Link Cloaking 101: Why You Should Cloak Your Affiliate Links and How to Do It

Link Cloaking 101: Why You Should Cloak Your Affiliate Links and How to Do It

Affiliate Marketing is a cut-throat industry – competitors might even go as far as to try to steal your commissions! In this post, you will learn what Link Cloaking is and how it can help protect your earnings, privacy, and more.

Link cloaking refers to a technique that shows humans and bots (usually search engines) two different types of a website, thereby violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

But in Affiliate Marketing, it describes the process used to disguise an affiliate link so it doesn’t reveal the affiliate ID or URL parameters and simply put, make it look better.

Here is an example:

  • Affiliate Link: www.affiliateprogram.com/products/?product=123456&affiliate=abc123&utm=website
  • Cloaked Link: www.yoursite.com/go/product

What link would you rather click on?

Now think of your readers, who might be confused or even scared to click on one of those absurdly long affiliate links. But when they see your URL and where the link is leading them, they will be much more likely to click through to the affiliate offer.

Link cloaking also helps affiliates protect themselves against link hijacking and makes click tracking easier. The method is therefore very common amongst affiliates.

Link Cloaking (the way affiliate marketers use it) is just another term for URL redirects. There are three types of redirects:

  • 301: Permanent redirect
  • 302: Temporary redirect (Recommended for this use)
  • 307: Temporary redirect
Learn more about the difference between a 302 and 307 redirect in this video from Yoast

When you go to google.com, you actually get redirected to the IP address of the server where Google is hosted. Now you could type in the IP address yourself, but google.com is a lot easier to remember than 2001:4860:4860::8888.

When you cloak your affiliate links, you are basically doing the same. So instead of having your visitors click on some wired looking numbers or long affiliate link, you provide them with a clean link and have a redirect in place.

According to Statista, affiliate marketing spending in the United States of America alone is expected to reach over $8 billion by 2022.

The industry is growing fast, there is a lot of money to be made, but the competition is fierce – some might even go as far as to try to steal your commissions!

Link Cloaking can help you protect yourself against this and has several other benefits, as we already talked about earlier.

#1: Protect Your Earnings

Usually, there is some piece of malware involved that secretly changes the Affiliate ID in an affiliate link. Imagine if you put in all the hard work, got people to buy, but someone else is getting your affiliate commission!

Cloaked links can help you protect yourself against what is known as link hijacking and commission theft. Now you won’t be totally safe just by using this technique, but it definitely makes it harder for the malicious actors out there.

#2: Protect Your Privacy

Your Affiliate ID and URL Parameters (which can be used to log in to the affiliate network and track your main referral sources / best performing campaigns) are very valuable.

If you don’t cloak your links, this information is out there for everyone to see. Don’t let your competitors easily find out how you generate traffic to a specific affiliate offer and then copy your method.

#3: Improve Your Click Through Rate

Link cloaking also leads to an increased Click Through Rate (CTR). Because cloaked links are usually shorter and look cleaner than your average affiliate link, people are much more likely to click on them.

It also helps that those URLs are way more descriptive. Instead of a string of numbers and letters that hardly make any sense, an optimized URL shows users exactly what to expect on the linked page.

#4: Improve Your Email Delivery Rate

Do the emails you send go straight to the spam folder of your subscribers? Link cloaking might be able to help. Often times email services categorize messages as spam because they link to a certain domain.

If that particular domain has ever been used for spam, their systems automatically think your email is spam as well and might even blacklist your email address. Your email delivery rate should improve significantly if you use your own domain instead.

And finally, cloaking your affiliate links makes it a lot easier to track and manage in one central location. This is especially true if you use a plugin, like the ones we introduce in the next section of this post.

Remember that you can share your affiliate links not only on your website but also in emails or on some of your social media accounts. Having click data from all different traffic sources and affiliate offers in one place will really make your life easier.

Also, if the affiliate link for an offer changes (for example when the merchant decides to move to another affiliate network), all you need to do is update one redirect. Imagine how much time this can save you compared to searching and updating each and every one of your uncloaked affiliate links.

The easiest start for your website

Here are some of the ways to cloak the affiliate links on your website:

  • Using .htaccess
  • Using PHP Script
  • Using Plugins

The more plugins, the slower your page gets. And with each plugin, the risk of security issues increases. That’s why we prefer to use the .htaccess method over installing another plugin.

Having said that, if you have to deal with a lot of affiliate links or are not comfortable with editing files on your server, you should opt for a plugin instead.

Using .htaccess

Here is a step-by-step manual of how link cloaking your affiliate links in WordPress works:

Create a List of Your Affiliate Links

First you need to collect all existing affiliate links on your website.

