Quick Answer: Cookie duration in affiliate marketing refers to how long you can potentially earn a commission after somebody clicks your link, even if they don’t make a purchase right away. There’s a little bit more to it than that (& some caveats), but this post will explain everything you need to know.
If you’ve looked into joining an affiliate program or spent any amount of time browsing through an affiliate network then cookie duration is a phrase you’ll have no doubt come across.
But what exactly is cookie duration in affiliate marketing? And why does the cookie duration of an affiliate program matter?
More importantly, what is a good cookie duration? And heck… What even is a cookie?
If those are some of the questions that have been flying around in your head then rest assured that you’ve landed in the right place.
In this post, we’ll be explaining what a cookie is, what cookie duration means in affiliate marketing & how cookie duration can have a big impact on your overall revenue.
Let’s start with the basics;
What Is An Affiliate Tracking Cookie?
An affiliate tracking cookie is essentially a small text file containing an affiliate ID that is stored on your device after clicking an affiliate link (if your browser or device enables cookies to be stored, that is – and if you granted permissions to allow it).
The file is completely harmless & its purpose is to simply let the website know which affiliate referred you the next time you visit if you happen to visit again without clicking through an affiliate link.
So, for example, let’s say David refers you to Amazon via his affiliate link & his link looks like this:
His affiliate ID in this instance would be 123 & if you made a purchase, he’d be credited a commission for the sale because his affiliate ID is in the URL so the company (Amazon in this case) knows it was him who sent you there.
But what happens if you clicked the link, then closed the page & came back later to make the purchase?
Well, without an affiliate tracking cookie, David wouldn’t be credited for the sale.
But if David gave you some really good advice & helped you figure out which product to get, then surely David deserves some compensation for his efforts at least, right?
Right! And that’s where an affiliate tracking cookie comes into play.
This time, when you click on the link, an affiliate tracking cookie is set on your device & it contains the affiliate ID “123”, which is the same ID that appeared in the URL you clicked.
This means that if you close the page but then revisit it later on the same device (without going through David’s link), the company will check to see if an affiliate tracking cookie exists with a valid affiliate ID & if it does, then that affiliate (in this case, David) will be credited for the sale, even though it didn’t happen straight away.
But, as we mentioned at the start of this post, there are some caveats.
Firstly, the cookie will only (usually) work if you make the purchase on the same device that you clicked the link on. So if you clicked on your phone but then complete the purchase on our PC, in most cases the affiliate won’t be credited for the sale as the website won’t be able to find the cookie on the device to get the ID.
Secondly, the cookie will only be set if you’ve allowed it to be set. Some browsers automatically block cookies & even if they don’t, the cookie will only be set if you hit the “allow cookies” button when loading the website.
And thirdly, there’s something known as affiliate cookie duration, which we’ll explain in more detail below.
What Is Affiliate Cookie Duration?
When an affiliate tracking cookie is set on your device, it can contain 2 things, these are data (in the form of text) & an expiration date, which outlines the data & time of when the cookie will in essence “self destruct”.
The affiliate cookie duration, therefore, is the difference (in days) between the date the cookie is initially set & the date that it is set to automatically expire.
So, as an example let’s say an affiliate program boasts a 30-day cookie duration.
This means that whenever somebody clicks on an affiliate link from that program, a cookie will be set on their device & it will be set to expire after 30 days from the date of the initial click.
This gives you, the affiliate, up to 30 days to potentially earn a commission from that program.
So let’s say you’re promoting products from the Nike affiliate program & they have a 30-day cookie duration.
This means that if somebody clicks your link but doesn’t buy anything right away, you could still stand to earn a commission as long as they come back anytime within that 30 days & make a purchase (even if they don’t go back to the website via your link).
But of course, as we mentioned above, there are some caveats;
- They must have accepted the cookie in the first place
- They must be using the same device on which the cookie was set
- They must not have cleared their cookies since their visit
- They must not have clicked somebody else’s affiliate link after yours*
The last one contains an asterisk because whilst most programs payout using the last click model (attributing sales to the last affiliate link that was clicked), there are a few programs that use the first click model meaning that the first affiliate to refer the visitor gets the commission even if they go through another affiliate link afterwards.
And, of course, as soon as the sale is generated, the cookie is automatically deleted. To generate more commissions from the same program, you would then have to refer the user via your link once again.
What Is a Good Affiliate Cookie Duration?
So now that you know what an affiliate tracking cookie is & what cookie duration means, you might be wondering, what is actually a good affiliate cookie duration?
30-day cookie duration is certainly the most common, but is it the best?
Well, the short answer is no, it’s not.
And the reason for that is because there are some affiliate programs that actually set lifetime cookies, meaning that the cookies never expire until the user actually manually clears them from their device.
But, those programs are few & far between because lifetime cookies can cost companies a lot of money.
You see, many companies pay out affiliate commissions higher than their actual product profit margins because they generate additional revenue from referrals making purchases outside of the cookie duration window.
For example, if a company has a 30-day cookie duration & your referral makes a purchase on day 31, essentially the company you were promoting has just gotten free advertising & they use this to balance their profits.
So companies that offer lifetime commissions miss out on that potential extra revenue stream & that’s why there are fewer of them around. The good news, however, is that there are still plenty.
And if you browse some of the affiliate programs that we’ve listed on this blog you’ll find several.
Some of our recent links include;
- 17 Best Boat & Yachts Affiliate Programs
- 22 Best Web Hosting Affiliate Programs
- 12 Best $100 Commission Affiliate Programs
But, as you’ve probably guessed, in short, the longer the affiliate cookie duration the better.
The longer the cookie duration, the higher the chance you have of generating a sale.
Wrapping It Up
Hopefully, this post has been insightful & helped you better understand how affiliate cookies work & why cookie duration is so important (among other things).
The good news is that we list cookie duration alongside all of the affiliate programs we publish here at Commission Academy enabling you to easily compare & find programs with the longest cookie durations.
But, of course, cookie duration isn’t everything. After all, it’s no good having a program with a lifetime cookie duration if the product, service or offer simply just doesn’t convert in the first place.
So how can you find the best affiliate programs overall? The ones that will put the most money in your pocket?
Well, that’s exactly what our free affiliate marketing course is designed to help you with. So before you leave, definitely be sure to check it out.
And if you happen to have any further questions or comments then don’t hesitate to leave them below. We’re always absolutely more than happy to help.