Revenue Performance – Product Review

The Long-Lived Tracking Platform Has Just Launched An All-New Version.
Is DTX The Best Performance Marketing Platform of 2013?


The marketplace for performance marketing tracking platforms has become crowded over the last few years with low-cost networkin-a-box software competing with established, enterprise-level applications that can run massive, globally distributed affiliate networks. DirectTrack is the 800-pound gorilla in this space, but performance marketing is no respecter of companies or products that don’t move with the times. Does DirectTrack X, the 10th major release of the DirectTrack platform, keep it ahead of the chasing pack?

Tracking platforms are the glue that holds the performance marketing industry together. Every publisher or advertiser engaged in performance marketing uses a tracking platform interface to set up campaigns, to track conversions and to report on what is or isn’t working. Every network runs on a tracking platform – either one bought off the shelf or one developed in-house. They make the performance marketing industry run, linking millions of publishers across the world to thousands of advertisers and merchants, all while tracking billions of transactions each year.

The biggest and best known tracking platform is DirectTrack, and the latest version has just been launched. Since it is version 10, the developers, Direct
Response Technologies, have taken the Apple approach of adopting a Roman numeral, hence DTX.

For those readers that are familiar with previous versions of DirectTrack – and that probably means a clear majority of people in the performance marketing industry given the number of networks that have utilized the platform at one time or another – Direct- Track X will come as a refreshing surprise. Gone are the long-winded processes by which new campaigns were set up, and the static, dated interface that seemed to make everything take a little too long.

Instead we get a modern, state-of-the-art interface (see Figure 1) acting as the front-end of an entirely rearchitectured application. Real-time reporting on a
global scale, an interface that can be customized by user, campaign setup wizards, multi-currency capabilities within individual campaigns, five-level deep Sub-ID tracking, cookie expiration that can be set down to the second, mobile and post-app install tracking: the wish-list of features that have been delivered in DTX just goes on and on.

The question is, does it all work together to make this the best performance marketing solution of 2013? We took a test-drive of DTX to find out.

Test-Driving DTX
The first thing that you notice with DTX is that it’s pretty. Good design was never really a priority in performance marketing interfaces but over the last year or two we have seen the influence of Apple’s designoriented approach making itself felt. DTX takes the clean, simple approach to an advanced level.

Then there is the speed of response of the new architecture. Drilling-down into information is snappy, reporting is fast enough to make it easy to move from campaign to campaign quickly, and setting up new affiliates or campaigns just means stepping rapidly through simple wizards. It is a treat to use.

And, perhaps most obvious after a few minutes of use, the depth of capabilities of the system is remarkable. This is where the fact that DirectTrack has
been through 10 major versions makes itself apparent; newer entries into the marketplace have been able to emulate most of the major feature set, but it is in the nuances and the sheer depth of capability that you notice what a difference product maturity makes.

Everywhere you go you find thoughtful touches that help you do what you want to do faster than expected. A quick and easy campaign setup wizard takes
you through the essentials in order to get a campaign up and running right now, and then go back and fill in the details later. Site-wide search works effectively to allow you to jump quickly when you need to find something fast. A user-configurable favorites bar allows you to set up your favorite pages to ensure relevant reports and important daily tasks are always one click away at any time. Time after time you find that the software understands what you want to do and is ready to facilitate it.

While the capabilities within DirectTrack X are extensive, here’s a breakdown of nine major highlights.

New architecture
Compared to earlier versions of DirectTrack, using DTX seems significantly faster and more responsive. The developers claim that the entire middle-layer has been re-written — losing more than two-million lines of code in the process — with a focus on user experience,
and it shows. Everything is real-time with effectively zero lag. Additionally, the revised architecture allows the full software package to be remarkably
comprehensive and full-featured for enterprise-level customers, but the feature-set can be pared back for smaller customers with lower budgets. DTX has been designed so that it can be customized for a one-man agency in India, as much as for a multi-national retailer based in Kansas.

The dashboard is the first thing that most users will notice when they try DTX for the first time. It takes the art of the interface forward by quite some distance. Almost everything on the screen is widget-based, which means that elements can be moved around and rearranged at will. Each individual user can customize their own interface by dragging-and-dropping from a long list of widgets supplied with DTX, plus custom ones where applicable. Add in a custom Twitter feed, a user-specific Favorites Bar and site-wide search capabilities, and it all adds up to one of the most attractive and efficient affiliate, advertiser or admin interfaces that we have yet seen.

