Affiliate tracking: 3 ways to use tracking data to optimise your affiliate website

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The cornerstone of a successful affiliate website relies on how well you can track your conversions and optimise based on them. If your affiliate tracking is off you’ll end up overspending on traffic that doesn’t convert, you’ll lose money, and what’s worse…

… your dog will get worried if you’ll have enough treats for him.

shocked dog meme

And we don’t want to shock your best bud like this.

That’s why we wrote this article. To shed some light on how important it is to accurately measure your conversions, how to set up the affiliate tracking, and how you can use the data to optimise your website.

Let’s jump right in.

Track your affiliate conversions

And by that, we mean tracking where those conversions happen, which pages and content are bringing you revenue. That is the first step to optimising your website and improving your affiliate tracking performance based on data instead of guesswork.

When you know what pages and what type of content convert best, you can create more pages and content like that, and review existing pages to replicate the high conversion framework. 

To have better visibility and control of what’s working, it’s up to you to set up tracking.

And the main way you can improve your affiliate conversion tracking is through SubIDs.

SubIDs in affiliate tracking

SubID represents an additional parameter in your affiliate link which will be documented alongside your commissions after somebody clicks on the link.

It’s not a rule, but SubIDs tend to be at the end of the URL as a query parameter.

Here’s an affiliate link skeleton:

affiliate tracking link structure

In this example your SubID is subid=product-review-button.

You can manually create this URL parameter when you’re creating your URL link. 

And keep in mind that each affiliate network has different ways of calling SubID – e.g. Awin calls it ‘clickref’ but it serves the same purpose.

The downside of creating SubIDs manually is:

  • You have to create it for each one of your affiliate links which takes time
  • You can only record the information you know at the time you’re creating it
    • Dynamic information like the source is impossible when writing SubID by hand (Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)

Setting up your SubID will help you keep track of your affiliate conversions. But how do you set up the tracking in your Google Analytics 4 (GA4) account?

You have 2 (or 3 😉)options: One through a Google extension called Google Analytics Debugger and the other through Google’s Tag Manager.

But before you choose one, make sure your GA account is set to track outbound clicks.

Here’s how:

  • Go into Admin settings and under the ‘Property’ click on Data Stream
  • Select your property and make sure your Enhanced Measurement is turned on
  • Open the cogwheel on Enhanced Measurement and turn on ‘Outbound Clicks’

Google Analytics Debugger

Install and enable the GA debugger in Chrome to ensure you’ll see data in your DebugView. Then go to Admin in your GA and under the Property scroll to DebugView and check if you’re seeing the data.

By default, GA will register the clicks as link_url event which can get confusing if you have non-affiliate links. To make sense of it, create a new event.

To track only affiliate clicks you need to set up a combination of 2 conditions.

link_urlcontainsYour affiliate link

You can create up to 50 unique conditions. So if you have a lot of unique domains this method is not optimal for you.

Google Tag Manager

After installing Google Tag Manager make sure your Click variables are enabled. (Click on Variables on the left side of your screen. If you don’t see click variables go into configure and check the box next to clicks)

Then the process is similar to the Debugger but instead of an event, you’re creating Triggers.
To keep track only of your affiliate clicks select your trigger type to Clicks – Just links. In the ‘trigger fires on’ select Some link clicks. The last step is to set up the condition.

Click URLMatches RegEx (ignore case)|

Matches RegEx (ignore case) allows you to have the same trigger condition for multiple unique links. For example, if you have affiliate links with Amazon and Awin you can write both of them in this one trigger. Just use the vertical line symbol “|” which represents “or” – trigger event if somebody clicks on or links.

Now you should be set to create custom reports in GA4 and keep track of your data. To the extent it’s possible. Even with the best set-up in GA4, it still limits your transparency. That’s because the conversions themselves happen on a website you don’t own.

The TLDR answer is:

  • Check if you see your conversions in your affiliate network dashboard
  • Set up a tracking system in your GA4 with SubID
  • If you still feel you’re missing important data try to ask the original merchant for your own dashboard.

Or you can skip all of those steps and get the data you need in 3 clicks.

