If you take much interest in what site you’ll be delivered to when you impart a click (as most of us internet marketers do), you may have noticed the increasing prevalence of ‘cloaking links’ over the recent, and not so recent years.
By cloaking – in this particular context – what I mean is that when you hover over a link instead of being advised in the status bar that you’ll be visiting jeffsaffiliateshop.com, you’ll see thissite.com/go/jeffs if you’re in any part curious as to why this is, allow me to explain. It may come as news to some, but perhaps not all.
The reasons that webmasters will cloak their links are, in my opinion, and certainly my experience 3-fold. As always, I more than welcome any comments – either in agreement and support, or abject dispute.
Hiding from Google
I don’t believe it’s any particular secret that Google is not the greatest fan of affiliate links, they may not go around de-listing sites for a few affiliate links here and there, but on the whole they don’t revere and promote them.
Therefore changing how Google crawls and sees a link on your site from something like affiliatelink.com/affil-123-iate to thissite.com/go/123, is a positive step in changing Google’s perception of your site and your intentions. I previously worked on a high traffic (1.2million uniques a month) affiliate site and to protect the site reputation, every affiliate link was passed through an internal handler and applied with the nofollow attribute. I can’t be certain that the Page Rank of 6, or strong SERPs positioning would be retained without doing this, but it seemed wise to not risk it.
Hiding from your users
This is a somewhat contentious point, but: users will be more likely to click on a link that they don’t feel will take them elsewhere. Some will say that this is likely to increase conversion as it will put more users in front of an affiliate product they are (potentially) interested in, having read copy on it.
I’m kindof split on this, I believe that if you wish to retain users (retention is always easier, cheaper and better than acquisition) absolute clarity is key. To start sending users off-site in a misleading fashion is never going to give a positive user experience, and will not encourage repeat visit.
Easier link management
If you have one document, function, database or plugin where all of your affiliate links are held and redirected, then it’s considered an easier way to make amends should one of your merchants change their site structure and leave you with a dead link.
Although having said that, on re-skinning this site recently it seems to have removed all my tracking links. The irony, it hurts.
So how do you cloak them?
There are many ways to to deploy an internal redirect mechanism, although the scale and language the site is built in will likely determine this. If your site is built in ColdFusion or PHP, and you’re looking for a custom solution, then please do get in contact and perhaps I can be of assistance.
Although for now I will focus solely on using with WordPress Plugins seeing as that is the platform I’m currently writing on.
Using a WordPress Plugin
Any queries at all, please either drop a comment below or do get in contact with me. Would love to hear any thoughts at all.