Did you know that if you are not using affiliate link cloaking, you might be losing your commissions to a fraud hacker on the internet?
If you are new to link cloaking, then this article is for you. Read on to know the importance of cloaking your affiliate links and how it can save your hard-earned affiliate commissions in your business.
Typically we affiliate marketers are so engrossed in promoting our affiliate links, that we wouldn’t bother to take the time out to go and evaluate the reports and the commissions generated.
I was no different.
It was by chance that I happened to go through the traffic generated vs commissions earned report for a specific program that I was an affiliate for.
The program was high converting and in demand. So I knew that if I send visitors to their sales page after a soft-sell, it would typically result in good conversions.
I put together a good blog post and A/B tested it to find the best converting one.
The final copy was not salesy but ensured that the reader takes action.
Everything was set!
The page had started converting and I had started earning decent commissions.
But then suddenly, it stopped.
The traffic was the same or, better at times. Yet sales weren’t happening.
I was surprised.
The program owner couldn’t help much because I was talking vague, without any real data.
After brainstorming, I came up with a hack.
I added a simple offer on my page. Anybody buying using my link had to send me an email with the purchase receipt to get access to a limited period resource I had put together.
The next day itself saw about 3 people writing to me with their purchase receipt.
I took this information and went to the program owner, who at first wasn’t ready to reveal any information. But after much pleading, he agreed.
When he sent me the details of the sales, I was shocked.
All the 3 sales were credited to a different affiliate, who had nothing but a crappy website to show for his efforts.
That’s when I realized that even affiliate commissions can be stolen.
How this happens is a lot of technical stuff and isn’t relevant for our discussion.
But how we can stop this is relevant to us. It is by using affiliate link cloaking.
In this post, we will learn more about it and how to use it the right way!
What is Affiliate Link Cloaking?
Before we dive deep into understanding everything about link cloaking, let me define affiliate link cloaking for you –
Affiliate link cloaking is the creation of a shortened, branded, clean-looking affiliate link that is trackable and easily manageable, from an otherwise ugly-looking affiliate link.
So what exactly is cloaking?
To understand this we need to understand how affiliate links work.
What I am going to show you here is how all affiliate links work, irrespective of which network or, the program they are associated with.
So, every affiliate link has 2 primary objectives – The first one is to track where that sale is coming from, which means “YOU” in this case. The second one is to track the sales page or, the funnel page that the sale is being generated from.
There could be other secondary objectives like the source of traffic etc.
But that is not relevant for our discussion because none of that really matters to us.
So, back to the primary objectives.
Affiliate networks and merchants use unique IDs to track these 2 metrics. They would use an affiliate ID that is unique to you to track all of the sales you are generating and another unique ID to track the pages that are generating the sale.
These IDs are tracked using parameters.
Not sure what parameters are?
Let me show you one with an example. The below is an affiliate link from ShareASale.
If you look closely, there are 3 different numbers there.
The first number is the ID for the page or, offer that is generating the sale. The second number is my affiliate ID which will track the affiliate who is generating the sale. And the 3rd number is the merchant ID which is used by Shareasale to track the sales being generated by the merchant.
Since these affiliate links have to accommodate all of these variables, it is common for them to look ugly.
In fact, ugly will be an understatement. It is horrifying.
And asking anybody sane to click on a link like that, especially if they aren’t as informed as me and you about how variables work will be evil.
Now let us look at how a cloaked link will look.
Compare that with the earlier link.
Which one would you be comfortable clicking on?
So that’s what cloaking is all about.
You have transformed an ugly-looking link into a professional-looking, clean link that is even easy to remember.
Wouldn’t it be easier for your reader to click on something that is linked to that kind of a URL instead of the horrifying URL that you saw earlier?
How does Cloaking Work?
Now that we have seen what the entire cloaking thing is, and how such a link looks, let us look at how this works.
“Oh! com’on buddy.
Let’s cut the crap and move to the meatier part of the post or, else I am clicking over to that next page in the Google search results”, you are thinking.
..and I promise. Holy Promise!
Just another couple of seconds.
Because this is important for you. Understanding this will help you decide on how you would like your links to appear.
So let’s continue.
In essence, cloaking is nothing but redirecting.
Yeah! that’s right.
It is redirecting. You are setting up a URL (the custom link you created) to redirect to another URL (the affiliate link).
When you create one of those cleaner URLs on your website (remember that the cloaked link is a branded link which looks like it is a link on your website, because of the domain name in the link. Check it out below once again), you are creating a link to a page that doesn’t really exist on your domain.
So what happens when somebody clicks on that link?
The server looks for that page and in a normal scenario would return a “404 – page not found” error.
But instead, in our case here – the server searches, and when it doesn’t find that page on your website, it will fall back onto an alternative URL, which in our case is the affiliate link.
Now, how does the server know that the fallback URL is the affiliate link?
It is coded into a script that takes care of it when you cloak the link.
If that had your head spinning, then I am sorry.
