What is Affiliate Tracking?

Affiliate Marketing is online marketing done by individual marketing partners. So-called affiliates (partners) promote a product/ service (from merchant) and receive a commission on a successful sale. The beauty of this form of online marketing is that the merchant only rewards success partners and thus bears little risk.

To capture these achievements of affiliates, merchants use affiliate networks. These networks usually provide the technical tools to ensure the growth of the affiliate and merchant. Affiliate tracking is one of them.

What is Affiliate Tracking For?

Before going into more detail about the details of individual tracking methods in affiliate marketing, a closer look at the subject of tracking should be made.

Affiliate marketing is about tracking down whether a user who has taken a close look at the purchase recommendation of an affiliate actually becomes a buyer. Tracking usually begins the moment a user clicks on an affiliate link.

How Affiliate Tracking Works

Web users clicks trigger the sales mark like "advertised by xxxx affiliate". Therefore, whenever people who visit that link make a purchase, the affiliate receives commission. This event happens automatically. Therefore, affiliate can track his sales and earning almost in real-time.

Once marked, the affiliate can now be recognized in customer’s purchase process (a buyer recruited by the affiliate). The ID of the affiliate reveals to whom the advertising service is attributable. Recognition does not happen on the advertiser's side, but through the affiliate network. This network must be informed during a purchase process and get the necessary data provided. Here, regardless of the tracking methods used to mark a potential buyer, another tracking method is used: pixel tracking.

This method should be presented first, because all other tracking methods only work in conclusion by implementing a tracking code with tracking pixels on the side of a merchant.

As of today, this tracking technology get even better. Even the advertiser will also know whether affiliates are sending bot traffic or human traffic 

Regardless of the method of tracking, the tag always includes at least the “affiliate ID” of the affiliate who provided the advertising service and recommended a product or service on the web. Here are a couple of function of affiliate tracking links:

What is tracking ID

To be able to assign a sale to an affiliate in affiliate marketing, you use the so-called tracking ID. This is unique and will be assigned to each affiliate at the beginning of the partnership. Later, they find themselves back in all the advertising material that the affiliate program makes available - like a kind of ID card.

Different Affiliate Tracking Methods

In affiliate marketing, there are a variety of tracking methods that can be used to determine exactly which publisher was involved in an ad media contact. Now, we will introduce you to the most common methods as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

#1 Cookie tracking

Cookie tracking is one of the most popular tracking methods in affiliate marketing. Cookies are small text files that are stored locally on the user's computer or another terminal when visiting a website. These files store information about the user's browsing behavior.

For example, it detects the length of stay, the pages visited or the entry of a search term. The term of the cookie tracking is predefined by the marketer and is usually 30 - 60 days. While amazon’s cookie only lasts for 24 hours.

Cookie tracking brings a big advantage. It means that the transactions can be assigned to the affiliate at a later date. This is important as most transactions are purchases made by returning website visitors and are not spontaneous purchases.

There is possibility of deleting cookies from the browser and surfing in the "incognito mode". Unfortunately, if the visitors do this, you won’t get the affiliate commission. In incognito mode, neither history nor cookies are stored.

#2 Fingerprint Tracking

Fingerprint tracking is still relatively new in affiliate marketing. In this method, a digital signature, a so-called "fingerprint", the terminal is created, which contains specific information. Fingerprint tracking also takes place across web pages.

This tracking method has the decisive advantage that no sensitive data is collected about the user. For a long time, fingerprint tracking was only successful when the user used the same device and Internet browser. Meanwhile, fingerprinting also allows cross-browser tracking.

#3 Post view tracking

Postview tracking is always active when a user has viewed a certain advertising material on a website. In this method, the commission is paid even if an ad is not clicked directly. The whole thing is realized by means of cookies, which remember which advertising is displayed to the user.

Visits the same user after the previously viewing the merchant advertisement can be tracked as sales. Therefore, the affiliate receives a commission. This provides postview tracking especially affiliates a lot of benefit, while merchants criticize the easy manipulation of this method.

#4 Session Tracking

During session tracking, all user activities of a user are briefly tracked on a web page or within a web portal. For this purpose, each user is assigned a unique session ID for identification. The affiliate receives his commission as soon as the user has reached the Merchant's website via an advertising medium and made a purchase there.

This form of tracking has the advantage that it works without the storage of cookies and data cannot be deleted in the course. A decided disadvantage of the session tracking is that closing the Internet browser terminates the session and the user can no longer be clearly identified.

#5 Pixel Tracking: Invisible Spies?

Pixel tracking can work as data transfer. Here’s what I mean: Pixel tracking always plays a role when a partner program uses the services of an affiliate network.

The network needs some metrics from the ordering process to credit affiliates with their commission and bill the merchants for the services provided. The pixel tracking is thus the data transfer of some parameters from the purchase contract.

