This chapter is all about tracking affiliate sales, so if you don't promote other peoples' products or services as an affiliate, just go ahead and skip to the next chapter.
OK, so here's the deal affiliates ...
Unless you're an online celebrity or "guru" with a loyal following, you literally have no chance at making any real money unless you become an expert at tracking.
I've made millions as an affiliate over the years, and becoming an expert at tracking was probably responsible for at least 80% of my success.
I know hundreds of successful direct response affiliates, and every single one of them will tell you the same thing.
It's simple really, and it all boils down to this ...
Without proper tracking you just won't be able to spend enough money on traffic to effectively compete in the marketplace, and so you'll never really get anywhere.
Just trust me on this, OK?
And whatever you do, please don't get lazy and give up just because some of this affiliate tracking stuff may get a bit technical in a minute.
Instead, see this as the huge opportunity that it really is.
Because the reality is that a lot of affiliates are lazy, and they won't make the effort to learn and implement this "tracking stuff" - and that's exactly how YOU can gain a huge competitive advantage.
So do yourself a huge favor and commit, right now, to really learning this stuff.
OK, now that you're committed to becoming an affiliate tracking expert so you can dominate your niche, let's talk about the three ways to track your affiliate sales.
The first method is using our good friend, the tracking "pixel."
Many of the top affiliate networks and some private affiliate programs allow you to use tracking pixels to track your affiliate sales. Ask yours and find out.
If this is the case with what you're promoting, consider yourself lucky.
Tracking affiliate sales with tracking pixels is by far the easiest and most pain-free method, so just go back and read the previous chapter that you may have skipped to learn about tracking sales with conversion tracking pixels.
In a nutshell you'll just grab your sales tracking pixel(s) from your tracking platform and paste them into your affiliate back-office wherever necessary.
If your affiliate network supports the use of tracking pixels you'll normally see a spot for each offer you're promoting where you can add in your tracking pixel.
Many times however you won't be able to use tracking pixels ...
The next most popular method, supported by all of the major CPA networks and some private affiliate programs, is something called Postback URLs.
This method is also sometimes referred to as Server-To-Server tracking.
Technically speaking this is actually the most accurate way to track your affiliate sales. With Postback URLs your stats should always be 100% accurate.
On the other hand, while tracking pixels are an industry standard method of tracking and work fine 99.5% of the time, there's always the chance that a pixel doesn't "fire" due to a slow loading web page, or some other technical reason.
It's just that there's a lot more setup involved to use Postback URLs so that's why I recommend that new affiliates start out using tracking pixels if at all possible.
But if you're not scared of getting a little "technical" and doing a bit more work to get things set up, Postback URLs are definitely the way to go.
Here's how it works ...
A Postback URL is a special URL that you get from your tracking platform, which you then enter into your affiliate back-office.
This allows the affiliate network you're promoting to "talk" to your tracking system, so that your affiliate sales show up in your tracking system automatically.
So on the surface it's pretty simple, and similar to using tracking pixels ...
You just cut and paste your Postback URL provided by your tracking platform into the appropriate spot in your affiliate back-office.
We have some step-by-step examples of this with some of the popular CPA networks, or you can just ask your affiliate manager for help if you need to.
But there's another step, and this is where some people get confused ...
In order for the affiliate system to "post back" info about your sales to your tracking platform, the two systems need a way to identify individual clicks and sales.
And the way this is done is with something called a "Sub-ID."
Think of a Sub-ID as a unique identifier that can be used to track individual "things."
Sub-IDs can be used to track individual clicks, visitors, actions or sales, individual keywords, or just about anything else.
In this case Sub-IDs are used to help track your affiliate sales back to the tracking link or campaign, and ultimately back to the individual click, that led to the sale.
This is where it can get a bit technical, and some people get scared off.
But it's not that bad, and like I said before ...
If you make it a point to get good at this, you'll have a huge advantage over much of your "competition" who are all too lazy to track their affiliate sales properly.
Don't worry, it's like just about everything else. Once you do it a few times it's easy.
OK, so here's how it generally works ...
What you'll need to do is pass a unique Sub-ID with each click to your affiliate link.
With ClickMagick for example you just use the token [clickid] wherever it needs to be in your affiliate link, and ClickMagick will replace it with a unique number for every click.
The affiliate network or affiliate program you're promoting will then record that Sub-ID with the click in their system ...
... and then if that click later leads to a sale they'll post information about the sale back to your Postback URL - including the unique Sub-ID that generated the sale.
This allows your tracking platform to properly attribute the sale to the tracking link, campaign and individual click that actually generated the sale.
The other thing you'll want to do is have your affiliate network post back the actual sale amount with each sale, by using another special token in your Postback URL, so your revenue stats will be as accurate as possible in your tracking system.
This token is just a placeholder that you can use in your Postback URL which your affiliate network will replace with the actual value at the time of the sale.
For example, here's what a ClickMagick Postback URL looks like:
To have your affiliate network properly post back the unique Sub-ID and the sale amount to your ClickMagick account, you'd start by asking your affiliate manager which two tokens to use.
They'll normally tell you to use something like [payout] for your commission amount and [sid] or [s1] for the Sub-ID that you passed to your affiliate link.
Then all you do is plug those two tokens into the Postback URL from your tracking system before you submit the Postback URL to your affiliate back-office.
So using the example above, your ClickMagick Postback URL would look like this:
You'd just submit this into your affiliate back-office, and from that point on your sale details would be posted back to your ClickMagick account, and ClickMagick would attribute the sale and revenue to the link and click that generated the sale.
Now, if that all sounds "too technical" for you, hear me out ...
Both your tracking platform and your affiliate network should have documentation or tutorials covering the exact specifics on how to use Postback URLs.
Here at ClickMagick we have video tutorials showing you not only how to set this up in ClickMagick, but we also have tutorials on how to set this up on the other side with most of the major affiliate networks too.
Anyone, and I mean absolutely anyone, can learn how to do this in an afternoon.
Heck, even if it took you an entire eight hour day to learn how to do this, it'd be time well spent considering that getting this right is one of the most important things you'll ever do in your affiliate marketing career.
So if you're good with "this stuff" it may only take you an hour to get the hang of it ...
Or it might take you an entire day if this isn't exactly your cup of tea.
Whatever the case, just do it. Because your success depends on it.
Finally, keep in mind that not all tracking systems support the use of Postback URLs.
If yours doesn't, you'll want to switch to a more feature-rich tracking system if you need the ability to use Postback URLs or Server-To-Server tracking.
The third and final way to track affiliate sales is just by using Sub-IDs alone ...
You pass a unique Sub-ID to your affiliate links the same way you would when using Postback URLs like we just talked about, and then you'll be able to see your Sub-IDs in your affiliate stats along with all of your clicks and sales.
Then from time to time you could manually try to match up those Sub-IDs with your tracking system to figure out which links or campaigns generated those sales.
This is a real pain in the butt, and I don't recommend you even try to go this route.
ClickMagick allows you to import conversion reports from your affiliate network which makes it a little easier, but it's still a manual process and it's really not something you want to hassle with unless it's absolutely necessary.
If the affiliate network or affiliate programs you're promoting don't support Tracking Pixels or Postback URLs, I would honestly ditch them and promote something else.
Affiliate marketing is hard enough, and when you're first starting out your tracking needs to be as accurate and hands-free as possible so you can focus on other things.
Like optimizing your marketing and making more money, which we'll talk about next.