30-second summary:

  • Affiliate marketers can use Google Analytics to do the following – Google Event Tracking to monitor on-site engagements, Google Dashboards for analyzing user behavior, and build custom Audiences for improving audience retargeting.
  • As an affiliate marketer, Google Analytics does not provide you with off-site tracking, so you can’t see what actions a person performs on a merchant site after leaving your website.
  • With server-side tracking and Google Analytics, you can monitor an entire affiliate funnel through one platform. Advantages include the ability to create lookalike audiences based on people who made a purchase, run improved retargeting campaigns, and export lookalike data across multiple ad platforms.

Google Analytics is a powerful tool that provides valuable insights for anyone managing a website. In this article, I will discuss how to use Google Analytics for your affiliate marketing campaigns. I will then show you how to use third-party tools to provide you with additional insights to generate more revenue from your existing traffic and make better use of your ad budget.

How marketers currently use Google Analytics for affiliate tracking

If you are using Pay Per Click (PPC) ads as your primary customer acquisition channel, your profit margins are directly tied to ad costs. Any edge you gain that improves your ROAS will provide you with a competitive advantage in the ad auction.

There are three primary levers of a PPC campaign, the ad copy, the audience targeting, and the landing page experience. The insights you gain through Google Analytics can help you improve audience targeting and the landing page experience.

PPC and how marketers use Google Analytics for tracking affiliate marketing

Google Event Tracking allows you to track outbound clicks on affiliate links. Once set up, the dashboard is accessible through Behavior > Events. If you know the average conversion rate for a product, you can assign each click a value by setting up Goal Values.

Google Analytics - Event tracking

You then need to make modifications to the GA tracking code or add a special configuration to your GTM tag. This article covers event tracking in more detail.

With Google Event Tracking, you can monitor your assumed profit margins for a campaign through Google Analytics. Of course, these figures are far from accurate.

When implemented effectively, Goal Values provide you with a theoretical model for predicting your campaign’s profitability. However, it does not reflect your actual sales. To access this data, you need to log in to your affiliate dashboard, check the sales, and see if the predicted profit margins align with the real results. Moreover, affiliate platforms provide differing levels of insights. That means you might only get a “gross sale value” that covers sales from all traffic, as opposed to traffic from one website.

The second thing most affiliate marketers will do is review the information provided through Google Analytics dashboards to monitor what people are doing on their landing pages. For example, you might monitor how far down a page people scroll, how much time they spend on the page, the bounce rate, and more. You can also see the number of affiliate link outbound clicks.

You can run A/B tests and other experiments to check how your actions impact the CTR to affiliate links. You can adjust the position of affiliate links and the placement of the products you are promoting to improve CTR.

Insights gained from Google Analytics provide you with essential data to test your assumptions. You can use this data to improve the landing page experience and boost your CTR.

Any improvements you make to the landing page experience can and should improve your ROAS.

The final thing you can do is use Google Analytics to improve your initial targeting. If you are tracking who clicked on the affiliate link, you can create a refined lookalike audience for Google AdWords through Google Analytics. The following guide discusses audience targeting and Similar Audiences.

Any improvement to your targeting will give you an edge in the ad auction.

What are the limitations of Google Analytics for affiliate tracking?

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for monitoring the on-site activities of your visitors. As a business owner that controls an entire funnel, you can place your Google Analytics tag across your site, including the checkout page where the transaction actually takes place. Therefore, Google Analytics provides you with all the data you might conceivably need to monitor and optimize a funnel.

Rather than relying on assumed transaction values, you can monitor everything through one or more Google Analytics dashboards. Unfortunately, as an affiliate marketer, since you can’t place your GA tag on the merchant “thank you” page, Google Analytics fails to provide you with these insights. You are forced to jump between your affiliate programs, the ads platform, and Google Analytics to monitor how your PPC campaigns are performing. 

I discussed why you couldn’t use GA Event Tracking for the final stages of an affiliate funnel. It is an inconvenience that prevents the real attribution of transactions to an ad click. 

This issue impacts your marketing at two crucial levels, which will inevitably increase your Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) and your ability to automate your campaign targeting and optimization:

  1. Your entire audience is blended into general “buckets,” which prevents you from displaying relevant ads according to the users’ positions in the funnel.
  2. You can’t build lookalike audiences of your best possible “customers” because you don’t know who’s done what. 

While these two factors will undoubtedly reduce your profit margins, they will also undermine your long-term business objectives and ability to compete on the ad auction.

The final inconvenience you’ll face is that you can’t share custom audiences generated through Google Analytics across other ad platforms. To be fair, Google Analytics was never designed to provide off-site analytics tracking. However, as an affiliate marketer, enriching your Google Analytics data with off-site conversion data can bring a lot of value to your business. I’ll discuss how off-site tracking works in the next section.

How offline conversion tracking works

Offline conversion tracking ties actions taken by users on your site and actions taken on sites or systems outside the reach of the initial site’s Google Analytics tag. The most common methods for implementing off-site analytics tracking are through server-side tracking API (also known as postback tracking) and manual data / CSV upload.