Update .htaccess

Next, update your .htaccess file. It is usually located in the base directory of your website. Create a backup copy of the file, just in case. Now add the following:

## Cloaked Links ##
Redirect 302 /go/product https://www.affiliateprogram.com/products/?product=123&affiliate=abc&utm=website
Redirect 302 /go/product2 https://www.affiliateprogram.com/products/?product=234&affiliate=abc&utm=website

302 is the type of redirect used. It is known as a temporary redirect.

/go/product/ is how your URL will look like to your users. Replace the slug with anything you like. Some often seen alternatives include out, recommends or refer.

https://www.affiliateprogram.com/products/?product=123&affiliate=abc&utm=website is the actual affiliate link you received from the seller.

Update robots.txt

Finally, update your robots.txt and disallow and nofollow all /go/ (or the slug you chose) URLs.

This ensures that search engines won’t follow the redirects and potentially leak PageRank to the sales page you are linking to.

Using Plugins

If you prefer to install a plugin, here are three of the most frequently recommended ones:

  • ThirstyAffiliates
  • Pretty Links
  • Easy Affiliate Links

Where those plugins excel is the ease of management and tracking. Especially if you have a lot of different affiliate links, it might be easier to opt for a plugin instead of using the .htaccess method above.

ThirstyAffiliates

ThirstyAffiliates is one of the most popular affiliate link management plugins and available both as a free and paid version.

It helps you organize your affiliate links into categories and makes it very easy to insert those links into your blog posts. Simply select some text, create a link, and then search for the relevant affiliate offer.

ThirstyAffiliates Dashboard (Link Cloaking Plugin)
Screenshot of ThirstyAffiliates, a link cloaking plugin for WordPress

You can also use the plugin to monitor the traffic of your affiliate links in one place. Some other great features include A/B testing, geotargeting, and the possibility to automatically replace keywords with affiliate links.

ThirstyAffiliates is also suitable for Amazon Affiliates as it lets you disable cloaking specifically for Amazon links, so you don’t run afoul of their rules.

Pretty Links is another popular tool that can be used for link cloaking. Once again, there is a free and premium version of the plugin available.

The interface is very clean and makes the add-on easy to use. Simply choose the type of redirect (301, 302 or 307), enter your target URL and finally set your “pretty link”.

Pretty Links Dashboard (Link Cloaking Plugin)
Screenshot of Pretty Links, a link cloaking plugin for WordPress

Don’t let the simplistic design of Pretty Links fool you though. Other advanced features of the plugin include redirects based on the device, geographic redirects, expiring links, and split testing for up to 20 target URLs. This is a feature we haven’t seen from other plugins yet.

Easy Affiliate Links also allows you to organize into categories and manage all your affiliate links in one place. Their user-friendly interface includes the monthly and lifetime clicks every link has received.

Easy Affiliate Links Dashboard (Link Cloaking Plugin)
Screenshot of Easy Affiliate Links, a link cloaking plugin for WordPress

With their premium version, you get access to even more features like Conditional Links (that allow you to target visitors from a specific country or using a specific device) and their Broken Links Checker. This way, you won’t send traffic to offers that don’t exist anymore.

You don’t. Any type of link cloaking or redirecting is prohibited and will get you banned from the Amazon Associates Program rather sooner than later.

Further, the following purchases that would otherwise be Qualified Purchases are disqualified and excluded from the Associates Program: […]

(e) any Product purchased by a customer who is referred to an Amazon Site by a link that sends users indirectly to an Amazon Site via an intermediate site, without requiring the customer to click on a link or take some other affirmative action on that intermediate site (a “Redirecting Link”)

Amazon Associates Program Policies

It is possible to create shortened URLs directly through the Amazon Associates Program though. If you already cloaked your Amazon affiliate links and want to undo it as quick and easy as possible, you use can the ThirstyAffiliates plugin (link above).

For ClickBank Affiliates cloaking is usually permitted. Have a close look at the Terms & Conditions just to make sure and then use one of the link cloaking methods we just talked about.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Cloak My Affiliate Links?

Link cloaking can help protect your affiliate earnings from malware, increase your Click Through Rate and has several other benefits. It is a standard practice amongst affiliate marketers and one you should follow.

Should I rel=”nofollow” My Affiliate Links?

Not only should you rel=”nofollow” them, but you should add the rel=”sponsored” tag to them as well. This tells Google that this particular link was paid for.

Affiliate Marketing is a very competitive industry to be in. Dishonest competitors might try to place malware on your computer to secretly steal your commissions if you don’t cloak your links.

Then there are several other benefits of link cloaking like an improved Click Through Rate, easier tracking of your affiliate links or not having your promotional emails ending up in the spam folder.

Simply add the redirects to your .htaccess file or install one of the many available plugins to follow this industry standard practice.

Which is your favorite way to do link cloaking? What are the impacts you have seen after implementing this technique? Let us know in the comments!

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