Yet another upcoming feature we’ve added in LinkTrackr recently, that I did not mention in the previous post, is a revamped conversions page and file upload.
Previously, you had a report to view all your conversions in a pie chart format, as well as a table that showed you all the conversions in one table. However, we felt that it was still not giving you a complete picture of what’s happening with your marketing campaigns.
Plus, sometimes you record conversions in error, or incomplete conversions. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could edit the conversion? What if you missed out of tracking something and wanted an easier way to add it to your LinkTrackr reports?
Behold, the new features we’ve planned for Linktrackr!
View All Your Conversions Easily
With the new conversion tracking page, you can easily see the most important details of your conversion:
When you click “View / Edit” however, you see magic. Now we show you a complete timeline of the conversion, back to the referring click. Plus, you can see all the important details including IP address and location:
And yes, you can now also edit your conversion details, leave notes, or delete the individual conversion.
But that’s not all..
Easily Upload Your Conversion Reports
Previously, we did not allow you to manually add a single conversion, which can be useful. Although the file import feature was available, it was time-consuming and difficult for most users to get the data into the format we needed.
Now, you can add a single conversion pretty easily as long as you enter a Click ID, which is the key factor in tagging your conversion to the click.
You can also ignore the Click ID, but when you do that the conversion only shows up in summary reports.
Plus, a completely revamped file import feature allows you to easily add the reports you download from popular affiliate networks like Shareasale, ClickBank, Commission Junction and more.
All you have to do is download from the network, choose the predefined format, and upload your file. Conversions are added into LinkTrackr, but you can manually approve or reject each conversion first.
NOTE: To use predefined reports you must not edit or modify the source file in anyway. Just upload it exactly as it is in CSV format.
Most of these feature are similar to our Shorty link cloaking plugin for WordPress. In fact, we introduced them in Shorty first, to test them out.
They work extremely well, and now we’re introducing the same features and workflow into LinkTrackr. We believe these new conversion tracking features will help you manage more conversions and affiliate commissions easily, from one central dashboard.
These new conversion tracking features and affiliate commission uploads are in development, and we expect to release them within the next 30 days.
What is CPA marketing or Cost Per Action marketing, and how does it work?
Here’s the de facto WikiPedia explanation on CPA marketing:
Cost Per Action or CPA (sometimes known as Pay Per Action or PPA; also Cost Per Conversion) is an online advertising pricing model, where the advertiser pays for each specified action – for example, an impression, click, form submit (e.g., contact request, newsletter sign up, registration etc.), double opt-in or sale.
That’s a very broad definition of CPA. In reality, the advertising world uses the term CPM (Cost Per Mille) to track banner impressions, and CPC (Cost Per Click) to track clicks and unique visitors.
We find the word CPA used in many affiliate networks and advertising platforms, each with a slightly different variation of what CPA means. So here’s a diagram to explain what CPA really means, according to us, in layman terms:
CPA Marketing for Agencies
For advertisers and agencies, CPA marketing means generating a lead or sale on their website. This is also referred to as “Performance-Based Marketing”, or a method for pricing ads and traffic based on the action generated by that ad. For agencies, this is something new, as their typical model is CPM or CPC. In fact a lot of agencies today still display on those two models.
CPA Marketing for Affiliates
For affiliates, CPA affiliate marketing means getting paid for a sale or lead. However, here’s where the misnaming occurs.
Some affiliate networks use the term CPA to refer to lead generation offers, which are also called “Lead Gen” in some instances. In such cases, the traditional model of getting paid a percentage commission based on sale is referred to as “Rev Share”.
Also, since affiliates are more concerned with how much they get paid, the term PPL (Pay Per Lead) and PPS (Pay Per Sale) is also used in some networks.
There is no industry standard naming guide, so it’s messy and confusing. Generally speaking however, the term CPA has been used so inaccurately by tons of CPA marketing networks and CPA marketing programs, that the term now simply means getting paid a fixed sum for generating a lead to a free offer.
In our own affiliate network, Ashadee, we refer to it as CPL or Cost Per Lead. This is what the mainstream advertising industry uses, so were sticking with that.
No matter what actual term is used, CPA marketing is beneficial to advertisers and affiliates.