Out of the two options, JavaScript tracking is the simplest method to implement. However, strict browser privacy settings and AdBlocks have made this method increasingly unreliable. Moreover, with JavaScript, there are further restrictions like browser memory, shortened cookie runtimes, and denial of access to session storage.

Offline conversion tracking model

With server-side tracking, unique click ID data is passed during the outbound click and is then sent back via a server-side URL. The unique click ID value is the common denominator that links a click from your website to actions on a separate site.

The data flow is managed through a postback URL. In the following blog post, I share technical information about how postback URLs work and why they’re important.

The main benefit of server side tracking is that it is not affected by ad blockers, ITP, ETP.

As an affiliate marketer, off-site marketing analytics provides you with a complete overview of your marketing funnel. You can track an off-site purchase. With this data, you get the same insights and advantages as a business where the end sale is made on their site.

An additional advantage of off-site tracking is that you can sync conversion data across multiple channels/ platforms and then use this data to create custom audiences. You can, therefore, test your marketing funnel utilizing cheaper traffic sources, then use the data to build lookalike audiences for ads on Facebook or Google, for example.

Unfortunately, not all ad platforms support off-site tracking. Google introduced off-site tracking in 2013. Bing Ads introduced the service in 2017, while social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok have yet to provide a suitable solution for affiliate marketers.

Solutions for offsite tracking

Offsite tracking has multiple advantages for people operating in the affiliate marketing niche. That’s not to say that it’s not without problems. You need a lot of technical knowledge to set up a system to connect data from a browser to the server-side.

Google Analytics provides an extensive API that enables developers to implement server-side tracking. There are three primary methods for implementing off-site tracking:

  1. Google Analytics API: Requires the highest level of development skills. However, the Google Analytics API provides programmers with the best potential for complete server-side tracking.
  2. Google Tag Manager: A High level of technical skills. Google Tag Manager will only allow you to effectively track off-site actions if you can add Google Tags to the merchant’s site.
  3. Third-Party Affiliate Tracking Software: Plug & play solutions that connect Google Analytics and other Ads marketplaces (Bing, Facebook, and other platforms).

Due to the ever-evolving data and analytics space, developing and keeping up with the constant changes requires a significant investment of time and resources. Large companies might choose to invest in a custom in-house solution for off-site tracking. However, solutions that utilize the Google Analytics API are too expensive for most affiliate marketers.

Affiliate tracking software like AnyTrack.io, a company that I founded, provides a native server-side tracking integration with Google Analytics, Bing Ads, and other ad networks. It’s certainly a lot easier than hiring a developer to create a custom solution.

On balance, regardless of your approach, the limitations of offsite tracking are outweighed by the sizable benefits. That is, assuming you want to optimize your marketing funnel and increase your ROAS.

Integrating Google Analytics With Offsite Tracking

Implementing Google Analytics with offsite tracking software like AnyTrack.io is straightforward. Google Analytics already provides the standard dashboards for tracking visitor flow across a site from landing page to conversion.

When you integrate offsite tracking, you are, fundamentally, just gaining the same type of data as someone who manages an entire funnel across a single site would see. The benefit is that you get access to data you can use to improve your ROAS.

Case Study

One of our clients, Cliverse.com, has six websites in the pet care industry. Most of the traffic to their sites comes from organic search. They were facing a data challenge that you may be familiar with; they found it difficult to understand what products were converting and from which pages those conversions were occurring.

In addition, PPC ads were more expensive than needed. For example, they were running retargeting ads to people who had purchased an affiliate product suggesting they make a purchase. With better data, they could improve ROAS.

Using AnyTrack.io, Cliverse could finally see from what page, and which link on a page was generating the conversions. Through analyzing the data, Cliverse was able to increase revenue by 30% thanks to page optimization. Because they have the complete picture, they are now able to run paid media campaigns to their site with full confidence.

Conclusion

Bridging the gap between your google analytics data and affiliate network conversions is the optimal way to improve your position at the ad auction. With a full overview of your affiliate funnel, you gain actionable insights on what triggers conversions and generates sales. It’s a vital edge that can help improve your ROAS.

In this guide, I showed you three ways to use Google Analytics as an affiliate marketer. You can use Google Event Tracking to monitor people who click on your affiliate links. With Goal Values set up, you can track your campaigns’ probable results. Moreover, you can run retargeting campaigns and create Custom Audiences for future ad campaigns.

Through the Google Analytics dashboards, you can gain insights into your site visitors’ actions. You can use these insights to validate the assumptions you make when running conversion optimization tests.

While Google Analytics is a powerful tool, you can’t see what actions people take when they leave your site. If you integrate off-site tracking, you get access to this data. Most third-party tools, such as the one we created, allow you to use Google Analytics to get a complete overview of your affiliate marketing funnel.

As an affiliate marketer, off-site tracking combined with Google Analytics provides you with valuable insights that can help you improve your ROAS. Follow the steps shared in this guide to see the results for yourself.

Laurent Malka is Co-founder of AnyTrack.io, a plug & play conversion tracking platform. He can be found on Twitter @laurent_malka.





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