The newest version of Firefox, and we can assume each moving forward, will be blocking tracking platforms by default. Most notably is Google Analytics, Facebook and other large sites. So before anyone else says it, Firefox killed affiliate marketing and it is now dead.
If you believe that Firefox killed an entire industry with this one change, then you’re done, don’t continue reading and go watch videos on YouTube, which is also being blocked oddly enough. =0)
If you don’t believe that affiliate marketing is dead, then you belong on this post.
Read below and you’ll learn why and how Firefox blocking cookies as well as tracking code placed on the merchant’s own website may impact your affiliate tracking, and your revenue, from both an affiliate and merchant standpoint. I also share a step-by-step with screenshots on how to see what the impact on your own revenue will be. After, I share new tracking options that you as a merchant can implement, or if you’re an affiliate marketer, you can give to your merchants to help provide extra layers of protection for your income.
First, here is the blog post that started the discussion in the SEO industry, but I didn’t see anything from the affiliate blogs and resource sites which was odd (and why I’m writing this post). Here is another post from the Mozilla website which sources the site and solution they may or may not follow for which sites to block ads and tracking from. Now the important one, this is the potential list of sites and ad platforms (including affiliate networks and servers which will possibly no longer be tracked).
If you look at the list, almost every major affiliate network, CPA network and affiliate platform is listed. But remember, this also blocks tracking code within a website. That means your monetization scripts like viglink and skimlinks will potentially be blocked. They’re both on the list too. I hope they are able to find a work around because they do represent a huge network of sites and a lot of my friends use them on their blogs. But no, that is not a recommendation from me that you should work with them, you need to evaluate your own business model.
I didn’t check all traditional affiliate and CPA networks, but everyone that came to mind is there, including the URL redirects and server redirect links…it is very complete. So now that we know sales and traffic may no longer track, and unlike ITP compliance with apple and Safari, I haven’t seen any network give a solution. So let me help either alleviate your fears, or give you reason to invest in a solution.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t only wiping cookies, it is blocking code installed on a merchant’s own website. That is why many of the newer, advanced and cross device solutions may not be effective on this. They rely on code placed within and across a merchant’s website, and this new form of blocking will possibly block that too.
Find How Many Firefox Users Are on Your Website
Log into your Google Analytics account or whatever platform you use. If you are a blogger, affiliate or website owner (this means you promote offers and earn commissions), follow the first steps. If you are an affiliate manager, merchant or offer (you have a network of publishers that send you traffic) follow through to the second set of steps.
Affiliates, Bloggers and Webmasters:
To find how many visitors use firefox in Google Analytics:
Click on Audience > Technology > Browser & OS
Now look in the middle section and you’ll see “Firefox”. This will give you the total amount or % of firefox users that go to your website.
The last step is to click on Firefox and you’ll get a list of the versions. This is where it may or may not get scary.
Merchants, Stores and Offer Providers:
Follow the three steps above and:
Click on the secondary dimension drop down.
Now select whatever way you track your affiliate program. It could be source, source/medium, one of the ad variables, and choose that option.
Now you’ll see a column that shows browser versions and the total referrals/visits from each channel. Look for the affiliate one.
This is how you know what % of your affiliates will lose tracking, and you may be able to see specific affiliate IDs so that you can also create a plan for them. This will help keep their loyalty and set you apart as a merchant who not only knows their stuff, but also cares about them. It goes much further than you’d think.
Ok, so now that we know the world isn’t going to end, well for most of us, how can we protect ourselves? Simple avoid anything related with the affiliate network because the goal of Firefox and what looks like other browsers is to block third party tracking. But that does not mean eliminating them. Again, do not abandon your affiliate networks. They provide more protection than you can image.
Affiliate networks are important, they provide some incredibly technologies, more trustworthy controls to ensure you get paid, and they save merchants time, money and stress. We as agencies, merchants and affiliates can still work with them, even when browsers block their tracking.
How to Track Affiliate Sales When Browsers Block Tracking & Cookies
Option 1: Custom pages and funnels.
Create a custom landing page on your website for each important affiliate, or ones with potential. Now create a funnel that tracks across your website and follows them to conversion. You can also set up total amount and value.
Once a week, pull a report with the total sales and ecommerce value, then credit the partner for whatever was missing inside your affiliate network. But be warned, this is going to be limiting. Giving this landing page will prevent them from using product links, deep links and defining a custom landing page of their choosing. That can kill conversions.
I have a work around for that, but that is part of what I offer to my clients. The above will work for most programs though and is a starter solution. If you’re an experienced affiliate manager, it should already have “clicked” (sorry, I love puns) how to get around the single landing page so deep links and better techniques work. It’s more obvious than you’d think. If not, here’s my contact form.
