Probably much more than you think…
The problem is that most likely you don’t know, and in many cases, it’s impossible for you to know.
There are multiple reasons why your affiliate sales may not be tracked correctly:
- You(the affiliate) did not implement the tracking systems properly.
- The tracking system failed to record the sale and did not attribute the commission to your account.
- The client has followed the affiliate link but then cleared his cookies, making him harder to track.
- Sometimes companies running Affiliate Programs will fail to attribute sales generated by their affiliates in a fair manner in order to pay less in commissions.
This is just part of life, and we should accept it and move on, right?
Well, not so fast!
The previous statement is only half right.
Even though we should accept these facts as part of life, I would not agree that we should just move on.
We should look for ways on how to solve these problems.
And the first step in solving this problem is demanding that affiliate programs provide detailed reports of all sales.
Reports should be done in a way such as to be able to verify the inclusion of every single sale you generate.
It’s all about the verifiability of their systems.
This way if you know about one of your client’s details for some reason, you can check if their commission was properly attributed to you. But otherwise, this would not be possible.
There are still many Affiliate Programs today that do not provide detailed reports to their affiliates. And as such, you are not empowered with the ability of verifying if your commissions are being tracked properly or not.
Here’s an example of a very bad affiliate sales reporting system:
In this case, given the underwhelming amount of information provided by the Affiliate Program’s back office reporting system, it is impossible for you to know which sales are being tracked and which are not. All you know is the total amount of sales for any given 30 days period.
Of course, this is very convenient for dishonest Affiliate Programs that may be interested in holding some extra cash on a daily basis.
One should note that this does not only apply to sales, it actually applies to all sorts of performance-based marketing in which there is tracking. This includes tracking signups and clicks.
The Case for Verifiable Affiliate Tracking Systems
Affiliates and Affiliate Program owners, alike, have a lot to gain from implementing provably fair tracking systems that allow for both parties to verify, on a case by cases basis, whether or not their efforts(sales or otherwise) are being properly accounted for.
Affiliates benefit by working with a transparent partner and by being able to verify the tracking systems are set in place correctly.
Affiliate Program owners benefit by gaining the trust of their affiliates and partners and differentiating themselves from their competitors.
Here are the 3 solutions I propose to create a Verifiable Affiliate Tracking System:
1 – Full Transparency
In this solution, affiliates have access to the same information that the affiliate program manager does.
This way there’s no way for information to be manipulated as full transparency is exercised.
Pro: Full Transparency
Con: Confidential data about clients may be leaked to the Affiliate, and this may not be desired.
2 – Partial Transparency
To take into account some of the concerns some affiliate managers may have in regards to sharing information from their clients with the affiliate, it’s still possible to share only the information that would be required for the verification of the sale to take place in the tracking system.
For example, the Affiliate Manager could share only a unique order number, without displaying private information such as client name to the affiliate.
This way it is still possible to verify if sales are being tracked by verifying sales on the tracking system by unique order number.
Pro: Allows for tracking systems to be verifiable without the need to disclose private information about the client.
Con: The affiliate must know information about his client’s order, such as unique order number.
3 – Cryptographic Proof
This one is a bit more complex to understand and implement, but is also my favorite, and maybe the best if you want to have total transparency and privacy as well.
The way this works is that the Affiliate Manager could actually provide detailed reports with all the information about the client to the affiliate, Full Transparency style.
But wait, there’s a catch.
The report would include all the information in a Fully Transparent reporting system, except that the private information would be hashed.
Read the Wikipedia Article on Cryptographic hash functions for more technical details.
What does it mean for the information to be hashed?
It means that the original piece of information is used as input into a Cryptographic Hash Function, which then produces an output, and this output is what is included in the report.
The output is known as the hash digest and it is not possible to find what input generated the hash digest. It’s only possible to confirm that a certain input generated a specific hash digest.
Let’s say you are an affiliate for a big Affiliate Program.
You refer many customers to the merchant that manages the Affiliate Program, but you are not sure it was tracked correctly.
You know one of your customer’s order details. Let’s say it is his name.
What do you do if you want to verify the commission from his purchase was properly account for in the system?
You would start by input his name into a hashing function.
Let’s say the name of the client is “John Doe”.
To verify you would:
- Input his name into the hash function used by the affiliate program. – Try the ProofBit.com SHA256 hash app.
- Get the output of the function, in this case, the hash digest for the name “John Doe” in hexadecimal form is “6cea57c2fb6cbc2a40411135005760f241fffc3e5e67ab99882726431037f908”.
- Search for the hash digest string in the report.
Simple enough right?
Now if you find “6cea57c2fb6cbc2a40411135005760f241fffc3e5e67ab99882726431037f908” in the reports, it means his name was tracked to your account.
If you don’t find it, it means something wrong happened with the tracking and you may want to contact your affiliate manager.
Edit: This method makes it very convenient to verify the data, but might be vulnerable to a brute force attack in a way that simply encrypting the information would not be given a secure key. So, an alternative to this method would be to encrypt all the data, and make it only decryptable given a key that is only known by the client that would have to be given voluntarily.
Pro: Allows for full transparency as well as full privacy.
Con: Some programs may find this technically challenging to implement.
If the Affiliate Program you are using is not verifiable, contact them and ask them how you can verify the system is tracking your referrals.
If they don’t know how just link them to this article.
I generally assume that if an affiliate program is not willing to make their tracking systems verifiable, they are most likely not tracking things correctly every time. And may even outright defrauding the affiliate.
Now there is no reason for affiliates to be blind to the process of tracking their affiliate programs use.
PS: ProofBit.com is under development, and looking for support from anyone that aligns with the ideals of creating a more transparent and fair world. Do not hesitate in contacting me or ProofBit.com directly if you would like to make part of the effort.