The Affiliates Guide To Cookies

cookie guideWhether you are an affiliate or an affiliate hopeful, you’ve most likely heard about cookies. After visiting a website, a cookie is sometimes stored on a visitor’s computer to track information about the visitor. In affiliate marketing, this is how affiliate programs track visitors who click on affiliate links. The success of clicks on these links depends upon ad copy, image placement, and also cookie length. Some people, however, have learned to abuse cookies with cookie stuffing, like with the case of Shawn Hogan who used this blackhat method to make over a million dollars a month.

Let’s break down the basics of cookies and how they apply to you as affiliate marketers.

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 (ROI) of your affiliate marketing campaigns.

How Do These Cookies Work?

Let’s say you have a review site for the Amazon Associates program, and someone visits your site and clicks an affiliate link. A cookie will be dropped on their computer to keep track of whether they make a purchase or not through your affiliate link. If a sale is made through this link of yours, then Amazon will award you with a commission.

The lifespan of an affiliate cookie varies depending upon the affiliate program. For example, with Amazon, they only have a 24 hour cookie. This means that if this visitor to your Amazon review site clicks an affiliate link and doesn’t make a purchase but bookmarks the Amazon product page for later, you can still receive an affiliate commission as long as the visitor makes a purchase within 24 hours of originally clicking your affiliate link.

Other affiliate programs have longer cookie lengths. Many are forced to expire after 30 to 90 days, while some affiliate programs have cookies that last for an entire year or even a lifetime as long as the user doesn’t clear their cookies in the web browser.

So if there’s a lifetime cookie for an affiliate program, even if a customer doesn’t make a purchase until over a year of clicking your affiliate link, you will still receive a commission for your referral.

Affiliate Cookies

Abuse of Cookies

Unfortunately, there are people out there who abuse this affiliate system with cookie stuffing. In most cases, this means forcing a cookie onto computers of users who didn’t even click an affiliate link on the page. One of the biggest instances of cookie stuffing was when Shawn Hogan, the owner of the internet marketing forum Digital Point, was charged with defrauding eBay and their affiliate program through the act. Shawn’s take on the whole saga is well worth a read.  By stuffing cookies on computers of his forum visitors, he was able to make about a million dollars a month from the eBay affiliate program. For that period of time, he was able to get commissions from his forum members who later intentionally visited eBay to make a purchase.

Don’t Try This at Home

For newbies and people wanting to steer clear of trouble – DO NOT cookie stuff. It can get your affiliate account banned forever, or worse, legal action can be taken against you, resulting in fines and/or jail time for your actions. Regarding the story mentioned above, Shawn Hogan was actually sued for his blackhat doings with the eBay affiliate program.

In addition, you still need to drive A LOT of traffic to your site to make a large amount in commissions through cookie stuff. The results tend to be over-hyped.

Best Practices to Ensure Cookies Get on Visitors’ Computers

Rather than resort to blackhat practices that can get you in murky waters with affiliate programs and the law, here are a few tips on getting those cookies on visitors’ computers in a whitehat manner.

1) Ad Copy

Learn to write good ad copy. Keep practicing as it’s one of the most valuable skills you can have as an affiliate marketer. Write content that grabs the reader’s attention and is engaging so you can keep their attention long enough to lead to a call to action where an affiliate link can be placed.

2) Image Placement

People love images. If you can grab their attention and interest them with images that get them to click, you can drive up conversions with your affiliate website.

You can use “Buy Now” buttons or anything like that as calls to action. In addition, “hero shots” of the product or service you’re advertising can be placed to the top right of the website or aligned to the left of your written content. These are some starting points known to drive up clicks and conversion rates of your affiliate links.

However, TEST! Experiment with image placement yourself to see which positions result in higher click-through ratios. Every niche and site is different, so don’t expect the same image placements to result in the same CTR’s.

3) Use Redirects for Affiliate Links

Use PHP redirects or the Pretty Link plugin if your site is WordPress-based to hide those long, ugly affiliate links on your site. This makes your links look cleaner and should definitely drive up click-through ratios.  If you are using WordPress, the simple Redirection plugin will allow you to do internal redirects.  I would also block the redirections from Google using your robots.txt file, see mine as an example here.

For example, rather than having a URL like www.mysite.com/affiliate-link83798429428748234894283479283xfdsfd987… you can use a PHP redirect or the Pretty Link plugin to change the URL to something like www.mysite.com/affiliate-link.

Looks cleaner and less sketchy, right? It seems like a link you are more likely to trust.

4) Sign Up for Trusted Affiliate Programs

Different affiliate programs have varying cookie lifespans and affiliate tracking systems. To ensure that your commissions are counted, sign up for only trusted affiliate programs that have a known positive track record.

Go and Make Money!

Now you have a basic idea of how cookies work, step up your game. Work on your ad copy and image placement to get people to click your affiliate links. Test variables on your packages to optimize your click-through ratios. Drive more traffic to your sites to get your cookies on more computers.

As long as you continually do the above, expect your bank account to rise.