The scenario: you have a web site that sells a product, or you're promoting someone else's product in order to get an affiliate commission. And one day you make a sale! Woohoo!

But if you're like the vast majority of marketers online, you have no idea where that person came from. You're trying many different tactics to drive traffic to your web site -- some article marketing, maybe a little pay-per-click, forum postings with sig lines, updates on Twitter, etc. That sale could have come from any one of those techniques.

You just made a sale, so doesn't it make sense to do more of what got that person to click your link? But unless you have a way to track your links you're just guessing as to which tactic is the most profitable for you. A sale made by accident is still nice, but there's no way to duplicate that kind of success.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to track the people who are coming to your web site. Some people look at the log files for a site, but I've never liked that for several reasons. First, log files are filled with a lot more information than you need to know for link tracking, so pulling out just that information isn't easy. Second, log files don't always track where the click came from -- you end up with very incomplete data. And finally, if you're promoting someone else's product as an affiliate, you don't have access to their log files anyway.

The secret to tracking links is to make each link come to your web site first, and then redirect to the destination web page. That way you can save the click information. As an example, let's look at a typical affiliate link:

http://www.example.com/app/javanof.asp?MerchantID=55200&ProductID=2753650

Except for changing the domain name, that's a real link -- kind of messy looking, eh?

Let's look at that same link after it's been put into a tracking program:

http://example.com/go/convert

Not only will it be trackable, but it also looks much "friendlier." That's the biggest hidden benefit to tracking your links -- you get links that are shorter and nicer looking.

When someone clicks that shorter link they're taken to your web site, the click is logged, and the user is automatically redirected to the final URL. At any time you can look at the tracking data and see exactly which links have been clicked on, and how many times.

The more advanced link trackers allow you to use "tracking tokens" on your links to further track where the most clicks are taking place. For example, let's take that previous example and look at how it could be used with tracking tokens.

http://example.com/go/convert/ppc
http://example.com/go/convert/article

It's the same link, but in the first example we put "ppc" on the end (separated by a slash character) -- that's the link you'd use in your pay-per-click ads. The second example is the one you'd use in your article marketing.

The link itself leads to the same place, but after using those links you'll be able to look at your tracking data and see how much traffic came from your PPC ads and how many came from your article marketing.

In fact, you can even use different tracking tokens for each PPC ad and for each article. The more data you have to work with, the easier it is to make the right decision. Use tracking links when you post messages in forums, when using Twitter, in emails, etc.

Let me modify a statement I made earlier -- unless you have a way to EASILY track your links you're just guessing as to which tactic is the most profitable for you.

The reason "easily" is so important is because if something you're going to do (possibly dozens of times a day) is a hassle, most people will just forget about it. So when you're deciding on which link tracker you're going to use, make sure ease-of-use is one of the criteria you judge by.

In any case, tracking your links and watching where the traffic comes from will make you a more profitable marketer.

 

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