What are cookies?
Cookies are small text files that are automatically saved on your computer after a browsing session.
They are mostly stored for different reasons. They are commonly known as browser cookies or web cookies. Most web browsers today, if not all, have cookies.
Web cookies are a vital element of affiliate marketing as they are used to track where affiliate sales originate from for purpose of rewarding commissions.
The lifespan of a cookie on a host’s computer is called the cookie life. In the context of affiliate marketing however, a cookie life is the period of time in between the day an affiliate related action is performed and the final day an advertiser allows reward for that action. An affiliate can be rewarded for actions resulting into a sale, click or sign up.
The cookie days can range from 1-60 days depending on the merchant or program. For this reason, cookie details are specified in every program.
This is a form of fraudulent affiliate activity where cookies are manipulated for unjust gains. Also known as cookie dropping, cookie sprinkling or forced clicks, this disallowed marketing method involves setting tracking cookies on a consumer’s machine without their consent in order to create the impression that incoming referrals should be credited to their affiliate efforts, and therefore earn without them satisfying the required criteria.
Affiliates are not rewarded for having mere visits to their sites.
Affiliate networks are intended to only reward commissions to sites (affiliates) when visitors click through their affiliate links, get to the advertisers landing page, and make a purchase/perform call of action on the advertiser’s site.
Cookie stuffing instead causes tracking systems to award these ‘affiliates’ when the customer makes a purchase immediately or within the different cookie days specified by the merchant’s affiliate program.
So who is affected by cookie stuffing?
1. Tracking Networks
Cookie stuffing is practiced most in large affiliate networks like eBay and Amazon. Since many people in the United States buy from the two networks on a regular basis, an affiliate dropping cookies on users of such networks can earn commissions by just having people visit a page on either network more so without a direct referral.
In the short run, affiliate networks benefit from cookie stuffing by unknowingly charging for the more money flowing in to the network.
Such an influx of sales flowing through the networks increases commissions for the affiliates and as a result, the network can charge an extra fee.
Recent cases where stuffing has been tackled legally have resulted in some publicized trials most notably the Shawn Hogan cookie dropping scandal on eBay Partner Network in 2006. Together with his sidekick, Brian Dunning, he garnered over $28m in fraud commissions in the network, he was later charged with wire fraud (a form of fraud involving interstate or international wire or other electronic forms), which he pleaded guilty, unsurprisingly, and was sentenced.
The resulting scenario saw eBay Partner Network fined over $20m in affiliate payouts for the same.
Merchants are also affected financially as they are forced to reward commissions that they shouldn’t be paying in the first place. They also pay the wrong affiliates which in turn causes their brand to be less appealing to affiliates who are actually doing all the work.
Genuine affiliates suffer from cookie stuffing as their affiliate links are constantly overwritten by fraudsters.
As an affiliate, you have to be aware of the consequences that can befall you when you decide to defraud your network.
With new laws in many networks, fraudsters can get away for a short while but eventually, justice is inevitable.
Why build a quick rich scheme and then face authorities when there are legit means to make a good living?
I always advice affiliates to keep their business clean, always.