Deep Linking: It Shouldn't Be This Difficult

One feature that belongs in every affiliate program is deep linking. Deep linking is the capability to link directly to any page on a merchant site, typically by appending the merchant url onto the end of an affiliate tracking link. Virtually every affiliate network supports deep linking in some manner, though not all merchants allow it.

Unfortunately, the networks have generally kept this feature obscured in the interface, and some don't make any mention of it whatsoever, perhaps because it's complicated enough that affiliates can break links. Networks are infamous for saving affiliates from themselves.

What I need is very simple. I need a template that allows me to turn a merchant's url into an affiliate link by appending it to an affiliate link, like this:

http://networkname.com/click?url=[encoded_merchant_url]

I need to be able to do this programmatically in PHP code, not manually in the network interface.

Simple as that. Many networks do support this sort of linking. Some do and don't publicize it. Some don't.

And even when a network supports it, a merchant might not. Sometimes this is for a good technical reason (tracking). Sometimes not.

I recently went through an effort to identify once and for all the way to deep link at the different Networks that I use most and ended up with the information that I'm sharing with you here.

It shouldn't be this difficult!

How to build deep links on each of the major US Networks

Commission Junction

CJ makes it pretty easy to create deep links. The tough part is finding out which merchants allow deep links, and then which links are valid for use as deep links.

Basically, you have to hunt for a link that supports deep linking. In this example, Shoes.com, there is no indication in the Advertiser Detail page as to whether they support deep links. And they have 112 links in the CJ system. On the link list, there is no hint as to which links can be used for deep linking.

So it's is a mystery until you go looking at each and every link. Luckily for me in this case, the third link I looked at had the custom Image URL and Destination URL fields. That means I can use deep linking with this link.

cj-deep-link.jpg

In the past, I've searched through literally hundreds of links on some merchant programs only to find a single link that was set up for deep linking way down the list, and sometimes no support at all.

Query String Parameter: url

Example: http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-2057689-5319906&url=[encode_merchant_url]

LinkShare

Linkshare wins the award for having the most difficult deep linking process. They do have a tool called the LinkBuilder, which walks you through building a deep link to a specific merchant's product page.

linkshare-linkbuilder.jpg

Side-Annoyance: They want me to paste the Merchant's product URL, but they've got it in a frame, and I cannot copy it.

However, the merchant's URL gets saved in the Linkshare system and all you end up with is a unique link ID and no way to replace the URL in a template fashion. I'm not interested in using the Linkshare interface to build deep links. I need it to be automatic.

Alternatively, Linkshare offers a Webservice to build deep links, called The Automated LinkGenerator. To use this, you make a call to their webservice using the REST protocol. The call looks like this:

http://feed.linksynergy.com/createcustomlink.shtml?token=<token-ID>&mid=<MID>&murl=<URL-from-merchant>

And you end up with something like this:


http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=AAA111AAA11&subid=0&offerid=999999.1&type=10&tmpid=939
&RD_PARM1=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.merchantname.com%2Fsearch%2Fdetail.cfm%3Fchunk%3D25%2526mtype%3D%2526wauth
%3Da%2520name%2526qwork%3D2875272%2526S%3DR%2526bid%3D8713366401%2526pbest%3D2%252E95%2526pqtynew%3D0
%2526page%3D1%2526matches%3D24%2526qsort

Ironically, THAT looks like a link that I could make a deep link template out of, by putting the merchant URL in the RD_PARM1 parameter. I don't know if there's some magical connection made between the link ID and the URL. I'll need to ask them about that. Actually, I'll just give it a try. Shhh.

But for now, I'm going to have to call this unsupported at best.

Query String Parameter: unknown

Example: unknown

Google Affiliate Network (GAN)

Google Affiliate Network (nee Performics) has a tool called the Build Your Own link, or BYO Link.

ConnectCommerce » Build-Your-Own Link.jpg

It looks promising, but like Linkshare, it creates a link in the database with the URL you specified nicely hidden away. Here's the link I got out of that operation: http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/click?lid=41000000026601953 No deep link template there.
I searched online and found a reference to putting a redirect parameter on a normal link. I emailed their support and discovered that it is in fact supported. So it seems there is a nice easy, albeit unsupported, feature for building deep links, saving them from taking the top honors from Linkshare.

It it likely that not all GAN merchants support this sort of linking, so it is probably a good idea to check with them on that. Given that it is undocumented, you'll probably get a big shrug from the merchant. It's probably safe to assume that if the merchant supports BYO linking, then this redirect link will also work.

Query String Parameter: redirect

Example: http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/tplclick?lid=222222&pubid=111111&redirect=[encoded_merchant_url]

ShareASale

Shareasale has a how-to on creating deep links (login is probably required), and most of their link codes have the correct parameter already in them. But there is no interface for creating deep links. (So no screen shot is necessary.)

It's very straight-forward, and it appears that all links and all merchants support this type of linking. Shareasale's examples omit the http:// in front of links, so it may be necessary to not include the http:// on the deep links.

Query String Parameter: urllink

Example: http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=76716&u=141928&m=12238&urllink=[encode_merchant_url]

PepperjamNetwork

PepperjamNetwork's deep linking is refreshingly easy and apparent. Like most networks, not all merchants support deep linking, but when they do, you can easily see the option.

Go to the text links page and the additional options have the deep link field easily available.

Text Links | pepperjamNETWORK-2.jpg

Again, merchants can choose which creatives support deep linking (not sure why), but since all links appear on the page, it is very easy to choose one that does support it.

Text Links | pepperjamNETWORK.jpg

Query String Parameter: url

Example: http://www.pntra.com/t/QDs_Q0RDO0FDRDtBQT4?url=[encoded_merchant_url]

Buy.at

Buy.at has a nice tool called the LinkEngine in their interface. with it, you can create deep links for any program and get feedback as to whether the program allows the links. To use it, simply go into the

The interface is so simple that it seems like it is missing options, like which merchant. It's not missing anything, it is simply smart enough to detect which merchant you're linking to from the URL. Paste any link from a merchant site into the URL box and click create links.

You'll receive immediate feedback on which merchants allow deep linking, along with the deep links.

From there, you can use one of those links as a template.

LinkEngine_ buy.at.jpg

Query String Parameter: DURL

Example: http://buyfootwear.at/mechme?CTY=37&DURL=[encoded_merchant_url]

More Information

URL Encoding

When you put a URL inside another URL, generally it is a good idea to encode it using a method callled URL encoding. That turns all of the special characters like ampersands, slashes, question marks, etc. into special codes that won't break the parent URL.

I built a URL Encoding tool that you can use.

Other Networks

As I was searching around for this information, I discovered that Keith Bond in the UK went through a similiar effort a few months ago. Here's his information on Deep Linking in some European Affiliate networks.

Posted on Friday, August 29, 2008 at 09:11:10 PM in Affiliate Marketing
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