September 6

Discussion: First Cookie vs. Last Cookie

28  comments

This is an article I’ve wanted to write and discuss for over a year now.

So, after several discussions/debates with others in the space, I decided
to ask you, my loyal readers, to bring your insights and opinions to the table…

So here we go!

First, if you’re not sure about first vs. last cookie, here’s the gist:

First Cookie: if a user clicks an affiliate link, then no other affiliates
can get credit for that person’s conversions for as long as the cookie is set.

Last Cookie: in order to secure sale, the last affiliate to deliver a
cookie on a user’s machine receives credit for the conversion.

Questions??? No? Good! 🙂

Now onto the good stuff…

Which is better? Which is fair for affiliates? What’s best for a company?

Honestly there are SO many factors that play into it that going
over all the details would quickly turn into a masters level thesis!
(I can do that, but I’m going to charge you $997 ;))

What I’m going to do is hit the MAIN pros and cons of First vs. Last cookie
from three perspectives;

Company, Small to Medium Affiliate, and Large Affiliate

Read below, then I’m going to open up the comments, where I’ll be answering
questions and making counter points just to make everyone think!

FIRST COOKIE

Pros:

Company: Confidence in process, and future.
(Shows an affiliate that a company knows the first cookied people will
convert in their sales process, but ALSO that future sales of products
will be credited to that first referrer)

Small/Medium Affiliate: Rewards those that promote early.
(Setting that first cookie on a click or lead can secure potential
sales that might come from buzz from elsewhere on the web and
also for FUTURE products sold)

Large Affiliate: Can secure biggest cookied list in one promotion.
(Because they’re the big hitters, they cookie the most, and because of first
cookie, they do not have to mail multiple times to constantly ‘overwrite’ others
who might share portions of their lists or traffic sources)

Cons:

– Company: Puts more pressure on company to secure sale.
(Without an extra push and ‘stamp of approval’ from the trusted source
the sale does become harder to make)

– Small to Medium Affiliate: Must be first!
(With a limited promotional base, and big affiliates lining up to
promote, the Small to Medium affiliate has to be the first out of
the gate, or else risk losing potential buyers to others)

– Large Affiliate: Almost level playing field.
(Although they still are able to drive more traffic, the advantage
of being able to ‘overwrite’ other affiliates cookies is now gone)

LAST COOKIE

Pros

– Company: Keep on pushin’!!
(Since affiliates want to make sales they have to constantly
push and promote in order to keep their cookies first…which
leads to a TON of repeat exposure)

– Small to Medium Affiliate: Fresh and unique lists win.
(If their lists have little to no cross pollination among the larger
affiliates’ lists, then they don’t have to do much but drive the
lead and trust the company to sell them)

– Large Affiliates: Volume secures sales.
(With a single email just before the sales page opens, the
large affiliate can ‘overwrite’ cookies on cross pollinated
lists of other affiliates and secure higher sales)

Cons:

– Company: Lots of explaining to do…
(Because many affiliates have their cookies overwritten, they are often
very active in their pursuit of answers as to why X amount of clicks and
leads they drove, turned into little to no sales. This often hurts the
relationship with an affiliate and makes the company do more payback)

– Small/Medium Affiliate: Promotion is required to ensure credit.
(Because leads and cookies can be overwritten by other affiliates and
external ads at any point during a promotion, these affiliates must
promote hard to ensure their cookie is the last one on that potential
buyers’ computer)

– Large Affiliate: Timing before the event is KEY.
(With dozens of other big affiliates pushing a product, and threatening
the cookies placed before, they must time promotions to ensure they
get the last possible cookie or else all leads and efforts are worthless)

=================================================

Alright I’m SURE you’ve got thoughts, insight, and opinions to share
so without further ado…

COMMENTS ARE OPEN AND UNFILTERED!!

Discussion is really the only way I’m going to be able to help you figure
out what’s best for the current situation that you’re in…

Brad

P.S. What are you waiting for? Let your opinions and questions be known!


Tags

click tracking, First cookie vs last cookie, should you use first or last cookie?