Finding your highest converting pages with Heylink:

  1. Go to reports on the right side menu and click on ‘Page’.
  2. Click on the column with CR, to take the highest CR pages to the top.

If you are linking to multiple advertisers on the same pages, you can click the filter on a page and see the data for the different advertisers.

Evaluate your Traffic Sources

There is stiff competition in content that tries to gain the attention of your audience, and you don’t want to overspend on sources that don’t bring the results you want.

The traffic you want to bring to your affiliate website should be the one that’s most likely to convert. This is especially true if you rely on paid traffic sources. The hard part of tracking this data is that the conversion is happening on websites that you don’t own. And the dashboards you’re using in your affiliate networks often don’t show page views. So there can be some level of data loss. 

(By the way – this is a challenge many affiliate publishers face, so don’t feel discouraged if you’re still trying to make sense of it.)

Setting up affiliate traffic source tracking in GA4

Let’s start by taking a look at what we can definitely track: the traffic sources that bring the most clicks on your affiliate links. And we can set that up in GA4, or if you have a WordPress website you can find a plug-in to make it more automated. We’ll discuss only GA4 in this example. 

In the previous section, we described how to set up an event, or trigger that will measure the affiliate clicks on your website. To find the best source of traffic that is clicking on your affiliate links go to ‘Reports’ in your GA4.

Under the Life Cycle tab, open the Acquisition section and click on Referral report. You’ll see a list of your referral traffic sources. By default, they’re ranked by the number of New Visitors. What you want to do is to go into your Conversions KPI and instead of ‘All events’ select your custom conversion – affiliate link clicks.

To make it even easier for yourself, create a custom report focused only on referral traffic. To find this feature in Reports, click on the Library icon down in the left corner. Then just click on ‘Create a new report.’

Once you find your best traffic source, you’re faced with a decision.

  • Double-down on the winning channel – e.g. if your best traffic source is from Google ads you can consider stopping other paid channels and moving that budget to Google Ads.
  • Find the pages that are generating the most traffic and link them to the pages that convert the best. This option is better for publishers that rely on SEO to drive their business.

Now, you’re thinking:

“God! It’s cool I can set this up in GA4 but I still need to log in to Affiliate networks, to GA4 find all the data and keep it together. It’s just, ehhhhh 🙄… a LOT OF WORK.”

We hear you. There is a way to make it easier and save you a ton of time. Take a look below 👇

Find your best traffic sources with Heylink:

  1. Go to reports on the right side menu and click on ‘Page’.
  2. Click on the column with Revenue, to take the pages with the most Revenue (commission) to the top.
  3. Click the filter and go to ‘Refferer”

Make sure your website is optimised for mobile traffic

If your website is not optimised for mobile traffic you’re missing out on a lot of potential conversions. Of course, it depends on your vertical, but in general, as of 2023, 79% of online shoppers purchase through their phones. 

So, if a website viewer sees your comparison page or product review on their phone, and their experience is not smooth they’ll bounce. Never to be seen again.

And if your affiliate business relies on SEO, your website should be mobile-friendly.

As a side note, if you have a massive and complex website that is not responsive in its design (maybe you bought an existing domain with 100s of pages) look into Mobile-Only design. If you were to adapt the website to Responsive design it might mess up your desktop layout and introduce bugs that are difficult to fix.

Why should you look into that data as an affiliate publisher?

Connecting the dots from conversion tracking and referral sources – you want to spend money and time where it makes sense. If your affiliate business relies on paid traffic, and you find out that the majority of conversions happen on a mobile device, you can readjust the targeting in your ad setup.

Or, you might find out that one of your pages performs extremely well for your mobile audience. You can use that knowledge to optimise your other converting pages that have poor performance.

If you’ve followed the tracking suggestion from the first section you can track all the clicks of your affiliate links. Then in your GA4 reporting create a report where you segment based on devices.

Finding this information for your affiliate marketing can be near impossible since conversions happen on a website you don’t own. Fear not, Heylink can show you exactly where you need to focus.

Finding in which devices your conversions happen with Heylink:

  1. Go to reports on the right side menu and click on ‘Page’.
  2. Click on the column with Revenue, to take the pages with the most Revenue (commission) to the top.
  3. Click the filter and go to ‘Device’