Affiliate Marketing for your Business, Part 5

Becky Doles

Variables and Parameters for Tracking URLs

Part 5 of the Affiliate Marketing for Your Business series is here! Previously, we covered the basics and now we’re starting to dive into more of the advanced concepts of getting an affiliate program incorporated in your marketing efforts.

Today we’re learning about the different variables and parameters that get passed into affiliate tracking URLs, and what additional features tracking URLs provide. Let’s get to it!

Tell me, what gets passed inside an offer’s URL?

At the end of the day, your offer is reduced to a complex and dynamic URL. This URL provides all the information pertinent to tracking, reporting, and compensating your offers and affiliates. Dynamic variables are appended to the tracking URL and populated by your affiliate tracking software. There are countless variables that can be added; we’re going to focus on the most common. As mentioned before, the savvier your affiliates are, the more tracking options they’re going to require. You may only need one or two of these variables, or you may need to include all of them. Check out our resources on tracking links for more.

Once you grant affiliates access to your affiliate program, they can search for offers they are interested in promoting. When they find an offer, your affiliate tracking software will generate a tracking link specific to that affiliate. By this point you might have already included variables in the tracking URL, and now your affiliates can select and include additional variables necessary for their tracking and reporting.

Below is an example of a tracking URL:{Affiliate ID}&aff_sub={Affiliate Sub ID}&source={Affiliate Source ID}&offer_id={Offer ID}&offer_id={Offer ID}&transaction_id={Transaction ID}

{Affiliate ID} : a unique identification number is generated and assigned to the affiliates you’ve approved. The Affiliate ID variable enables you to filter reports and metrics related to that affiliate. You’ll also be able to compare performance data by Affiliate ID to find your top affiliates.

{Affiliate Sub ID} : this is typically an auto-populated parameter that gets passed from your affiliates back into your tracking. Most tracking software enables multiple Affiliate Sub ID’s to be passed back. This can contain information about the user, an action, the location of the offer’s placement, etc. Because this is a confusing and often times misused parameter, you can check out this post for additional information on this.

{Affiliate Source ID} : passes information about the traffic sources used. Your tracking software should be able to break this down in your reporting by impression, click and conversion. If your offer has restrictions on traffic types, you can screen this variable prior to approving conversions.

{Offer ID} : after creating a new offer, an identification number is assigned. This enables you to breakdown your reporting to show data specific to that offer. This is typically the most efficient way to see high level performance reports for your offers. Use this parameter to benchmark your offers against one another and compare KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

{Transaction ID} : is dynamically embedded in the tracking URL after a conversion takes place and gets passed back into your software. It generates a unique identification number for each sale or conversion recorded, allowing you to track and verify specific conversions.

Other common parameters that are more intuitive and dynamically populated within a tracking URL include {country_code}, {region_code}, {city}, Adwords Click ID {gclid}, and custom {params}, which are usually fields from your customer information request form (typically used in lead generation).

What other features come with my offers?

There are tons of additional features you might consider prior to setting an offer active. These additional features enable control over who gets approved to run your offer, how your links are displayed when Search Engines crawl your site, who you send emails to, where your traffic goes when a landing page has expired, conversions caps and multiple conversions per user, geo-targeted traffic and how your tracking URLS are displayed. Let’s take a look at some of the more common features including: required approval, SEO friendly links, suppression lists, redirect URL, conversion caps, multiple conversions, geo-targeting and tiny URLs.

You’re Approved! : You can set your offer to require approval; in doing so, you you must approve each affiliate before they can run an offer. Until affiliates are approved, they can only view the offer details and description, but they cannot generate tracking URLs.

Let’s Just Be Friends : Depending on the type of offer, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) friendly links may be helpful for your campaign.  By turning this feature on, “link juice” is passed through affiliate links, helping to improve rankings for the destination. However, with this feature enabled, the link must always direct the user from point A to point B and cannot take advantage of any browser or geo-trageting. (See our help article for more information on SEO-friendly links.)

