MmMm Affiliate Cookie Killers

by Jeremy Schoemaker on October 26, 2007 · 49 comments



CPA Affiliates had a post last week about spybot search and distroy and how its eating commission junction cookies.

It reminded me of a article written a while back by Ben Edelman for Vinny Lingham covering all networks and programs. Its a very… very… well researched document and contains tons of information. I highly suggest you read it.

So… between cookie eaters/spyware/adware/stuffers I would go on record to say from what I have seen and heard dealing with most of the top networks that use cookies to track up to 70% of ALL cookies placed are either fraudulent or discarded by 3rd party programs.

So when it comes to CPA/Affiliate stuff what is the answer? In my opinion ALL the blame falls on the affiliate networks. Commission Junction, AzoogleAds, Cpaempire, Copeac, Nevertrueads, Milnic Media whoeverads…

Now.. I would like to see cookie tracking gone forever. This is actually something me and dillsmack have debated a lot. Every time I come up with a new way to do 100% server side tracking he creates scenarios in which it would fail. Its clear to me that cookie tracking is not going anywhere. So who is to blame and what should they do?

They all need to do a much better job with:

1) Fraud detection – not detecting fraudulent leads or cookie stuffing leads to crappy leads which in turn the advertising companies will have to write off in there budget.

2) Working together – The problem IMO is the lack of communication between the companies. So often you see some dirtbag get kicked out of A-List affiliate company for fraud just switch to B and C list companies. So the problem is not fixed.

3) Quit working with jackasses. The reason the cookies are being eaten by these 3rd party programs is because they have done some really shady stuff or allowed shady stuff to happen.

You are probably thinking that its not that big of deal right? That 3rd party companies cant really be eating that many cookies? Well right now in Googles software bundle (the one you get 1$ per install for) there are applications that will eat your affiliate cookies. And speaking of Google how long do you think it will be before Google starts blocking affiliate urls they know are these affilaite companies?

Anyway ;) What do you think?

full disclosure

About the author...

– who has written 2854 posts on ShoeMoney.com.

Jeremy "ShoeMoney" Schoemaker is the founder & CEO of the ShoeMoney Blog, Elite Retreat Internet Conference, & the PAR Program. In 2013 Jeremy released his #1 Amazon Best selling Autobiography titled "Nothing's Changed But My Change" - The ShoeMoney Story. Jeremy currently lives in Lincoln Nebraska with his wife and 2 daughters.


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{ 43 comments }

1 PublicRealty

I don’t know about everyone else, but I would be interested in hearing more about your 100% server side tracking ideas.

2 Work N Play

nice points there Jeremy. hopefully these affiliate networks will take your suggestions and apply it.

3 Jimmy Daniels

The networks are going to have to work some kind of deal with those programs, one that probably would mean removing adware/spyware from them, thats why they started blocking their cookies to start with and the only reason adware/spyware companies are still around. Its all about the benjamins. The only merchants who have any clue about stuff like this are the ones that use OPM’s like Andy Rodrigues, or the folks from amwso.com, the programs that are run in house or by the networks are always going to use who CJ, Linkshare, et all tell them too.

Or, get them all to move to shareasale, have you ever seen one of these programs remove a shareasale cookie, I haven’t.

4 Online Cash Flow

The removal of spyware/adware and spam would definitely help.

5 Worknplay

good points there Jeremy. Hopefully these affiliate networks will take your suggestions and apply it

6 JoeTech.com

There was talk (and law suits) some time ago about these spyware removal tools removing legitimate cookies and labeling them as spyware. I wonder if this has come full circle again.

7 King Jacob

How would 100% serverside tracking work? Would it just track the url referred?

8 SonicReducer

I would love to see server side tracking as well. No matter how good or bad the cookies are, they are still being stored on the users machine and they can delete them at will. Advertisers or affiliates will never be able to control that. Especially since in the average consumer’s mind, cookies are something they need to get rid of.

9 ShoeMoney

refer url and lots of other variables.

10 CPA Affiliates

I wish we could do more server side trying!!!! BUt all the fishy affilaites wouldn’t want it… but as with anything create a better system they will find a way to crack it!

11 Blog Contests

It’s BS and definitely a major issue!

12 Failure Sucks!

Spybot also blocks Clickbank cookies in IE, at least it did a few months ago when I tested it.

IMO, 1. Affiliate networks need to do a better job of kicking out the scumbags when they are reported. Problem is, many of the worst offenders are also their biggest earners.

2. Lawsuits need to be filed when legit cookies are blocked as “spyware” when they are no such thing. Right now any cookie can be included without fear of retribution.

13 Paul

I ran Spybot S&D not long ago and found all of my own affiliate pages no longer even showed up, all 404 errors. After digging in, I found the Immunize function inserts a new hosts file and all of CJ’s servers were in there. I replaced the hosts file and everything was back to normal. So if someone runs Spybot and does an immunize, all CJ affiliate pages break. They never get near a cookie because they can’t even reach the page.

