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Managing Affiliate Tracking in 2024

Affiliate tracking in 2024

Steven Brown

At Moonpull we frequently get asked how to improve tracking and in many cases it’s more a question about understanding tracking. This has been the subject of several Linkedin conversations over recent months as attention is turning towards tracking in 2024.

James Little of TopCashback highlighted issues they had identified – and in some cases resolved with the assistance of the advertiser in a post in September; as did Chris Said of Genie Group in a later post. James also reported on a set of meetings with leading UK affiliate networks at the start of December to discuss challenges with affiliate tracking heading into 2024.

The interest shown at September’s PI Live panel on tracking with one of the largest audiences of any panel at the event, also indicates that all in the industry are starting to take the issues around consent and third party deprecation are starting to be fully addressed.

We have put together a collection of thoughts for users of affiliate tracking to think about heading into 2024. 

We wanted this to be a focus on best-practice for first party tracking and have suggestions to add into your own checklist in the summary. This article finishes with a few thoughts on third party tracking.

Conceptually tracking is simple

An affiliate sends a user to an advertiser and the user buys something generating a commission.  So there is a referral to record, and a sale also to record and allocate to the referral. Therefore a memory is needed between the two as illustrated here:

record
of
referral

memory
joining
the two

record
of
sale

Embrace the Memory Cookie 

Almost all affiliate tracking has this memory stored in a cookie or local storage. As the checkout page is usually a secure page it generally is reliable (and less likely to suffer inadvertent degradation). Therefore the first question with regards to a tracking issue should usually be ‘is the memory cookie present’? Moonpull published a view on the memory cookie in this article.

Tracking Integration

manage affiliate tracking in 2024

Technical integrations can be complex – learn the language that can help you communicate with developers

Tracking quite quickly becomes complex, however having the language to describe typical implementations is achievable for all. This becomes even more important where an advertiser may partner with several networks across multiple territories.

As well as terms like the memory cookie, there are a small number of concepts like the ‘Affiliate Network identifier’ to appreciate. We outline the Moonpull approach to this in this article.

Cookie and Privacy Consent 

British Airways cookie consent banner

Consent processes are a complexity needing understanding, indeed they are constantly changing

The consumer protections leading to consent processes being more prevalent are an important part of the legislative framework in many territories.  They have far reaching implications for affiliate marketing as they lead to tracking tags and cookies (so the vital memory) not appearing without consent.  Moonpull estimates 40% of UK affiliate traffic is now subject to user consent as outlined in this article on Cookie Compliance.

Consent processes can be friendly

There are many approaches to complying with the law.  There is the Californian phrase of ‘do not sell my data’ appearing on buttons and links controlling first party tracking. There are also friendly and brand-consistent ways to gather consent. Some are illustrated in this article on Cookie consent banners.  Consent gathering doesn’t need to be scary.  

Cookies and local storage are part of the short and medium term tracking environment.

A memory is essential for tracking ‘back to the click’ therefore cookies and local storage are vital parts of the armoury.  Indeed, probably for the long term too.

Cookie deprecation on Chrome is going to happen and impact all online marketing

cookie deprecation on google

Cookie deprecation is going to impact every third party tracking method and all businesses utilising such tracking will have to adapt from January.  Colleagues in other areas of online marketing may also be pulling their hair out.  Managing both deprecation and the consent matters applying to first party tracking (that survives deprecation) is a challenging double whammy.

Google is essentially going to utilise estimates, or modelling in GA4.  A nice summary linking to affiliate marketing is in this Hellopartner article reporting on discussions at the November 2023 Publisher Roundtable, hosted by Moonpull 

The tracking half life is a useful concept

Tracking implementation across all of an advertiser’s pages can break one small piece at a time.  Therefore matters aren’t picked up, but over time add up.  Examples are that a new offer might not be tagged properly, or the handling of recommendations leads to redirects not passing the affiliate network identifier to the final page.