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  • I personally believe in first cookie because when some one sends me an affiliate I lock in thier email so that the affiliate will get credit for that lead for life. I just want to give the people I work with the benefit of the doubt and that is the best way I know how.

    One thing about last cookie is, I was able to get a ton of sales by offering bonus’s to people that buy from my link rather then another affiliate. This way I could effectively wait till the end steal a bunch of peoples commissions and take in the cash.

    Trust me it works. But it first cookie is in effect you cant do that.

    Thanks for the cool article Brad.

    • Casey, the bonus offer is a great way via the last cookie to lock-in sales but it’d be based off the work of others ‘buzzing it up’. So it might hurt list relationship if all the sudden you offer something like that without much lead in. But I DO trust you my man!!

      Thanks!

  • Great piece Brad…

    I truly think First Cookie is the best way to go for many reasons but without also writing a thesis here are some key points:

    1. It allows the smaller affiliates to get a fair piece of the pie. While small affiliates only generate a few sales per month having 100+ working with you really adds up. I like things to be steady and reliable and having 100 small fries and losing a couple here and there is way better than a couple big affiliates that can stop promoting at any time and your affiliate side of the business dries up overnight.

    2. Those that support you early on in the game deserve respect and should get the sales for all the leads they generate. It’s just the ethical thing to do…

    3. I don’t think it is fair to force affiliates to compete over the last cookie standing… While it does boost more activity and possibly sales it is creating a tone of extra emails/spam to people’s inbox’s also and this is not good either. I hate spam and repeat emails over and over just before a holiday or product launch… So I don’t do this with affiliates working with me.

    I will admit, I’m a relaxed casual guy. Helping others trade and those with financial sites who need content and more of an income from their sites/lists is what I do. But I don’t sell my soul to the marketing devil creating huge amounts of opt-outs and negative feedback from free email lists.

    Cheers!
    Chris V

    • Solid points all around Chris. It should also be pointed at that you’re looking at the cookie set-up from a ‘content marketing’ strategy VS a launch strategy. But your points could be argued and agreed upon by people involved with a launch strategy…THANKS MAN!!

      Keep the good content coming too 😉

  • We’ve always been a supporter of the “First Cookie” and the main reason is I personally try to put myself in the affiliates shoes. If I’m an affiliate, I want credit for introducing quality leads to a company that convert to sales. What I don’t want is to feel that someone can game the system by “sniping” the sale like an eBay auction where they come in at the last possible moment and grab credit for it. That is simply gaming the system and not really what a positive and productive company/affiliate relationship should ever be about.

    With First Cookie an affiliate can focus on providing quality messaging to their customers, not feel they have to mail repeatedly and right down to the wire in an effort to one up the other affiliates mailing down to the last minute. It does a disservice to those receiving those emails, ultimately the open rates of emails and the quality of the leads.

    If it takes tactics, strategies, gamesmanship and sniping to get the leads and the credits for the sale that should tell you all you need to know about Last Cookie.

    Instead, get in there first, introduce quality leads, rest easily knowing you get credit for your efforts immediately as an affiliate and can continue the focus on the new lead gen rather than having to relentlessly defend your turf. Everyone benefits in this situation – the company, the affiliate, the customers.

    • All VERY valid points! Companies need to put themselves into their affiliates shoes to see what’s best for them! It’s often an after thought that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of affiliates…which in turn makes it harder to count on them long term.

      And the comment regarding eBay and the sale sniping is perfect as we’ve all been there and have seen it done. You’re right about sometimes needing to ‘defend your turf’, but it’s hard to keep doing that with a positive attitude.

      Everyone should also know that Netpicks mainly focuses on LAUNCHES (with a new one coming Oct 1st that you should get on board for by visiting here: http://www.netpicks.com/company/affiliate-program/)

  • Great article Brad. This has been a topic that we’ve been discussing internally as well. As we migrate to a new shopping cart and prepare for our next launch, we have been trying to figure out which solution (first or last cookie) is best for our affiliates.

