Have you heard of link cloaking but unsure what it’s all about? It sounds like something nefarious or sinister but it isn’t. This article is going to dispell those myths and talk about the actual real-world use-case for cloaking your affiliate links.
The affiliate marketing world is a very competitive place to set up business.
In fact, it is sometimes 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 unsavoury 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 software being loaded unsuspectingly on people’s computers. This malware monitors the pages those people visit and find affiliate links on those pages, replacing your unique affiliate ID code with their own affiliate ID code, thereby stealing your commissions.
Fortunately for the 99% of legitimate affiliate marketers out there, like you and I, the industry has an accepted and proven defence: Link Cloaking.
What Is Link Cloaking?
Link cloaking is the process of disguising the affiliate link URL, provided by an affiliate program, to obfuscate your affiliate ID and make the link shorter. This protects your affiliate commissions by making the affiliate ID less visible and 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 you 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. In doing this, there’s less chance for my commissions to be stolen if you were to purchase some hosting from them.
Using a link cloaker 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 is ok, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of how this work but try to stick with me as I explain the overall concept easy 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 is the process your browser goes through:
- When you click on my cloaked link above, your browser asks our site for the content of the page /recommends/bluehost–wordpress
- Next, our 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 instead without any intervention from you
Hopefully, that makes sense.
For the brave, you might want to understand a little more about the difference between the URL redirect types and to help we have 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?
People are smart. A visitor is much more likely to click a link pointing to the same website they are on than they are to click on an affiliate link directly. I’ve seen it time and time again, cloaking affiliate links leads to increased click-through rate.
By keeping the link pointing at something else on your website, you are 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? O would you click a link that is pointing to another page on the same website?
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 ID’s that make no sense to my audience, I can change the slug of the URL to match whatever I like.
For example (not an affiliate link by the way):
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 just look at that URL and know what is on the other side.
If I cloaked this URL, I could easily have:
example.com/go/tuan-tuan-sleeping-bag and you would know just by looking at it, that it probably leads to a sleeping bag product.
This, in turn, leads to sending more qualified visitors through your affiliate links. Because they know what to expect, they are more likely to buy.
Secondly, cloaking your affiliate links is usually done with the help of an affiliate link management plugin, like ThirstyAffiliates. This gives you many other side benefits, chief among them, management control.
As an affiliate marketer, you might not just have one or two links. You might have hundreds or even thousands.
To be honest, the task of organising and managing more than a few affiliate links over time can become a complete nightmare. That is why solutions like ours exist.
In ThirstyAffiliates you can organise your affiliate links into categories to keep them in logical groups. 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, it makes it much easier to insert affiliate links into blog posts like this one.
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.
If you know that your audience likes to click on links about fashion clothing items, but are not really clicking links to do with fashionable technology items, then you know to focus more on promoting the clothing instead and write more content surrounding those topics.
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 or goo.gl. However, this comes with some drawbacks.
- You can’t customise the cloaked URL itself so it’s often just a jumble of letters and numbers (this erodes trust as mentioned above)
- Destination cannot 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 into the fun part.
To add your first affiliate link:
- Goto ThirstyAffiliates->Add New in your Dashboard
- Set a name (for internal reference, eg. Bluehost)
- 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 inside of a post as you are writing, simply:
- Select the text that 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 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 have inserted it into several posts? That’s where the power of ThirstyAffiliates comes in.
To change a destination of a cloaked link, you only need to edit the link in ThirstyAffiliates, not all of the posts you have inserted it into.
To watch a demonstration of these instructions watch the video at the top of this post where 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 it this great affiliate marketing technique.