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  1. #1
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Cookie Duration
    This is probably one of the most basic things in setting up an affiliate program, but it's surprising how many merchants just don't get it (or just choose to cheat their affiliates).

    There are many factors that go into choosing a cookie duration. The buying cycle and the average order size is a big one. What your competition is offering is another big one. Affiliate perception is often more important than reality when it comes to cookies.

    In general, the more expensive a product is, the longer a consumer will take to make their decision to buy it. Impulse items are often bought the same day, but big ticket items may take weeks or months before they are bought. A good cookie duration is important in any affiliate program, but much more so with high ticket items.

    If you look at the range of buying cycles for your customers, and you find that 50% of orders are completed within 24 hours, you might be tempted to set your affiliate cookie to 1 day. Not so fast, though. If you do that, you intentionally cheat affiliates out of 50% of their sales. Half of the sales you get from affiliate traffic will be beyond the cookie duration and won't be compensated. If you determine that 90% of orders are completed within 7 days and you set your cookie accordingly, you're still cheating affiliates out of commissions for 10% of the orders they generate. Look for a duration in which at least 99% of orders are placed and go out from there.

    Research your competitors, and look to offer a longer cookie duration than any of them. The "cost" of offering a 90 day cookie is hardly distinguishable from the cost of offering a 30 day cookie, yet it gives you a huge competitive advantage over your competitors when you say that your cookie duration is "3 times as long".

    Cookie duration (beyond 7 days for most merchants or 30 days for big ticket merchants, anyway) isn't anywhere near as important of an issue as most affiliates make it out to be. But it is a huge indicator of how affiliate-friendly a program is. Most merchants who insult affiliates with short cookie durations (1 day and sometimes even less) have numerous other practices that make their programs unfriendly to affiliates. Most merchants who reward affiliates with long cookie durations (90 days, 365 days, and sometimes even longer) follow most other best practices as well.

    Bottom Line Recommendations:

    Based on the type of program that you run, I recommend the following as absolute minimum cookie durations:

    1) For huge brand names (Amazon.com, Overstock, Buy.com, etc.) with many impulse items, frequent orders, a large, established customer base, good newsletter followup, etc.: At least 7 days.
    2) For smaller online stores with relatively small average order sizes (under $100) and less brand recognition: At least 30 days.
    3) For stores selling higher-ticket items ($100s or $1000s): At least 90 days.

    Those should be treated as absolute minimum recommendations. In many cases, longer return days may be merited based on competition and other factors.
    Michael Coley
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  2. #2
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    Bottom Line Recommendations:

    Based on the type of program that you run, I recommend the following as absolute minimum cookie durations:

    1) For huge brand names (Amazon.com, Overstock, Buy.com, etc.) with many impulse items, frequent orders, a large, established customer base, good newsletter followup, etc.: At least 7 days.
    2) For smaller online stores with relatively small average order sizes (under $100) and less brand recognition: At least 30 days.
    3) For stores selling higher-ticket items ($100s or $1000s): At least 90 days.

    Those should be treated as absolute minimum recommendations...
    Good ones, Michael.

    Only one thing to add: those merchants that think of setting their affiliates' cookies duration at anything between 1 and 24 hours -- you may as well give up the idea of starting an affiliate program from the start. It is not going to do you (or your company's reputation) any good. I am stressing this, because I know for a fact that some merchants actually do this (to affiliates).

    Geno

  3. #3
    The Seal of Aproval rematt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geno Prussakov
    Good ones, Michael.

    Only one thing to add: those merchants that think of setting their affiliates' cookies duration at anything between 1 and 24 hours -- you may as well give up the idea of starting an affiliate program from the start. It is not going to do you (or your company's reputation) any good. I am stressing this, because I know for a fact that some merchants actually do this (to affiliates).

    Geno
    I recently signed up for a program on LS and didn't notice the cookie duration until I was approved. When I did notice that the cookie duration was .208 I thought it was a typo. When the merchant confirmed that they indeed had a 5 hour cookie I immediately dropped the program.

    -rematt
    "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." - Richard Nixon

  4. #4
    Merchant & ABW Ambassador
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    I think that is a good rule to adhere to but another big thing that rematt brought up, I think merchants should give affiliates a realistic time frame. 5 hour cookie is a bit absurd and there are some that are less than 5 hrs.

  5. #5
    Prince of Content Vinny O'Hare's Avatar
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    I seen one yesterday that was 1 hour cookie duration.

