate ID is stored on their browser within a text file. The cookie stays in the customer’s browser for a short period of time, such as 30 or 60 days, or until the cookie is cleared from the browser manually.
For example, let’s say I am promoting Brand X. I have several Brand X products on my website that I want you to look at. You click on one of my Brand X links, and it takes you to Brand X’s website. The Brand X website will create a cookie that is unique to me, and places the cookie on your browser. Now, if you decide in the next 30 to 60 days (depending on the time limit in my affiliate partner contract) to make a purchase on the Brand X website from your computer, I will get a commission. The cookie basically marks me as the sales person of the item you buy, and pays me according to my contract.
“As you can see above, affiliate tracking cookies sound a lot more complicated than they really are. They mainly serve as a way for affiliate networks to track your links and ensure that you are receiving commissions for customers who come to their sites from your website, social networks, email lists, and other forms of traffic that you generate. From Affiliate Resources
Unfortunately, there are people out there who abuse this affiliate system with cookie stuffing.
“Cookie stuffing (also cookie dropping) is an affiliate marketing technique in which, as a result of visiting a website, a user receives a third-party cookie from a website unrelated to that visited by the user, usually without the user being aware of it. If the user later visits the target website and completes a qualifying transaction (such as making a purchase), the cookie stuffer is paid a commission by the target. Because the stuffer has not actually encouraged the user to visit the target, this technique is considered illegitimate by many affiliate schemes.” This is from Wikipedia
An example would be as follows: Let’s say you have a discussion forum on your website. You generally know the IP addresses of all your participants because of the cookies your website places on them for participating in your forum. Let’s say you “stuff” or “drop” a cookie on each of those IP addresses with your Brand X affiliate link in it. Thereafter, if a forum member visits the Brand X website and makes a purchase, then you get a commission. This is an unfair practice because you never mentioned Brand X in your forum.
“If you’ve been in the online marketing industry for a while, you may recognize the names Shawn Hogan and Brian Dunning. They’re the two affiliates that eBay and the FBI started pursuing in 2006 after suspecting that they were earning millions while violating eBay’s affiliate terms of service. According to court documents, Hogan made an astounding $28 million in affiliate commissions from eBay, and Dunning made $7 million. One way they did it, according to the FBI, was by using widgets that stuffed eBay tracking cookies in Web browsers.” This is from Marketing Land
“When it comes to using [cookies] in the right way, just make certain you’re reading the terms of service provided by your affiliate network. By doing this, you can make certain that you stay within compliance and possibly even find some great additional ways to generate traffic to your affiliate links and increase your earnings substantially by doing so.” From Affiliate Resources
Now that you know what a cookie is and how it can be used or abused, you can make better decisions:
- About how you want to keep, use, filter, or delete cookies on your own browser
- About how you will shop for affiliate partners and look for the longer duration time limit on their cookies, because a longer time can mean more sales.
For more information on affiliate marketing, and for the best training in the world, visit Wealthy Affiliate. See my posts about Wealthy Affiliate by clicking on these links:
Please put your comments and questions below, and thank you for reading!