Link Cloaking: What It is and How to Master It

Link Cloaking

The affiliate marketing world is a very competitive place to set up a 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. Unfortunately, sometimes that can lead to unsavory tacticsused to steal other’s affiliate commissions.

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, the industry has an accepted and proven defense: Link Cloaking.

In this article, we’ll talk about actual use-case scenarios for cloaking your affiliate links and show you how ThirstyAffiliates can help you master it.

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? For this example, we’ve used our 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 you to protect your commissions from theft and ensure that you get 100% of the reward for your efforts 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. Let’s begin by explaining 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:

  1. When you click on my cloaked link above, your browser asks our site for the content of the page /recommends/bluehostwordpress.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 should you use link cloaking?

Link Trust

People are smart. A visitor is much more likely to click a link pointing to the same website they’re on rather than to click on an affiliate link directly. It’s been seen 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 an affiliate link, you 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, you can change the slug of the URL to whatever you’d like.

For example:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/bb2e/ links to a cool Tuan Tuan sleeping bag. 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.

Management

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 of your hosting links can belong to a “Hosting” link category. As for your WordPress plugin affiliate links, they can belong to a “WordPress Plugins” link category. And so on.

Additionally, ThirstyAffiliates makes it much easier to insert affiliate links into blog posts.

Simply select some text, search for the link you want to insert, and it’s linked up straight away.

Inserting Cloaked Affiliate Link With ThirstyAffiliates

Tracking

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 drawbacks to this.

  1. 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)
  2. Destination can’t be changed
  3. You can’t manage your links easily
  4. 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
  5. 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:

  1. Go to ThirstyAffiliates > Add New in your Dashboard
  2. Set a name
  3. Set the destination URL (your affiliate link as provided by the affiliate program)
  4. (Optional) Select a category or add a new category
  5. 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:

  1. Select the text you want to link
  2. Click the TA button in your visual editor (or the Affiliate Link button in the text editor)
  3. Search for the link by the name that you just inserted
  4. (Optional) click the Cog icon for a more advanced link picker if you want to browse your links or insert via shortcode/image
ThirstyAffiliates Editor Button

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.

Conclusion

For a demonstration of these instructions, be sure to go back and watch the “Introduction to ThirstyAffilaites” video at the top of this post.

You should now have a thorough understanding of what link cloaking is and how to go about using this great affiliate marketing technique. We’ve also covered the benefits of using our ThirstyAffilaites link cloaking feature.

Still have questions on how to cloak the affiliate links on your website? Ask away in the comments section!

If you liked this article, be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn! And don’t forget to subscribe in the box below.

Affiliate Link Disclosure

55 thoughts on “Link Cloaking: What It is and How to Master It

  1. Thank you for this awesome guidance. Affiliate marketing is one of the main sources of income for bloggers like us. This is really a great tool to gain more from affiliate URLs.

  2. I’m Amazon associated user and i’m running a website for an affiliate, this guide is really helpful for me … now i’m going to install the plugin and also gonna change the Urls which i have placed directly.

    Thanks for sharing ..

    1. Hi Francis,

      CPA offers work best when you direct people to a landing page – yes.

      If you’re just testing the conversion on the offer though you could send them directly to your cloaked link and get a count of the visits that way.

      Hope this helps.

      1. Do we have any risk from Google Analytics, Google considering cloaking as black hat pratice?
        I used it on my blog (https://stylistme.com/amp) since a couple of weeks and updates lot of links with your nice plugin (to track best source pages)

  3. Hi,

    I want to promote cpa offers using link cloaking and bring paid traffic instead of taking the traffic to landing pages.

    Ofcourse there is no guarantee that ppc channels allow this but want to try this.

    Does cpa network allow this? and will traffic that we bring to this link cloaking be counted like regular traffic?

    Please ping your skypeid if i can reach you there?

    Please let me know.

    Thank You

    1. Hi Nagesh,

      Thats a question for the affiliate network you are working with. From my knowledge they probably won’t say no unless there’s a special non-compete condition on the PPC. This is usually in place when the company themselves are heavy on PPC ads. Give it a go and just talk to your affiliate manager about it, you won’t know the answer unless you ask πŸ™‚

  4. I’m Amazon affiliates user and i’m running a website for an affiliate, this is an awesome guide for me … now i’m going to install this pluginfor sure and also gonna change the Urls which i have placed directly.