But that was essential so that you understand (fairly understand, I mean) how all of this thing works.
Now that we are done with it, let us look at the benefits of link cloaking and how to do it.
Benefits of Cloaking an Affiliate Link
Why should affiliates cloak their links?
Why can’t the affiliate network or, the merchant provide a cleaner link?
Some networks do provide links that are cloaked, but that still has a couple of issues –
- These links won’t be branded with your domain name
- It still looks ugly and difficult to remember because of the way it is created.
Check out one such example below. This is a link that was generated at CJ.com.
Now that looks even more horrifying. Isn’t it?
It is still a cloaked link. But the single benefit that this link gives is that it encrypts all the tracking information like your affiliate ID, the merchant ID etc.
What could be the use of such a link?
It is to help prevent scammers steal your commissions.
Yes. You heard that right.
We will discuss that in detail in a little while from now.
But, for now.. does that kind of link cloaking work?
If you linked to something like that, will people click on it?
This is why we need a good link cloaker tool (my recommendation comes a little below if you are curious to know about that)
Benefits of Link Cloaking
It is a good practice to cloak your affiliate links and you would find every affiliate marketer recommending this.
One of the reasons for it is to prevent affiliate commissions from being stolen. But there are other benefits as well. Let us look at some of them.
Easy to remember
When you mention a link somewhere like in your podcast or, in a social media post, the objective is to ensure that your audience or, readers visit that link. Even if they don’t do it immediately, you would love for them to remember the link.
A normal affiliate link isn’t something that can be remembered unless you are a super computer based on IBM’s Watson.
But a cloaked affiliate link is indeed easy to remember.
Prevents Affiliate Commission Theft
This is something we discussed earlier. Cloaking prevents affiliate commission thefts.
Wondering how can somebody steal affiliate commissions?
In this age of smart scammers, is it that difficult?
Scammers install codes on computers and browsers. These codes have the capability to change affiliate links by substituting the affiliate IDs.
In addition to this, there are also instances where a uses decides to buy a product after visiting your blog post or, reading your recommendation but, then deliberately strips off your affiliate ID and purchases directly from the website.
In a way, this is also a commission loss for you.
Cloaking affiliate links helps prevent all these types of affiliate commission losses. It blocks all of these activities and ensures that you get rewarded for your efforts.
There are 3 ways in which cloaking helps in link management.
Firstly, it helps you ensure that your affiliate links are no-follow.
You don’t want to waste your link juice by linking out to affiliate URLs and thereby hurt your search engine rankings. Right?
Link cloaking helps prevent this by adding a no-follow tag to your affiliate links. That way it is helpful to improve SEO rankings as well.
Secondly, cloaking helps you keep all of your affiliate links organized. You can create categories for your links and add specific affiliate links to them.
For eg: Organize all of your hosting-related links in one category, page builders under that category, and so on.
Thirdly, it is easy to manage your links using a cloaking plugin.
In an event that the URL to the destination needs to be changed, you wouldn’t have to spend hours searching for every URL on every post to change it.
Just change it on the redirect page and it changes automatically on every page you have added this link. Isn’t that quick?
And finally, cloaking also helps you to track your affiliate links. You can see how many clicks are being generated by each link and accordingly track your conversions. Cloaking affiliate links are extremely helpful with link tracking.
Helps build trust
Marketing is all about trust.
And that is exactly what you are trying to do with your content. isn’t it?
Now imagine that you build all of that trust with your audience and when it is time for them to take action, you present them with a link that looks dubious and doesn’t even look like something related to your website or, domain.
Do you even think that people will click on those links?
This is where cloaking comes in.
Since cloaking uses your domain to create the redirect, the linked URL looks very much like one that is a part of your website. This increases the trust factor in your audience which then increases the probability of somebody clicking on it.
Those were some of the benefits of cloaking.
Now that we have seen the benefits of cloaking, the question boils down to how do we cloak affiliate links. Right?
WordPress Plugins to Cloak affiliate links
There are numerous plugins out there that can help you cloak your affiliate links. But that can be a topic for another post.
For the purpose of this post, I will keep it simple.
There are 2 simple WordPress plugins that I would recommend.
Thirsty affiliate is my go-to wordpress plugin and my favorite one. It is in fact, the top most affiliate link cloaker out there.
It is simple, easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of link management and staying organized.
The best part is that you get most of these features even in the FREE version. But if you go for the PRO version, you get a ton of other features as well.
This is my second favorite plugin. I was a user of this plugin before moving over to Thirsty Affiliate.
In fact, if I have to create a redirect for a URL other than an affiliate link, I still use Pretty link.
Pretty link is again very easy to use and has a simple interface.
The FREE option comes with almost all important features. But if you are looking for some advanced features you can go for the PRO version as well.
Over to YOU
So, what do you think about cloaking your affiliate links?
Do comment below and tell me about your favorite WordPress plugins for cloaking.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, then do share it with your social media circles by hitting one of those social media buttons below.
See you in another post.