What Is Link Cloacking?

By Daniel Scocco

questions and answersThis post is part of the Friday Q&A section. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.

Don asks:

Do you have a opinion on link cloaking for affiliate marketers? Do the pros use cloaking and should it be a standard practice as an affiliate?

What Is Link Cloaking

First things first, what is link cloaking? It is the practice of using redirects or Javascript to hide affiliate links, thus increasing the conversion rates.

Let’s explain this. Affiliate links are usually very easy to identify. They always contain some numbers and the referral id of the affiliate. One example could be:

http://www.godaddy.com/98493/ref=johndoe

If you use such a link, upon hovering the mouse over it the end user would be able to see it on the bottom of his browser (called “status bar”), and this could reduce the chances of him clicking on the link and making a purchase. Why? Because he might suspect that your recommendation/review was biased, and that you are just trying to earn an affiliate commission.

Link cloaking tries to solve this problem. You could use a Javascript link, for example, so that when users hover over your links the status bar would display nothing.

A better solution, however, is to use a redirect. That is, you would create another link that redirects to the affiliate one. The easiest way to do that with a URL shortening service like bit.ly. Alternatively you can also use some PHP or a WordPress plugin to create the redirects within your own domain. An example of a redirect could be:

http://www.dailyblogtips.com/go/godaddy

Apart from cloaking your affiliate link the internal redirect might also get a higher click-through rate because some user might believe that they will not leave your website by clicking on the link.

Do the Pros Use It?

Yes the professional affiliate marketers use link cloaking, and it is a very widespread tactic around the web.

Some users frown upon cloaked links, because they won’t know where the link is pointing. Pro affiliate marketers are only worried with the bottom line, however, so if the conversion rates increase they will certainly use cloaked links.

My Opinion and a New Trend

I have nothing against using cloaked links. In fact on some affiliate marketing campaigns I promote I do use redirects. My main motivation for that is to be able to track clicks, but it ends up working as a link cloak as well.

However, I believe that the use of link cloaking is becoming less important in certain contexts. For example, if you promote affiliate products with reviews on your blog you might not need to use link cloaking, and if you do cloak your links you might not see an improvement on your conversion rates.

Why? Because your readers will know that you are promoting an affiliate offer (at least they should), and they will expect an affiliate link there. If you are upfront and transparent, therefore, you won’t need to cloak your links at all.

On other contexts link cloaking will remain important, though. One example would be on landing pages where you drive PPC traffic. You have no relationship with the people that will visit your page, so cloaking the affiliate links will probably increase your conversion rates.

What about you, do you use link cloaking? Why? Why not?



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25 Responses to “What Is Link Cloacking?”

  • muhyar

    yes, I thing this is special attention for blogger, improvement on your conversion rates will decrease. agree!

  • Niche Profits

    Someone has told me that Google won’t rank your site as highly if they can see your site is an affiliate site – lets not forget they are also now selling products too – it makes sense.

    Is this true? I currently don’t cloak my links.

  • Dave Higgs

    Thanks for the post – I just learned something 🙂

    I understand the concept of clocking the link, but is there not an ethical issue with this? Is our job (as publishers) not to get target traffic to the advertisers – not just any traffic? Am I being naive here?

    I think users that want to click the link (if your article has inspired them or not) they will, unless it is something dodgy-looking…

    Benefits I see:
    1. Makes URL look neater,
    2. Redirects can make admin a lot easier.
    3. It should (in most cases) increase click throughs – but is this right?

  • ImagingDesk

    I use link cloaking for hiding some secured IDs. I use php redirection for Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, etc.

  • Cebu Tech Blogger

    Some internet savvy users can still check where the cloaked links redirect. Anyway, it still a good practice both cloacking or not cloacking links.

  • Dana @ Blogging Update

    I use link cloaking for managing purpose — it seems that i handle it better by cloaking them.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Why not use the canonical tag, that should help for Google.

  • Aglolink

    That’s a good trick for affiliate links, by use cloaking to godady and I think it will work for us.

  • Jens P. Berget

    I’d really like to know what types of software you guys are using to cloak your links.

  • Eddie

    I cloak all my Aff.-links because the math is easy:

    aff.link = less clicks
    cloaked aff.link = more clicks

    I did the testing.