    Awesome share

  5. Thank for sharing this informative blog post about the affiliate marketing and link cloaking 101 with thirsty affiliate link management plugin for WordPress. The plugin is useful for affiliate marketers indeed.

  6. Hi and thanks for that video. Can your tool solve the Safari issue (blocking 3rd party cookies)? Is Link Cloaking still possible for Mac users? Thanks.

    1. Hi Erik,

      Yes, when you cloak a link what you are doing is basically creating a redirect. The visitor visits your cloaked URL, then they are immediately redirected to the destination URL which includes your tracking information. The destination URL is the URL that the affiliate program you’re working with provides you.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Thanks a lot for the information!

    So far I’ve been using Scarlett cloaker to cloak my links and has been working great for me but I will try the ThirstyAffiliates plugin to see if its better πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks for the useful info, Josh.

    Are there any concerns with cloaking an affiliate link that will redirect again? For example, would any issues arise if your cloaking link were to redirect to a Google click tracker that then redirects again to the final landing page?

    Also in this scenario, if we were to use the uncloaking feature on a link like this, would the user still pass through the google click tracker in order to get all of the click tracking in that tracking system as well?

  9. Side effect, your plugin shutdown my bounce race πŸ˜‰ I hope google doesn’t see a black hat pratice!

  10. I have installed the plugin and activated it. I have included my affiliate links, but when I click on them, they still show the ugly affiliate link. What could be the problem?

    1. Post-redirect it’s up to the affiliate program to handle any further redirections. If they don’t do this, then there’s not much you can do. ThirstyAffiliates will put the link behind a redirect to give a friendly looking URL, but that is as far as you can go. Any “cloaking” beyond that is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

  11. Hi,
    Is there any way to mask the url appeared in the url address bar at the top of the directed site?
    I mean, for example, your https://thirstyaffiliates.com/recommends/bluehost-wordpress link will be appeared as https://www.bluehost.com/wordpress?utm_source=%28direct%29&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=affiliate-link_codemyow_notype
    at the top of the bluehost page, which let the users realize that the link they clicked was actually an affiliate link. So, what I’m looking for is some method to show https://www.bluehost.com/ as Bluehost original home page url rather than https://www.bluehost.com/wordpress?utm_source=%28direct%29&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=affiliate-link_codemyow_notype . Am I searching an impossible technique?
    Jack

    1. By the time they’ve clicked it, it’s already marked you as the affiliate for their sale. Going this one step further is possible with some javascript or by iframing the page but its not recommended as this level of cloaking is against Google’s webmaster guidelines. You’ll be deindexed pretty quickly if you pursue it.

    1. Hey Greg, as you’re wanting to link up a word in your site. You would instead create a new link in ThirstyAffiliates, it gives you a cloaked url and then you use that instead.

  12. Hi Josh,
    I have a little bit of confusion about the “noindex” tag.
    Should I use “noindex” tag in my cloaked url?
    or is it perfect with only “nofollow” and without “noindex” tag?
    Please help me for the same. I waiting for your response.
    Thanks!

  13. Hi Josh,

    Thanks for explaining what link cloaking is.
    Maybe i gonna start with a single site license within a few days.

    Cheers and stay safe!

    Michel

  14. Hello, I’ve got a website on HTTPS, but an affiliate network I’d like to use, has all affiliate codes on HTTP. So when I put those links on my site, the “Not Secure” warning displays on the browsers.

    Will cloaking these HTTP affiliate links, eliminate that from happening? (The not secure warnings).
    Thanks!

  15. Hello,
    Can i use Thirsty Affiliate Plugin for Amazon Associates for free?

    Please let me know, as i am new in affiliate marketing industry.

    Thanks

  16. Josh, thanks for this awesome tool. The affiliate links really look elegant now. It is easy to use too. I am pretty excited to use. Can I share these links on other platforms like twitter and Facebook. Sorry if I sound foolish. I am pretty new to affiliate marketing. Am learning all the time.

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