Why Are Cookies Used On Websites? What You Need To Know


Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesSince 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:

Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesWhat 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

Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesWhat’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.

Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesHow 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.

Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesWhy Affiliate Partners Use Cookies

“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

Why Are Cookies Used On WebsitesAbuse of Cookies

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.

Why Are Cookies Used On Websites“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

In Conlusion

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.
  • About how to use cookies carefully and fairly in your web business

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:

Wealthy Affiliate ReviewWhy Are Cookies Used On Websites

Common Wealthy Affiliate Complaints

Wealthy Affiliate Testimonials

More Info on Wealthy Affiliate

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Please put your comments and questions below, and thank you for reading!










Rhonda Stetson


  1. Thank you for helping me understand cookies and how they are used in affiliate marketing. I have a question on cookie browser storage. If a user deletes their browsing history and then makes a purchase, would I still get the affiliation rewards or would I lose out? Also, if a user is using an incognito mode or browser, are cookies still stored with the session to track activity? Many thanks for your help.

    • Hi Ben, thanks for the comments and questions.  On one of the sites I used for researching this post.  Yes, if a user deletes their history, then makes a purchase, then you will lose out on the commission.  And no, if using incognito mode, a cookie is not left.  Please see articles here and here.  Thanks again for reading and commenting.  Rhonda  

  2. Thanks for this informative article,  I realized and understood what cookie is to identify users and possibly prepare customized Web pages or to save site login information for you. When you enter a website using cookies, you may be asked to fill out a form providing personal information; like your name, email address, and interests

    • Hello and thanks for reading my post.  We see those sites all the time that ask for that information.  It is really nice to have it saved for you when you visit a site regularly.  I know Google uses cookies all the time, because they put up ads of things I’ve been looking at recently.  Anyway, thanks again for reading and commenting.  Rhonda

  3. Very Insightful post. I simply call it a tracking bot system which can help website owner to track the visitor activity or their behavior which will help in the re-marketing and give more optimization to targeting audience, what is user searching on the website. On the other hand, it also gives visitor better user experience, visitor may have face face better user experience on website. You’ve said it though. This post is definitely worth sharing.


    • Hi Jordan, thank you for reading and commenting.  It is a tracking bot system that works just how you said it does.  It sure helps in the long run to be able to analyze your traffic, so you know what is working and what is not.  Thanks again for your comments.  Rhonda

  4. Hi Rhonda,

    You really have explained to a great level of details about use (and abuse) of cookies in affiliate marketing and its importance to be compliant. 

    I just have a few queries if I have missed them while reading.

    Is there a way for the website to find out a previously suspended user who made a new account using a VPN?

    Are there any other gadgets websites use to track people’s behavior?

    How does the website handle other countries cookies?

    Thank you for putting together this helpful information.

    • Hello Anusuya, I’m sorry but I’m a beginner at this, and you are talking way over my head.  I will have to research all of those points and get back with you.  Thanks, however, for reading and commenting.  Rhonda

  5. Very Educative ! I have always wondered what cookies meant and its effect on my daily affairs on the internet. I must thank and commend this post. The use of simple language and illustrations made it easy to understand and relate with. I use to think it was an unimportant setting I don’t really need,until now. The most interesting part is that I could earn little commissions from my affiliate partners through cookies. Wow!. Thanks for posting this review and I’m hoping to learn more things from you.

    • Hi Willy, thank you for reading and posting.  And thanks for saying you want to learn more from me!  I am really glad you learned something from my post.  Yes, I didn’t know what cookies were about either until I did the research for this piece.  So now we both know more about why we need those cookies!  Thanks again Willy!  Rhonda  

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