Postback URL Tracking & Affiliate Marketing – Full Guide

Postback URL Tracking & Affiliate Marketing - Full Guide

Postback URL tracking is debatable. In affiliate marketing, there are only a few problems that pose more concerns than postback URL tracking. For most advertisers, an affiliate postback is one of the most popular causes of tech challenges.

Typically, most affiliate marketers know what the campaign URL is, where the landing page falls into the whole funnel, and have a vague understanding of affiliate tracking in general. 

However, what should you do with postbacks?

Can you do without them?

This article will discuss what postbacks are, how postback URL tracking works, and why you actually need them.

We will discuss:

  • How to transfer the correct conversion data
  • What is the difference between “tracking pixel” and a “postback URL” in the affiliate marketing business
  • What affiliate tracking system is better suited in ads

What’s the Postback URL Tracking?

In general, “postbacks” are URLs that are used to transfer conversion information. They are often referred to as callbacks, server-to-server (s2s), or cookie-less conversion tracking. 

They are one of two ways of monitoring conversions, the other being conversion or pixel tracking.

Postbacks allow servers to communicate directly with each other. The client is not engaged. 

No cookies are used on the computer of the visitor. 

Once the source platform (affiliate network or tracker) has been enabled, these links send information to the target platform (tracker or traffic source) in a blink of an eye.

Read our article on the future of affiliate marketing without cookies.

Pixel Tracking vs. Postback

Contrarily to postbacks, conversion or pixel tracking means a piece of code will be used on the request page to report conversions. 

When this page loads, the script sends a request to the target platform. The script is running on the client-side. This includes a variety of instances:

  • Most affiliate platforms and networks use postback instead of pixels to record conversions.
  • Most traffic sources endorse the reception of postback conversions. The major exceptions are Internet giants, such as Facebook and Google, who support conversion reporting with their own pixel.
  • Almost all trackers (a tracking server) allow you to obtain and transfer conversions using both methods, but combining both methods in one campaign funnel will not work (e.g., postback from the affiliate network and pixel to a traffic source platform).
  • Pixels may not track 100% accurately because they may be blocked or deleted by software or user intervention, leaving you without any assurance that you are an advertiser that the affiliate network or affiliate program should pay to.

Considering all these things, postbacks are typically the preferred method, and pixel can only be used as a backup method.

Why is postback URL tracking helpful?

Why is postback URL tracking helpful?

Stop worrying about affiliate ads for a short time and think about how chats work. 

It’s useful to know if someone saw your post and read it, isn’t it? Many chats will produce a response in the background and leave a reply if the message is read.

This is the essence of Affiliate Marketing postbacks — they help leave a reply, a clarification, a server-to-server response via postback URL parameters.

That was the easiest and shortest way I can explain it.

In affiliate marketing, this response is activated when a visitor completes a purchase (or conversion). It is normally led to a tracker that originally guided a visitor to an offer page. 

Bear in mind that the affiliate link alone is not enough to set up the correct tracking mechanism or tracking system

Since you are an affiliate marketer, you need to make sure that your affiliate program or affiliate network pays what it owes to the advertiser. The trick is to find the right tool or tracking system to get paid for your ads.

try scaleo free

Looking for a reliable affiliate marketing software and tracker? Try Scaleo free for 14 days – instant trial access and no credit card required.

But don’t worry. All the specifics of this tracking system can be found below. 

Are you wondering by now, why it’s necessary to transfer conversion data? How does a server respond to a server? What do things like affiliate connection, cookies, pixel tracking, pixels conversion, s2s, click id value, conversion value, or name parameter mean? Let’s find out!

How does the data flow of the affiliate marketing campaign work?

Before we speak more about the postbacks, we need to look at the broader picture. Simply put, affiliate marketing is all about managing the data produced by visitors during their journey from an ad to an offer page. 

There are 4 sections of the flow in the traditional campaign funnel:

  1. The visitor is led (through affiliate tracking software if used to the landing page after clicking on the ad). The URL used is called the URL of the campaign.
  2. The visitor is led (again via the tracking software) to the affiliate network page after clicking the CTA button on the landing page. 
  3. An affiliate network triggers a postback URL after a visitor performs a conversion action, and postback tracking enables the related information to be submitted to the affiliate tracking program.
  4. Affiliate tracking software automatically triggers the postback URL of the traffic source to record this conversion to the traffic source platform.

As you can see from the examples above, there are two postbacks that can be used with a tracker:

  1. URL postback records conversions to a tracking site, or
  2. The postback URL of the traffic source reports to the traffic source platform.

If you don’t want to use a tracker in your campaign, you can simply use your traffic source’s postback URL as a postback URL on your affiliate network platform. 

But using a tracker is a common practice for affiliates, so I’m going to continue this article with a tracker used as an example.

Any of the above postbacks, particularly the second one, are optional. 

The campaign funnel will work without it. 

However, as we said before, knowledge is essential. The more you’ve got it, the more complete the image you’ll see. Therefore, we recommend that you use postbacks whenever possible.

Obviously, the above flow may be much more complicated and can involve many landing pages and rotating deals. Or it could be easier, without any landing page at all. 

I’ve shown you the classic affiliate marketing scenario to illustrate the reasoning behind postback tracking. Yet, they also refer to other situations.