Last month, I came across an article in Business Insider about cookie stuffing, and how two eBay super affiliates got on the FBI shitlist for using it.
It’s a very compelling and shocking story – and I recommend you read it carefully – but what I want to talk about in this post is what cookie stuffing really means, why we avoided it in LinkTrackr, and why you should stay away from doing it yourself.
Shawn Hogan eBay Cookie Stuffing Saga
According to the article, Shawn Hogan, the CEO of DigitalPoint, and Brian Dunning, together generated more than $28 million in affiliate sales for eBay.
However, they did this with many “grey hat” methods at that time, including cookie stuffing. Today, cookie stuffing is a clear violation, but a few years ago everyone and their grandma was doing it without even thinking twice.
eBay has also prosecuted other affiliates for cookie stuffing, including a six month prison term for selling tools that can help other affiliates defraud eBay with the same cookie stuffing method. The most interesting part of the article, is that “some marketers do not appears to realize that cookie-stuffing can trigger criminal charges”.
Is cookie stuffing illegal?
Damn right it is. You can get away with it for a while, and you may even be doing it by accident. However, it’s still going to get you in trouble eventually.
So What Is Cookie Stuffing?
Every time you click on an affiliate link, the affiliate tracking software places a cookie on your computer. This cookie stores important data about your click, visited pages, and the referring affiliate. When you complete a purchase, the affiliate tracking system will locate this cookie on your computer, and with the information contained inside, reward the referring affiliate with a commission.
With cookie stuffing or cookie dropping however, you can make commissions from people who DID NOT click on your affiliate link at all.
In other words, you’re making money not by referring people to the merchant’s website as you should be doing, but by secretly loading the website (and dropping the affiliate cookie) in the background without the visitor’s knowledge.
Here are some common cookie stuffing methods:
- Image or iFrame cookie drops – With this method, you insert a 1×1 pixel image or iframe on your website that loads your affiliate link. For the visitor, your tiny image or iframe is invisible, but nevertheless he gets your affiliate cookie on his computer and you’ll make money off his purchase for all the cookies you drop.
- WordPress plugins – There are some WordPress plugins (I won’t mention them here) that basically do the method above, but in an automated way across all your posts, or only selected ones.
- Pop-ups or pop-unders – These are very easily blocked by your browsers today, but in the glory days of popups, tons of people used them to stuff cookies.
- Browser toolbars or malware – Shawn Hogan, in the eBay case, used browser toolbars that he created to implement cookie stuffing. Some computer software you’ve downloaded for free may also be stuffing cookies on your PC every time you use it.
- Adobe Flash and Flash components – Everyone knows Flash is not secure. You can load an affiliate link in Flash, both you your site and on third-party sites
Cookie stuffing works best for large affiliate programs like Amazon or eBay. Most US consumers buy from Amazon regularly, therefore by loading an Amazon affiliate link using cookie stuffing, you actually earn commissions from the visitor when he checks out at Amazon.com – even though you never actually brought him to any Amazon page.
Cookie Stuffing Script & Software
Before LinkTrackr, I used numerous tracking software to manage, redirect and cloak my affiliate links. Among those was a software called GoTryThis, and one of the features in that particular version I had was cookie stuffing. I used it, it worked, and I made easy commissions.
(I sent traffic to one web host as an affiliate, but also loaded cookies from all their competitors. So even if the visitor ended up buying hosting from someone else, I still got the commissions. )
I did it mostly as an experiment, and never really went all out with it as I felt it was wrong. Also, I understood the risk of using cookie stuffing, and that it might get my affiliate accounts banned.
Today, in LinkTrackr we have link cloaking and conversion tracking, but we made a conscious decision not to include any cookie stuffing capabilities. It can get us, and you, in a lot of trouble. It’s not worth the extra commissions you could be making by using the technique in the first place.
Still, we keep getting inquiries every now and then about cookie stuffing from many affiliate marketers.
Tons of cookie stuffing software still exist, mostly in “black hat” forms and closed groups. Here’s an example of one that proudly proclaim how awesome they are at cookie stuffing:
Use them, or don’t, you have to decide.