    • It’s a tough one Brian. I think it’d be interesting to read though more comments as they come in, and maybe you can do a poll to your affiliates. Might get responses from only one side, but at least they’re the active ones 🙂

  • Excellent article, Brad. I’ve always been a strong supporter of “first in” systems as well.

    I do still think there is a place for last cookie systems though. ClickBank is the best example; low priced products looking for those immediate, “instant gratification”, one-time sales, that’s where you want a last cookie system. But for the higher end, private, relationship-building programs we’re all involved in, first cookie is definitely the best for everyone involved.

  • I’m an advocate of last-cookie approaches for a variety of reasons. To my knowledge, both Amazon (world’s biggest affiliate driven network) and CB and others also use last-cookie systems, for many good reasons:

    a) Having first-cookie approaches unfairly gives commissions to marketers who may have only promoted say 6 months ago (and not since), but it was another more recent affiliate that sends the same lead several recent emails (during a launch, or just passively via site traffic, or via targeted emails), that produces the sale. It’s not fair to penalize the person who actually generated the sale, just because someone else cookied that lead many months ago.

    b) First-cookie approaches unduly favor the marketers who do a ton of lead-harvesting via squeeze pages with jv partners from many months/years ago. In competitive niches, where there’s a lot of lead overlap, if Marketer 1 harvested and got leads cookied from something 6 months or a year ago, why on earth should they get a $500 affiliate commission if it was My email, and recommendation, from which an overlapping lead made the purchase? That’s completely not fair. If I “pushed the prospect over the edge” into buying, particularly if I personally recommended a product via my affiliate link, and my lead purchased from that link, why should my hard-earned commission go to “joe blow marketer with a huge email opt in list” just because he ‘tattooed’ that lead last year? That’s why I often don’t promote for others.

    c) Unique Bonuses: That’s one reason most IM launches have people offering their individual bonuses, “if you buy through my link you’ll get my (xyz) bonus”… that’s defeated if there’s a first-cookie approach. I like the idea of affiliates offering their own special bonuses for a launch, like virtually all major internet marketing launches do (guru 1 vs guru 2 vs guru 3, becomes a ‘battle of the bonuses’), and that competition is good for customers, and for affiliates who work harder.

    So, like Amazon.com and others, I advocate a last-cookie approach, because I want to a) give credit to whomever generated the actual sale, not some shared lead from months ago that was cookied on some unrelated launch, and b) as an affiliate, if I promote someone’s product to my list, I expect to get paid if that lead clicks on my affiliate link and then immediately buys.

    Personally I will never promote to anyone who uses a “first cookie” approach, because if for example, 37 people buy from my email I sent out, but “joe blow email harvester trader-marketer has all my leads in his database, cookied to him” and I get only 4-8 sales credits, though it was My email that generated the specific sale, that’s simply not fair and I refuse to do business with people who would do that. And similarly, when I pay aff commisshes, it’s to whomever last-cookied, most recently generated the sale.

    In fact I prefer to even do things old-school, whereby affiliates get their own landing pages, with undisputed individual order links, so that there’s zero room for confusion. Plus cookies get lost/deleted/person sees offer on their work computer, but orders from home computer, aff tracking is then lost if cookie-based only etc. So I prefer:

    mysite/aff01landingpage.htm
    mysite/aff02landingpage.htm

    though obviously that’s more work, it ensures that affiliates will a) send traffic to their individually coded landing pages, b) allows them to offer bonuses for buying through their link, that credits them properly and c) avoids mis-crediting wrong affiliates.

    Regards,

    Ken Ca|houn, Pres.
    Daytrading Un|versity.com
    and dozens of other sites.
    Making a living online fulltime since the 90s.

    • All solid points Ken! THANKS!!

      I think with First Cookie to be successful and avoid many of the above pitfalls the time limit must be set to a few months. Doing a year or anything longer then 2-3 months WILL fall into the traps that you mentioned above!

  • Hey,

    In reply to Brad’s comments, I would like to share my thoughts on what I feel would be best in an affilate program and to another point of view. We all know and have a strong desire to be acknowledged and get paid for their efforts. When it comes to launches, I have found that first cookie is best because it ensures commitment to mail hard, not just at the end, but from where the story begins…at the beginning.

