Affiliate Links - to Cloak or Not to Cloak

Last Update: November 29, 2015

Let's first get the question of what is link cloaking out of the way.

Normally, an affiliate link is a cumbersome thing, and doesn't entice clicks. An Amazon affiliate link might look like the following little gem when a visitor hovers over the link's anchor text:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NIYJF6U/ref</a>=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00NIYJF6U&linkCode=as2&tag=lifeslargech-19&linkId=3ZZ7XLL7RCJS5FHH 

Rather than showing your site visitor such cumbersome link, you can elect to add a redirect to clean up the appearance of the link. When you do so, you are cloaking the original link. It's a simple procedure, and can be handled by a free WordPress plugin such as Pretty Link. When it's cloaked, your affiliate link would look like this instead:

http://mysite.com/GoProHero4

Why would you want to go through the hassle though? Here are a few reasons.

Increase clickthroughs, conversions, and earnings


If your site gets 1,000 visitors a month, and only about 10 of those visitors click through on your affiliate link, your earnings are limited. If you could convince an extra 10 visitors to click through, your earnings would be doubled - with little or no additional work on your part. One way you can encourage more clicks from the same number of visitors is to make the link more informative. By confirming the link's target (a GoProHero4 camera in the example above), and by eliminating the gibberish shown in the Amazon link, you make the link far more attractive to your visitors.

In addition, some of your site visitors are put off simply knowing that the link is an affiliate link. Your cloaked link can help ease that concern.

Changing sellers


Another advantage to cloaking your links is that you can easily change the vendor or seller that you are using. For example, suppose Amazon decided to cut their commission rate for the GoProHero4 from 4% to 2.5%. You may be inclined to find another supplier who offers a higher commission. It's a simple matter to change the cloaked link in one place, rather than having to change affiliate links everywhere you linked to Amazon's GoProHero4.

At some further point you may discover that your earnings have dropped because your new supplier doesn't convert as well as Amazon did. Once again, it's a simple matter to change all the links back to Amazon.

Spare your site's reputation & rank


Google doesn't particularly like seeing paid links on your site - whether an advertiser paid you to put them there or if a vendor will pay you if someone clicks on their link. Yes, there's a double standard here, given Google's principle source of revenue (AdSense), but let's ignore that conflict for the moment...

Google's dislike for paid links includes affiliate links. You can minimize the damage caused by those links by adding rel="nofollow" to each of your affiliate links - but that's a pain in the petute. Alternately, you can centralize inclusion of the nofollow attribute, making link administration simpler. For the ultimate simplification, you can have your cloaking plugin add rel="nofollow" to all cloaked links - automatically!

Use landing pages


To be perfectly clear, the search engines will recognize your cloaked affiliate links.It's best to funnel traffic to landing pages, and limit your affiliate links to those pages. Send your site visitors on to your vendor from those landing pages. That way, your other internal pages won't be penalized for having affiliate links on them, and you'll have an opportunity to build trust and "pre-sell" your visitors before sending them off the the vendor's site. If your monetization method includes building an email list, using intermediate pages also gives you the opportunity to collect email addresses for future marketing efforts before sending them on their way.

There are a few other advantages associated with the use of cloaked links. Do a bit of research to determine if they're worth your while!

Dennis

...

The image at the top of the blog is licensed under Creative Commons by Drodeian

Join the Discussion
Write something…
Recent messages
Emmaus Premium
Is cloaking affiliate links against Amazon Associates TOS?
Reply
Prestones Premium
Hi Bryan!

I went 'round and 'round with Amazon trying to get a straight answer - see http://wealthyaffiliatecoach.org/amazon-link-shortener-without-being-banned for the outcome.

In the course of those conversations, another Amazon tech told me that the only link shortener that Amazon truly approved was Amzn.to You can access their shortener through your Amazon Seller's account, or as described at http://www.appstorechronicle.com/use-amzn-amazon-link-shortener

Your call ;)

Dennis
Reply
Emmaus Premium
Thank you Dennis!
Reply
matteone Premium
Hi Dennis,
so to be sure not to being banned from Amazon, should we all use only amzn.to link instead of using some plugins able to cloak the amazon link as you shown at first in the article?

Thank you
Matteo
Reply
Prestones Premium
Greetings Matteo -

In the end, that's the impression I got after my conversations with Amazon Customer Service and after reading posts on the Amazin Associates' forum such as http://goo.gl/8lXE8b

I've decided to use amzn.to for shortened Amazon affiliate links. I'd have preferred using Pretty Links, but I don't want to risk a ban :\

Thanks for stopping by!

Dennis
Reply
matteone Premium
That's exactly what I'm worried about too...
Thank you for your article!
Cheers
Reply
Jozeph Premium
Well Dennis, this is a really amazing post. During the time I've been here at WA, I've come to hold certain people in high regard, why?

