Rumours are swirling that the future of affiliate networks is looking grim. Marketers fear that the mighty Google updates will put the entire industry to rest. But will it? We will dispel these widespread rumours and explain how to play by the rules without losing revenue. 

Affiliate marketers are concerned about the future of their industry because of the impact of Google’s updates on affiliate sites. The most recent updates, specifically the Chrome v. 80 release and the shift to the HTTPS-only standard, have threatened the quality of affiliate tracking. 

Google Chrome v. 80 Update: What does it mean for affiliates? 

Chrome released Chrome 80 on February 4. As part of the release, changes were made to the cookie manager — SameSite. SameSite was first launched in 2016. With the latest Chrome update, it requires websites to provide information about third-party cookies, and how they are used. Unless specific labels are used, SameSite restricts websites from sharing cookies with third-party sites by default. The basis for this update is to secure users’ information. 

The attributes SameSite uses are:

  • Lax — This allows access to first-party cookies. 
  • Strict — Incoming links sprout from an external site. 
  • None —  Allows cookie data to be shared with third-party websites. 

All attributes will start with “SameSite=” and then the appropriate label. 

Before the update, the cookie default was “none.” Affiliates didn’t have to worry because all the data was shared, but now nothing will be shared. For affiliate marketing purposes, it’s crucial to set the SameSite attribute to “SameSite=None, Secure”, so the data could be used by third parties.

Will Google get rid of third-party cookies entirely by 2022?

On the heels of the Google Chrome 80 update, the search engine giant has announced the timeline of phasing out third-party cookie support. They are reporting that it will take two years for the transition to complete. 

As published on the Chromium blog, “After initial dialogue with the web community, we are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete.” 

The blog goes on to say, “Once these approaches have been addressed the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and we have developed the tools to mitigate workarounds, we plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome.” 

In other words, while many affiliate advertisers are getting anxious about the future of their business, there still will be options available that will sustain their operations.

The possible impact of these changes on big ad tech players

Despite the anticipated solutions available after third-party cookies are gone, ad tech will be affected greatly. 

  • Ad networks won’t function as efficiently because behavioural targeting, attribution, and reach will be significantly influenced. 
  • Demand-side platforms won’t be able to target the advertiser’s criteria because the publisher’s audience won’t be able to be identified. Behavioural targeting and retargeting won’t be possible anymore. 
  • Data management platforms won’t be able to build user profiles because they won’t be able to identify users. This means that advertisers and publishers can use the audiences they have created after 2022. Unfortunately, the core business offerings of DMPs will change.

It doesn’t look good for ad tech, but the solution may be found in cookieless affiliate tracking.

Cookieless affiliate tracking: is it feasible? 

If there’s only first-party data available, affiliate marketers will need to learn how to use it properly. The following are ways to use first-party data for affiliate tracking systems.

Keyword-based contextual advertising

Keyword-based contextual advertising may be the first approach around the death of third-party cookies. Marketers started with this, but when third-party cookies hit the scene, they quickly moved away from it. In the next two years, marketers will have to go back to it. With keyword-based contextual advertising, marketers will have to focus on generating high quality, relevant content. 

People-based advertising

Facebook used this approach first, and now affiliate marketers will use it. The approach targets users, not devices, which helps advertisers meet customers where they are spending their time online. Advertisers will need to identify customers and connect with them on different platforms and devices, while also learning more about these customers and using that information to target them and other users who are similar. All of this information is first-party data, and how you use that data will be how you survive the great death of third-party cookies.

Phone calls

Another source for first-party data is phone calls. When customers reach out by phone, they have a reason to do so, and that reason is the information you need for your marketing. Taking that information to use it online to target customers will help you bridge the online customer behaviour and offline actions. 

The future of affiliate marketing will rely on gathering data directly from customers vs. collecting data on the backend of Chrome. The biggest concern at this point is not only whether it will be possible, but how long it will take to have enough data to use it effectively. Like anything, the adjustment phase will be difficult, but eventually, marketers will make it work in their favour to triumph over the challenges of the missing third-party data.

Project Rearc 

On February 10, IAB announced the collaboration named Project Rearc. The agency calls upon the industries masterminds to unite and think over the recent changes. The goal of Project Rearc is to find a viable way to meet the consumers demand and keep digital advertising afloat at the same time. Consumer-provided consented identifiers will be utilised for addressability as the result of this collaboration. 

The move from HTTP and HTTPs from the future perspective 

The end of third-party cookies was bound to happen, especially after the switch from HTTP to HTTPS. Just like Google is ending third-party data to secure user information, the switch to HTTPS is another step towards better security. According to Google, HTTPS websites are more secure. Chrome now warns users if they are trying to access an insecure site. Most websites ranked highly in SERPs are HTTPS as well, which means sites that are HTTP are at a serious disadvantage. 

How to keep up with changes? Preparation manual for affiliates 

Affiliate marketers have two years to learn and hone their skills in tracking users without cookies. The following are ways are great starting points:

  • HTML5 Storage — Browsers allow storage of key-value pairs, which are found in Javascript. 
  • Browser Image Caching — Browsers cache images and use an identifying image for each user. Users can be tracked by checking the URL of the cached image. 
  • Segment Library or Javascript Library — It authenticates users on a site and securely stores their data. 
  • UTM Parameters — These types of query strings are added to the end of a URL. It allows domain owners to track incoming traffic from other sites. This helps domain owners know which sites bring the most traffic to their site.
  • Browser Fingerprinting — Browsers collect information about browser type, version, operating system, plugins, timezone, language, screen resolution, and other settings. This information doesn’t identify the user by name, address, etc., but it can highlight user settings. This identifies groups of users that would benefit from specific types of advertising.

Final words 

Google is phasing out third-party cookies in the next two years. Since most affiliate marketers rely heavily on third-party cookies for tracking purposes, this can be quite nerve-wracking. Fortunately, there are still many ways around third-party cookies to track and identify users for targeting. 

Gathering data from keyword-based contextual advertising, people-based advertising, and phone calls are some of the ways to use first-party data. Other ways include HTML5 storage, browser image caching, UTM parameters, and browser fingerprinting. It’s a good idea to start researching all of these methods now and implement them in the nearest future, so your affiliate revenue doesn’t take a huge hit when third-party cookies are laid to rest.