  6. #6
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I know of one that's only 45 minutes.

    That's not the point, though. Those are "Worst Practices". Let's focus on the "Best Practices".
    Michael Coley
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  7. #7
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    What is the downside though for merchants to have a 90+ (we have 180) day cookie?

    In our industry, 99.77% of those that DO convert do so within 90 minutes and 99.94% convert same day. That's just the way it is with insurance.

    But why not offer a "ridiculously" long cookie?
    Matt McWilliams
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  8. #8
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    When deciding on a cookie length, my gut says the merchant asks himself how low can he go without causing an affiliate backlash... I think the merchant should add 5 days to whatever number he decides on - to compensate for the legitimate sales we loose due to tracking issues, phone-in orders, etc.

  9. #9
    Affiliate Manager Alan Hamilton's Avatar
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    Helpful information to have guys, thanks for the feedback. We will be announcing another a new aff program in a couple months and cookie duration opinions are good to hear. I assume 30 - 60 days would be a safe time frame that would satisfy the majority of marketers?
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  10. #10
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ALH - AmeritrustRx
    I assume 30 - 60 days would be a safe time frame that would satisfy the majority of marketers?
    I would think so, but why not offer a slightly longer duration to show some good will? What does a program loose by offering longer cookies? In setting up an affiliate program, the company has decided that they will make a profit even after paying affiliate commissions, so who cares if that person buys now or in 6 months?

    I'd offer lifetime cookies for everyone, except that then I wouldn't have any room to run special promos (sell X and get a cookie increase of Y). As it stands, I offer a 180 day cookie.

    My two cents: affiliates respond favorably to programs that aren't trying to take advantage of them (I believe that's part of what Michael's saying - correct me if I'm mistaken). Why not go the extra mile (or month...) and give your affiliates a little extra reason to promote you instead of the other 1.9 billion options they have?
    Chris Sturgill
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  11. #11
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Exactly. In reality, there's very little difference between 30 day cookies and 90 day cookies, for instance, but there's a huge difference in perception. This is one area where merchants can gain a competitive advantage against their competitors with no downside.
    Michael Coley
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  12. #12
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    Was talking about that awhile back when somebody from Amazon (former) was trying to spin how their 24 hr. cookie was a good thing:

    http://www.bumpzee.com/affiliatemark...ies/view/2146/

    Good article on it:

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/sales_cycle.html

    For me, 30 day cookie is pretty much fine. Those with extremely short cookies know that there are a good amount of sales that happen after that and usually the bigger ticket items. And read this post carefully, goes to what Billy was getting at, from somebody at CollectionsEtc:

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showpost.p...54&postcount=9

    "Corporate politics *shudder*...

    I understand what increased return days means to affiliates, but you also have to look at it from a business owner's perspective. He is getting sales without paying commissions. As crappy as that sounds to you and me, to the man upstairs it sounds great!

    My boss has been very receptive to most of my suggestions and I am confident that Collections Etc. will be offering 30 return days in the near future."

  13. #13
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    Can I change my response? Rather then tacking on a couple extra days of cookies, when you find what you think is acceptable... DOUBLE IT!

    As a merchant, you only pay for a sale - a successfully tracked sale at that.

    If we can agree that there are many things that can prevent an affiliate from getting credit for a sale, then we can also agree you're getting FREE sales - some are even posted - in the Linkshare Uncommishionable Sales report

    And what amount of work (that you got for free) went into getting that free sale?

    If someone is searching for "pair of yellow socks", and found my site out of countless millions, it means you got 10 years of search engine optimization expertise from me - for free

    Getting a top 10 ranking for a brand, like Lands End, with a million aff competitors, is very hard - and you got more free seo work from me

    That's only the the first part. Getting them to my door.

    You also got 10 years of website designing expertise from me at no charge.

    Once I get them in the front door, I have just a little time to convince them I'm legitimate, professional, have something they need to offer, am better then the other million results they found in google.

    My site has to be as good as Target, Sears, etc - except without a shopping cart. Getting a WEB visitor (already leery) to trust a non0famous site (mine) is a LOT of work.

    Lastly, the free sale you got from me was from 10 years worth of marketing expertise. Everything from the font, page colors, trigger words, giving them a reason to buy NOW rather then later... that's 10 years of sweat.

