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4.4 When Things Go Wrong

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand why things may go wrong in affiliate marketing.
  2. Know what happens when things go wrong.

Successful tracking is fundamental to any eMarketing campaign, and especially so to affiliate marketing. As affiliates are only paid for performance, should anything go wrong in the tracking process, it is the affiliates that suffer. The merchant will still get the desired sales, but the affiliates won’t be rewarded.

So it is good to bear in mind some of the problems that can be faced with tracking.

Multiple Referrals, One Sale: Who Gets the Bounty?

With so many affiliates, it is not uncommon for a potential customer to visit a merchant’s Web site through the links of many different affiliates before finally making a purchase. Who do you think should receive the commission?

For example, a user sees a Web site banner promoting a weekend in Paris, booked with Eurostar. The user clicks on that banner and checks out the deals on the Eurostar Web site. A cookie is set, as the first Web site is an affiliate of Eurostar.

He doesn’t book right away, but after chatting to his girlfriend, they decide to book the trip. He goes to Google, searches for “Eurostar weekend in Paris,” and clicks on one of the PPC (pay-per-click) advertisements. This has also been placed by an affiliate, but a different one.

This time he books the trip. But which affiliate should be rewarded the commission?

It has become standard practice that the most recent referral is awarded the commission, though there are some merchants who also offer compensation to other affiliates involved in sale process. In the previous example, the affiliate who placed the PPC advertisement would get the commission for this sale.

Cookies Getting a Bad Reputation

Consumers sometimes get anxious when they hear things like “tracking” and “collecting information,” so they delete cookies from their computer. If this happens, then the sale will never be attributed to the affiliate. This practice, however, does not seem to have a drastic effect on numbers, so most affiliates will still calculate this into their return on investment (ROI)The ratio of cost to profit (e.g., advertising spending as a percentage of the revenue that it generates)..

Clashing Cookies

Merchants will often use some kind of tracking so that they can better optimize their own marketing efforts, or a merchant may make some kind of technical change to their Web site. It is crucial that any of these changes are tested first with the tracking software to make sure that they do not create any conflicts. It is generally accepted practice that even if it is a merchant’s marketing effort that is responsible for the final sale, the affiliate still gets the commission if it is within the affiliate’s cookie period.

Placing an Order by Another Method

If the customer completes the action but does not do so online, the affiliate will not receive commission. So, if a customer visits an online retailer through an affiliate link but places an order over the phone, the affiliate will miss out on commission.

Key Takeaways

  • It isn’t uncommon for there to be multiple referrals for one online sale.
  • Best practices will give the most recent referrer the credit for the sale.
  • Cookies get a bad reputation with consumers, who are afraid of being tracked. Consumers will sometimes delete their cookies as a result.
  • Affiliates can miss out on commission if a customer places an order over the phone instead of online.


  1. What impact might cookie deletion have on an affiliate marketing campaign?
  2. A user sees an ad online for ABC Glassware on Site A, an affiliate site, and clicks on it. Even though the ad promoted a great deal, she does not make a purchase at that time. Afterward, she visits several other sites, and finds another good deal for the same glassware on Site B, another affiliate site for ABC Glassware. She doesn’t make a purchase then, either, as she preferred to think about the purchase overnight. The next day, she goes back to Site A to buy the glassware. Who receives the commission?