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6 Reasons You Should be Using Link Cloaking

When working on a blog post here to help users understand why they should use link cloaking/ tracking to help them earn more from their Affiliate promotions and simply make more money from affiliates as well, I came across this article by Bryan Kerr which describes it in such excellent details I couldn’t imagine doing it better myself.  I do not use the Simple URL’s plugin as shown below, instead I use the WP Dynamic Links plugin, but they are very similar tools and they are both free.  Here is the excerpt from Bryan’s article with my commentary added:

What is cloaking?

Link cloaking is when you make a link to a third-party website appear to point to another page on your blog. So when a reader hovers their cursor over the affiliate link, they see something like:

http://www.yourdomain.com/go/affiliate-merchant/

in their browser’s status bar instead of

http://www.affiliate-merchant.com

There are several ways to cloak your links (JavaScript, PHP, plugins, etc.). Since I use StudioPress’s Simple URLs plugin (see above) for my affiliate links, I’ll base my examples in this post on this very handy plugin.

1. Increase clickthroughs

Affiliate URLs are usually quite ugly. If someone hovers over an uncloaked affiliate link to StudioPress, they see something like this in their browser’s status bar (note not a real link):

http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=34as0&u=5sd11&m=2ds469&urllink=&afftrack=

It doesn’t look very elegant, and the fact that it goes to a seemingly unrelated site might prevent a wary reader from clicking on the affiliate link.

However, I can (and do) cloak my StudioPress and other affiliate links by creating an internal link that redirects to the affiliate link. Doesn’t this URL look more inviting?

http://www.thehobbyblogger.com/go/studiopress/

It appears to go a page on my own site, so the trustworthiness of the link is much higher than the naked ShareASale link.

2. Higher email delivery rates

If you put affiliate links in an email to your subscribers, cloaked links are less likely to trigger spam filters than bare affiliate links. Overzealous affiliate email marketers can cause the domain of an affiliate program to get blacklisted by spam filters. So any email you send containing a blacklisted link might never reach your subscribers.

If you send text-only emails, cloaked URLs which tend to be shorter are also less likely to improperly formatted by email clients than long affiliate URLs.

3. Easier link management

What if your affiliate program changed the links to its products or closed business? Unless you’re comfortable with database editing, it’d be a big chore to go back through all your posts and change the links.

If you use a plugin like Simple URLs to cloak your links, you only have to change the link in one place—very convenient.

4. Reduced commission loss

A lot of affiliate marketing websites (usually ones that push cloaking software) warn of malware on your visitor’s computers that can replace your affiliate code with another affiliate code, stealing your commission. The thing is, I can’t find any hard data on how prevalent this might be. There’s really nothing you can do about it, anyway, exceptpartner with networks such as ShareASale or Commission Junction that actively discourage these “parasite” affiliates.

Another form of hijacking is when someone arrives at a product page, and then replaces your affiliate code in the address bar with his own code. However, this is only an issue with programs like ClickBank that allow affiliates to make purchases through their own links. If you belong to one of these programs, then cloaking will help.

Cloaking will also help against bypassers, who, when they notice they’re about to click on an affiliate link, will just chop off the affiliate ID and go straight to the product page. Though if someone really wants to deny you a commission, all they have to do is delete their cookies, so it’s better not to obsess over thwarting bypassers.

5. Tracking

Many of the cloaking or link shortening WordPress plugins out there like Simple URLs or Pretty Link will also keep track of how often your links are clicked. This is very useful for finding which posts, pages, and/or parts of your blog’s layout are driving your commissions.

6. Beat ad blockers

Many of your readers might be using browser extensions such as AdBlock Plus that will prevent them from seeing your ads. Among other techniques, ad blockers look for affiliate links to determine if an image is an ad banner. By cloaking your links, ad blockers will usually let the banner appear as long as it is not hotlinked from the merchant’s domain. So you should also download the banner ad graphic file and host it on your server.

But what about honesty?

Some might argue that link cloaking is a deceptive practice. But which of these two links do you think most people would say more accurately tells the reader that the link goes to a StudioPress page:

http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=34as0&u=5sd11&m=2ds469&urllink=&afftrack=

or

http://www.thehobbyblogger.com/go/studiopress/

I’d say the cloaked link is more “honest” than the naked affiliate link. If you’re still concerned, there are a couple of steps you can take to make sure you stay in your readers’ good graces:

  • You should have a good disclosure policy in place that discloses all of your affiliations.
  • You could also edit the title attribute of your affiliate links to show something like “Affiliate Link” whenever your readers mouse over the links.

You won’t be able to please everybody, but the benefits of cloaking far outweigh the few readers you might put off using this technique.

Final notes

For well-known merchants such as Amazon, some say that bare affiliate links are good because the reader sees the merchant’s domain (amazon.com) in the link. While that’s a good point, I feel the same can be accomplished with a cloaked link like

http://www.yoursite.com/go/Amazon-product-name/

and you still get all the other benefits of cloaking.

If you are also worried about Google’s policy on Link Cloaking, understand that link tracking is the same exact thing.  When you create a tracking link on your site and you make it , you just created a cloaked link.  Millions of sites cloak and use affiliate links in their web content every day.  I highly suggest you do the same.  Just be smart about it and honest. Add an Affiliate Disclosure to your site and move ahead with a better approach to making more money with your on site affiliate promotions.

To see the full original article by Bryan Kerr, please go here now.

Thoughts?

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