In our Basics of Tracking with TUNE article, we introduced sessions as a way to keep track of identifiers necessary for attribution. Now let’s expand on that idea by exploring how you use TUNE to implement it.
This article is part of our Background & Setup series.
What’s an Attribution Method?
Each offer you work with has information that’s carried from step to step in the advertising funnel. An offer’s attribution method is the technical process our servers use to define how and where session information is stored. It also defines which identifier our servers use to validate conversions for that offer.
When you create an offer in TUNE, you’ll be asked to select its attribution method (sometimes called a “tracking protocol”). There are two broad categories of attribution methods in TUNE—server postback tracking and pixel tracking.
Below, we’ll go over the factors which differentiate these two categories, then provide you with the resources to better understand each one.
Server Postback Tracking
In server postback tracking methods (also called “postback tracking” and “server-side tracking”), TUNE directly sends a session identifier to the advertiser on click. Advertisers store this identifier for the user’s lifecycle however they deem fit, such as in a variable or database.
On conversion, the advertiser then communicates that identifier (a.k.a. “fires a postback”) to TUNE for validation. This entire process is handled between the two servers, so it works independently of how the user moves between steps.
There are two types of postback tracking methods, which differ based on the identifier used for conversion validation: Postback with Transaction ID and Postback with Affiliate ID.
Pixel tracking methods (also called “cookie-based tracking” and “client-side tracking”) store a TUNE session identifier in a user’s browser cookie on click. The term “pixel” refers to a 1 pixel by 1 pixel HTML container which houses an offer’s conversion link.
The advertiser places this pixel on a “Thank You” or other confirmation page that indicates a successful conversion. When a user loads the pixel, it checks for a session identifier in the user’s browser cookie and records a conversion for that session.
Note: This category of methods relies on cookie functionality to track conversions, so other factors like ad blockers and clearing cookies will affect your results.
There are four types of pixel tracking methods, which differ based on the HTML container and security protocol: HTTP image pixel, HTTP iframe pixel, HTTPS image pixel, and HTTPS iframe pixel.
Why Choose Different Methods?
Each offer is different, as is each advertiser and partner. When you choose the appropriate attribution method for an offer, you align with the technical and process limitations of others. If an advertiser can only measure conversions with a specific attribution method, then you’d use that method when running that advertiser’s offers.
Attribution methods each have their own merits. Inherent differences in how they work and in the situations they’re designed to work mean there is a best method for every situation.
Our Core Recommendation
In almost all cases, we recommend networks use the Postback with Transaction ID method. The transaction ID is our most robust method of uniquely identifying sessions, and works for the needs of most advertisers and partners.
Because this is a postback tracking method, it functions independently from the user’s browser. That makes it the ideal choice for offers involving other platforms, like mobile app store pages, installed software programs, and click-to-call communications. When cookies can’t be tracked (like in app stores), a postback tracking method is required.
Reasons to Use Other Options
If you’re working with an advertiser whose website or software can’t store transaction IDs, then you can use a pixel tracking method instead. Of the pixel tracking methods available, prefer those that use iframe pixels. In the rare cases when an advertiser’s system can’t support iframe pixels, you can use image pixel methods (which are otherwise an old standard).
Regardless of which method you choose, it should support your advertiser’s use case. For example, you should use an HTTPS pixel method if your advertiser plans to place the pixel on a secure page.
Lastly, sometimes it’s just not possible for an advertiser to store transaction IDs or properly handle browser cookies, due to the nature of the offer. For those offers, there’s the Postback with Affiliate ID method. This method uses the affiliate ID instead of the transaction ID for conversion validation, and subsequently has some limitations on reporting and session tracking.
Choosing an attribution method is something you do for every offer. Now that you have some background on the differences between server postback tracking and pixel tracking, you can focus your efforts on the method most relevant to your needs.