I Hate First-Cookie Affiliate Programs

Posted by | February 21, 2010 | General, Migration | 12 Comments

I’ve blogged about my Aweber commission check and some of the strategies I used to generate it, but I forgot to mention that it works on a “first affiliate cookie” basis.

That simply means that the first affiliate to get a click on his link will embed the cookie to the potential customer’s computer, and get commissions for an eventual sale. If the same person later clicks on your affiliate link and signs up, you get nothing because you were not the first affiliate.

I hate this concept, and here’s why:

  • It encourages and rewards non-personal mass marketers (and spammers)
  • It’s totally unfair to the guy who put in serious effort to “get the sale”

Imagine if you’re a real estate agent for a while. You find the potential buyer, show him around the house, convince him that it’s the dream home he’s been looking for. He decides to buy it – though your efforts – but the actual commission goes to the guy who put in a spam flyer about that house into the buyer’s mailbox.

 The argument is simple: The guy who “closed” the sale should get the reward. Not the guys who blasted his affiliate link to every corner of the Internet.

Even if you write a great review about the product (Aweber for example), continuously recommend it on your site etc, you’re not getting all the commissions that you should. Some of your visitors clicked on an Aweber affiliate link somewhere else before out of curiosity, but they were not interested. It was you who showed them why they should get an Aweber account, you sold it to them.

imageFor example: On my Aweber review page I offer a bonus to whoever signs up from my affiliate link on that site. Almost 40% of the people who email me to claim the bonus swear that they clicked on my link and signed up – yet it doesn’t show in my affiliate earnings.

I have to ask them to contact Aweber and manually adjust the commission back to me, which most are willing to do. Without this sort of manual intervention, 40% of sales from that page, based on my effort and content, goes to someone else. Someone who “got the click first” but never actually “sold” the product.

The lesson: Check if the product you’re promoting works on a first-cookie or “last-cookie” basis. If it works on a first-cookie-gets-the-sale basis, you need to offer a bonus so that people who bought from your affiliate link will get back to you, and you can manually reverse the commissions into your account. It’s a little bit more effort, but it pays.


  • Sergio Felix says:

    Hi Gobala, really liked your article and the reason why I’m commenting is because I bought a full year in advance of the AWeber service only to find out that my mentor did NOT get the commission.

    Can we tell the AWeber people to fix this?

  • Gobala,

    I totally agree with you here. Its like some one came to your shop and decided not to buy but purchased the same item at the next shop, but the money goes to the first chap. Thats a shameful idea!!

    The fix i am using for this is, offer a bonus and force the users to clear cookies before signup.


  • [...] just stumbled upon I Hate First Cookie Affiliate Programs by Gobala [...]

  • How we can spot which affiliate programs use “first affiliate cookie” and which one is not

  • While there are workarounds or technical solutions, I would be careful about using some of them. They could go against the TOS and you’ll end up being kicked out of the affiliate program anyway.

  • Gina says:

    I’ve always wondered if there was a ‘work-around’ to this, because a promise of lifetime cookie doesn’t mean anything if (like me) a person has cookies disabled.

    It would be more time consuming probably from the merchant’s standpoint to enable some kind of coding on their end to track by ip address enabled with the affiliate id that washes out any other referrals.

    When you find a solution, post it please – we’re all fighting the same battle:)

  • Mr_M says:

    Hi there,

    I think the idea (by Vincent) no.3 looked easier to work with..

    [Q] use Javascript to tell them (just them) to clear their Aweber cookie before continuing on to the referal (note you can’t test if they actually did this, but it is probably worth a try) [/Q]

    But you may redirect user by giving clear details how to clear cookies.. because they may user different browser.. check it out –>> http://tinyurl.com/36ul2v

    [Q] Do spare a thought for typosquatters… maybe someone has nabbed ‘awebber.com’ and ends up (by last cookie) taking your sale due to a typo…? [/Q]

    I hope.. nobody do this ‘hacking techniques’.. , it’s not easier to remote access client pc, and then change the cookies files.. :(

  • dermajuv says:

    Very good point. The commission should go to the one, who guides the customer into buying.

  • Michael Lee says:

    Am suprised aweber totally cut off the incentives for the last click. There is a current debate in the industry as to whether rewards should go to the top or bottom of the funnel. While this is being played out, I am suprised aweber has already decided to reward the top of the funnel only. At the very least, there should be a split, in many businesses salespersons earn as much as if not more than the marketeers. Both parties require incentivization.

  • Do spare a thought for typosquatters… maybe someone has nabbed ‘awebber.com’ and ends up (by last cookie) taking your sale due to a typo…?

  • There are three tricks you might want to think about here:
    1) Find an XSS vulnerability at Aweber (may be easier said than done) and inject code to clear the affiliate cookie; run this in the background on your referral page. This is the easiest way to do things – it may even be possible to use one of your own Aweber pages to host the cookie clearing code – so long as it is at the aweber.com domain.
    2) Test the ‘logout’ call at Aweber – sometimes these clear all cookies and will do so even if a user is not logged in; again, run this in the background no your referral page
    3) You can probably use CSS :visited sniffing to test if a person has previously been to the URL that sets the cookie, and then use Javascript to tell them (just them) to clear their Aweber cookie before continuing on to the referal (note you can’t test if they actually did this, but it is probably worth a try)

  • shufaad says:

    It’s a brave statement there my friend. But I totally agree with you. I believe whoever close the deal, should get the reward. Not the first guy who knock the door and run. Kudos!

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