There are a fair number of options available to you for setting up your tracking. Which one you choose will largely depend upon your needs and budget. The simplest option is to track via your affiliate network’s built in reporting system. There are also various third party trackers that you can consider. Some are free, some are paid. Some are hosted by the developer, other are made to be hosted on your own server. Let’s talk about the various options in-depth.
Just a note: I’m not specifically recommending or endorsing any of the tracking solutions that I refer to in this section. I’ll simply be using them as examples.
Tracking Via Your Affiliate Network
This is the simplest option, by far. When tracking via your CPA or affiliate network, you will simply use your affiliate link in your ads, and you’ll analyze all of the data you gather within your network’s reports.
There are several distinct advantages to tracking this way. For one, you won’t have to set up and learn how to use a third party system. This makes it a good option for affiliates who don’t have a ton of experience and want to get campaigns up and running ASAP. Secondly, the users will be sent through fewer redirects when they click your ads. This means that pages will load faster and you’ll have less breakage (fewer lost clicks.) And the other major advantage, of course, is that this approach is 100% free!
That said, tracking directly via your network has a lot of disadvantages. First one thing, your affiliate manager, you network, and the advertiser will have access to all of the data that you collect. Many of them run their own campaigns, so in effect, you could be giving your competition a free look into your campaign data! That’s not to say that every one of them is out to steal your campaigns. Many networks forbid their AMs from running their own campaigns for that exact reason. Still, there are others who would pick up your campaigns and run with them without thinking twice. As an affiliate, you’re the middle man. If you divulge every piece of information about your campaigns, what’s keeping you from being cut out of the loop? You really need to use your own best judgment on this issue.
Also, third party tracking systems have ways of organizing your data that you really don’t have when you track everything through your network. For example, if you run offers on multiple networks, a third party tracker will organize all of your data into one convenient place. Different tracking systems have different ways of grouping, breaking down, and organizing data. They can compute profit vs. loss, give day-parting data and so on. They also may offer features that allow you to split-test different landing pages, ad copies, offers, and networks. Once you have more than a handful of offers running, tracking though your network starts to become a real burden on your time.
It’s important to note that not all networks are created equal. This applies to tracking as well. Many networks use one of several different types of tracking software. HasOffers, LinkTrust, and Cake Marketing are all platforms that have stood the test of time and are trusted by networks and affiliates alike. Some of the largest in the industry use their own proprietary in-house systems.
Depending upon which software a network uses, the process of setting things up will be slightly different. The only real limiting factor would be if the network only allows you to track a single variable in your affiliate link. As mobile offers have grown in popularity, most networks are adapting to allow multi-variable tracking, so this is becoming less and less of an issue, at least among CPA networks.
In recent years many cloud-based tracking solutions have come to dominate the options available to affiliates. Bitly, ClickMagick, Linktrackr, and Voluume are some of the more popular options. They come in a whole range of prices with and different features available. Taking advantage of the free trial periods that many of them offer can be a good way of assessing weather they meet your needs.
There are a number of free trackers that are available, but they should come with a word of caution: some will access your information and make it available on paid “spy tools” where members are able to see what offers people are running profitably and where. Again, use your own judgment in regards to keeping your data private.
Self-Hosted Third Party Trackers
Self-hosted trackers are different in the fact that they need to be set up and hosted on your own server. Their performance will largely depend on the server you have it running on. So, even though some options are free, you’ll need to consider how much a decent hosting plan will cost. I recommend having a VPS at the very least.
While the most popular self-hosted tracking solutions of the past, such as Prosper 202 and Bevo have been discontinued, newer options are available for affiliates looking to host their own tracker. CPV Lab, Funnel Flux and Benom are among the the choices available. Some super-affiliates will even have their own custom trackers built.
Obviously, if you want to keep your data absolutely private, self-hosted is the way to go. Also, the paid trackers tend to have more advanced features designed to save you time setting things up and analyzing data.
I highly suggest reading reviews and asking other affiliates before you decide on buying a tracking solution.