This is a transcript of episode 76 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and this week, I’m sharing yet another one of the awesome sauce questions being asked in the Membership To Get Data-Driven… because even though I said we would do question episodes like this every other week, well, if drag queens have taught me anything it’s that I can say things like “it’s my show and not yours” so we’re doing another question episode, boss, and I promise it’s a good one.

In the membership, Kris asked this very thoughtful question that I had to share here because I’ve had exactly 3 other people slip into my DMs to ask me about this, too, so I told them to subscribe to the podcast for the answer because, this lady welcomes more downloads, gnome-saying?

So the question is: “I heard you mention that using cookies to track website traffic is becoming obsolete. Does this mean affiliate marketing links will no longer be possible?” Good question or best question? You decide!

The answer is “yes” but that yes comes with a “but” so big – how big is it? – this is a Brazilian Butt Lift sized “but”, ok?

The “yes” part is that yes, the third-party cookies aspect of tracking will likely become obsolete. This means that the part of your affiliate tracking that could follow your person around the interwebs for 30 days or however long you have your cookies set to be valid for, you can count on having that aspect of your tracking be invalidated. The truth is, though, even without the third-party cookies being obsolete, this part of tracking people isn’t an exact science either. If someone clears their cache, for instance, your affiliate tracking cookies would have been cleared alongside that.

Also, while third-party cookies are becoming obsolete, this doesn’t mean ALL cookies are being made obsolete. Here’s where our Brazilian Butt Lift sized “but” gets introduced because we touched on this a little in episode 71, but third-party cookies and third-party data isn’t the only type that’s out there.

And in the case of your affiliate links, “session cookies” are a thing, too. This means you can and will still get credit for referrals you make with most affiliate programs when a purchase you referred is made immediately after using your affiliate link. Most affiliate links work in a similar vein as to how UTM parameters work. If you recall from past episodes, I’ve described UTM parameters as little snippets of code that you add to the tail-end of a link that you’re sharing to allow you to keep track of your marketing campaigns; most affiliate links work in the same way where there’s the link to the offer or product, followed by a ? and some code.

I encourage you to use one of your own affiliate links to see how this shows up in the web address bar because you should see that question mark in the address field with some code that essentially serves to identify you as the person who referred this visitor. Just like UTM parameters, these intentional affiliate links are here to stay and in the case of referrals, they’re also here to get you paid.

So yes, cookies will impact how long this visitor will be identified as someone you referred and you probably – and I do say probably and I’ll come back to that – but you probably won’t get credit for the sale if they come back later without using your link.

But you will be credited for any referral you make from someone using that link to purchase the product.

Another thing is don’t just look at the link. In the case of something like ThriveCart, for instance, the links they provide in their affiliate program doesn’t show up as its “true self”, if you will. You don’t see that little “?” aspect of link when they provide it to you, but once you enter it into the address field, you see your URL changes and it now includes that “?” that is creating the parameters that you need to identify where that traffic is coming from. In this case, the traffic is coming from you and the affiliate program will record that.

So whatever affiliate programs you’re in, I encourage you to check that those URL parameters are showing up because that’s how you’re going to get credited for that traffic.

Now I mentioned that you PROBABLY wouldn’t get credited for a sale if someone came back to site a few days later on their own – without using your code – the way you would be credited now, while cookies are still enabling your ability to track people’s online behavior across multiple sites and time lines. The “probably” part is going to depend on the platform that is being used.

In my case, my email marketing system and my affiliate program is hosted by the same provider – I have everything living in Kartra – so when I have someone on my list who was referred to me by someone else who used their affiliate link to share my things, that person’s profile will have who referred them to me as part of their profile (and I’ve included a little screen shot of that if you’re interested to see what that looks like.)

This means that if someone bought Airtable Like A Boss because Andrea Jones recommended my course to them – and I’m using her as an example because she’s my top affiliate so thanks Andrea! – but if that person then joins the Membership To Get Data-Driven, I’m still going to see that Andrea Jones is the reason that person is my client.

Now what happens if you’re an affiliate for someone and you see that your link is not identifying you as an affiliate in the parameters of its URL or in your affiliate reports? Does this mean you can’t get affiliate commissions? Absolutely not. If this person is not using a platform that can adapt to the changes impacting tracking cookies, ask that person if you two can establish a coupon code that you can use that would a) give your people a sweet discount and b) make it clear to this person how many sales you’re making on their behalf so you can be compensated. The number of times the coupon is used represents the number of commissioned sales you made, and you can continue vouching and being paid for doing so.

This is a kind of long-winded answer to simple question but hey! this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “It depends” is an annoying answer – believe me, I eye roll every podcast that drops the “it depends” line too – but it DOES depend on the software that’s being used and how tracking is taking place.

So I encourage you to do a little fall clean-up of your current affiliate links and take a look at how they’re built – making sure they populate with URL parameters that identify you – and hey! while you’re at it, give episode 70 another listen while you’re at it to create those link shorteners or redirects that will make your affiliate links infinitely easier for you to share. Two birds, one seed!

And we’ll talk with you again next week, and this time, we’ll be helping you plan and forecast because it’s that time of year, boss – baiiieee!!