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Understanding Compromised Tracking

PI-live conversations

Two Questions on Affiliate Tracking

Chris Tradgett

Since the start of the journey in building Moonpull, the two questions that regularly crop up in conversations with publishers and OPMs are:

Which networks are best or worst?

Are we missing out on commission due to poor tracking?

The most important question that is not asked is “How does a publisher’s advertiser mix impact on their commission losses.”

To answer these, Moonpull has analysed outputs from regular running of the Moonpull1000 set of affiliate links. This set of data allows us to understand tracking limitations across a wide portfolio of networks and advertisers. To date this has been principally the UK and the US, including links from 12 major networks, but the learnings are applicable to all territories. 

Broadly this leads to an initial answer to those questions: 

  • The Networks are actually pretty good. There are of course variations in approaches and some appear to perform better than others. The network’s advertiser mix is important to its relative number of tracking challenges and thus commission losses (both in terms of its override and the publishers’ earnings).
  • Across a typical basket of advertisers, Moonpull estimates a diversified publisher (cashback, vouchers, broad shopping mix) is losing up to 14% commission from a combination of absent or broken first party tracking (5%) and user consent being declined (9%).

But of course, within the complex environment of ecommerce and affiliate tracking, it’s never going to be quite that simple. So let’s dig deeper into the detail.

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3 Key Reasons for Tracking Issues

The starting point to understanding the issues around commission erosion is to recognise the three key reasons for tracking issues:

  • Broken first party tracking
  • Absent first party tracking (advertisers on only 3rd party tracking)
  • The Increasing prevalence of user-consent controlled tracking

 

There are many elements and moving parts involved. This article necessarily just scratches the surface in many areas. 

We have also identified that some networks have quite different tracking approaches that can impact on their advertisers’ tracking (for better or worse). However, the main conclusions we can draw remain the same.  

Third party tracking methods are still used, usually only as a backup method for many networks. Networks are at different stages of having network-wide  first party tracking from what Moonpull is detecting; so this can never be a simple picture overall. 

The change in Chrome’s deprecation date for 3rd party cookies, from later this year to 2023 and now to 2024 has perhaps led to a perception that migration to first party tracking is less urgent a matter. This is simply not true as there is a significant loss of commission that affiliates will experience from all programs still relying on 3rd party tracking due to ITP and Safari/Firefox browsers blocking them. This systemic failure of third party tracking (perhaps 35% of UK internet usage) is the primary driver for networks to complete the move to first party tracking.

Regional Differences

It is important to stress that Moonpull reports on an industry-wide basis and not on network-specific data.

Moonpull’s view is that networks generally have their ‘best-practice’ tracking of comparable quality. One area where networks’ tracking approach can differ is in the extent and effectiveness of their  monitoring and management of advertisers implementations over time. The importance of their advertiser mix is also key as evident by the variation in user-consent controlled tracking.

There are also differences in tracking reliability across territories as privacy concerns are turned into a legal framework. Continuing announcements from across the globe show that this is a worldwide phenomenon and online businesses need to adapt in each case when utilising cookie consent management platforms (CMPs). Moonpull data on user-consent controlled first party tracking in the UK versus the US illustrate this:

UK NetworksUS Networks
24% of one network’s clients
had conditional tracking (highest)
All networks had 10% or less of clients
with conditional tracking
4% of another networks clients
had conditional tracking (lowest)
Some were 0% (No CMPs and/or
no conditional tracking)

One matter this data emphasises is that the importance of advertiser mix is just as relevant to publishers as it is to networks. Moonpull’s recommendation to publishers is to understand both specific advertisers and the underlying networks approach to consent-controlled tracking.

Most publishers will also be statistically monitoring conversion rates of click to sale as a basic warning signal of tracking changes. Where there is a marked change in conversion, that may be as a result of an advertiser making changes in a variety of areas, for instance pricing competitiveness or even down to seasonal and/or weather reasons. Regular analysis using a Moonpull account can provide clarity on many – not all – causes of tracking failure, as well as a report to enable the advertiser and network to understand the corrections/improvements necessary for the benefit of all in the relationship.

The Next 12+ Months

The affiliate industry is continually in a state of flux as the landscape evolves. Advertisers are increasingly adopting conditional tracking (+33% in 9 months) and this trend is likely to continue. For instance, Google had to buckle under to EU legislation to make consumer choices clearer as this performancemarketingworld article explains.

Networks are addressing the prevalence of third party tracking in parallel with its deprecation on Chrome (now scheduled for 2024). 

The picture is inevitably more complex than we’ve outlined and this article scratches the surface in many areas. It is worth repeating that some networks have quite different tracking approaches that do impact on their advertisers tracking (for better or worse) but the main conclusions remain the same.  

Conclusion

All players need to understand tracking and the impact of increasingly important external factors on the sector. Moonpull knows from conversations with networks that they do take tracking matters seriously and are generally investing more resources in this area. 

The headlines remain that commission losses are significant to most businesses and that the sector needs to continue its commitment to work together through the technology and consent challenges it is now facing. For publishers – and networks – the potential of 14% in commission that can be untracked is obviously significant, and solving these issues can represent an opportunity to increase revenues and profit. For advertisers, elimination of tracking problems allows better measurement of the channel (including where tenancy success is partly measured by the number of sales) means that the channel’s significant can be elevated within their business’s marketing mix.

Moonpull at PI Live

Moonpull is leading a Q&A session on ‘Identifying and Understanding Compromised Tracking’ at PI Live in London on 19th October 2022.  We welcome any questions for inclusion to be answered during the session.

Understanding Moonpull’s estimates

  • To understand the losses from user consent being refused Moonpull applied a 50%  estimates of user cookie acceptance for shopping (from the Drum in 2021) to the 40% of key advertisers having conditional tracking to the 45% of traffic where user consent is currently important (Safari + Firefox + advertisers w/out 3P).
  • A key advertiser is Moonpull’s estimate on talking with many publishers on where they send users from their sites/promotions
  • The importance of third party tracking being operative even if user consent for third party tracking is declined is often overlooked.
  • Moonpull1000 is our internal analysis of 1000 affiliate links, across a collection of networks

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