Affiliate marketing is a proven strategy for driving sales to increase online revenue significantly. It is a tactic that is highly beneficial to both brands and marketers.
The process works when an affiliate earns a commission for marketing another person’s or company’s products. The affiliate searches for a product they like and then promotes it, thus earning a piece of the profit from each sale of the product.
This strategy is becoming more and more common. According to bigcommerce.com:
- In the United States alone, 84% of publishers and 81% of brands leverage affiliate marketing.
- Affiliate marketing spending in the United States increases by 10.1 % each year. This year, the total spending will reach $6.8 billion if this trend is consistent.
- Of all online orders, 16% of them are affiliate sales.
Affiliate marketing has, unfortunately, attracted a lot of scammers. Some scammers have set-up malware in people’s web browsers to replace affiliate links with their own, thus giving these hackers your commission.
Luckily, that’s where cloaking your affiliate link comes in. Affiliate marketers turn to cloaking to protect their commissions. Cloaking affiliate links make the affiliate ID less visible and create an easier and more visually appealing link to visitors (more on this later).
How cloaking works is that when you click on a link, it (the cloaking affiliate link) redirects the visitor to a URL. A URL redirect is basically just a dummy URL pointing the visitor’s browser to a placeholder.
The actual page itself doesn’t exist on your site. Author Josh Kohlbach does a great job outlining the process your browser goes through on his ThirstyAffiliates site.
Historically, link cloaking was a tool to hide from search engines, but it’s become much more, with significant advantages to users. Here are some benefits to link cloaking:
Link cloaking redirects script and creates a clear and uniform link structure, so it’s easier for the user to understand where the link is taking them. It also creates shorter links, thus increasing the SEO.
Since different affiliate programs use different permalink structures, not all links are “clean,” which is not helpful if you’re trying to create an easy-to-use website.
Consumers are smart, and with so much cyber corruption, they are less likely to click on the links with a bunch of numbers and letters that point you away from the website. By keeping consumers on your website, they’re more likely to trust the link and increase their click-throughs.
Here’s a great example Kohlbach uses: a Star Wars sleeping bag. Pretend the original link is http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/bb2e/, which tells you nothing about the product, not even that it’s a sleeping bag.
If you cloaked the URL, it could look like, example.com/go/star-wars-sleeping-bag, which gets you a step closer to understanding what the product is and a higher chance of the consumer purchasing the item.
Ease of Management
Link cloaking makes changing your affiliate links easier. There are affiliate link plugins available to make it easier to manage your affiliate links. By centralizing the affiliate links, you can manage and change all the affiliate links in one easy location.
Let’s face it, you might have hundreds of affiliate links spread out on different pages on your site. If you need to change them, it would be a messy and challenging time-intensive task.
The affiliate link plugins available can help you organize your affiliate links into categories to keep them in logical groups. For example, you can put your WordPress Plugins into one category, etc.
You can also easily insert affiliate links into blog posts. You can select some text and search for the link you want to add, and it’s automatically linked up.
So how do you choose your affiliate link plugins? If you’re using WordPress, you’re in luck. Searching online quickly provided a list of the top affiliate link plugins to use on your site.
Another benefit of cloaking is the ability to track traffic on your affiliate links. Knowing which affiliate links your audience is interested in is critical data for improving the performance of your links.
If your audience likes to click on high-top sneakers but not hiking boots, you know which products to focus on in the future.
Increase Email Delivery Rates
As mentioned earlier, affiliate links often look like corrupted links, which can trigger spam filters and result in your email being blacklisted. By cloaking your affiliate links, it will guarantee an increase in email delivery rates.
Beat Ad Blockers
AdBlocker Plus is a browser extension that prevents internet users from seeing ads. You might even be using this extension right now on your browser.
AdBlocker Plus looks at affiliate links to find out if an image is an ad banner or not. Cloaking your link will usually make the ad appear (unless it is hot-linked from the merchant’s domain).
Prevents Leaking PageRank to Advertisers
Affiliate links are basically ads, so they should be “nofollowed” or altered. Nofollow links tell search engines to ignore that link. They don’t impact search engine rankings because they don’t pass PageRank.
You can tell which link is a nofollow link because they’re links with a rel “nofollow” HTML tag. A nofollow link is important because it prevents leaking PageRank to the advertiser.
Use an Affiliate Disclosure
Now that you’re on your way to building trust with your website, users add an affiliate disclosure. Tell your website audience that you’re using affiliate links to make money, so they don’t feel manipulated.
Manually Creating Cloaked Affiliate Links
We’ve made a case for plugins, but you don’t have to use them when creating cloaked affiliate links, especially if you’re not totally on board yet (although we’re not quite sure why not with all the data we’ve provided).
You can do it using this method shared by Yoast or by using your .htaccess file. However, we don’t recommend touching your .htaccess unless you know exactly what you are doing because it could take down your whole site if you make an error.
In Conclusion: to Cloak or Not to Cloak?
It’s hard to believe that there are any downsides to cloaking your affiliate links. Almost every affiliate marketer uses cloaked affiliate links to promote affiliate products.
Cloaking helps create clean, descriptive links that provide the best SEO benefits by using short links. If you use a plugin, you can manage them more easily (and can increase your use of them if they’re easy to manage).
It provides data on your affiliate products, prevents your overall website’s link juice to affiliate sites, and it builds a community of trust among your consumers while protecting your business. So give it a try!