Let’s talk cookies

Cookies are an affiliate’s best friend. In fact, without them, many affiliates would probably pack it in.

No, we’re not talking about those scrumptious, hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies that keep affiliates going through the late night as they update their site to increase sales and conversions. Uh uh.

We’re talking about the computer file that can store a load of information on every user’s browser. It’s basically a simple text file that can store a variety of useful data like whether a user is logged in, various preferences, and more.

Cookies are a vital part of most affiliate programs. Do you have to use a cookie to keep track of all affiliate sales and click-thrus? Not at all. There are a number of alternatives, but cookies are the most widespread and accepted form today.

Cookies have a multitude of purposes in the affiliate world and can even help give you a leg up on your competition. They’re easy to create and will probably be one of the first questions asked by your affiliates, right after, “How much commission do you offer?”


Fat Free and Info Packed

Think of a cookie as one ginormous online file cabinet. You can store a tremendous amount of personalized information in one tiny little cookie. If your site has a registration process, each unique user’s cookie could contain information such as their username, first name, last name, address, as well as specific user options.

Maybe they can select favorite categories, customize the look of your site, etc. Any personal information like that can be stored in a cookie, letting your website easily access information on a personal level for each user.

There are a number of different types of cookies and you can break things out into multiple cookies or combine them all in one if you’d like. One use for cookies on a merchant site could be to store a coupon code. When a user orders something and uses the code, at checkout, your system will check the cookie for the code. If they had used it previously, the cookie would know and thus send back an alert message to the user that they’ve already redeemed that code.


Longevity Matters

The most important part of a cookie to affiliates is its length. Not the physical length, mind you. There’s not a ruler in this world that could actually measure that. But a cookie has an actual life-span, and that’s what people are referring to when they ask about its length.

When a customer comes to your site, clicks on an affiliate link and then makes a purchase, your cookie helps track who that customer is, where they came from, how much they spent, etc. It holds vital information that will help you calculate exactly how much money you owe a specific affiliate.

Now, cookies can have a set lifespan. Some companies only want to offer a very short one, such as 1 or 2 days. Other companies let cookies live on for a good week or two. Still others have cookie lifespans of a few months. Whatever is chosen, once that timeframe is hit, the user will need to visit the site again to “reset” the cookie and start the clock all over again.

Naturally, the longer the lifespan, the happier the affiliate. If your competitor offers a 7 day cookie in his affiliate program, consider going with a 10 or 14-day one. That extra week could make a big difference in terms of swaying affiliates over to your side.


Dangerous Cookies

While cookies certainly have their benefits, there are a number of hazards to using them as well. Luckily they can only store text data, so they won’t pass on malware or viruses to your computer. But there are a few ways that you could end up losing a particular sale thanks to cookies.

  • Users can toss their cookies – It’s fairly easy for a user to delete his or her cookies. If that happens before they complete a purchase on your site, all the tracking will be lost for that sale and the affiliate will never receive any credit.
  • Cookies can be overwritten – If a user is all set to make a purchase but then quickly visits one of your competitor’s sites and clicks through to your site again, that original affiliate is out of the picture. Cookies can be (and often are) overwritten. The simple way they work is that the last cookie to be placed is the one that will stick. Meaning the last website to place the cookie on your browser is the one who ultimately receives credit for a sale.
  • Cookies are browser dependent – This one’s becoming a bigger concern these days, as consumers tend to be shopping on multiple devices like tablets and smartphones, in addition to their dektop and laptop computers. If a consumer clicks through an affiliate link to your site, saves things in your cart but ultimately completes the purchase on a different device, that credit is also lost. The cookie with all the data is on the original computer, it doesn’t follow the user from device to device.

Even with these downsides, however, using cookies for your affiliate program is pretty much a necesiity these days. There are alternatives, like passing the information dynamically within the URL itself, but none are without their own downsides. (In the URL’s case, that information can be lost as soon as the browser is closed.)

Ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to cookies. Just be aware of thier shortcomings, and use them to your advantage. Otherwise you may just see your entire affiliate program start to… well, crumble.