It takes blood, sweat, and tears to birth and sustain an affiliate marketing business. If you’re already a member of the successful affiliate marketers’ club, link cloaking is a necessary induction into your business plan.
On the flip side, if you're a newbie who's just gathering knowledge about affiliate marketing before going all in, you've landed on perhaps one of the most fruitful pages.
Who's this blog for? If you're someone who has absolutely no clue about link cloaking, or you're someone who's looking to dive deep into the topic and wants to know the best practices and steps to execute it, the following words will bring nothing but value to you!
What Is Link Cloaking?
Too much build-up, wasn't it? Let's start by understanding what exactly “link cloaking" is.
As deceptive as it may sound, link cloaking is a legitimate and advisable tactic that every affiliate marketer should adopt.
When you sign up for an affiliate program, you are handed a custom affiliate link that is going to earn you a commission when you drive clicks/sales from blogs, YouTube videos, social media posts, etc.
In its raw form, the affiliate URL has a code (in other words – your affiliate ID) that is visible to everyone. Link cloaking is the process that removes the easily detectable affiliate ID from the URL.
Usually, a redirect takes place that serves to conceal the affiliate marketer's ID, thereby saving him and his commissions from the unsavory types who are on the lookout to hijack people’s hard-earned money.
Link cloaking also shortens the affiliate link URL, so the process is also referred to as link shortening. This makes sense, given the unnecessarily raised eyebrows around the term "cloaking."
5 Benefits of Link Cloaking – Why Is It Important?
Besides saving your well-earned affiliate commissions and your time, link cloaking (or link shortening) provides the following 5 benefits that you should not miss out on:
#1: Easier Management
If you have hundreds of affiliate URLs for a ton of products, congratulations! You're doing well as an affiliate marketer.
At least, that’s what most people would say. But we know how arduous and nerve-wracking it is to manage affiliate links.
If you opt for link cloaking, you also indirectly sign up for an affiliate link management software. Such a system keeps all your links centered, and in the event that you need to replace or modify a link, you just have to do it once and its effect will be replicated everywhere your link appears.
Keeping your affiliate links up-to-date is no joke! It's also highly important – one invalid link can cost you both sales and customers.
Related article: How Many Sites Should I Have for Affiliate Marketing?
#2: Link Trust – Clean Links
Let’s look at some example URLs:
Which one would you rather click on when searching for the best bean bags?
More often than not, it'd be the latter one!
Affiliate programs can hand you links with gibberish towards the back end. This can have a serious impact on your site's visual appeal, user experience, and link trust.
Link cloaking allows you to modify the permalinks in a way that offers a preview of what the user should expect when clicking on them. This results in more qualified leads.
Another benefit that clean links have is shareability. Not only is it more convenient to share a shorter, more accurate link with your audience, it’s also more presentable than a bunch of random letters and numbers that can easily be perceived as a fraudulent link.
The nature of today's online world demands that you build an authority site that people trust, and you should leverage your links for this purpose.
Related article: 10 Tips to Crush Instagram Affiliate Marketing in 2021
#3: Tracking Traffic (and not allowing anyone else to do it!)
Surely, you would want to know which products your customers are going all-in for and which ones do not lure satisfactory traffic. This is achieved by tracking.
Regular tracking will help you gauge which niches have more money to offer and which niches are bad investments.
For example, if you see that links to electronic gadgets are getting more traction than links to fashion products, you could easily seek more opportunities in the former niche.
Secondly, link cloaking will enable you to efficiently convert every single affiliate link of yours to nofollow – this is important if you don't want to give away your page rank to your competitors.
#4: Security from Commission Theft
Yes, we've already mentioned that link cloaking safeguards your greenery, but do you know how it works?
To understand why this precaution is necessary, we need to understand how commission theft takes place.
Remember the "gibberish" at the end of your affiliate ID that we referred to earlier? Well, it's not just nonsense – it is your identity!
This means that if any sale were to take place via that link, then that code will tie the sale to your website, which will ultimately qualify you for the commission.
Malignant elements or malware can easily swap your ID and replace it with theirs, channeling all your commission to them.
It's easy to see how removing messy links via link cloaking can save you from theft.
#5: Ranking Higher
Despite all this, the presence of affiliate links in your post doesn't sit all that well with Google. If you leave such links for Google to see, it will consider the post low-quality.
Related article: How Long Does It Take Google to Index Your Content?
Amazon Prohibits Link Cloaking – What to Do Next?
Before dolling up your affiliate links with custom text, check to see if the particular affiliate program you’ve signed up for (such as the Amazon Affiliate Program) permits the usage of link cloaking.
For instance, the affiliate program giant Amazon does not allow you to shorten your affiliate links to the extent that they are no longer perceivable as Amazon links to the average viewer.
