How do affiliate links work?

How can they benefit my online business?

by Sarah Hutchings

Posted: Wednesday 18th March 2020

How do affiliate links work with WooCommerce & Shopify

Why use affiliate links?

Affiliate marketing (also called Multi-Level Marketing) is the power-packed growth strategy where online retailers offer a commission to people (affiliates) who promote products on their behalf.

Affiliate links are the driving force of all online affiliate programs.

But precisely what are affiliates links and how do they work?

What is an Affiliate Link?

An affiliate link, sometimes called a referral link, is a unique URL given to people who sign up to be part of an affiliate program. These people are called Affiliates.

Affiliates post their unique link wherever they promote a company's products online, such as in blogs, YouTube videos and social media posts.

If someone buys a product as a direct result of their promotion, specialised software tracks the sale and attributes a commission payment to the affiliate.

What Does an Affiliate Link Look Like?

A standard format for an affiliate link is your store URL plus a unique extension.
For example:

Affiliate links may also be personalized to be easier to remember, e.g.

These unique links are then used by affiliates to refer users to your online store.

Affiliate links may also be converted to QR codes which may be printed on promotional material the affiliate provides to potential customers.

converting affiliate links to qr codes

How Do Affiliate Links Work?

When someone clicks an affiliate link (or scans a QR code) and goes to a website, the affiliate's unique details get stored in a cookie on that visitor's internet browser. A cookie is a commonly used small piece of data or code.

When the visitor purchases, the cookie allows the sale to be identified as one referred by an affiliate, and commission is calculated and recorded for later payment to the affiliate.

What if Someone Doesn't Buy Straight Away?

What happens when people visit a site via an affiliate link but don't purchase immediately? What if they choose to buy a few days later by navigating to the website directly, without using the affiliate link? Does the sale still get tracked?

The answer is yes, depending on the length of time you've set your cookie to last.

With ShoutOut, cookies can be set to expire anywhere from 7 days to forever. The default setting is 90 days. We recommend merchants set cookies to last as long as possible so that every sale gets tracked, ensuring affiliates stay motivated and get 100% of the commission due to them.

How Do I Create an Affiliate Link?

To run an affiliate program, you'll need to install an affiliate marketing software in a form of plugin (for Wordpress Sites or Squarespace Stores) or app (for Shopify) like ShoutOut to your online store.

affiliate link with Woocommerce plugin

ShoutOut allows you to create an unlimited number of affiliate links for an unlimited number of people / ambassadors that join your network. Each person is provided the ability to also personalize their links, or create their own QR codes from their personal dashboard.

While we recommend that affiliate links point to the home page of your online store, it is possible to have them point to specific products, categories or any page of your website.

Can You Shorten an Affiliate Link?

Yes. Referral links can be quite long, particularly if you're pointing them to a specific product page. To shorten a referral link to just a few letters, services like ShoutOut provide a shortener function.

To use this feature in ShoutOut, select the affiliate, click on the option to edit their affiliate link and then select the 'Shorten' link function. The long referral link will be replaced with a unique, shortened version that's just a few characters long.

shorten affiliate link

What Happens if More than One Affiliate Link Gets Clicked?

If another affiliate refers your store to the same customer, who gets credited with the sale?

In Shoutout, the new affiliate link will overwrite the old affiliate's referral, and the cookie expiry time begins again.

What if I Don't Want to Use Affiliate Links?

You don't have to! You can still run an Affiliate Program with ShoutOut thanks to our unique ‘Lifetime Associations’ feature.

A Lifetime Association is where you can connect a customer to a specific affiliate for life. The customer never has to click a link or use a unique code to purchase. Every order will get automatically credited to your nominated Affiliate.

This option is excellent for affiliates, account managers, party-plan consultants and sales representatives whose clients regularly re-order but may do so directly on your website rather than through specific codes or links. Find out more on How To Track Affiliate Sales Without Coupons, Codes or Links.

shoutout lifetime associations for affiliates

In Summary

We hope this article helps you better understand affiliate links in ShoutOut and how they can effectively drive traffic to your store. As always, if you have any further questions, please contact us at any time.

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About the Author

Sarah - WooCommerce Multil Level Marketing Specialist Sarah Hutchings has worked for some of the world's largest companies around the globe including a decade marketing multi-million dollar consumer goods with Network 21, and Senior Brand Manager for Europe for UniLever and SC Johnson. Sarah is passionate about helping merchants use affiliates and multi-level marketing (MLM) and find smarter ways to profitably grow & scale their business.

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