Understanding Affiliate Cookies

Billie Hillier

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Affiliate Cookies

The advancements we have seen in the last few decades are astonishing, and while the technology itself is mind-boggling, the concept of ‘cookies’ often piques curiosity. Not the warm, mouth-watering kind that Grandma used to bake, but rather, the tiny pieces of data stored on your computer by a website that you visit.

Among the different types of cookies, one particularly important type to understand in the realm of online business is affiliate cookies.

Affiliate cookies are an integral part of affiliate marketing, a revenue-sharing plan where a website (the affiliate) promotes another company’s products or services. When a user from the affiliate’s site clicks a link to the product or service and makes a purchase, the affiliate gets a commission. The way the system verifies the origin of the transaction is through affiliate cookies.

Affiliate Cookies

Affiliate Cookies

What are Affiliate Cookies?

When a user clicks on an affiliate link, a small file – the cookie – is stored on their device. This cookie contains information such as the affiliate ID, the date of the click, and some details about the transaction. When a purchase is made, the website checks for the presence of the cookie. If it finds one and the information matches, it attributes the sale to the affiliate, and a commission is paid.

An important characteristic of affiliate cookies is their lifespan, also known as ‘cookie period’ or ‘cookie length.’ This defines how long the cookie stays on the user’s device after they click on the affiliate link. The duration can range from 24 hours (like Amazon’s affiliate program) to 30, 60, 90 days, or even indefinitely. The longer the duration, the better it is for affiliates because it gives the customer more time to make a purchase while the cookie is still active. (One of my favorite products I used to rock affiliate income with was a “lookbook” that had a 6-month cookie!)

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First-party vs. Third-party Cookies

Affiliate cookies can be classified into two types: first-party and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are set by the website the user is currently visiting. In the case of affiliate marketing, these cookies are usually set when a user clicks an affiliate link.

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are created by websites other than the one the user is currently visiting. These cookies are often used for online-advertising purposes and are set by advertising networks that the website participates in.

Recent trends have seen a shift towards using first-party cookies in affiliate marketing due to privacy concerns associated with third-party cookies. Several browsers have started blocking third-party cookies by default, making first-party cookies more reliable for tracking.

The Controversy Around Cookies

While cookies, in general, have courted some controversy due to privacy concerns, affiliate cookies are usually not considered intrusive. They don’t track personal information about the user; they merely note that a user has clicked on an affiliate link and made a purchase. However, they are part of the broader debate about cookies and online privacy.

Many users are uncomfortable with the idea of being ‘tracked’ online, even if the data being collected is not personally identifiable. This has led to the development of ‘cookie laws’ in many jurisdictions, requiring websites to disclose their use of cookies and often to obtain user consent. It’s crucial for affiliates to understand these laws and ensure compliance to avoid legal complications.

The Future of Affiliate Cookies

The future of affiliate cookies hangs in the balance, with the shift towards a more privacy-focused internet. Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and Google’s decision to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome by 2023 are a testament to this shift.

This could prompt a move towards non-cookie-based tracking methods, like fingerprinting or server-side tracking, which has their own advantages and challenges. Fingerprinting, for instance, is considered more invasive as it collects more data about the user’s device, while server-side tracking relies on more complex technology and cooperation between various parties.

The affiliate marketing industry will need to adapt and innovate to continue thriving in this changing landscape. Still, it’s likely that cookies in some form will remain a crucial part of the process due to their simplicity and effectiveness.

Affiliate cookies are a cornerstone of affiliate marketing, linking a user’s purchase to the affiliate who referred them and enabling the commission process. They are, however, part of the broader, more complex landscape of cookies and online tracking, a field that faces ongoing changes and challenges as the tension between effective marketing and privacy concerns continues to unfold.

In a world that’s ever more conscious of digital privacy, understanding how affiliate cookies work, how they are changing, and how they fit into the broader cookie ecosystem is crucial for affiliates, online businesses, and privacy-aware internet users.

Despite the controversies and challenges, cookies – and especially affiliate cookies – will continue to play a crucial role in the digital world.

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