Option 2: Coupons and codes
Regular tracking won’t work, so it’s time to look for other alternatives. If you have a coupon code box, give your affiliates a unique code to apply. Or you can set the affiliate ID to automatically register as a coupon code and apply a discount. If you can do this to generate a signal to the network, it could help to track these sales.
But be careful, this is not a complete solution and it could lead to unearned commissions. I’m just giving you the basics for a solution. You also have to watch out for:
Codes getting places on coupon websites and the affiliate being paid commissions for transactions they did not refer
Competition forming between the coupon sites that show up for your brand + coupons in Google, and top funnel or high-value affiliates that are using codes because of Firefox tracking
Codes going viral from your own efforts that are now firing affiliate commissions
Customer support finding these codes and using them when helping customers the affiliate didn’t refer
Option 3: Database and advanced tracking
This is my favorite. By finding a way to gather or collect a unique piece of information like an email, first and last name with a zipcode or phone number, etc… you can tag the customer as an affiliate referral by pulling in the affiliate ID from the URL. This takes place after the redirect and stores it in your database with the unique identifier. (i.e. your website tracks the affiliate ID and unique identifier after the redirect and stores it in a database).
Now set the database record the latest occurrence of the click and set it to stop reporting back to the affiliate network through the cookie life promised. Then add one more line of code which makes sure that if another click comes through and it is referred from the same affiliate, the cookie life resets to the total amount of days.
Because it is tracking in your database and using the actual URLs on your website, if you can get the information (it’s easier than you’d think), Firefox code blocking no longer matters because the cookies and ad code across the site are not needed. You’ll also be posting the transaction data back to the affiliate network through a direct connection, so the traditional cookie and pixel method won’t matter in these cases.
One thing I have always loved about being in affiliate marketing is that we are innovators. Every single channels gives us obstacles and we create workarounds for them. We find ways to drive traffic, we find solutions to enhance tracking and convert more sales, but we never get credit for it. But we don’t need too. We’re the Gen X of digital marketing. We also rely on tracking for all of our revenue, so when browsers, security software, etc… start blocking it, we’re the ones who come to the rescue for other digital channels and that is why I love this industry. If you’d like help with the strategies above, click here to contact me. If you have more solutions, leave a comment below.
Whether it’s a Blogger in a Facebook group claiming they got penalized for using affiliate links and warning others not to try them, or a resource or directory website that swears their Google traffic is gone because they joined a specific affiliate program, you’re going to come across some scary stories. Don’t let them turn you off from affiliate marketing.
The main thing to look for is the person claiming “Google hates affiliate programs” or “Google hates affiliate websites” and my favorite “Google hates affiliate links”.
Using affiliate links and programs is just like any other monetization plan or ad placement. Google even has an entire section in their webmaster support area of search console specifically for building solid affiliate websites to make money. For the most part, affiliate links are 307 redirects, cloaked links or just a direct link with parameters (which should be no followed). They are treated just like any other part of a page and piece of your website’s structure and anatomy. There is no difference than some of the other things you’re already doing.
Just like with other inbound and outbound links, too many dilute the authority they can pass internally and externally, and you should not add them if they won’t provide value to the visitor and support the topic. You also should not load your sidebar full or place too many on a page and above the fold. It’s that simple. So why do so many people blame them for their sites not ranking or losing rankings?
Let’s dive into why some people say Google hates affiliate websites and links.
Thin content being added and banners/links in the wrong places
Irrelevant content being created
Duplicate pages diluting your entire site
Not using disclosures to say it is paid placements (use blogging penalty for sponsorships)
Thin Content Being Added and Using Ads in the Wrong Places
Example 1 – Bloggers and their first sales.
Bloggers who make their first sales sometimes start creating lists and just adding in random products or irrelevant products into posts. Lists can be good if they provide value and a solution (like a themed and content rich guide on products to complete a goal like weight loss in XY time or a gift guide), but too many can dilute the content and theme of a website. When there are too many posts that don’t stick to why the site was high quality in the first place, Google needs to reevaluate the blog and reassign if it is still a good resource to show. Gift guides can be an exception, but make sure they serve a purpose and add value to the site. The theme should also match the main theme of the site or category and they need proper formatting.
Example 2 – Bad Advice from Affiliate Managers
The next issue is bad advice from affiliate managers (the person who manages a program and is probably not an SEO). The most common problem I see is that one told the affiliate to keep adding in affiliate links and some send you sample pages where you mention a product but don’t have a link. Although this is how you can get higher conversions and I recommend it too, you have to be smart and remember everything is situational.
If your site is about instapot and you’re providing recipes, don’t link to Instapot with an affiliate link. The person already has one and is looking for the recipe not a second or third instapot. Instead link to the tools used for the specific recipe as you mention them and possibly again in a roundup at the bottom. You also have to remember that the more links you add to the page, the less authority you can pass which changes your websites architecture, structure and creates a new user experience with more ads and that means Google needs to figure out if it is still a good experience.