    This is for niches other than Internet Marketing.

  • R Kumar

    I never used link cloaking until one day I realized that there was huge traffic coming to my affiliate pages but it was not converting. It is then that I read somewhere that not cloaking your affiliate link can lead to commission losses. Since then I have ensured that I cloak my affiliate links.
    In wordpress I use gocodes to cloak my affiliate links and in the rest of my webpages, I use renegade affiliate cloaker which is a good affiliate cloaker.

  • Harrison

    The title of this article is spelled incorrectly.

  • jennine

    There is something shady about cloaking a link so readers don’t realize it’s an affiliate link. My gut says that’s unethical, FTC or not. Then again, I think it’s very important to disclose all affiliates either on the side bar or in the body of the post, it just lets your readers know where you stand, if they’re talking to a friend or a sales person.

    I blog about fashion, and it’s a big sticking point where bloggers who don’t disclose in every possible way face backlashes from their community, I’m not sure about other blog sectors, but you really run the risk of losing all your credibility if your readers find out you’ve been making money off posts that aren’t disclosed.

    No blogger wants to be that particular cautionary tale.

  • Blake @ Props Blog Reviews

    I’ve been using PHP redirects for my link cloaking for a little bit. One benefit you didn’t mention was preventing people from easily skipping your affiliate link. Some people would rather you not get paid out (which is lame, but true), so they skip your affiliate link and just go directly to the target site. With Cloaked links people can still skip your link, but they’ll have to follow a few more steps to find where they are going.

    Someone else already mentioned the FTC disclosure. For the purpose of hiding affiliate association, cloaking is technically illegal. To me that’s not as much of a reason to cloak anymore.

    Also, some loyal readers would sometimes rather buy through your affiliate link because they support the work you do. I hope I provide enough value to my readers that they would support me that way 🙂

  • Beth Terry

    I’m also concerned about using link cloaking to hide from readers the fact that it is an affiliate link. FTC regulations do state that any material relationships must be disclosed. So cloaking the links purely to get more click-throughs would not be a useful practice and, in my mind, is unethical.

  • MacGuy

    I heard that link cloaking is also useful for getting ranked low by Google. Not sure how accurate that is but thanks for the information!

  • Keith

    I really don’t think the average user would even notice the link being cloaked. I do like the fact that they are trackable, mainly because I am a stats addict!

  • Julius

    Thanks for elaborating what link cloaking is. I think it all depends on the specific site you are working on. Glad to read about the situations wherein this practice may be applied.

  • Suhasini

    This article was really helpful for me as I had no idea about cloaking before, thanks for sharing.

  • Faizan

    I think many people would not realise affiliate links if they are cloaked. So yes, they can increase conversion rate in my opinion.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Colby, good point.

    My guess is that the average Internet user would not be able to identify the affiliate link if you cloak it, and would have a slightly higher chance of identifying the uncloaked link.

    But yeah for some demographics it will make no difference.

  • Colby

    I recently started using link cloaking, but it was for tracking clicks. I also like the way the URL looks much cleaner.

    I think most people who can identify an affiliate link by seeing the URL in the status bar can probably also figure out a cloaked affiliate link.

    For instance the example in the post “http://www.dailyblogtips.com/go/godaddy” I’m guessing would be a cloaked affiliate link to godaddy.com.

  • Mike Piper

    Potential conversion benefits aside, using redirects is helpful just from an administrative point of view.

    If, throughout my site, I have several links pointing to a given affiliate offer, then that company offers some sort of promotion, I can just switch the url in my redirect file rather than having to change every link to point to the promotion’s landing page.

  • Antone Roundy

    It’s worth pointing out that recent changes to FTC rules require affiliate links to be disclosed. (I’m not a lawyer, but I’d imagine that…) that doesn’t mean link cloaking is illegal, nor that the disclosure has to be right next to the link. But you can’t completely hide the fact that you’re using affiliate links without risking legal trouble.

    Like Daniel, I use redirected links largely for tracking, but the fact that it makes them look less motivated by greed doesn’t hurt.

  • A Definite Guide To Link Cloaking

    I don’t like link cloaking when it’s solely done to hide the fact that you’re promoting an affiliate products. If there are other reasons, like tracking as you mentioned, I don’t have any problem.

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