14 Paul

Spybot’s immunize function also blocks CJ servers by inserting them in the hosts file. CJ affiliate pages become 404 errors.

15 Kyle Eggleston

1. There will always be fraud w/ affiliate networks

2. Communication over the internet will always be impaired.

3. I agree Only partner yourself with well-established, branded companies. Not only do you get better results working with dependable companies, you also please your customers by delivering quality network.

16 King Jacob

That’d solve the problem of people fishing with cookies but then again I guess affiliates earn a pretty good chunk of income from fishers.

17 Joe

lol what a great pic.

18 Brent

I think dill is right..server side tracking might even be easier to stuff than client side cookies – code ninjas playing in the dark arts know what i mean.. When I first starting do AM..I was pretty surprised to see cookies at all.

19 Brent

i rolled when i saw that too

20 Tony Smith

Great entry. It’s scary how much goes on that most people never know about.

21 Nick Dalton

To illustrate why this is a difficult problem, lets start with a simple case where you manage your own web site that sells a product and you also manage your own affiliate program. An affiliate’s link to your sales page may look like this:

http://www.business.com/index.php?affId=123

The server side code on the sales page grabs the affiliate id from the URL and adds it as a parameter to the buy link so that the information is transferred to the payment processor. After the customer has completed the purchase the customer is sent back to your thank you page. In order for your system to correctly record the affiliate sale the payment processor needs to post the affiliate id back to your thank you page. Since many payment processors don’t support passing arbitrary parameters through the payment process, this is not really an option.

The easy way around this problem is to store the affiliate id as a server session variable on your site. When the customer comes back to the thank you page the code just looks up the affiliate id in session. Of course to use a session, the server needs to set a session id cookie in the customer’s browser. And we’re back at square one…

So getting rid of cookies entirely in the affiliate process is very difficult.

To continue the discussion, let’s assume that we accept session cookies set by the merchant’s web site (also known as first party cookies). These cookies are also a lot less likely to be targeted by overzealous anti-spyware programs, than cookies set by the major affiliate networks.

The next complication is that your web site has many pages between the affiliate landing page and the checkout page. The affiliate id needs to be kept throughout this process. Again the server session comes to the rescue. The affiliate id is grabbed from the URL on the landing page and is immediately stored in session. On the thank you page the id is retrieved from session, just like in the previous example.

Next let’s introduce an affiliate network like CJ. The affiliate’s link will then look something like this:

http://www.aff.net/click?merchantId=42&productId=12&affId=123

The affiliate network registers this click in their database and forward the customer to your sales page with the affiliate id:

http://www.business.com/index.php?affId=123

The process is then the same as in the previous examples. With the difference that on the thank you page you need to communicate the products sold along with the affiliate id back to the affiliate network. This can be done with an invisible iframe or image, or with JavaScript. The affiliate network receives this information and stores it in their database and later matches it up with the previous click data.

Another issue is tracking affiliate commissions across visits (a.k.a. return days). Say a customer clicks on an affiliate link but does not purchase anything on the first visit. A few days later the customer returns to the merchant’s site (without clicking on an affiliate link) and then makes a purchase. Most affiliate programs pay out affiliate commissions for this purchase. Persistent cookies work well for tracking an affiliate id across visits for cases like this. Of course the cookies are not of much use if they are deleted by software on the customer’s computer. If the persistent cookies are issued by the merchant’s web site they are less likely to be deleted. However this would require more work on the part of the merchant.

In the future I believe that CRM systems will play a larger role on many e-commerce sites. You will be given an incentive to enter your name and email address (“squeeze page”) and that information is stored in a database along with the affiliate id that you arrived with. As long as you use the same email address when you make a purchase the original affiliate can always be credited.

Which scenarios did I miss? Is this really a technology problem?

22 Publishers Weblog

Affiliate places always have had that issues. Then again dodgy people always give a bad name, I bet there is a clique around here somewhere.

23 P90X

That sucks for the way it has to be.. Cookies are like an ancient tool that has to be used cause no one can come up with something better.. kinda like the wheel? It was invented when?

24 Jonathan Volk

Currently this is nearly impossible to implement until a majority of the world goes to static IP addresses.

25 Jonathan Volk

I think with time they will continue to improve how things are done. Hopefully CJ can fight against these spybots eating our cookies.

26 cj sucks

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been raising hell about these very issues for 2+ years.

The networks are aware of it, don’t care because they BENEFIT TREMENDOUSLY from it — i.e. HUGE PROFITS!

(shareasale is probably more of an exception because they endeavor toward fairness and honesty toward both affiliate and merchant, whereas it isn’t so elsewhere, especially in commission junction, et al).