Whatever you decide on, you must be aware of the serious shit you can get into (did you read the article above) when you do cookie stuffing. There must be more legit ways of earning a living!
Most new affiliates misunderstand what link masking means. They confuse it with link cloaking or link redirect, similar terms sometimes incorrectly used to describe link masking.
So what is link masking / URL masking then?
Imagine a mask. You wear it to conceal your real face from everyone; to show them a different face; a face you want them to see.
Link masking or URL masking, when you think about it, isn’t really all that different.
Link masking is about covering up a link so that it looks like another link. There are a few reasons you may want to mask your links:
- Masking affiliate links – Some people resist clicking on your affiliate links simply because they know you’re about to make money off them.
- To shorten or beautify a link – Some long URLs are a pain to copy and paste anywhere else online, and a greater pain to dictate over the telephone.
- To track clicks and stats – Link masking is often used with a reporting software (like LinkTrackr) that helps you keep track of who clicked on your links and where the clicks are coming from.
How to Implement Link Masking
The simplest way to do mask a URL or link is by implementing cPanel link masking or HTML link masking. URL masking with a URL shortening service like Bitly is great for making short and easy-to-remember URLs. However, all these methods lack reports and useful stats.
If you want to mask, shorten and track the performance of your links, LinkTrackr is the obvious choice.
As per the screenshot above. you will create a “tracking link” which is the “mask” and the “destination URL” is the actual link you want to drive traffic to.
Here’s another example
Destination URL: http://www.aweber.com/?213608
With Link Masking: http://gobala.linktrackr.com/aweber
When you click on the masked link, Linktrackr will capture vital information, and redirect you to the destination URL.
Plus, with LinkTrackr you can always use as many custom domains as you want, so you can implement link masking using various domains. If you’re using Twitter regularly, you can also use a shorter custom domain to fit your links into Twitter’s 140 character limit, like this:
Short Domain: http://gigurl.com/aweber
In your LinkTrackr dashboard, you can see useful reports about each visitor who clicked on the link.
Is Link Masking Legal And / Or Ethical?
A few years back, there would have been no debate as to whether you implement link masking or not. Every serious affiliate marketer did it.
Today however, some people are concerned with FTC recommendations that all affiliate links should be disclosed. However, FTC did not say that you cannot mask your links – they simply mean that you should inform people that the masked link is an affiliate link.
The easy way to do that is to have a visible disclosure policy on your blog that clearly states your affiliate relationship with products that you recommend. If you’re putting a masked link in emails, a short “This is my affiliate link” disclosure within the content of the email should be more than enough. How you do it is subjective, but just the act of disclosing affiliate links can save your ass from possible FTC inquiries.
I truly believe that people will still click on your link even if you disclose your affiliate relationship. In fact, since link masking typically has more useful visible information (what you can read) than a long link with a string of characters and numbers, you’re actually doing them a service!
Without using link masking techniques, there’s no real way for you to track outbound clicks, especially for affiliate marketing. Therefore, everyone should be using link masking in their affiliate campaigns.
If you take a look at your Google Analytics stats right now, you will notice that a large percentage of it is “Direct Traffic”.
Direct Traffic is a term used in Google Analytics and other analytics software to represent unknown or untagged referrers. But there’s much more to it than meets the eye..
Typically, direct website traffic is represented in Google Analytics as:
(direct) / (none)
What does direct traffic mean?
According to this post on direct traffic and this discussion on direct traffic, it is a result of:
- Visitors typing in your website URL directly into the browser
- Clicks to your website from within a PDF
- Clicks to your website from inside an email (that doesn’t have proper click tracking)
- Clicks on a shortened URL that doesn’t pass data properly
- Clicks from mobile apps
- Visits from bookmarks in the browser
- 302 redirects
- Auto-loading home pages
- Other technical reasons
So basically, there are a ton of reasons why a visitor to your website may be labeled as Direct Traffic, but here’s the rule of thumb:
Any visitor who lands on your website without a HTTP referrer agent string, is regarded as direct traffic.
The problem is, most Direct Traffic is not by accident.
Here’s the truth: Some applications and websites deliberately remove HTTP referrer agent data before sending the visitor to your website, and Google is one of them. But why?
It’s simple: Because information is king.
