Have you heard of link cloaking but you’re unsure what it’s all about? It sounds like something sinister — but it isn’t!
This article is going to dispel that myth, talk about the actual real-world use-case for cloaking your affiliate links, and show you how ThirstyAffiliates can help you master it.
First, the affiliate marketing world is a very competitive place to set up business.
It’s so cut-throat that people are always looking for the next edge and the next bit of technology that will help drive more sales and more commissions. It’s probably not surprising then that unsavory tactics are sometimes used to steal other’s affiliate commissions. This is a real problem in the affiliate marketing industry.
Commission theft commonly happens via malware loaded unsuspectingly on people’s computers. This malware monitors the pages those people visit, finds affiliate links on those pages, replaces an affiliate’s unique affiliate ID code with their own affiliate ID code, and thereby steals that affiliate’s commissions.
Fortunately for the 99% of legitimate affiliate marketers out there — like you and me — the industry has an accepted and proven defense: Link Cloaking.
What Is Link Cloaking?
Link cloaking is the process of disguising the affiliate link URL provided by an affiliate program to muddle the affiliate ID and make the link shorter. Link cloaking protects your affiliate commissions by making the affiliate ID less visible. At the same time, it makes the link more visually appealing to visitors.
Here’s an example of a cloaked affiliate link:
So where does this link really go? To my Bluehost affiliate link which then takes users to the Bluehost homepage. This is link cloaking in action.
If a visitor clicks on this link or types it in their browser, everything stays on my site until the last minute when they have transported across to Bluehost’s servers. Thanks to this process, there’s less chance my commissions will be stolen if a visitor were to purchase hosting through my link.
Using a link cloaker like ThirstyAffiliates allows me to protect my commissions from theft and ensure that I get 100% of the reward for my effort as an affiliate marketer.
How Does Link Cloaking Work?
Cloaking an affiliate link works by sending the visitor via a URL redirection. If you’re not overly technical, that’s okay. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of how link cloaking works to benefit from it. Just try to hang with me as I explain the overall concept in simple terms.
A URL redirect is basically just a dummy URL that points the visitor’s browser somewhere else. The page itself doesn’t exist on your site, it’s just a placeholder.
Here’s the process your browser goes through with a cloaked link:
- When you click on my cloaked link above, your browser asks our site for the content of the page /recommends/bluehost–wordpress.
- Next, my site responds that the page doesn’t exist, and it tells your browser to go to a different destination to get the content.
- Lastly, your browser reads the response and visits the new URL without any intervention from you
If you’re interested, you might want to understand a little more about the difference between the URL redirect types. To help, we’ve created this short video:
The Benefits Of Link Cloaking
As discussed already, the obvious benefit of cloaking your affiliate links is to protect your commissions. But why else use link cloaking?
People are smart. A visitor is much more likely to click a link pointing to the same website they’re on than they are to click on an affiliate link directly. I’ve seen it time and time again – cloaking affiliate links leads to an increased click-through rate.
By making the link appear to point to something on your website, you’re increasing the perceived trust in that link.
What would you prefer to click on? A link with a bunch of letters and numbers after it that looks as though the website owner might be getting some sort of sly kick-back for sending you there? Or would you rather click a link that points to another page on the same website you’re on?
Additionally, by cloaking my affiliate link, I can set what the URL looks like. So, instead of a link to a product page on some other site with random numbers and product IDs that make no sense to my audience, I can change the slug of the URL to whatever I like.
http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/bb2e/ links to a cool Tuan Tuan sleeping bag (yes, Star Wars fan right here). But the URL isn’t descriptive at all. You can’t look at that URL and get any idea of what it leads to.
If I cloaked this URL, I could easily present you with
example.com/go/tuan-tuan-sleeping-bag, and you’d know just by looking at the link that it probably leads to a sleeping bag product.
Link cloaking, in turn, leads to more qualified visitors through your affiliate links. Because they know what to expect, they’re more likely to buy.
Next, affiliate link cloaking is usually done with the help of an affiliate link management plugin like ThirstyAffiliates. These sorts of plugins give you many other side benefits, the chief among them being management control.
As an affiliate marketer, you might not just have one or two links. You might have hundreds or even thousands.
The task of organizing and managing more than a few affiliate links over time can become a complete nightmare. That’s why solutions like ours exist.
With ThirstyAffiliates you can organize your affiliate links into categories to keep them in logical groups. For example, all my hosting links belong to a “Hosting” link category. All my WordPress plugin affiliate links belong to a “WordPress Plugins” link category, and so on.
Additionally, ThirstyAffiliates makes it much easier to insert affiliate links into blog posts.
I can just select some text, search for the link I want to insert, and it’s linked up straight away.
Finally, another great benefit of cloaking links is the ability to track the traffic on your affiliate links.
Knowing which affiliate links are actually getting traction with your audience is very important for improving the performance of your links.
For example, with tracking, you might find that your audience likes to click on links about fashion clothing items, but they’re not really clicking links having to do with fashionable technology items. You know, then, to focus more on promoting clothing and writing more content surrounding that topic.
Can You Cloak Affiliate Links Without A Website?
Technically, you can cloak your affiliate links without a website by using services such as bit.ly. However, there are some drawback to this.
- You can’t customize the cloaked URL itself, so it’s often just a jumble of letters and numbers (this erodes trust as mentioned above)
- Destination can’t be changed
- You can’t manage your links easily
- It’s not easy to insert the links into your content as you’re writing; you have to go to the service and eyeball them until you find the one you want to copy
- If you lose the login, you lose the history
How To Use ThirstyAffiliates To Cloak Links
Cloaking your link using our tool, ThirstyAffiliates, couldn’t be easier.
First, you’ll need to install the free ThirstyAffiliates plugin, which can be found by searching for “thirstyaffiliates” in your dashboard under Plugins > Add New. Alternatively, you can download it here.
Once installed, you can move on to the fun part.
To add your first affiliate link:
- Go to ThirstyAffiliates > Add New in your Dashboard
- Set a name
- Set the destination URL (your affiliate link as provided by the affiliate program)
- (Optional) Select a category or add a new category
- Hit the Save Link button
Congratulations, you just set up your first affiliate link in ThirstyAffiliates!
To insert the link into a post:
To insert a link in a post as you’re writing, simply:
- Select the text you want to link
- Click the TA button in your visual editor (or the Affiliate Link button in the text editor)
- Search for the link by the name that you just inserted
- (Optional) click the Cog icon for a more advanced link picker if you want to browse your links or insert via shortcode/image
So, what happens when you need to change the destination of the link, but you’ve inserted it into several posts? That’s where the real power of ThirstyAffiliates comes in.
To change the destination of a cloaked link, you only need to edit the link in ThirstyAffiliates, not all of the posts you’ve inserted the link into.
For a demonstration of these instructions, watch the video at the top of this post. In the video, I run through an introduction to ThirstyAffiliates.
That sums up this post. You should now have a thorough understanding of what link cloaking is and isn’t and how to go about using this great affiliate marketing technique.