How do I build a URL for postback?

This is an example of the URL to postback:{s2}&payout={payment}

Breakdown: – is the cloud-based or self-hosted tracker tracking domain (we use our own domain as an example, but it could be any domain).

?” the question mark character distinguishes the main part of a connection from a tracking parameter.

The “&” character divides the parameters of each tracking from each other.

CID is the tracking of parameters that transfer values. They are unique to the target platform (in this case, a tracker).

{s2} and {payout} are tokens that will be replaced by values when the connection is triggered. They are unique to the root platform (for example, the affiliate network).

If the visitor has converted, the affiliate network portal will enable this URL, and the tokens will be substituted with concrete information—giving you the appropriate confirmation.

Here’s an example of a postback URL:

Tracking parameters for postback URLs

To ensure the accuracy of the tracked data, the tracking platforms must identify all that is going on in a session. Therefore, they create a unique ID and assign it to each visitor by clicking on the campaign URL that is hidden behind the ad.

This means that every click has its own unique value called click ID.

This is important because click IDs are used to verify conversions. 

This is important because click IDs are used to verify conversions.

After all, the conversion is what creates revenue for affiliates and marketers, so make sure they are working well and go to your affiliate page or affiliate network

Trackers do not only identify any postbacks sent to them. They also allow connecting those who have their own click ID value assigned to the original click.

In other words: on the request URL, you transfer the tracker’s click ID value to the affiliate network platform.

The postback URL is passed back as evidence that your guest triggered this conversion.

Many affiliate platforms assign their own click ID values and traffic source. Since they need to keep track of anything that’s going on there, particularly how much they need to pay to the affiliates or how much they need to charge the advertiser.

In the case of a traffic source postback URL, it must contain a traffic source click ID value that has been transferred to a tracker in a campaign URL. 

When the tracker receives a postback URL from an affiliate network platform with its own click ID, it triggers the postback URL of the traffic source and returns the click ID value of the traffic source.

Any other criteria, such as payment or transaction ID, are optional for conversion tracking.

How do I set up affiliate postbacks (s2s method)?

Many platforms support the postback method. So, the postback URL is provided by the tracking platform, while the traffic source platform provides the postback URL of the traffic source. 

How do I set up affiliate postbacks (s2s method)?

The first must be submitted to an affiliate network platform, while the second must be submitted to the tracking platform.

Bear in mind, both tracking and traffic source platforms just have a template for you. They don’t know what tokens the source platform you use, so usually, the postback URL prototype looks like this:

You need to set the correct token to assign these values. 

In the case of click ID, the token has the same name as the name of the affiliate parameter, but it is placed in brackets. 

For example, if your affiliate URL uses the s2={clickid} parameter, you should use cid={s2} or cid=#s2# in the postback URL. 

Always refer to the documentation of your affiliate network to learn what tokens you should use.

To sum it up, here are the measures to configure the URL of the postback:

  • Feed the tracker click ID to the affiliate network in the affiliate URL
  • Get a URL postback template from a tracking site.
  • Insert the tokens of the affiliate network or affiliate program in this postback.
  • Send a postback URL to your affiliate network platform.

If you use a postback URL to the traffic source, the steps are similar:

  • Get the traffic source by clicking the ID to the tracker in the URL of the campaign.
  • Get a traffic source URL postback prototype from a traffic source platform.
  • Insert a tracker token that stores a traffic source click ID in this postback.
  • Send the postback URL of the traffic source to the tracking site.

Why is affiliate campaign tracking important?

I’ve talked a lot about what the affiliate postbacks are and how to set them up. 

In this article, I stated several times that they are used to record conversions, but you may still be wondering: why should I care about tracking conversionsWhy should you go through all that hassle?

Here is why. The balancing of a budget is about expenses and payments. Cost data is calculated by a tracker when a visitor triggers the URL of the campaign. You need postbacks to get details about the commission. Postback URLs are closing the loop. Thanks to postback URL’s you will get the following data:

  • Profits
  • ROI‘s
  • % of Conversions

Postback URLs allow you to answer some of the most important questions: am I making money? 

Traffic source postback URLs should be used when operating with a CPA cost model.

Traffic source postback URLs should be used when operating with a CPA cost model. 

To measure it correctly, the advertiser needs to let the traffic source platform know how many actions visitors have taken. In addition, some traffic source platforms have AI-based frameworks that boost your bidding strategy based on your success rate. 

They often need details on conversion in order to run. 

Postback URLs allow you to answer some of the most important questions: am I making money?

And most importantly, for the advertiser, this is a validation.


So, will you be using the postback URL in your next affiliate campaign? Explaining the postbacks is explaining the marketing process of the affiliate. That’s why I had to include a lot of details in this post.

Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten it all. Many channels have already been integrated with each other to some degree, making your life as an advertiser far simpler. This makes a simpler, step-by-step setup if you decide to use them.

Also, note that you can always ask for help from your account managers or support. They’re there for you and will guide you through the setup process (just like we do at Scaleo). Good luck!

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Elizabeth Sramek
Elizabeth is a Senior Content Manager at Scaleo. Currently enjoying the life in Prague and sharing professional affiliate marketing tips. She's been in the online marketing business since 2006 and gladly shares all her insights and ideas on this blog.
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