Direct Traffic – Information is King
Google understands this, and so do many other ad networks.
Referring clicks and referrer URL is ultra-valuable to any ad network or service, Google doesn’t want to share this data with anyone else, and especially not you!
Think about it: How often do you see Gmail appearing as a referrer in your Analytics? Take a look at your account right now, and you may be shocked!
Gmail is the largest free email service in the world, and yet you won’t find a single visitor who “came” from Gmail. Isn’t that a bit weird?
(Note: We discuss more about Gmail click tracking here)
Don’t think for a minute that Google isn’t tracking URLs in every single email, as well as the clicks on all those URLs. They ARE, but they are not sharing it with you.
Direct Traffic – Solving The Puzzle
The percentage of Direct Traffic keeps growing on a daily basis. You will find more Direct Traffic in your Analytics today as compared to two or three years ago. Why is Direct Traffic on the rise?
A huge part of this is due to the growing number of mobile browsers, mobile applications, and mobile traffic. Most mobile applications do not send any information about a click from within the app.
Plus, blog readership is on the decline, while social media is on the rise.
Blogs are great at passing referring URLs to your website, so visitors that end up from your site via a blog is easily trackable. With social media however, the referring URL may get blocked by built-in URL checking and redirect scripts. So when a user ends up on your site from FaceBook or Twitter, they are more likely to be recognized as Direct Traffic.
Instant messengers like Skype, and chat applications like WhatsApp and WeChat also remove or block HTTP user agent data. You could have received 50 clicks from a WhatsApp group conversation, and you will never know about it.
To solve the problem of Direct Traffic, we recommend that you use LinkTrackr’s ad tracking features with campaign tagging. You can enter up to 5 variables – Campaign, Subcampaign, Ad Group, Ad Name and Keyword.
LinkTrackr’s ad tracking feature plays nicely with Google Analytics too. You can choose to pass all 5 campaign variables to Google Analytics, by matching LinkTrackr’s campaign to tags to those used by Analytics. You can see all available tagging variables in the edit page, as shown below.
(Note: You may not want to do this is the destination URL is an affiliate website, as you’ll literally be revealing your traffic sources to the merchant)
Here’s how your modified destination URL will look like:
“Direct traffic” in your Analytics is a treasure cove of useful data. Some of this data may ultimately help you make more money by highlighting profitable traffic sources. The sooner you start using campaign tags in all you ads, the sooner you can have this data in your hands,
Start using LinkTrackr now, to decode Direct Traffic once and for all!
So, can a cloaked affiliate link get top 10 Google rankings? Yes, apparently it still works if the keyword has very little competition, and the amount of inbound links to the cloaked link is of good quality.
As you can see in the screenshot above, an affiliate for LinkTrackr, none other than the great Mr. John Chow, got his cloaked link ranked #4 for the term “linktrackr”. The URL is actually a custom domain used with his LinkTrackr account. There’s no real content in that URL, except the actual LinkTrackr website cloaked in an iframe.
This means, people searching for LinkTrackr can actually visit the cloaked affiliate link, and Mr. Chow would be earning some pretty easy money. No advertising involved, no money spent.
How to Create a Cloaked Affiliate Link with LinkTrackr
Although there’s no guarantee that your cloaked affiliate link will rank in Google, here’s how you can optimize it in your LinkTrackr account.
First, you need to enter your own title, keywords and description. If you are duplicating LinkTrackr’s own meta information, ranking higher than LinkTrackr is unlikely. It’s also possible that your cloaked link will not be indexed at all due to duplicate content.
Next, make sure you allow the cloaked affiliate link to be indexed by search engines. This means you will allow Google’s bots and spiders to treat your cloaked link like an actual unique page or website.
Ranking Your Cloaked Affiliate Link
Of course, the hardest part will be to get enough inbound links to your cloaked affiliate link. In the case of John Chow, his high ranking blog makes it easy. He just needed to put the link in one or to pages in his blog. So he did not optimize the title.
However, if the keywords you target are not competitive – for example long tail keywords – then you might just get ranked on page one of Google with a handful of links to your cloaked affiliate link. This technique also works with basic domain name cloaking.
And what’s better than free traffic from Google?