Of Redirections And Affiliations

So, today I’ve been playing with iTunes links, by way of the iTunes Store affiliate program.

At the moment, if you want to link to your app on the iTunes store from the web or from inside another app on the iPhone, you have a couple of options.

On Mac and Windows (with Safari installed) or on iPhone OS 2.1 or later (this might work on earlier systems, but I haven’t verified it), you can have a link like so:


Where “PCalc” is the name of your application, obviously.

Opening this will redirect your browser to search.itunes.apple.com, trigger a search by name on the App Store for your app, which, if found, will then redirect you to ax.itunes.apple.com, which will redirect you again to an itms:// URL which will open up in iTunes on Mac/Windows or the App Store application on the iPhone.

It’s a nice short URL, but that’s three redirects to get to your app. On the phone, it also means that your app quits, Safari starts up, quits again immediately, and then the App Store app opens. Bit messy, and prone to confusion since it’s just a text search. I also couldn’t figure out a way to search for PCalc Lite using this method. This doesn’t work for example:


So if you have a space in your app name, it might not be for you.

It is however the only thing I got reliably to work from within an app on OS 2.1.

On 2.2 and later, you can use a link like:


The “id” in the link is the unique identifier of your app on the App Store. You can get a link like this by control/right-clicking on the name of an application within the iTunes Store and choosing “Copy iTunes Store URL”. I say “like this” because you really get an “itunes.apple.com” link, but the older “phobos.apple.com” links work better on the iPhone. Just change “itunes” to “phobos”.

The advantage of a phobos link is that on the iPhone, you won’t have a trip through Safari to get to the App Store – it’s special cased, so it will open directly.

So, in PCalc Lite, when you clicked the “take me to the full version” button, I used to use the first technique if running on an iPhone OS 2.1 system, and the second technique on later systems.

But, I was curious how many people were actually clicking on that link. The only way to get that information was to redirect through Safari.

If you click the link now, it takes you to either




On my server, I have an .htaccess file at the root of the website folder, which redirects those links with the following commands:

Redirect /links/pcalc_appstore http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=284666222&mt=8
Redirect /links/pcalc_appstore_21 http://www.itunes.com/app/PCalc

That doesn’t help from a web page, being browsed by Safari on the iPhone though. The phobos links won’t work on 2.1, and I don’t know a way to conditionally change the URL depending on the client OS. But i figure the number of people on 2.1 is diminishing rapidly at this stage.

I also lose the direct route to the App Store on the phone, and it’s now depending on my dragthing.com server being up, but I get to see how many people are clicking the link, and also I can change it if necessary to point to something else without having to update the application.

Previously on my PCalc website, when linking to the iPhone version on the App Store, I used to use the phobos links directly. People have been trained that a link that starts with phobos.apple.com is going to fire up iTunes, but they do look a little ugly and long-winded.

A better solution was to create the following redirect in the .htaccess file:

Redirect /itunes_store_link/pcalc_lite http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/

That gives me a link of:


which I can use everywhere. Hopefully, it’s pretty clear that clicking on it is going to open up the iTunes Store. I also added


links to go to PCalc Lite and to our company page on the store. It looks a lot cleaner, and it means I can change the underlying links if required without searching and replacing all over our pages and sites.

This proved useful when looking into becoming an iTunes Store affiliate. The idea behing the affiliate program is that if you send somebody to buy something on the iTunes Store, you can get 5% of the value of the transaction as a “finder’s fee”. In the case of the App Store, the developer still gets 70% of the price, so Apple pays the 5% out of their share, as they should.

It was pointed out to me that there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t be an affiliate for your own apps. Because if you are spending your own advertising money promoting your apps and driving sales to the App Store, you’re doing exactly what any other affiliate would do. Sounds good to me.

Better still, if somebody navigates away from your app, and buys your competitor’s app or anything else, you still get 5% of the total transaction for getting them to visit the store. Or so I’m told – I’ve only just set all this up, so it’s early days.

First obvious catch, the affiliate program is not run by Apple, and it’s different in each country / region. So, I had to sign up with Linkshare and then request that Apple let me be an affiliate. It’s not guaranteed, although it seemed to be pretty quick that I got the acceptance email. You need to show Linkshare your primary website, and give some demographic information. In my case, I also had to give lots of details about my company as well as tax information, and bank details so they could pay me.

Once that’s set up, you have to create special URLs that contain the affiliate information. So to link to PCalc, I would now have to put:


Yuck! So, that’s a Linkshare URL that has the iTunes Store URL embedded inside it. Nowhere as nice as the Amazon affiliate mechanism that just adds an ID to the end of a regular link. Also, while the iTunes Store URL will work worldwide and take you to the same software in any store, the Linkshare affiliate scheme is only for the US store. Thankfully, if a user outside of the US clicks on one, it will still take them to their store – you just won’t get an affiliate payment.

The downside is also that you can only have one affiliate scheme at a time, unless you provide different App Store links for different countries. While I could become a UK iTunes store affiliate, I can only have the one link. But most of our sales go through the US store anyway, so it’s annoying, but not the end of the world.

The click.linksynergy.com links look very ugly though, and I might think twice before clicking on one myself. No sign of Apple, unless you look really hard. Apple should really have implemented their own global and unified affiliate scheme if you ask me, tied in with the iTunes Store.

Ah, but I have my super server-side redirect technology!

I just edited the .htaccess file like so:

Redirect /itunes_store_link/pcalc http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/stat?id=HHOV33kSYk0&offerid=146261&type=3&subid=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=

Redirect /itunes_store_link/pcalc_lite http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/stat?id=HHOV33kSYk0&offerid=146261&type=3&subid=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=

Redirect /itunes_store_link/tlasystems http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/stat?id=HHOV33kSYk0&offerid=146261&type=3&subid=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=

Without changing any HTML at all, I rewired all the App Store URLs in one fell swoop to include the affiliate information across all my sites. Result!

Now you could argue that by hiding the fact that the links on my site now go through an affiliate scheme, I’m somehow being dishonest. But, since it’s just for my own software that I’m doing it, and the customer pays exactly the same in either case, I don’t think there’s any real case for saying so. If I ever did something similar with a link for somebody else’s software, I would definitely draw attention to the fact that I got a 5% kickback on the sale.

Anyway, it’s early days (in fact, the first day), and I have no idea if this is going to increase our income by any significant amount, but I should know in the next few weeks how it looks and I’ll report back then.

Author: James Thomson

Indie iOS / Mac developer, maker of PCalc and DragThing. Occasional writer, conference speaker, and podcast pundit.

6 thoughts on “Of Redirections And Affiliations”

  1. I tried out using a US affiliate link for a while, but I got reports from Germany that the links were not working, so I backed off. I’d love to hear if it works better for you.



    1. Did the reports say how it failed? I tried here, and the US affiliate links worked while signed into the UK store – at least, they took me to the right place when clicked.

  2. I’ve been getting regular payments from LinkShare. They’re not big, but it is something. The main place I’ve used LinkShare’s iTunes affiliate links is in my iPhone apps. So it does work 🙂

  3. In regards to your comment “The downside is also that you can only have one affiliate scheme at a time..” I wanted to give you a quick heads up on a project I’ve been working on to solve exactly this.

    GeoRiot is a service that works as a proxy to geotarget, translate and encode your affiliate links so you can use multiple affiliate program simultaneously and ensure you are capitalizing on your international traffic.

    While the GeoRiot links are just as ugly as the LinkShare links you can easily hide them behind redirect as well.

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