Affiliate marketing combines advertising and innovation in a unique way, which opens up amazing business opportunities for people willing to educate themselves in this department.

The thing is, anyone can become an affiliate, but not everyone is capable of scaling their business. Learning more about the nuts and bolts of the affiliate world can help you gain competitive edge, especially in the popular industry such as iGaming.

As you probably know, in traditional advertising – fees are mainly paid up front, regardless of whether the ad in question is successfully converting or not. However, in the affiliate business, things work a bit differently; everything is performance-driven, meaning you earn money only when a specific action is completed, be it a click, sale or a collected lead.

ROI value is in focus and it is measured in real time, which provides affiliate professionals a precious bird’s eye overview of everything that’s going on within their websites or ads. Needles to say, tracking events is of crucial importance for affiliates. As an affiliate, you have to ensure all conversions you generate are registered properly so that you get paid the rightful amount of commission money.

So, how do you properly track events?

There are two separate conversion tracking protocols: pixel tracking and server to server (s2s) tracking. Today, we’ll explain the differences between the two and pinpoint some of their main pros and cons.  

How Affiliate Tracking Works

Before we explain what is pixel tracking and s2s tracking, it’s good to discuss in more detail how affiliate tracking generally works.

Once you join an affiliate network platform or a desired affiliate program, you get assigned with a unique tracking link. This link is used to credit affiliates with conversions they achieve.

Let’s say you’re an iGaming affiliate. Every time you send players to your partners’ gambling website and they perform a desired action, you receive a commission that is registered and identified thanks to this link.

More experienced affiliates know that the method of tracking they choose should not only provide accurate data, but also allow them to gain insight about the way their campaigns have performed so that they can adjust their strategy for the future and make data-informed decisions.

With the power of tracking data, iGaming affiliates can understand the way visitors interact with their website and pinpoint what elements could be improved for the sake of better engagement and higher conversions.

Pixel Tracking Explained

Pixel tracking is also known as client-side tracking, in-browser tracking, and cookie-based tracking. Here’s how it works.

With pixel tracking, conversions are tracked from user’s browser via cookies. A cookie is placed on the click, so if a certain user clicks on the advertisement and happens to convert – that cookie authenticates the session and credits the conversion to the right affiliate. Session values are stored in the cookie, so they can get easily extracted from the browser.

Due to the fact that setting a pixel tracker is fairly simple and involves only placing the HTML on the conversion page, it is a frequent choice for advertisers who are not very tech-savvy or don’t have sufficient technical resources to set up s2s tracking. This happens to be the main advantage of pixel tracking: you don’t have to be a developer and the learning curve for implementation of pixel tracking is not that steep.

On the other hand, there are some serious downsides that should not be overlooked.

Pixel tracking typically doesn’t work well on mobile devices because they usually have blocked cookies by default settings. This could be a big issue for you as an iGaming affiliate given the fact that today’s players are massively shifting away from desktop towards mobile when it comes to online gambling. Even outside of the industry, mobile engagement has become huge.

In addition, pixel tracking has become notorious among merchants because affiliates often succeed at manipulating the tracker and cashing in conversions that did not actually occur. Pixel tracking can be a bit risky too: bugs may appear or users might erase cache memory in the middle of a session, resulting in you not getting money for your efforts.

Server to Server Tracking Explained

Server to server tracking is also called postback tracking, server-side tracking, s2s tracking, and cookie-less tracking. 

The key difference between pixel tracking and s2s tracking lies in the way information is stored. Opposed to pixel tracking, server to server tracking relies on advertiser’s servers to track conversions and it places nothing on the user’s computer. This is why there is a general opinion server to server tracking offers a much more precise and reliable method since everything happens on advertiser’s side. For instance, there is no danger in losing money just because a user happens to clear out cookie data.

Here a unique identifier is used to store information about the user who has converted, an affiliate who made it possible, and the offer itself. In most cases, we are talking about special IDs of 1) transactions and 2) affiliates, which are in no way attached to the user’s browser.

Server to server tracking can be split into two main processes:

  • Events tracked leading up the conversion
  • Events tracked immediately after the conversion

As you probably know, conversion funnel has many different phases and your goal is to optimize it the best way you can for the sake of higher revenue rate.

With server to server tracking, events that occur before the conversion (impressions such as the first view of the offer and a click on the affiliate link) are registered and recorded on the server. This is when the ID is first assigned, usually the transaction ID.

The user is then directed to the conversion page and a new ID for the session is placed within the URL. When the user converts, the conversion gets securely recorder on the server, so that the accurate affiliate gets accredited with the earned commission.

Server to server tracking works on mobile devices too, it is simpler and more reliable to use, but it’s also significantly harder to implement. The technical side is a bit trickier (remember, the ID must be passed into the correct parameter for proper recording of the conversions), which is why this cannot be done by amateurs.

Over to You   

The type of tracking method you choose is highly dependable on your level of technical knowledge and your available resources. With pixel tracking, you get a completely different set of insights than with server to server tracking. If you’re smart enough to unlock how and why your visitors act the way they do, you can work towards building more relevant and personalized experiences for them, synchronize cookies across domains, and find a way to better target ads and improve click-through-rates. On the other hand, server to server tracking has proven to be more reliable and convenient for overseeing and analyzing performance.

As an iGaming affiliate, you certainly want to cash in your well earned conversions. Make sure to carefully weigh in the pros and cons and see what type of conversion tracking method works out for your particular case.