Be aware of the common ways that tracking breaks in order to spot it

Often spotting where tracking is breaking is easy if you know where to look.  Moonpull highlighted many ways breakage occurs for those managing tracking in a blog article with tips to fix tracking issues.

Monitoring tracking involves both detective and preventive measures

Financial institutions often talk about preventative and detective controls. Losses due to tracking may be considered financial losses and therefore the same thinking is helpful.  Detective controls applied to sales data days, weeks or months after promotional activity can show anomalies but usually can’t retrospectively get events recorded as they should have been after the event.

Preventative controls are checks prior to promotion. For example, if a publisher is about to send 10,000 clicks to an offer page, they should check that the tracking will work, perhaps by a test purchase or by confirming the memory cookie is being established as anticipated. Moonpull Link Assurance is designed specifically to help all parties to understand this.

Understand that new offers and deeplinks can have compromised tracking even though a home page tracks ok

Most big advertisers have good first party tracking on their home pages.  But many may not be tracking on certain deeplinks or offers due to accidental oversight.  For instance, during 2023 an international advertiser had a home page with a timely promotion but no first party tracking for a few weeks – it happens.  

Ultimately advertisers with good tracking have better programs that those with compromised tracking

Quite simply, it’s easier for an affiliate manager to build a program where they know what aspects of the program are working well and which aspects are not.

Source of Truth for Affiliate Tracking

In 2024, Affiliate managers at brands will have to explain affiliate tracking to colleagues more than ever.   

Discrepancies with brands’ other online marketing appraisal platforms (including GA4 or Adobe) will be more common as brands manage consent and deprecation matters.  Having a good understanding and confidence in a robust affiliate tracking solution makes it more likely the affiliate measurement will be accepted as a source of truth for the channel even if the overall appraisal is via an ecommerce-wide measurement solution.  

Articles by Awin and CJ are must-reads for affiliate managers in businesses using GA4. Awin’s article offers advice on how advertisers should navigate the changes from US to GA4 and how that impacts affiliate tracking. Similarly, CJ Affiliate offers in depth advice and best practice for managing the tracking issues. 

Third Party Tracking

Third party tracking can give false reassurance

Third party tracking is great as it often kicks in when first party methods are not present or fail. Whilst third party tracking can still work on Chrome, it’s great to have. However, users need to check for the possible ‘cliff’ from false reassurance when deprecation happens.  

This cliff is where a first party solution is found to be compromised only when the sales thought to be by that method dry up because they were actually third-party driven.  The time needed to rectify this will vary on an advertiser by advertiser basis, however no party in the affiliate channel will want to suffer from this type of event.

Publishers care about how tracking is implemented and want to be involved in the conversation

Publishers are planning how they navigate the implications of consent and deprecation on top of ongoing breakages.  The brands and networks that lead the conversation will have better programs as publishers double down where they have confidence. In troubled financial markets commentators often talk about a ‘flight to quality’. We envisage that affiliate marketing in 2024 will see a similar flight.

Preparing Tracking for 2024

In summary, a checklist for advertisers and their affiliate management agencies should include a number of key auditing points; it’s worth looking at the hierarchy in the affiliate tracking as well. This list is by no means exhaustive and conversations with your tracking provider and publishers are highly encouraged.

  • Ensure first party tracking is implemented correctly throughout the website
  • Confirm this by regular testing so you’re not caught unaware by inadvertent changes
  • Ensure 404 redirects are enabled to pass tracking parameters through
  • Include a check for affiliate tracking in any new category, navigation or offer/promotion landing pages
  • Check for third party tracking links and prepare for removal ahead of full deprecation
  • Assess the impact of your cookie consent platform and assess how this affects correct attribution to your publisher partners 
  • Communicate your plans for any tracking changes to publishers 

2024 will pose problems for many in the affiliate marketing industry, though with adequate planning and communication with all partners, these can be navigated. Those advertisers who do all this successfully will be those that publishers will migrate to in the ‘flight to quality’.

If you would like to see more of how Moonpull can benefit your own business, we’d love to hear from you.
Please drop us a line on the Contact page

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