    Everyone wants to get paid for putting weeks of time and effort they dedicated to back a single offer. When last cookie is on play, being bumped from #1 to #3 when a “BIG” affiliate finally mails to his “HUGE” list and takes the sale that you worked so hard to warm up can be super frustrating. If anything, this should be teaching you to take action no matter how small and begin to grow fresh leads from outside the affilate model through media buys, PPC, Facebook, SEO, ect… As you grow these leads, and master this process, you are guaranteeing an increased value per lead and this will eventually ensure your leads wont be buying through someone else’s link because they are not part of that “washing machine” of recycled leads that a majority of affilates share.

    I have provided an example below of what I feel is an excellent win – win solution for the long term (yet to be created in an affiliate program… as far as I know) to solve the delima of who gets the cookie. Here is what I think an actual breakdown should look like to avoid this situation in the future. For this first scenerio, it would be very valuable for launches.

    First Scenerio Breakdown For Launches
    First Cookie(FC)/ Last Cookie – (LC)Yes(Y)/No(N)
    #1. FC-Y LC-N Commission = 50%
    #2. FC-N LC-Y Commission = 50%
    #3. FC-Y LC-Y Commission = 100%

    Everyone wants to get paid for their efforts, and when it comes to evergreen products, only so many people can mail for an offer at once. For example, our evergreen product only allows for one or two mailers a week. Why you may ask? Well for starters, we are building a business and our top priority is to ensure that our customers have the best custormer support experience as possible. Grow as we buiild our support, and not the other way around seems to work for me, to ensure my company’s long term prosperity.

    Assuming you have an evergreen product, what is best to have set is last cookie. The people mailing for your offer on their dates truely get their sales worth. This ensures that they do not loose out because they did not mail first for your offer because they are waiting in line for their turn to mail.

    What would be ideal if I were to be able to snap my fingers is to assign a percentage for who gets the first cookie and who gets the last cookie in this scenerio would be as follows.

    Second Scenerio Breakdown For Evergreen
    First Cookie(FC)/ Last Cookie – (LC)Yes(Y)/No(N)
    #1. FC-Y LC-N Commission = 20%
    #2. FC-N LC-Y Commission = 80%
    #3. FC-Y LC-Y Commission = 100%

    Until we have a solution that actually fits a perfect model, always remember!

    “Your reputation is everything, the key to success or failure basicly comes down to whomever is taking care of their affiliates above and beyond the standard. Always maintain constant communication, put your affiliates above yourself, pay on time and in return, Karma has a way of working itselt in.”

    Best,

    Jonathan Herbert

    • As always Jonathan you bring it!! Maybe you and I rock this space and create a super hybrid cookie system…won’t be first or last anymore, it’ll be the HerbStaff method!! 😉

  • smart idea, Jonathan, that would be even better, instead of the current 100% “all or nothing” LC vs FC model… if there was a way to change percentage of aff payout based on evergreen vs launch… brilliant concept, would be nice to see it implemented somehow via aff mgmt s/w like 1sc and the networks. nice to see thinking outside the box. also a good idea re incentivizing people to get leads from nontraditional sources, so we’re not all sharing the same leads all the time. A+ idea imho.

    -ken

  • I strongly agree with Ken that last cookie is best, especially for smaller affiliates like me. Thanks Ken for speaking up against the tide!

    In addition to everything he said, keep in mind with every launch I support my leads go into your (big guys) databases. This means all the big guys have my leads in their databases, so chances are one of them will get them cookied before I do on subsequent launches for other marketers.

    As a small affiliate I don’t have my own launches and never get leads coming to me from the big guys, I only get them from my SEO efforts which includes hundreds of pages of unique content on my website which I believe injects a high percentage of fresh leads into the big guys databases come launch time. So last cookie is the only way I get a fighting chance to sell exclusively to my own full lead database (not just the new leads I have since the last big launch a week or two ago), since I share all my hard earned leads with you all at every launch.