    To give a merchant 10 years worth of work, and see my visitors show up on the "No commish/exceeded return days" reports is a big slap in my face... and the "pain" lasts a long time

    So to make up for the freebies we give you, the LEAST you can do is give us cookies.

  14. #14
    Affiliate Manager Alan Hamilton's Avatar
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    I am reading different feedback on this thread than what I have read in previous conversations on this topic.

    In our AmeritrutRx program we have always included a lifetime customer benefit. Last year, there were several threads about cookie duration, and the impression I got was that some / many affiliates do not believe / trust the integrity of a "lifetime" cookie / lifetime customer approach.

    Now, in this thread I am hearing that "the longer the better." So I am most interested in what is preferred by the majority who respond here and your input is welcomed.
    Last edited by ALH - AmeritrustRx; July 14th, 2007 at 11:57 PM.
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  15. #15
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    I think affiliates will take the longest cookie a merchant is willing to offer. But if you check the link I posted:

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/sales_cycle.html

    99% of orders happen within 2 months. So a 60 day cookie would be great. A lifetime cookie sounds good but in reality there is no such thing. People buy new computers, cookies get cleaned from time to time via programs on people's computers etc.

    But those 1 day, 8hr, type cookies are just ridiculous.

  16. #16
    Affiliate Manager Alan Hamilton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ALH - AmeritrustRx
    I am reading different feedback on this thread than what I have read in previous conversations on this topic.

    In our AmeritrutRx program we have always included a lifetime customer benefit. Last year, there were several threads about cookie duration, and the impression I got was that some / many affiliates do not believe / trust the integrity of a "lifetime" cookie / lifetime customer approach.

    Now, in this thread I am hearing that "the longer the better." So I am most interested in what is preferred by the majority who respond here and your input is welcomed.
    Yes, I understand that a lifetime "cookie" is not possible. But a lifetime "customer IS. That is what I am asking about.

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread...fetime+cookies

    It IS easily possible to track a lifetime customer by use of marriage of customer data to affiliate ID, complete with phone tracking etc. So what does an affiliate prefer? 90 days? 180 days? or lifetime?
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  17. #17
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    Between that, again the longest possible. Lifetime would be longer than 90 or 180 day. But most merchants don't operate that way. I have hundreds of merchants and only know 1, an indy, that operate like that. I don't know any merchants in the networks that work like that.

  18. #18
    Believe knight01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ALH - AmeritrustRx
    I got was that some / many affiliates do not believe / trust the integrity of a "lifetime" cookie / lifetime customer approach.
    For me, as an affiliate, when I see "lifetime cookie / lifetime customer" I wonder if the merchant really understands the statement because lifetime cookie means the lifetime of the cookie, not the customer. If the customer deletes them, gets a new hard drive, new computer, etc... Now, is that truly a lifetime customer? Once that cookie is gone, am I getting paid?

    Presuming there is no other tracking mechanism besides cookies, I presume the merchant is playing a game hoping to get some affiliates based on cookie length. If there is some other tracking, then state that and it's a whole different issue.

    I agree with MichaelColey, I want to see the cookie based on the merchant product line, if its a plasma tv for 3k, I expect it to be at least a couple of months, if it's a pair of pants a few days would be expected.

    But in general if someone wants to get my attention, offer a 365 day cookie. After that, if the customer is still buying from you, then they are your customer and you've earned their business and I think I've been fairly compensated.

  19. #19
    Affiliate Manager Alan Hamilton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trust
    Between that, again the longest possible. Lifetime would be longer than 90 or 180 day. But most merchants don't operate that way. I have hundreds of merchants and only know 1, an indy, that operate like that. I don't know any merchants in the networks that work like that.
    I understand Trust. That said, we have operated like that in every program we have owned over the past 15 years, offline or online. I too have always thought lifetime customers were the best way to show a marketing team that you value their work. But I must admit I've been surprised at some of the opinions some have voiced about lifetime customers (not to be confused with lifetime cookies)

    Seems to me that it would be a no brainer provided the merchant used tracking other than cookies to best insure the lifetime customer credit. Thanks for any input offered here gang.
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  20. #20
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    "But I must admit I've been surprised at some of the opinions some have voiced about lifetime customers (not to be confused with lifetime cookies)"

    As far as that, I can't imagine any affiliate would be opposed to that. But there has to be a lot of trust towards that merchant from affiliates but I guess that's with cookies too. About that indy I have that works like that. I'm getting X amount for the initial sales but less when they go back sometime in their "lifetime" But with that, I have no idea if they're actually following thru with it. Maybe 2 years from now a customer I initially referred goes back for a sale. The only way I would know that is if a commission gets posted. What if the customers buys something and I don't get credited. I just wouldn't know.

