Affiliation income

How are affiliate revenues allocated? Focus on attribution methods

Affiliation is popular with content producers for its simple, effective mechanics. It offers several remuneration models: Cost Per Action (CPA), Cost Per Lead (CPL) and Cost Per Click (CPC). These different models are generally linked to specific sectors, with higher or lower margins.

Regardless of the model chosen, the overall mechanics remain identical: when the web surfer is redirected to the advertiser's site by clicking on a link, an identifier is created. This identifier will later enable the advertiser to determine whether or not to remunerate an actor for the clicks, purchases or registrations generated on its site.

In theory, every action carried out automatically entitles you to remuneration. In practice, however, a number of obstacles can get in the way.

How affiliation works

Affiliation is based on a general mechanism involving four players: the surfer, the affiliate, the affiliation platform and the advertiser. Here's how it works: using tracked URL links, an affiliate refers a surfer to a site. When the surfer clicks on the URL link, he or she is first redirected to the affiliate platform, which then refers him or her to the advertiser's site.

affiliate link redirections
Diagram showing redirections when an affiliate link is clicked.

This transition is transparent to the surfer. During the first redirection, the affiliation platform creates a record, which may take the form of a cookie stored on the surfer's terminal, or an anonymized identifier stored by the platform (a fingerprint).

When an Internet user makes a purchase, for example, a check is made to determine whether a cookie is present on his or her device, or whether the device's fingerprint matches an anonymous fingerprint previously recorded by the platform. This makes it possible to determine the origin of the sale.

However, cookies can be fragile, and a number of situations can arise in which a sale cannot be attributed to an affiliate site:

  1. Human error: this is a frequent case where the link is poorly formed, working correctly but without follow-up. So be careful when copy/pasting affiliate links into your content.
  2. Browser options: Some programs offer the option of clearing cookies when you exit the browser. Fortunately, cookies allow you to stay connected to your mailbox, social networks, etc.), which dissuades most users from activating this feature. This leads to the need to reconnect each time the browser is restarted. Alternatively, some browsers activate strict privacy settings, which prevent cookie tracking from working properly.
  3. Software that removes cookies: Tracking is often considered as tracking by some security solutions, or performance optimization software, which therefore regularly clear cookies.
  4. Cookies are linked to a browser on a device: purchases made by Internet users using several browsers are not always identified. This is particularly the case when an Internet user carries out research on a smartphone, before making the purchase from a computer.
💡 Multi-device tracking: Many platforms now offer cross-device tracking. These solutions rely on several tools such as e-mail addresses, logged-in users and advertising profiling.

Platform allocation mechanisms

Most programs attribute revenue to the last cookie deposited (or the last record in the case of S2S tracking). An Internet user can have several identifiers simply by clicking on several affiliate links. The most frequent case is that of promotional codes. After clicking on an initial affiliate link, the surfer starts looking for a promotional code. However, the site providing the code will open a page with a tracked link, and it is this link that will determine the commissions awarded, as it will take up the last position in the attribution chain.

Some advertisers are able to identify the different players in the conversion chain, a process known as deduplication. They can then decide to remunerate the different players with different commission rates, depending on the preponderance of their role in the purchase decision.

💡 The case of promo codes is special, as some advertisers sometimes treat them with special remunerations, while others simply refuse to work with these players.

Cases of non-allocation

There may be several reasons why you are not being paid. Affiliate platform reports should warn you. Careful monitoring of your commissions will reveal problematic orders. The indicators that should alert you vary.

Cancelled commissions

Orders may be cancelled by an advertiser for a number of reasons: cancellation of the order by the customer, return of the product, or credit card fraud. In such cases, the affiliate's commission is cancelled. On some programs, sales (and therefore commissions) are only validated several weeks later to avoid these inconveniences.

In the case of Cost per Lead (CPL), it's often poorly qualified contacts or those providing false contact details that are subject to cancellation.

An advertiser may also decide to cancel your commissions if you fail to comply with the program's conditions, for example, by sending e-mails, buying keywords or committing click fraud. The advertiser may go so far as to exclude you from the program, with no possibility of claiming lost commissions.

0 € commission

In some cases, advertisers won't commission you on their entire product range. At one time, for example, Apple didn't commission products for 2 weeks after their release. The Cupertino firm considered that the first sales were the result of automatic purchases made by the brand's fans and early-buyers.

Conversely, an advertiser launching a new product may need the help of an affiliate network at launch. In this case, the advertiser will only pay for the new product.

Finally, some marketing operations are not remunerated, especially when the product is sold at a knock-down price, leaving little margin to share...

💡 In the latter case, the advertiser cannibalizes part of the sales with a knockout offer. If the promotion is permanent, you'll have to renegotiate with the advertiser or migrate to new programs.

Eroding sales

More pernicious than the previous cases, a drop in sales requires daily monitoring of your KPIs. There are many reasons for a steady decline in sales, whether natural, such as a product reaching the end of its life cycle, or external, such as a gradual loss of position in Google. Whatever the case, detecting them enables you to anticipate and take action to maintain your revenues.

New customers

In some specific sectors, the awarding of a commission is only valid when the customer is unknown to the advertiser. Ultimately, it's not about making sales, but about acquiring new customers. These conditions have long been used in the telecommunications sector, where churn is high. In online gaming, it's sometimes when the player spends money for the first time that you get paid. For example, in online betting or poker, when the first deposit is made, or when a bonus purchase is made in an MMORPG.

Terms and conditions of the SFR affiliate program
RED by SFR program conditions

Sales validation time

To avoid commission cancellations, some advertisers wait until the legal retraction period has passed before validating sales. While this can be frustrating for affiliates, it avoids the unpleasant surprises associated with cancellations.

Cookie lifetime

Cookies deposited when tracked links are clicked are time-stamped. After a certain period of time, they no longer give rise to remuneration. The validity of cookies varies from 48 hours to several months. This information is defined by the advertisers and set out in the program conditions. A decision to buy a car is not made as quickly as one to buy groceries, for example.

Stopping the program

You will always be warned when a program stops. This can happen in a number of ways:

  • Acquisition budget depletion (common with CPL, SOI, DOI programs)
  • Program migration to a new platform (some players migrate systematically every 2 years)
  • Outright program termination: due to unsatisfactory performance or site closure.

Finally, there's one last case, which fortunately remains rare: when the advertiser fails to pay the platform. In this situation, affiliate commissions remain unpaid until the advertiser pays its bills.

Key points to remember
  • In most cases, it's the last player to set a cookie who gets paid.
  • Cookie tracking is fragile.
  • Program conditions play an important role in the allocation of income.
  • Performance reports should alert you to any shortfalls.

Understanding the mechanisms of revenue attribution is crucial to success in affiliate marketing. Unfortunately, some external factors are beyond your control. Regularly checking performance reports and certain key indicators should alert you to potential problems that need to be resolved to avoid revenue losses. What's more, a thorough understanding of the terms and conditions of the various programs will help you avoid investing in and creating content that won't generate any return on investment.

About the author
Vincent Alzieu
General Manager

After successfully managing several companies in the tech world (Les Numériques, Doctissimo, Au Féminin...), Vincent Alzieu joined Affilizz as late co-founder in 2022 to bring his experience of media and affiliation.‍

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