    The only way I can compete is to work harder for all the launches, but that doesn’t help me much with first cookie if all my work goes to the big guys with all the cookies who may not even be supporting the launch at all.

    You may find arguments against this theory, but I can tell you from experience I make way less money on first cookie launches. I’m getting to the point where Ken is at now, where I don’t see much reason to support first cookie launches anymore.

    I know some of you think this industry is so different from Clickbank and Amazon and CJ etc., but I think they all use last cookie for a reason, and that reason is it is the most fair to the people who are working hard now. When I worked big corporate jobs, performance review time was always about “what have you done for me lately”, not how great a reputation I built up with work from previous years.

    Brad, if you are serious when you say: “Companies need to put themselves into their affiliates shoes to see what’s best for them” then what is best for me as a small affiliate is last cookie, definitely. Not sure how much influence small affiliates have though when most of the big guys in this thread are championing first cookie. All I can say is if you think it is because you are trying “to be fair” to small affiliates, please think again…

    Something like Jonathon is saying could also work well where first and last cookie share the commission, but I’m not sure that is possible with the current systems you all use for tracking…

    • Brad, very strong points especially from a personal perspective. It’s truly a hard line to walk from a company perspective, and it would almost be better if there was a hybrid set-up, and with a timing of the first and last cookie.

      I also wanted to point out about LEAD vs CLICK cookies during a launch or specific time period. You’re right about sending leads in a last cookie system is almost pointless…so why not set up a ‘tattoo’ for a LEAD during a launch period?

      How would you (and everyone else) feel about that?

  • There seems to be one thing that everyone can agree on: both methods are good and bad in almost equal amount.

    As such, if I were a merchant, I would follow success of others. Just look at the large CPA networks, or Commission Junction, even Clickbank, had they used the “first cookie” method, none of them can be as big as they are now.

    The debate can go on, but I think real life result speak for itself. Follow success and K.I.S.S.

  • For those who live and die by Fisrt Cookie, consider these (real life scenarios, by the way):

    Scenario 1. A hard working affiliate generates his leads, and through his follow up emails, he explains the benefits of the product he’s promoting from multiple angles. Finally, one of the angles “clicked” with the prospect, who then decides to make the purchase.

    Unfortunately for this hard working affiliate who is actually responsible in helping the prospect see the “clicked” benefits that’s the real reason for the buying decision, this lead has been cookied previous by someone else who, never to be heard again after the first email to set the cookies.

    Scenario 2. For every affiliate who tries to “game” the LC system, there is another who makes the same effort to “game” the FC system by cookie stuffing, for example.

    And let’s face it, for individual merchant, do you have any effective way of preventing someone cleaverly doing cookie stuffing? I think not.

    • Zen, you’re right about people ‘gaming’ the LC AND FC. Happens with both, and with FC setting a time period could prevent (or at least discourage) cookie/lead stuffing.

      Also we need to consider doing specific LC and FC set-ups for launches. So if there’s a NEW launch by Company A that you promote for those FC or LC leads and cookies stick to that one…then if Company A has a new launch 3 months later, a NEW set of FC and LC rules are in place. Thoughts?

  • I personally prefer the last cookie however I can also see the points of the first cookie. Obviously the ideal system would split the first and last cookie commissions, this way both affiliates at least get something for their efforts. Not sure how that would work, but I think that would be a great system and one everyone would appreciate.

    -brian

    • I think there’s GOT to be a better way to really make it work and a hybrid set-up could be the ideal way…but right now we’re just kinda stuck with one or the other. But in my comment to Zen, I think a set-up of launch specific FC/LC could be set-up. What do you think?

  • Brad, there’s a network that uses a “tier” cookie method, with the help of a special algorithm, it splits the “credit/payout” between the FC and LC, giving more weight to the one who cookied more times. This way, both FC and LC get paid, but whoever affiliate mailed the most, gets paid the bigger part of the commission.

    This is the best solution I’ve seen so far.

  • I see the point of first cookie but the problem is…..gaming SEO and using iframe to load in affiliate site, placing the cookie. I see this a lot of pages that have pure SEO copy that is senseless just to game the system and drop the cookie.

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