Perfecting the art of affiliate marketing relationship with server-side tagging.


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Accountability and transparency build the foundation of any successful affiliate marketing program. Right from a handful of affiliates to large communities, the transaction is about settling and attributing the fair number of conversions generated. Client-side tags have largely accounted for attributing conversions from an affiliate property. But with regulatory changes and complexity in data privacy policies such as browser restrictions, user preference management, and more, client-side tags no longer contribute to fair data about transactions and linkbacks.

Challenges for Affiliate Marketers in a Cookieless world

It is a number game.

Reporting is broken:

Reports used to tally results or use further information to improve click-through rates (CTRs) or earnings-per-click (EPC) are distorted due to a lack of campaign information from client-side tags. With little and unsettled data, marketers cannot take decisive measures. With third-party cookies, marketers can no longer curate necessary data.

Cookie Expiration:

The diminishing value of affiliate marketing can also be attributed to browser restrictions that kill third-party cookies during a campaign. Tracking returning users is a challenge in this scenario. Returning users will be accounted as new users due to cookie expiration. This in turn creates a false demand and increase in the conversions. The brands will be ill-informed with skewed data leading to spending more money.

Marketing attribution:

Is it first-touch, multi-touch, or last-touch? Affiliate marketing audits get tricky and murky. Marketing attribution is distorted with the cookieless existence of ads. So, it is really difficult to find if the affiliate partner is claiming their dues with honesty or not.

So what’s the solution?

Server-side tagging powers back the affiliate marketing mix with first-party context

Server-side tagging is adopted widely to gain an advantage with deep and relevant marketing attribution. It provides the first-party context to track such marketing optimization exercises. With server-side tag management, an advertiser or affiliate simply passes conversion data which could be a sale or a lead back to a tracking provider via API or FTP. No cookies are involved. Affiliates and influencers are treated as third-party. With affiliate marketing, you need to deal with two interconnected areas:

  • Treating user behavior, events, and collected data as third-party data. And, Lack of attribution possibilities beyond a certain time of who is initiating the conversion or how much influence your affiliate has over a conversion during a campaign. It circles back to the lack of insights with the implementation of any type of multi-touch attribution.
  • Server-side tags provide data that is treated as first-party data which can then be validated against the in-built analytics and the advanced analytics that you have integrated into the platform. When an affiliate or influencer confirms the attributed sale with the network, you can validate it with the data you received on the platform.

How to perform reliable affiliate marketing with live debugging?

1. Detect if your tag firing statistics translate into sales with live debugging. With this, you can assign value to efforts put into tag management.
2. Identify discrepancies in the tags and pixels being fired through the live debugging dashboard.
3. View the previous instances and map them. Your affiliates may or may not provide complete data due to issues such as ad blockers, browser restrictions, and other cookie limitations.
3. Track your affiliates and their marketing activity using the data provided by server-side tagging. Unlike the fire-and-forget system, server-side tag management lets you track ROAS.

Better marketing attribution facilitates honest Affiliate marketing.

Marketing attribution in real-time allows your brand to ascribe value to the other phases of the sales funnel. It adds clarity about partners who provide value at the top of the funnel is not rewarded as much as those at the bottom of the funnel. The latter end up getting credit for a sale that they may not have added much value to. It also minimizes dependency on last-touch attribution which can often encourage dishonest behavior and disincentivize true value creation.

To sum it all,

1. Server-side tagging provides the first-party context to track users and customers.
2. Simply pass conversion data which could be a sale or a lead back to a tracking provider via API or FTP.
3. It lets you strike an honest deal with your affiliates and influencers.
4. No back and forth and cumbersome sale audits.
5. No cookies involved.

Puneeth Rajanna
I am VP of marketing and sales at Magic Pixel. Building MarTech solutions for a cookieless future.