To put it in layman's terms, ad placement of any sort – buttons, hyperlinks, etc. – must convey in clear terms that you're linking to an Amazon site.
Related article: 5 Best Affiliate Marketing Programs for Beginners
So how do you get around this Amazon policy?
It's quite simple, and we promise you won’t need a magic wand for this!
Suppose that your text disclaimer is something like "Best Bean Bags."
To comply with Amazon’s policies, you can change it to "Best Bean Bags [Amazon]," and you should be good to go.
Alternatively, you can also use an Amazon button to accomplish the same goal.
Designing a custom Amazon button might take some creativity and time, but once done, you can use the same button for every Amazon affiliate link – the visual appeal it can add is a plus.
Related article: Diversifying from Amazon – How to 4X Your Affiliate Revenues
How to Cloak Affiliate Links - Non-Plugin Solution
Let's dive into the crux of it all – how to do link cloaking for your website?
Go to the Cpanel and create a new folder in the root directory. Generally, you can name this folder anything you want, but remember that the name of this folder will be the base redirect prefix (in other words – the URL slug) for all your affiliate links.
It's best if you avoid lengthy names – the most popular choices are "go," "out," and "recommend."
For our illustration, we've chosen "go" as our folder name.
Inside the "go" folder, create another folder. Name the folder after the product you want to promote with your affiliate links.
For example, if you want to promote HubSpot, you'd name the folder "HubSpot."
All you need to do now is embed a script in your redirect folder that will redirect users to your affiliate links.
Usually, this redirect script contains the following 3 elements:
While the first two files (the index.php and redirects.txt) are mandatory inclusions in the redirect script, the .htaccess file is optional.
However, we highly recommend incorporating the .htaccess file, as it removes the "?id" and similar bits from your cloaked links. This prevents malicious actors from taking a sneak peek into your redirects.txt and keeps your affiliate links behind closed doors – only accessible to you.
This is pretty much all it takes to execute link cloaking. That being said, we’d like to share a golden tip with you.
Tip: Prevent Indexing by Search Engines
To make sure that search engines do not follow or crawl your redirects, you'll need to block them.
The robot.txt file of your website should be modified with the following rule:
Note that "go" is the folder name we opted for in Step #1. You should use your chosen folder name accordingly.
The question now is – what if you don't have a website? Will you still be able to cloak your links?
Link Cloaking Without a Website
If you're looking for a hard-and-fast answer to this question – yes, you can cloak your links without a website.
Bit.ly is one such service. However, it’s advisable to get a website if you're looking to step up your affiliate marketing game.
Here are the problems you'll face when cloaking links without a website:
The essence of link cloaking is wiped away – you cannot customize your links. This means that the "gibberish" will always be there. User-experience and link trust may reduce drastically.
Managing multiple affiliate links will be a headache.
Every time you want to insert a link into your blog or written content, you'll need to skim through your chosen service and find the link.
Never lose the login to your service. If so, you'll lose the entire history.
Related article: How to Make Money With Affiliate Marketing Without a Website
WordPress Plugins to Cloak Affiliate Links
You can cloak your affiliate links with a WordPress plugin too.
Here are four of the top WordPress affiliate link cloaking plugins to use:
#1: Pretty Link Lite
This plugin is perfect for you if you want to track traffic from every single link. It has both a free version and a paid plan. Premium features include automatic link cloaking to save time.
If you have an affiliate business to look after, this is the best link management plugin. Besides providing the core link cloaking feature, it has some cool extras to positively impact your affiliate marketing business.
#3: WooCommerce Cloak Affiliate Links
Have an online store that runs on affiliate programs? Check out this simple and easy-to-use plugin that gives you the option to redirect to either 301, 302, or 307.
#4: Simple URLs
Manage your outbound links with ease using this WordPress plugin. It achieves its simplicity by adding a custom post type in your WordPress admin panel for centralized links management.
To Choose a WordPress Plugin, or Not?
WordPress plugins and link cloaking software are much, much easier to get your head around than manually cloaking affiliate links. But there is a catch – they are slow and often ineffective.
The pace with which these plugins perform depends on the core code of your WordPress, and they can only go about their tasks when the WordPress is fully booted.
If your server is slow, this waiting time will extend and probably go beyond your user's patience – she will click the back button if the redirect site takes a lifetime to load.
On the flip side, the non-plugin option is independent of WordPress’s core code and gives you guaranteed efficacy and speed.
Phew! What a ride that was!
To conclude, affiliate link cloaking is non-debatable if you're serious about making a place (and money) for yourself in this hyper-competitive industry.
We understand how overwhelming affiliate marketing can get. That's why we recommend professional help from experts like us at BrandBuilders.io to sort the nuances of your affiliate marketing business and help you scale better.