How Do Affiliate Links Work? A Very Simple Explanation

Photo of Dale
Dale is a former electrician that has since gone on to generate over $1 million in all-time affiliate commissions & become officially recognized as a Super Affiliate by the world's largest affiliate marketing training platform. Alongside running his own affiliate marketing empire, he now also teaches affiliate marketing to others through the Commission Academy platform.

As affiliate marketing is becoming an ever-increasingly popular way for people to earn money online the term “affiliate link” is being used more & more often.

You might have seen it mentioned on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube or you might have seen it mentioned in a blog’s affiliate disclosure.

But just what exactly are affiliate links & most importantly, how do affiliate links work?

Well, if that’s what you’ve been wondering you can rest assured that you’ve landed in the right place to find out as that’s exactly what we’re going to explain here in a very simple, easy-to-understand manner.

So let’s dive right in & first off, we’ll start with what an affiliate link actually is.

What Is An Affiliate Link?

An affiliate link is a special type of tracking link that affiliate marketers use to send visitors to websites that they’re affiliated with in order to collect commissions from sales that they generate.

So whilst a normal website link (such as a link to Amazon) may look like this:

An affiliate link is different because it contains an ID that’s unique to the affiliate whose link it is & therefore typically looks something like this:

So if the affiliate marketer was to send visitors through that affiliate link, the company that the affiliate is promoting (which in the instance above would be Amazon) could track any sales generated back to that specific affiliate because they’d be tagged with the affiliate’s unique ID.

This means that the affiliate can generate clicks, drive sales & get paid commissions in return.

Of course, it’s worth noting that not all affiliate links follow the same structure as the one used in the example above, but they all ultimately have the same purpose which is to pass the affiliate’s unique ID to the company once they’ve been clicked so that the company can track any sales back to the affiliate.

And if you’re interested, we actually put a guide on how you can tell if a link is an affiliate link right here.

But now that you know the basics of what an affiliate link actually is, let’s take a look at how they work.

How Do Affiliate Links Work?

So as mentioned above, affiliate links are very similar to normal website links apart from the fact that they contain a tracking ID which is unique to the affiliate whose link it is.

As an example, let’s say you sign up for an affiliate program & your unique affiliate ID is 397, your affiliate link to promote that company’s website will likely have something such as “?aid=397” at the end.

So if it was Amazon’s affiliate program you’d signed up for, your link could look like this:

This means that if somebody clicked on the link & made a purchase, Amazon would be able to determine that it was you who generated the sale (because your ID would be in the URL) & then as a result, they’d be able to pay you a commission in return for your efforts.

Plus, on top of your affiliate ID, many companies also allow you to add tracking IDs so that you can differentiate between your different sources of clicks (traffic) to figure out what is working best.

So as an example, if you were promoting on Facebook, you may be able to add a tracking ID like this:

Or if you were generating traffic from TikTok you could create a link like this:

That way, you’d be able to monitor the sources of your commissions & see which of your efforts are paying off & which of them aren’t so you know where best to focus your time.

For example, you may see that you generated 30 sales from Facebook but none from TikTok, which means that clearly your time would be better spent focused on Facebook rather than TikTok.

And in a nutshell, that’s the very basics of how affiliate links work explained… But as you’ve probably guessed, there’s a little more to it than that. There are some additional things known as “cookies” that can determine how much (or how little) you make from your links, and we’ll explain more about those below.

What Are Affiliate Link Tracking Cookies?

So, in the previous section, we explained the basics of how affiliate links work but one thing that didn’t cover is something known as affiliate tracking cookies.

And affiliate tracking cookies are very important because they play a huge role in determining how much (or how little) you’ll earn from your affiliate links.

You see, affiliate tracking cookies are essentially small files that get stored on a user’s device after they click through your affiliate link & these files contain 2 things; your unique affiliate ID & an expiry date.

So what is the purpose of these cookies?

Well, in short, their purpose is to enable you to still earn commissions in the instances that people click through your affiliate link but then make their purchase at a later date.

And the way they work is pretty simple, as you’ll see below:

  • Somebody clicks your affiliate link
  • They’re taken to the website & an affiliate tracking cookie is set on their device
  • Each time they re-visit the website, the website checks their device for the cookie
  • If the cookie is found (and still in date), the website grabs your unique affiliate ID from it
  • When the visitor finally makes a purchase, you’ll be rewarded with a commission

So, why do these affiliate tracking cookies determine how much you make?