Get a list of each of the brands they work with and then go through your website and make sure you “nofollow” each of the links to these companies. (If you sold a do follow link and are under contract, you’ve now breached, same if you agreed to not join their affiliate program because they did a sponsored post.)
Make sure you know each merchant from the list you’ve mentioned in the past and keep track for the future. You’ll need to have advertising disclosures in the top of every single page because if you remember from a couple years ago, Google began penalizing blogs and websites that don’t disclose relationships. It’s on their guidelines page here.These pages include but are not limited too:
E-books that are indexable
Example 4 – Too Many Links & Banners in the Wrong Place
The last point on the thin content is adding a ton of images and banners. Although banner ads can work, placing too many above the fold or in the wrong spaces signals to Google that the user experience has changed and is now about ads instead of solutions and content. Here’s a post where they designed good layouts and show you best practices (for adsense which tend to hold true with other ads).
Unfortunately a lot of these go ignored and when the links and banners (or even pop ups like subscribe to our newsletter) are added (whether in content or in the sidebar, header and footer), the pages get devalued. Not to mention they can slow the page down, and since page speed is a ranking signal, this can impact your site too.
When you add affiliate links, add them in places where it creates a better user experience by providing a solution, giving an example or helping the person to find a product to perform a task (similar to providing a solution). Here’s an example.
Maybe you have a post about installing a hot water heater and needing a specific tool or piece for an older model. If the piece isn’t readily carried at hardware stores because it is old or not common, using an affiliate link to a store that does carry it is helpful, provides and creates a better user experience. This is how you properly use affiliate links. You can also do FAQs about the installation process which can both be user friendly and incorporate affiliate links. i.e. which is better for XY purpose, product A or product B.
Irrelevant Content Being Created
Much like when sponsorships start showing up, affiliate sales can create a high that you crave and want more of. But don’t let it influence your content. Keeping your content true to itself is why you get readers, how you keep your site authoritative and keeps your audience coming back.
If you have an all-natural beauty blog or resources website featuring ingredient guides or resources about how each works, or what is the best, don’t just start adding all natural supplements for diets, shakes and pills. These are relevant for the majority of your audience who wants skin care that uses these ingredients. By all of the sudden adding these for the sole purpose of being paid for sponsored content and making commissions, the main content of your website is diluted and creates a need for Google to rethink what your website is about. The more irrelevant content you add, the worse your site’s health becomes and eventually the entire thing starts to slip. I see this with both my SEO clients and with affiliates (especially in the blogging space).
Even if the supplement is made from pure coconut milk or has peppermint essential oils, and you have a ton of content about the benefits of these and rank well, that doesn’t mean the products are directly relevant to that content, they just contain the ingredient. Relevance is key here and so is moderation. If you don’t keep that in mind, you may lose your traffic. You can absolutely add some of this, but don’t go overboard and be selective.
Think to yourself:
Which of these is most closely related to skin care and is there a natural tie-in or crossover?
Will the person reading about the ingredient in their skincare be a customer for this diet pill too? (if the answer isn’t an immediate yes, then do not add it).
Is this something that can be used as an example in future content that is directly relevant for the main theme? (if the product is not something you’re willing to source and cite in future copy, do not add it. If you won’t source it from your own site, then why would someone else link too it and why would you include it anyways? That should be a main signal you shouldn’t be adding it to your content.)
Duplicate Pages Diluting Your Website Content
This happens more in the CPA and private network programs, but also carries over into the the cost per sale and traditional affiliate model. An affiliate manager sends out “swipe” copy or a post for you to use. Other times it is their higher ups or the PR team that wanted content out there so they have the manager mail it to everyone. When you publish this copy whether it is the same headers, the same paragraphs or the same products in the same or similar type of copy, you’ve now set your site up to have to compete with every other site that uses it.
By doing this you now show Google you’re no longer publishing anything original and if it sees the same or similar content, it’s going to have to choose which one to show, or devalue all websites using it because of low quality. There’s a good chance one or two older or more authoritative sites will survive, but there’s also a good chance it won’t be yours. Do not use swipe copy and always make sure yours is 100% unique and original.
If you are required to use a theme, adjust and modify and rewrite everything so it is a good and unique experience. If it doesn’t provide a lot of value and the content doesn’t match the main theme of your site, you’re risking the page and your entire site’s ability to rank.
There’s supposed to be a fourth header here about disclosures and no follow links, but I covered them above and linked to the Google resource pages as a reference.
Google does not hate affiliate websites, Google does not penalize a website for using affiliate links and Google is not against monetization scripts. What it is against is low quality sites, bad user experiences and content that is not unique, doesn’t provide value and doesn’t follow their guidelines. As long as you create really good content and use affiliate links the right way, you can keep growing with SEO and also make money.