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I have been in the affiliate industry since 1998. One thing that has been painfully slow to change is moving away from the siloed, intra-channel view of the affiliate channel. It’s not the affiliate manager’s fault. The blame lies squarely on the tracking solution or network they are using.

Most networks have a disincentive to show you more than the winning affiliate. After all, affiliate networks are only paid when they track a winning affiliate. They earn nothing if another channel wins.

Affiliate managers need to adopt a holistic view of the channel that includes all media and not just winning affiliates. The customer journey reveals many unique perspectives that most affiliate managers never see. Let’s break down some of these views of the consumer data as is relates to affiliate marketing so we can better understand what we should be looking at.

Traditional Affiliate Tracking View

The most basic view that all affiliate tracking solutions can report is the winning affiliate, typically based on last click crediting logic. Here we can see where a conversion was awarded to an affiliate and a commission earned. This view tells only a small fraction of the customer journey.

limited customer journey view

An Alternative Affiliate Tracking View

Here is what affiliate managers really need to know in order to effectively evaluate partners and optimize the channel:

  • How many times did the consumer interact with the winning affiliate? Over what timeframe from first touch to winning click?
  • How many other affiliates were involved (and didn’t win)? Who were they and when were they involved prior to the winning click?
  • What other marketing channels were also involved in the customer journey?
  • What was the breakdown between affiliates who were introducers, influencers, and closers (most managers only know the closer data).
  • How do attributed revenues compare to credited revenues. This data is the Holy Grail for affiliate marketers. With this data we can easily tell if we are over or under valuing our affiliate partners.


The affiliate industry needs to evolve if it is going to continue to grow and represent a meaningful channel for brands. The affiliate managers that have access to the data I described above would never dream of managing an affiliate program without it. It puts them at a competitive advantage and makes their job much easier. Once you get it, you’ll wonder how you managed so long without it.

To further explore whether your organization is ready to harness the power of attribution data view our webinar titled “Are You Ready for Attribution,” which was co-hosted with Forrester Research.

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