Well, think of it this way. Without the cookie being set, you would only earn from sales that happen immediately after somebody clicks on your link & in most cases, that simply won’t happen.

People often do research before they purchase or simply get sidetracked & come back at a later date. So without affiliate tracking cookies, you’d miss out on a large chunk of commissions.

But then you also have affiliate tracking cookie duration & this is essentially the time difference between when the cookie is initially set, and when it is set to expire.

So, for example, if an affiliate program has a 30-day cookie duration it means that you will stand to earn commissions within a 30-day period of the person clicking on your affiliate link (providing they use the same device & providing they haven’t cleared their cookies).

This means that the longer the cookie duration, the more opportunity you have to potentially make money.

So as you can likely now see, affiliate tracking cookies play a big role in the amount of money that you can earn from an affiliate link & its generally best to look for the lengthiest cookie duration possible.

FYI a lifetime cookie duration is best, which means that the cookies will never automatically expire & will only be removed if the user clears them manually themselves… But as you can imagine, affiliate programs with lifetime cookies are pretty rare.

Hopefully now though, all that information has given you a good insight into how affiliate links work.

The Bottom Line

As you can likely now see after reading this blog post, affiliate links are pretty straight forward & how they work isn’t too complicated.

In short, affiliate links are very similar to normal website links except they contain an ID that is unique to the affiliate whose link it is.

The link contains this unique ID so that the company being promoted can determine which affiliate it was that sent the visitors there & generated the sales.

Then, after the sales are made, the company simply pays out the commissions to the rightful affiliate in return for them promoting their website.

And as we discussed in the previous section, when a link is clicked, an affiliate tracking cookie with a cookie duration is generally set to help the affiliate profit from sales that are made later down the line.

Make sense? Hopefully, it does, but if not & if you’d like further material be sure to check out our free step-by-step affiliate marketing course.

In our free affiliate marketing course, we explain in greater detail everything there is to know about affiliate marketing & how you can get (and start earning money from) affiliate links.

So if you haven’t yet done so, do be sure to check it out before you leave & of course, if you happen to have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below.

Free Training:

Launch a Thriving Online Business 💸

Training Video Preview

Our free step-by-step training will teach you how you can turn any passion or interest into a thriving online business even if you're a beginner with absolutely no previous experience. Sign-up today & learn a skill that could change your life.

9 thoughts on “How Do Affiliate Links Work? A Very Simple Explanation”

  1. I have another question. I turned some of my affiliate links into QR codes with a QR code generator so that i can promote offline. I used the QR code to see if it would bring me to the amazon site and it worked. my question is will it still track that it’s my link and award me commission if people use the QR code?

    • Yeah absolutely; it doesn’t matter how people go througgh the link, as long as they go through it’ll be tracked. However, when using direct traffic like that (with no referring website), you may find some affiliate programs will question the source of your traffic. Not all programs will allow that type of traffic so you’d need to check first.

  2. would affiliate links work if a person typed the link it in their browser and bought something instead of clicking on it? example: an affiliate link is physically written down somewhere and someone types it in their browser.

    • You would need to log into your affiliate account & set up a payment method, then it would be transferred when you meet any thresholds. Congrats on the commission!

  3. Hello Simon:

    I enjoy your blog/post about Affiliate Link. I will check out the step-by-step Affiliate Marketing course later. As new as I am I have some naive questions to ask. 1) Where do the visitors see/click my Affiliate Link? On my website? 2) Once clicked the link, where do they go? Amazon? 3) You use the term “re-visit” the website. Which website? Mine or Amazon? 4) Will I see something like this on my website?

    • Hello Chalermpol. There are many places you can promote your links. We uncover some of the best methods in our free training, but we’ve also published a list of places you can post affiliate links for free on our blog. I think you’ll find that helpful. After they click the affiliate link, they’ll be taken to the website that you’re promoting (which could be Amazon, or another site). When I mentioned re-visiting the website, I was referring to the website you’re promoting. So if you’re promoting Amazon & they revisit the site at a later date, Amazon will look for the cookie to see if they were sent there by you. And yep, that’s right – your link will look like that (unless you cloak your links). I definitely you’ll think our free training course very helpful to learn more, but I hope this information has helped you out 🙂


Leave a comment