Do Affiliate Links Rely on Third-Party Cookies?


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Why Affiliate Marketing Shouldn’t Worry About Cookie Bans


Cookies are essential to affiliate link tracking, but will they be banned from browsers? Learn the difference between first-party and third-party cookies.

You may have heard that Google Chrome and other browsers are ending support of third-party cookies, which will make it harder to track and target ads. Will this impact affiliate link tracking? While the industry relies heavily on browser cookies, third-party cookie bans are not as threatening as they appear.


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First-Party Cookies vs. Third-Party Cookies


First-party cookies are left by websites a browser has visited, and they’re used beyond tracking to enable things like logged-in user sessions, eCommerce shopping carts, and remembering user language settings. First-party cookies are essential to the way modern websites work.

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are left in your browser by advertisers on a website you visit. Since you did not visit the advertised organization directly, these are not considered first-party cookies. Third-party cookies are used almost exclusively for personal tracking and have come to be seen as a major privacy concern.

Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and other browsers are phasing out or have already banned third-party cookies.


Affiliate Marketing Cookies Are Nearly All First-Party


As we discussed in another article, affiliate marketing links are placed on a publisher’s website. When clicked, it quickly passes through a network or tracking platform page, which places a cookie, before redirecting to the merchant’s landing page. Those are all first-party interactions, so the cookie is a first-party cookie.

However, if you use paid advertising to place your cookie on other websites, it would be considered a third-party cookie. Soon, using paid advertising to promote affiliate links will be less profitable as third-party cookie bans make tracking them impossible.

If you’re doing affiliate marketing the traditional way ― by bringing visitors to your website and placing the cookies there ― third-party cookie bans should not affect your affiliate marketing strategy.


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A Post-Cookie Future?


In the future, if privacy laws and concerns continue to restrict cookies, affiliate marketing may have to shift to server-side ID tracking. In this case, the device and affiliate information are captured in a transaction ID that’s registered on the server. That information is passed back to the affiliate network or tracking platform. The user is recognized when they come back to the site to complete the conversion.

Server-side tracking is generally seen as the more reliable option since it works just as well on mobile devices and is not prevented by cookie blockers. However, there is a trade-off in the information you collect: browser-based data is much richer and more informative. We’ll get into that more in our article on pixel vs. server-side tracking.

Another advantage of affiliate marketing in a more privacy-concerned future is that it is resistant to disruption. For example, ad blockers deny pop-up and banner ads from external servers, but they generally don’t block text or images with links. Despite ad blockers, there are still ways to make sure visitors see your affiliate ads.

Coupon codes is another method of attribution that is entirely independent of cookie-blocking, device-switching, and other disruptors. If the user enters an affiliate’s exclusive coupon code when they convert the deal, that transaction will be attributed to that affiliate.

No matter how far the push for privacy goes, affiliate marketing always has other ways to make sure you can promote links and get credit for your sales.

If you want to talk more about the right tracking method for your affiliate program, give us a call. FMTC can help connect you to the right networks and tracking platforms for the affiliate program you want to run.