  21. #21
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    What about this scenario... Let's assume a $35 to $70 avg order size, one or two products. (And this is half on topic, half off)

    60 Day cookie (Long enough for sure)
    10% of the initial purchase
    3% for the lifetime of the customer.

    10% again if the cookie gets renewed by the same affiliate.... In other words, the merchant was losing the customer, but the aff brought them back.

    The challenge I see here, as with all lifetime commission scenarios, is what to do if another affiliate brings in the same customer the merchant is paying lifetime on... What do you do then? The prvalant Last Click mentality kills the lifetime commission for the first aff then? We can't pay 2 affs lifetime.... Or 6 of them, for that matter.

    So... I think I'd rather see perhaps a 365 day cookie that pays the 10% all the time for every purchase during that year, but can be fairly overwritten by another affiliate.
    Kevin Webster
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  22. #22
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    "The challenge I see here, as with all lifetime commission scenarios, is what to do if another affiliate brings in the same customer the merchant is paying lifetime on... What do you do then? The prvalant Last Click mentality kills the lifetime commission for the first aff then? We can't pay 2 affs lifetime.... Or 6 of them, for that matter."

    That's a good point. Probably one of the reasons the merchants that do that, pay very little after initial sales. For the indy I have it's 15% initial, 2% lifetime. Then I just thought of something else. What if that same customer I referred to that merchant, comes thru my site again. Usually fresh cookies, will get paid that high percentage again. Maybe the merchant that does the lifetime deal thinks since I already referred the customer just to pay the lower 2% in my example.

  23. #23
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Exactly... If I had my way, the merchant would refresh to the higher commission rate for that purchase if the affiliate re-referred them.. I think you missed that in my post.

    But we agree.
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  24. #24
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Another thing merchants can do is to include the affiliate ID / tracking code in the thank you email they send out. I think a few programs may do this already but I am not sure.

    Not to give away TOO much information, but we began doing this on a testing basis (mainly to see if it actually functions right) with a test affiliate recently (our own yahoo account).

    Basically what it does is this:

    Customer completes an application from affiliate 11111 (not the real ID hehe)

    A Thank You email is sent that in all links (with the exception of the email removal link) contains the affid so hometownquotes.com/affid=11111 is the link (not a real link but close)

    This accounts for those people that may delete cookies on browser close (a lot more than I thought), or delete them and read the email 2 days later etc.

    Not sure if anyone is doing this but it could make a BIG difference in the long run.

    If nothing else they file the email for future use and read it a month from now and decide to buy again.

    For affiliates it could be a big deal in the long run.

    Thoughts?
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  25. #25
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Great discussion! Those are some innovative ideas that are very affiliate friendly.

    Alan: I think you're talking about a different model, where affiliates are either compensated once based on the lifetime value of a customer (at a higher rate) versus being compensated for each order (at a lower rate). In that case, many affiliates would prefer the first case.

    Matt: Definitely a great idea! The follow-up email will help increase conversions, too. Many merchants do that, but some do so with a "worst practice" of having newsletter links overwrite affiliate cookies. Specifically coding the newsletter to use the referring affiliate's ID is definitely a "best practice". It would also solve the problem where a customer might click through the link at work, sign up for a newsletter, then open the newsletter at home and place an order.

    I really like Noth's idea (I've actually had a similar one I've been mulling over for quite a while), and would love to see some programs implement something like that. There are a lot of variables to discuss and different ways it could be implemented, but here's the basic structure I would recommend for it:

    1) When the user account is created or the first order is placed, if there is an affiliate cookie, store that affiliate ID in the customer record.

    2) When an affiliate link is clicked, set an affiliate cookie.

    3) Every time an order is placed, look at those two things (the affiliate cookie and the lifetime customer affiliate ID). If there is an affiliate cookie, pay that affiliate at the higher rate. If there is no affiliate cookie but the customer is flagged as a lifetime customer of an affiliate, pay that affiliate the lifetime customer rate.

    It's not that different from the model that insurance companies use. They compensate the agent a higher rate the first year that a policy is in place, then a lower rate for the life of the policy.
    Michael Coley
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