Affiliate Tracking Challenges for Software Merchants

3 minutes

When software affiliates promote your products online, one of the most important aspects of this process is how you track the affiliate sales they refer to you. Accurate tracking is the keystone for a healthy and profitable relationship for both merchants and affiliates.

In most cases, affiliate tracking is done via cookies – when the user clicks an affiliate link, he will get an tracking cookie placed on his machine. This cookie will be then “recognized” once the action takes place (sale is finished) and the affiliates will receive their commission. The general rule that applies is “last click wins” meaning that the affiliate that last redirected the customer to make the purchase will get the commission.

But this isn’t always such a seamless flow; here are a couple of challenges from the affiliate tracking point of view for software vendors:

  1. The same order / lead comes with multiple affiliate referrals – this would mean duplicate commissions for affiliates – this can happen when you use multiple affiliate networks. It is possible that during the customer journey (that usually takes him to 2-3 websites before completing the action, according to a recent Forrester research), he gets 2 browser cookies from 2 affiliates in different networks. When the sale is complete you would have to send the commission to all affiliates involved.
    If you notice a high frequency for these cases, you should try and apply the “last click wins” principle, as in see which cookie has been set last and credit that affiliate for the sale. You can do that through an additional “local” cookie set on your website (see more details here) or check if the networks you’re working with have the ability to reject orders coming through affiliates when you know that cookie wasn’t the one generating the purchase.
  2. Merchant has local websites that work with different affiliate networks – this is a challenge for them, since they have to insure that all affiliates, regardless of the network they’re registered with, will be correctly tracked and paid. You could say that “each network has its territory” but it’s hard to believe that an affiliate’s traffic will originate 100% from one specific country / territory and so the clients coming from other countries will go to other websites and the affiliate that referred them will not be credited correctly.
    As a solution, we recommend tracking all the networks on all your local websites. You can keep the delimitation between networks on various territories, but the tracking codes should cover all the possible scenarios in order to have happy affiliates and correctly evaluate the performance of this sales channel.
  3. It is difficult/impossible to implement affiliate tracking with your payment processor – basically when you’re working with an affiliate network, you get a tracking code that you have to put on the order confirmation page (some call it “thank you” page). In order for that code to function properly, it may have some requirements associated to it.
    Make sure your payment processor can “deliver” in the thank you page the parameters required by the tracking script and that it’s easy for you to implement that script. Not all payment providers allow merchants to customize their confirmation pages.
  4. Landing page / custom build issues– you may have affiliates that are sending their traffic to dedicated landing pages on your domain or using custom builds for trial downloads. You have to insure that they will be correctly tracked upon the successful sale.
    Any flow originating from a landing page / trial application should be covered from the affiliates’ tracking point of view.

To wrap up, before launching your program on multiple affiliate networks, test each purchase flow and make sure all the affiliates will be tracked and they will get their commissions.

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