Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blog Tip #24: Don't forget to factor in Cookie Duration in your Affiliate programs

One of the parameters of affiliate monetization that sometimes gets overlooked is the cookie duration. After a recent conversation with an affiliate program representative, I decided to look into cookie duration in some more depth. Here are my thoughts:

There doesn't seem to be a cookie cutter approach (pardon the intentional pun) to deciding which affiliate programs to use based on cookie duration. There are many dimensions to consider. One of the most important ones is obviously your content. Consider these two extreme case scenarios: Assume you have a blog on chocolate cates and you have an affiliate link to an elephant biology bookstore. What are the chances that your readers will revisit the elelphant biology bookstore again? Probably slim. So whether the elephant biology bookstore has a cookie duration of 2 days or 2 years, it probably won't help much.

On the other hand, assume you have a blog on HDTVs, and you have an affiliate link to a popular retailer that specializes in HDTVs. The chances of your readers re-visiting that site are much higher. So a longer cookie duration increases your chances of a commission!

But things are never that simple. Usually you have to trade-off the commission percentage with the cookie duration. What do you do? Do you use a retailer with a 4% commission but a 3-day cookie, or do you use a retailer with a 1% commission but a 60-day cookie? How do you trade them off?

If your links are something short-therm, eg a weekend sale, or a clearance sale, or a while supplies last offer, you may want to take your chances on the higher commission percentage than the longer duration. But if it's a general purpose link, you have to do some thinking and experimenting to see what works better for you.

Yet another dimension to this are your readers. Are they "buyers", "browsers", "surfers", "bargain hunters", "techaholics"? Also is your blog or site a destination or a hub? This can also affect your strategy.

Another thing to consider is that the more popular a site is, the more likely other sites and blogs might be using their affiliate program, and if your readers are visiting multiple websites, then the chances of your cookie being overridden are higher, so perhaps a shorter cookie duration is not as much of an issue.

From my experience, the longer cookie durations are better suited for specialty retailers that are known and referenced by your readers, but they are not the super popular mass market sites that people visit and bloggers use as affiliates all the time. This increases your chances that your readers will go back to that site to look or shop, and decreases the chances of other websites having links to them.

You can also scale down the above example if your blog is covering a very specific market segment, and your readers are avid followers of that segment. In that case, replace the "mass market site" mentioned above, with the leaders in the field that are frequently used by other sites and blogs as affiliates. Instead go for the second tier in popularity for the longer term cookie duration. By second tier, I don't mean second tier retailers, but second tier in mass-market popularity.

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