Connecting Click-Throughs to App Sales

On February 19, 2009

Let’s say that, in the course of drumming up attention for your app, you get mentioned in TUAW and Lifehacker on the same day. Conventional wisdom says that you won’t be able to tell which of your sales came from TUAW, which came from Lifehacker, and which were organic because it’s widely believed that you lose the ability to track users once they click-through to enter the App Store.

Turns out that this isn’t the case. You can connect click-throughs to app sales.

Apple and LinkShare, an affiliate marketing company, have an iTunes partnership. LinkShare affiliates earn commissions when people click through to items for purchase inside iTunes. In addition to tracking the affiliate who should be paid for a sale, LinkShare links can also be used by affiliates to track which of their link-placements (e.g., one in TUAW, another on at Lifehacker) resulted in the sale.

Creating Trackable Links

LinkShare works at a product level of granularity. You create links for individual products and, when someone clicks through, they’re directed to that product.

For example, here is an affiliate link for the graph-drawing app Instaviz that I created using the iTunes “Link Maker Tool” in LinkShare:

In LinkShare lingo, you add a link “signtature” to differentiate and track your links. To add a link signature append “&u1=ATRACKINGCODE” to the link’s query string.

Here are two Instaviz links, one for TUAW and another for Lifehacker, with signatures tacked onto the end of the URLs:


Use LinkShare’s “Signature Orders” report to view/download sales connected to each signature.

The orders are reported individually, so you’ll have to do a little post-processing to tally them up. The Excel spreadsheet download option makes short work of it.

LinkShare doesn’t report what product was purchased. If you’re selling multiple product make sure to create signatures for each one so that if TUAW mentions you twice you’ll know which orders resulted from each mention.

Connecting Clicks-to-Sales With Prettier URLs

Using signature URLs helps us track where sales come from. That’s an important first step but, for online marketers, it’s only part of the equation: it’s also important to know what percent of the people clicking through on a link actually purchase.

As far as I can tell, using the links above doesn’t give us any way to track the number of clicks for each link signature. They provide overall clicks and orders-per-click info, but it not for each link signature.

Also, these are unsightly links and they’re too long to email without worrying about line-breaks rendering them useless.

You can knock down both of these problems by using a URL shortener — like — that offers click reporting. Using, I’ve shortened the TUAW and Lifehacker links from above down to this: will tell you how many times those each of those URLs have been clicked on. LinkShare will tell you the number of sales for each signature. Put the two together to calculate clicks-per-sale.

Considerations of Calendar, Commission and Country

It took 9 days after my first sale for it to be reported on in LinkShare.

Apple’s commission for LinkShare affiliates is 5%. Use LinkShare to sell your own products and give yourself an additional 5%!

As part of the prep for this post, Peter — who is based in the UK — made a purchase using an affiliate link I provided him. His sale hasn’t been reported, leading me to believe this may be limited to the US store only.

Thanks to Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad (Profile) for unearthing this sales-tracking trick. Have something equally clever up your sleeve that you’d like to share? Contact us!

0 responses to “Connecting Click-Throughs to App Sales”

  1. Ylice Golden says:

    I would love to know more about the situation with a UK purchase not being recorded! If anyone gets any information on this, email me ([email protected]) or Twitter = Ylice.

  2. Peter Cooper says:

    We would too. Perhaps we could ask LinkShare about it.

  3. teknoloji says:

    too much appreciated.

  4. AppBeacon says:

    Thank you so much for this tip. I’ve been struggling with ways to confirm what apps were actually getting bought through my interface. Prior to this, there was simply no way to know what click through resulted in a sale. This will help me to validate my advertising model.

    Justin Noel

  5. Ishan says:

    I’ve experimented with this awhile back and my experience was that iTunes affiliate purchases placed on the device are NOT tracked by LinkShare. This was confirmed by saurik’s comments on this thread:

  6. Ellen says:

    Make sure you get paid for the referrals too. I saw checks for the first few months, but haven’t seen one for quite a while (though will admit, I haven’t written them about it yet).

  7. Ishan says:

    Update: According to a recent post in the thread , LinkShare tracking through MobileSafari was broken but LinkShare is working on fixing it.

  8. Andrew says:

    Digging a little further, it looks like the Linkshare “Signature Activity” report shows sales AND clickthroughs for each “&u1=” signature/memberID.

    That mean that the click-tracking with (or other URL shortener) is unncessary, right? (unless, of course, you want shorter URLs!)

  9. tom says:

    there’s a limitation in that apple does not report to linkshare information about the item bought. so a user can click a link to one item, buy another. the only information reported back in the individual items report on linkshare is the apple SKU, which only tells you the kind of product bought (e.g. song, app, movie…).

  10. Do you make a commission even if people buy a different app than the one linked? And how long does the cookie last?

  11. Doug Hogg says:

    I just tried using Linkshare’s “Signature Activity” and it showed the clickthoughs as Andrew said without using a URL shortener.

  12. Doug Hogg says:


    From what I have read, yes, you do get a commission of the person buys other apps. The cookie lasts 120 days unless the person creates a new cookie by clicking on another iTunes-referring button.

  13. Jesse Lakes says:

    Hello All –
    Let’s see if I can help shed some light on all this.
    Ylice & Peter – There are 19 separate iTunes Affiliate Programs administered by four different affiliate networks. Unfortunately each store is different for each country. If you are looking to monitize clicks from all over the world check out something like

    Purchases made on the iPhone are definitely commissionable (in both iTunes Store and App Store).

    LinkShare’s Signature Program has two options – Signature Activity (Clicks, Sales and Commissions are shown per Signature value) and Signature Orders (Individual orders are show with the Signature value, Sales and Commissions).

    Doug – You’re mostly right. It was confusing but LinkShare had it listed wrong – the “bounty window” (cookie length) is 72 hours, not 120 days.

    Davide – You make a commission on EVERYTHING bought by that person that used your link within the 72 hour window.

    Hope that helps!
    Mastering the iTunes Affiliate Program

  14. Andrew says:

    It appears that iTunes does not preserve or relay the u1= signature value on sales that occur in the “bounty window” of the cookie but after the initial session of the original click.