Feeling Suppressed : your affiliate tracking software should support a suppression list, allowing you and your affiliates to ensure you’re not sending emails to any users that have been previously unsubscribed or opted-out; remaining CAN-SPAM complaint. Here’s a great resource to learn more about suppression lists for your offers.

What’s Your Backup? : when creating your offer, you should create a redirect URL, if you need to pause a particular offer you can use this default location as your backup. If your offer has an expiration date, traffic clicking on your link is redirected to a predetermined page. This is beneficial for seasonal or time sensitive offers, your links may still be ‘live’ in an old email or on an old twitter post, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to monetize that user.

Do Not Pass Go : establishing conversion caps is essential to many different aspects of an offer’s success. For example, if you’re allowing a new affiliate to drive traffic to your offer, you don’t want to get flooded with leads that are all potentially bad. In some cases, inventory may be limited and you won’t be able to meet demand. Creating a conversion cap, per affiliate, for your offer ensures that you have ultimate control over how many actions any particular affiliate is able to deliver. Often times you’re able to set caps by day, week or month.

But I Want More! : enabling multiple conversions for your offer allows you to track more than one sale per user, and if you’re paying your affiliates per sale, you’ll be able to compensate accordingly. This can be a great feature to catch potential fraud; when a particular affiliate is generating significantly more than the average sale per user, you can investigate and ensure the quality of traffic.

Target Locked : maybe you’re interesting in city, country, or region geo-targeting? Targeting specified countries ensures you’re generating sales or capturing leads in approved regions. Your affiliate tracking software analyzes the user’s click IP address to determine if the country or region matches your approved locations, if so; it directs the user to your offer URL. If the click IP address doesn’t meet your approved locations, you can establish a redirect URL to send those users to. You can also establish the same type of targeting for Internet Browser types, which can redirect mobile users to a specific page optimized for mobile browsers.

Teeny Tiny : a great way to hide a long and messy tracking URL is to use your tracking software to generate tiny URLs. These tiny URLs ensure the integrity of your tracking, while shortening and hiding any sensitive information from being viewable within the displayed URL. All tracking information, dynamic or static, is captured and passed back into your system; the only difference is size.

Here’s an example of a full sized tracking URL, with parameters. Below it, you will find the same link formatted as a tiny URL. Both take you to the same location and provide the same tracking data in the reporting.

Full Tracking URL:

Tiny URL Formatted:

Now that I can track better than a bloodhound, what’s next

So much seems to go into tracking URLs, but it just takes time until they will seem like second nature. Now that you’re an expert on affiliate offers, tracking URLs, variables, and parameters, you can start creating your own offers and generate tracking URLs for your affiliates.

Next week we are going to learn about where your links get placed, and how affiliates plan their websites, target their audience, write content, and drive traffic to your offers. As always, thanks for reading along and feel free to leave comments or questions below.

  • Part 1: Basic concepts for your affiliate marketing program.
  • Part 2: A brief introduction to affiliate offers.
  • Part 3: Understanding affiliate marketers.
  • Part 4: Setting up your affiliate offers.
  • Part 5: Variables and parameters for your tracking URLs.
  • Part 6: Affiliate planning, research, targeting and traffic.
  • Part 7: What can my program offer to attract affiliates?
  • Part 8: Ways to recruit affiliates.
Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

2 responses to “Affiliate Marketing for your Business, Part 5”

  1. David Scott says:

    Just as a matter of interest, say you have two or more affiliates promoting the same offer and they each refer the same customer prior to conversion, how is commission calculated post conversion assuming each is eligible to be paid a commission?

    • most tracking protocols today still operate off of a last click model, so whichever affiliate/publisher caused the user to click right before they converted will get full credit. Several companies have tried to develop models for compensating multiple publishers, but none have mass adoption at this point.

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