How pixel tracking works? 

In order for the data transmission to be guaranteed, theoretically a connection between merchant (service provider or online shop) and the affiliate network has to be established. Since many systems and programming languages ​​are used in web programming, the construction of this data connection is a small challenge.

The least susceptible technology is pixel tracking, which is integrated by the merchant into the HTML source code of the order confirmation page and is always executed when a customer has successfully completed his order process. The Affiliate Network provides the necessary tracking code, the parameters of which must only be filled by the merchant with the correct data for each order.

Pixel fire? This is how the tracking code really works

In online marketing, it is colloquially popularly talked about it that a pixel is fired. However, what sounds refined here is technically not quite correct. A look at the tracking code from Affilinet (part of AWIN) should bring the light into the technical darkness.

On the image above, it shows that the <img> tag uses HTML for images, src (marked 1) loads a script from the server of the network to which various parameters are passed (marked with 2). The numbers 3-7 denote the individual parameters that have the following meaning.

  • 3: ID of the affiliate partner program (the merchant).

  • 4: "pps" stands for pay per sale and denotes the type of remuneration. Possible compensation for the entire customer life time: "ppl".

  • 5: Type of advertising material. For example. Banner or product feed. (link type)

  • 6: Net value of the order excl. Shipping costs.

  • 7: Unique ID for the order process in the merchant's shop.

It is also clear from the image above that the tracking code contains more than just one pixel. (Number 8 in the image)

The disadvantage of pixel tracking is that it does not work as soon as images are deactivated in the browser. This is especially the case when using mobile devices with limited data traffic.

Therefore, one works on alternatives, which can be used in parallel to cookie tracking. In the case of Affilinet, this is a device tracking, which in the future will work cross-device and will be loaded in a separate script. So far, this tracking method is still in development.

Do I get invisible spies on my device with these tracking pixels?

For the normal user, such tracking pixels cannot actually be detected. From your own computer, however, no data is spied. Even if the data is transferred from the user's computer, the data itself comes from the online shop.

The obligatory privacy policy of each affiliate program operator must provide legal information about the transfer of data to third parties. It must also be noted that the transferred data does not contain person-specific data and is therefore anonymous. Only the shopping basket value (number 6) and the ID of the partner shop (number 3) are transferred.

#6 URL Tracking: Privacy-Friendly Tracking

The simplest form of tracking is URL tracking. URL is the entire content of the address bar of a browser. It consists of the definition of transfer rules (transfer protocol, eg. https://), an address (host, eg www.projecter.de ...), a path (eg / blog) and optional parameters (eg? Site = 3). URL tracking is usually applied by Hosting affiliates. See the image below!

To become an affiliate, each publisher receives a consistent ID from the network. For example, if this merchant advertises an online shop, this URL will simply be passed to the advertised landing page as a parameter in the URL during URL tracking. (The parameter is highlighted in red.)

As long as you stay on the pages of the online shop, this parameter is retained. It can happen that the tracking parameter disappears from the URL, because there are two methods to pass the value from page to page.

  • The GET method: Here, the parameter remains part of the URL and is separated as shown in Fig. 2 with a question mark of host and path information.

  • The POST method: Here, the parameter is transferred in the background of the next page. These data are visible only in HTML source code or with special tools. This type of transfer is common in forms.

Sales Period

If a user who has called up the page of an online shop via an affiliate link, for example, decides to make a purchase, pixel tracking comes into play again. The tracking pixel transfers the ID of the affiliate from the URL parameter as well as the value of the shopping cart to the affiliate network and stores it there.

Advantages and disadvantages of URL tracking

The advantage of URL tracking is that the buyer does not have to be marked by cookies, nor is data stored about the buyer. A major disadvantage, however, is that URL tracking only works for one visit. If the referred user reconsiders their purchase once more and calls the partner shop directly at the next opportunity, no affiliate advertising service can be registered anymore.

Another disadvantage is that the URL tracking is susceptible to interference during the first visit session. If the tracking parameters are not transferred on a single subpage, the remuneration for the advertising service is no longer possible. Another disruption could come from the recruited user himself.

For all these reasons, the cookie tracking has long prevailed and is only recently replaced by tracking alternatives slowly.


Tracking is an essential instrument in affiliate marketing. Only by this way can the user behavior (including purchase) be clearly acknowledged and proven. The different tracking methods have many advantages and disadvantages. However, the most popular is cookie tracking.

Fingerprint tracking is a comparatively young method. Postview tracking is very popular among affiliates, but it causes headaches for some merchants. It is because session tracking data in Postview cannot be deleted just even the user closes the browser!

Ultimately, each merchant has to decide for himself which tracking method he wants to offer. Affiliates then have the turn to pick a partner program with a matching tracking method. So, what types of tracking your Affiliate Network use? Let us know in the comment below!