Because they are not only here to take, they also find satsfaction in helping others succeed, and this is an awesome quality to have as a human being. I consider you to be among that elite group of individuals here at WA Dennis, and I think it's important to let each other know how valued we are from time to time.

Thanks Friend, for always finding time to help others along the path leading to Happiness and Success

You Rock big guy :)
Reply
Prestones Premium
Welcome back Joseph! It's good to hear you found some value in the blog :)

Wishing you all the best in meeting your professional and personal goals ~ Dennis
Reply
2Al Premium
I appreciate the timely info. I didn't cloak my Amazon Link.
Reply
Prestones Premium
You have to be a bit careful with your Amazon cloaking Alma - see http://wealthyaffiliatecoach.org/amazon-link-shortener-without-being-banned for more

Best of luck with your efforts!

Dennis
Reply
2Al Premium
Thank you. I appreciate the info.
Reply
SupportWorx Premium
Well... My brain is awake this morning! Oh boy. Yes I really dislike affiliate links. If we insert "no follow" do we still turn google off? Also, do we want to keep plug ins to a minimum so we don't have to worry about WP updates and glithches as much? Thanks for this Big D! -Alexx
Reply
Prestones Premium
Good morning to Alexx's brain then!

Affiliate links are a necessary evil for many, given their role as a monetization tool. No follow is the next on my hit list for blogging - but things may get a bit irregular as we're going to be on the road for the next two months - beginning tomorrow morning.

Regarding plugins, I've used as many as 40 simultaneous plugins without a problem and without slowing the site. The biggest challenge is if you do have site problems and you're hunting for a miscreant plugin. I just do a mass plugin deactivation, then turn them back on in groups of 5 or 6, looking for the problem to reappear. When (or if) it does, I isolate the plugin within the group I just activated. Not a biggie...

Dennis
Reply
SupportWorx Premium
Good to know. I've been shying away from plugins needlessly then! -Alexx
Reply
AlexEvans Premium
Hi Dennis
Sort of clears things up , have booked marked it , think it mite be a case of monkey see monkey do , i will get my head around it . Thanks for sharing your knowledge
.Alexander
Reply
Prestones Premium
Hi Alexander!

Glad to hear the edges are coming into focus - the rest will follow in time. I know this because I have a number of fuzzy areas I'm working on as well!

Dennis
Reply
bill808 Premium
Excellent. Cleared up my confusion. Use Landing pages is a great paragraph and tells us exactly why we must centralize affiliate links on one page.
Reply
Prestones Premium
Greetings Bill!

You can't always centralize affiliate links. Occasionally the way you've chosen to monetize your site makes it difficult to do so. For example, if you have a page with a number of different affiliate products you're selling, it may be difficult to have a landing page for each.

In most cases you can significantly cut down the number of affiliate links on many of your pages, and concentrate them instead on your landing pages.

The power is in your hands!

Dennis
Reply
jvranjes Premium
Dennis, this is a brilliant text, very much needed at my side. It explains quite a number of things. This about click-through is something new for me, and about changing sellers is just wonderful

You lost me with no-follow stuff.

About landing page; I do not have it but the pillar article serves the same purpose. So do I understand correctly: if I have such a pillar article with affiliate links, it is then sacrificed in a sense because it will be badly ranked, but in the same time I have many other pages which lead to it and they generate traffic (in theory-my strong side; I am bad in practice)? This is related to what you noticed about my WA page with many links (in fact only 2 but repeated several times).

Again thanks a lot.
Reply
Prestones Premium
Hi Jovo!

I'm glad to hear the blog hit home :)

Regarding nofollow links... when an author inserts a link in a page, it is a dofollow link by default. You can tell the search engines that you're not endorsing the site at the other end of the link by adding a "nofollow" attribute. Many WordPress themes allow comments to contain URLs to the commenter's site, but will automatically add a nofollow attribute - since you (as the webmaster) can't control the nature of the site the comment links to. Your site ranking can be hurt if the links in those comments go to too many spammy sites, to sites spreading viruses, etc.

You can read a bit more about Google's take on the matter at https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569 and
http://www.shoutmeloud.com/google-affiliate-links-seo.html

Regarding landing pages... you are correct. You would ideally like to have your pillar articles rank highly to pull traffic to your site, then funnel that traffic to the landing page. Since the high ranking pillar article pulls traffic to your site and sends it on to the landing page, the landing page doesn't need to rank highly. Both pages are better able to serve their intended purpose.

One other thought regarding affiliate links. I believe that Google will ding a page's rank according to how many affiliate links it finds on the page - not how many *unique* affiliate links it finds. I will try to research this further, however.

Hopefully that's a bit clearer - apologies for creating any confusion!

Dennis
Reply
jvranjes Premium
Dennis, you are making things clear, no need for apologies. I have learned a lot through this. Thank you.
Reply
Top