In order to bring simplicity to what can be complex processes, DTX includes wizards for setting up campaigns and new affiliates. They’re designed to bring
together all the required information while making it easy to get campaigns or affiliates started. In an associated innovation, Info Cards pop up when needed to provide quick overviews of campaigns or affiliates — these let you jump straight to a detailed affiliate record or to editing a campaign with just one click.

Accuracy of tracking has always been a Direct-Track strong point, and DTX continues this tradition. Options include almost anything you can imagine,
including compliance with Do Not Track, device fingerprinting and lead/sale cookie expiration that can be set to the second. Mobile devices are  automatically recognized, with optional mobile-specific linking URLs allowing campaigns and offers to be differentiated for mobile users.

Affiliate Commissions
Affiliate commissions in DTX are customizable by leveraging its trigger-based commission structure, allowing for a wide variety of web user-actions to be commissionable. Facebook “likes”, user gender, specific locations, installs: you name it, you can pay commission on it. Breaking the constraints of traditional rigid campaign payout options, DTX has been positioned to allow clients to reward any type of activity that may lead to higher lifetime value of customers, and each trigger can be customized for individual affiliates or groups of affiliates. Also important from an affiliate’s perspective is that DTX, in line with previous editions of DirectTrack, does not include any type of auto-scrub functionality. Scrubbing and shaving are too commonly used by networks seeking to maintain their margins these days, and it’s good to see a platform that still does things right.

Reporting brings huge changes from previous versions of the software. The new reporting interface is dramatically simplified and, once again, offers user level customization. Columns can be added, subtracted and dragged into position at will, and it’s easy to drill down into campaigns or to bring up new panes of information (what the developers call “modals”). Opening a new report, dragging in the columns you want, and then opening up a new modal to compare and contrast is the work of a few seconds — it’s very slick. They’re even introducing geo-based heatmaps so you can see in an instant where across the globe your business is coming from at any moment.

Fraud prevention
DirectTrack has been the leading tracking platform for many years and as a result has perhaps the largest database of fraudulent affiliates in the industry. It allows new affiliate applications to be checked against the historical records of any application to any of hundreds of DirectTrack networks. In a welcome advance, the system also matches IP addresses to the initial login IP address, meaning that if an account is opened by a shill in the USA and then transferred to somewhere in Russia or China, for example, it will be flagged.

DTX has been re-engineered with globalization and localization in mind. The developers seemed to have put a lot of thought into what is needed when expanding a network or campaign into a new country. Particular affiliates or groups of affiliates can use different currencies all within one campaign. Currency exchange rates can be updated manually or automatically by a feed from Individual advertiser or affiliate interfaces can be customized by language. We couldn’t find anything that we needed to do for which there wasn’t functionality already built-in.

One of the aspects of DirectTrack that has been very popular with new networks over the last couple of editions is the ability to cross-publish offers to other
networks on the DirectTrack platform. The new DTX version builds on this with an excellent recommendation engine which combines well with the developer’s in-house team that proactively matches available offers to networks. This works really well for agencies and brands who may have a good offer but may not know too many people in the performance marketing community.

So, after covering the multitude of features and functions in the new version, the question to be asked is: is it right for you?

Traditionally, the answer would depend on what you want to achieve and whether you’re a CPA specialist, an agency or brand just getting started, a super-affiliate, or a publisher looking for a more robust in-house tracking engine. For each use-case it was easy to differentiate between the various tracking platforms and arrive at a conclusion.

In our view, for many people the best choice just became clear. In DirectTrack X, Direct Response Technologies has produced a do-it-all champion. DTX is a powerful, distributed, global platform offering scalable, real-time reporting, and exceptional user experience. DTX can also be configured for individual needs for cost-effectiveness without sacrificing any of the new bells and whistles.

The fact that performance marketing tracking platforms are incorporating state-of-the-art technologies can only be good for the industry. DTX has carried the ball forward — the question now is whether the other platforms will be able to invest in trying to keep up. RP