And, It’s not in their interest to change it because affiliates do tons of work with diminishing payoffs, while cj and all the major networks reap huge profits from those efforts — (as well as the cookie destroyers, etc). The deck is especially stacked against new, small, everyday non-mega affiliates without all the sophisticated tools and technology, zillions of sites, etc.

I’m not as optimistic — and definitely not as trusting — as some folks seem to be.

And let’s not forget how they rig their system toward short-term links that expire frequently and continue to benefit CJ but don’t pay the affiliate. That is unethical and probably illegal if someone were to actually challenge it in CA courts.

Add to all that the growing propensity of most new browsers to remove/block all cookies — as the writer above suggested, it’s old technology having outlived its peak usefulness.

27 cj sucks

Couldn’t agree more, Jeremy! I’ve been raising hell about these very issues for 2+ years; people always think I’m nuts and overly cynical. Bah humbug. thanks for bringing this up.

The networks are aware of it, don’t care because they BENEFIT TREMENDOUSLY from it — i.e. HUGE PROFITS!

(shareasale is probably more of an exception because they endeavor toward fairness and honesty toward both affiliate and merchant, whereas it isn’t so elsewhere, especially in commission junction, et al).

And, It’s not in their interest to change it because affiliates do tons of work with diminishing payoffs, while cj and all the major networks reap huge profits from those efforts — (as well as the cookie destroyers, etc). The deck is especially stacked against new, small, everyday non-mega affiliates without all the sophisticated tools and technology, zillions of sites, etc.

I’m not as optimistic — and definitely not as trusting — as some folks seem to be.

And let’s not forget how they rig their system toward short-term links that expire frequently and continue to benefit CJ but don’t pay the affiliate. That is unethical and probably illegal if someone were to actually challenge it in CA (and maybe NY) courts.

Add to all that the growing propensity of most new browsers to remove/block all cookies — as the writer above suggested, it’s old technology having outlived its peak usefulness.

Affiliate Guild anyone? It takes people organizing and taking a stand. Jeremy you’re a big influence. Leadership makes the difference in getting a movement started.

What say?

28 David Wilkinson

Quite the issue… Spybots are a right pain up the ass for affiliate marketers, chewing up our commissions. For some of us it’s a main profit stream and if popular software continues to disrupt our earnings I for one will consider doing something SERIOUS about it.

29 bloggernoob

what can be done about this? affiliate marketers are the pawns of the internet. its not like we have that much power as an individual. as a collective we have great power but who will organize the millions of affiliates out there. great article and this should really be addressed by the majors.

30 shy guy

It aint easy after Google issue it.. We will get some problem

31 safesurfer

Once Google starts to block affiliate links, someone may feel tempted to begin blocking AdSense on a wider scale. I believe that ‘blocking’ won’t happen anytime soon for a variety of reasons – legal ones, above all. But adjusting the rankings and playing around with them is one of the major weapons Google possesses.

32 Cookie Monsta

Yo DUDE !

Why does every one keep using that picture of me taking a crap ?

I mean, damn.. you try eating cookies all day with some jokers hand up ya butt.. believe me.. you dont know bliss till you dump the choccy chip.

So.. how do I get in on the cookie action round here.. you keep sayin that people are handin out cookies all over the place, I don’t see any ??

FEED ME COOKIES – I WANT COOKIES COOOOOOKIES !!

33 Neon

affiliate marketers definitely love server side solution to prevent cookie hijacking and user removing. but for those advertiser, they definitely dont mind those spyware program remove the cookies or user delete cookies, saved them some commission payout.

34 Ventrilo

I think I want some cookies, how about you give some away

35 ismar

Them NeverTrueAds LMFAO

36 King Jacob

What?

37 Tracy Robinson

Nobody can take a monster seriously when he has ping-pong balls for eyes.

38 賃貸 大阪

Me too. Great picture. Nice to take that extra two minutes to add a photo.

39 Gecko Tales

The short term links piss me off. I got dropped by one affiliate once but they didn’t kill the link. If I didn’t stay on top of them they would have continued to profit from me idefinately.

40 Mike Hyland

I published the bullet proof solution years ago and the Cookie fishers at ABestweb just yawned. Illegal to block the affiliate tracking cookie senerio at http://www.ecomcity.com/safehaven-network.htm as the shopping cart server sets it. Merchants weren’t too enthused as it was impossible not to report referral sales… LOL.

41 Seo Next

spy bots this days block 90% of affiliate data in system, so things going to be hard.

42 Thousand Dollar Project

check out cookie monsters reply above, lol
you rock, enjoy your cookie d*mp

43 Wendy Piersall

Jeremy, I totally agree with you, and was already having some serious second thoughts about moving more of my business to an affiliate commission revenue model. Between this and the potential “Do Not Track” list, I don’t feel like this is a good foundation to build a business on.

So, what do you think this means for the affiliate marketing industry in the next few years? Do you think we will find a way to overcome it, or do you think it is a dying industry?

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