Dispelling The Myths Of Cookie Overwriting

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One of the most pertinent questions in the performance marketing channel over the past few years has been centered on the topic of cookie overwriting.  Advertisers have become more advanced at scrutinizing the value of publisher traffic, questioning whether couponing sites are ‘stealing’ sales or if cashback sites are hindering partnerships with true content sites. In essence, they are keen to understand to what extent cookie overwriting exists.

Affiliate Window has carried out a significant amount of research in this area and presented the findings at a number of events. Advertiser data has been analyzed to understand the customer path to conversion within the performance channel and to analyze the various publisher touch points involved in any sale. We have investigated a range of advertisers across various sectors to understand the impact of cookie overwriting and to what extent this actually exists. Periods where advertisers were running promotions have been analyzed in order to see the impact of promotions, and the affect they have on cookie overwriting.

From the data there were three key findings that were common across the advertisers investigated.

Contrary to popular misconception, the vast majority of sales only have one publisher referrer. There is no other cookie being overwritten. Additionally, almost all transactions take place within 24 hours of the click, and of those, the vast majority convert within the hour. The final finding was that where cookie overwriting is present within a sale, it is most likely to be from a publisher within the same promotional type. Cashback sites are most likely to overwrite other cashback sites rather than true content sites as commonly believed. In essence, consumers are aware of the concept of cashback and are comparing the best rates prior to transacting.

Despite the advertisers examined spanning across a range of sectors, these conclusions were applicable to each one. The breadth of advertisers covered included fashion and electrical retail, telecoms and health and beauty. Each advertiser was a household name with a high street presence and is exclusive to Affiliate Window. This ensured the data set was large enough to draw meaningful conclusions. The three key findings were also true even when average order values were high. It may be logical to assume that a higher value electrical item would involve more research and therefore more publisher touch points but this did not appear to be the case. The vast majority of sales were still made within an hour of the initial click and contained only a single publisher referrer.

In addition, the conclusions held true for the period prior to the promotion as well as during it. This was also the case for the program as a whole as well as just for the transactions referred by the publisher running the promotion. The conclusions were relatively unaffected by the various exclusive offers that were running at the time.

One of the most interesting findings revealed that where an exclusive coupon code was offered, customers were spending more. In instances where exclusive coupons were offered, advertisers experienced higher order values during the promotion than they did before this was run.

From our analysis it is evident that publishers are extremely effective in engaging and converting their visitors on behalf of the advertisers they partner with. It emphasises that publishers are winning the click through and rapidly converting the visitor into a customer due to their marketing efforts.

Our research has highlighted that contrary to popular misconceptions, there is very little cookie overwriting within the performance channel. There is little evidence to suggest that publishers are canabalizing each other’s traffic. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that incentive sites are overwriting the cookies of true content publishers as many would assume.

The limitation to this research is that it has only looked at data through the performance channel. In order to understand the role of the channel in the online mix, advertisers need to be able to look at additional data. Only then will we truly understand how the performance channels fits within the wider online mix.

About the Author

Matt Swan is a Client Strategist at leading global performance marketing network, Affiliate Window. He works with advertisers to offer strategic advice to optimize campaigns. He also contributes to new business pitches and is an active member of the IAB AMC. Matt is a regular guest blogger on E-Consultancy and the A4U amongst other titles in the UK & US.

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