Tracking Methods and Benefits: Part 1

Beth Belcher

Tracking is being used by a number of businesses on the web today. There are many different methods of tracking available and many different uses for tracking as well. In this article I will try to let you know a little bit about each method and how the different uses of tracking can benefit your business.

Some of the different tracking methods available are: hit counters, simple direct URL Links, CGI/URL Tracking, Cookie Tracking, Self Replicated Pages, Sub Domain Tracking, and Database Record Match Tracking. In the next few paragraphs I will go into a brief explanation of each method along with its benefits and major drawbacks.

Hit Counters
Hit counters are probably the most simple and readily available method of tracking. They are beneficial to webmasters who simply want to know how many times a web page has been accessed. The hit counter is usually placed at the bottom of the page and will register a “hit” when a visitor pulls up that web page. They can be used to see how much traffic your newest product or advertising campaign is drawing to your site. The major drawback with hit counters is that they are extremely limited in the type of information they can provide the Webmaster.

Direct URL Tracking
Simple Direct URL links can be used to track sales on a single-page sales site. With this tracking method, the affiliate ID is always visible to the customer because it is passed directly to the URL of a specific page, which generally must include the order form. This specific page has been coded with a script which reads the referring affiliate ID in the URL and passes it into a hidden field in the order form. This method will only work when tracking immediate sales and will not track if a visitor returns to the site and purchases later. The most important drawback to simple direct URL links is that because the affiliate ID is always visible in the URL, customers can defeat the tracking by simply removing the affiliate ID from the URL.

CGI/URL Tracking
With CGI/URL Tracking the affiliate ID is passed throughout the merchant’s entire website. The affiliate ID is also visible in the URL in this method and it stays with the visitor throughout the site until he/she reaches the ordering page, where the affiliate ID is then detected from the URL string. This is accomplished in most cases by employing Perl or JavaScript. The Perl or JavaScript reads the current URL, catches the affiliate ID, and carries it over to the URL of the next page. The main problem with this method of tracking is that it requires careful design of the website and the upkeep of every link within the merchant’s site. In addition to that problem, if the script ever fails then the merchant’s site will fail as well. In the past, this method was used frequently as a backup to cookie tracking since it allows a way to track customers who have disabled their cookies. This is no longer the case since Internet users who are determined enough to disable their cookies are also smart enough to remove the affiliate ID from the URL and re-enter the site.

Cookie Tracking
Cookie Tracking is the most widely used method of tracking. It remains the most popular method because it is simple to put in place and easy to use, it raises no significant web design issues, nor does it affect the website’s performance. In this method a small text file (cookie) is written to a user’s browser when an affiliate’s link is clicked. This cookie stores the referring affiliate’s ID, which is recognized at the order page and used to credit the affiliate for the referred sales. Cookie tracking can be read and used on any page or on any form, and can be integrated with almost any ordering system. Another important fact about cookies is that they can be set to last for as long as a Webmaster desires to reward commissions to the referring affiliate. This enables webmasters to reward commissions on a visitor’s purchase whether they purchase the first time they visit the site or months later. The biggest drawback with cookie tracking is that a small number of Internet users intentionally disable their cookies, which renders cookie tracking ineffective. However this drawback is quickly become nonexistent as a result of a lot of popular sites requiring the usage of cookies.

Next, we’ll take a look at Self Replicated Pages, Sub Domain Tracking, and Database Record Matching ~ Stay Tuned!