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Convert Your ClickBank Affiliate Links to Enhanced Hoplinks
by: Tim Coulter

The hoplink system has been a familiar feature of the affiliate marketing landscape since the earliest days of ClickBank. But it suffers from a few shortcomings that have been the focus of frequent discontent among ClickBank members.

The enhanced hoplink system, announced in October 2003, represents ClickBank's vision of a more robust and flexible referral architecture that will meet the increasingly sophisticated expectations of a growing membership. This article discusses the benefits of the new system and explains the practical issues that merchants and affiliates will face when migrating to it.

The simplicity of the original hoplink system (now dubbed the regular hoplink system) has been a major contributor to the popularity of ClickBank's affiliate network. To refer a prospect to a ClickBank merchant, you simply create a hyperlink to ClickBank's hoplink server, using a URL format that incorporates your ClickBank affiliate nickname and that of the merchant:

The hoplink server redirects your prospect to the merchant's website, simultaneously creating the essential affiliate tracking cookie in his browser.

Affiliates with established businesses that use regular hoplinks in this manner are free to continue without modifying their existing configurations. But to exploit the richer functionality resulting from ClickBank's ongoing system development, it might be worth considering an upgrade to the enhanced hoplink format.

Enhanced hoplinks use a basic URL format that can be extended with optional parameters to provide greater control over the referral process. The optional parameters are denoted by their surrounding square braces [ and ].[PAGE/[PROMO/]][?QUERYSTRING]

Although the enhanced hoplink URL format is very different to its predecessor, it performs largely the same function, albeit with much greater flexibility.

For example, the new format allows affiliates to specify a destination page number. This is interpreted by the hoplink server to direct the prospect to a specific product page on the merchant's site. This feature alone (known as deep linking) justifies the change of format, allowing merchants who sell multiple products to establish the most efficient referral relationships with their affiliates. Multi-product merchants who implement deep linking for the first time will likely see a major improvement in their sales conversion rate, which is welcome news for them and for their affiliates.

Another optional component of the enhanced hoplink URL is its promotional code - an identifier that affiliates can use to track the effectiveness of their traffic campaigns. This code may be up to 4 alphanumeric characters and it identifies the source of the referral, enabling affiliates to monitor the performance of individual promotional tactics. Future enhancements to the ClickBank stats reporting system will provide affiliates with the tools necessary to exploit this feature, enabling detailed numerical analysis of referrals, aggregated by their assigned promotional codes.

Unfortunately, despite its attractions, there is an obstacle in migrating to the enhanced hoplink URL format; its timestamp component. This feature was introduced as a security measure and as part of ClickBank's efforts to combat affiliate spam, but it has the unwelcome side-effect of complicating the lives of legitimate affiliates.

The timestamp element of the URL is a representation of the current date and time in a standardized format, known as Epoch time. Epoch time is the number of seconds elapsed since 00:00:00 GMT on 01 January 1970, expressed as a 10-digit integer. If the timestamp in an affiliate referral is not accurate (to within about 30 minutes) the hoplink server will rejected it. Since Epoch time uses a common time zone (GMT), the Epoch time calculation for a given instant always produces the same result, regardless of where in the world it takes place. This overcomes the complications that would otherwise arise when affiliate referrals are made by web servers located in time zones other than that of ClickBank's server.

The problem with time-stamping is that the current time is constantly changing, so the timestamp value must be programmatically generated every time a referral takes place. The simplest and most reliable way to do this is by including a rudimentary server-side script in the page that hosts the referral link. Although this is very simple to implement, it relies on the page being delivered by a web server. In other words, it specifically excludes referral links in static media, such as ebooks and newsletters.

Affiliates who rely heavily on non-web media may be disgruntled by this apparently discriminatory policy. However, the problem is relatively easily remedied. By routing all static affiliate referrals via an intermediate redirection page, hosted on a web server, the timestamp element can be dynamically generated on demand. Admittedly, this means that affiliates who wish to use enhanced hoplinks must have their own web presence, which is far from the norm among ClickBank affiliates. But this was, after all, ClickBank's intention in introducing the feature - it forces all affiliates to be more visible and more accountable for the traffic they generate. And, in the longer term, as the enhanced hoplink gains popularity, it is likely that 3rd party services will spring up, offering affiliates a simple and low-cost solution to this problem.

At the time of writing, ClickBank has activated the enhanced hoplink system but has not yet completed the database and control panel changes necessary to exploit its optional features. So, although we are free to implement our affiliate referrals using enhanced hoplinks, it may be some time before the benefits of doing so become visible.

Copyright © Tim Coulter. All rights reserved.

Tim Coulter is a consultant and software developer who helps netpreneurs to harness marketing technologies.

He is also the author of "ClickBank - The Definitive Guide" The Ultimate ClickBank Tutorial & Reference Manual.


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