Link Cloaking is the practice of replacing an affiliate link with a link that looks more normal.

This has benefit in a couple of ways. First, the link looks like a typical web link, so people think nothing about clicking on it. Second, since the affiliate link isn’t exposed, people can’t avoid paying you a commission without a lot more work. With affiliate links exposed, they could replace your affiliate id with someone else’s, or their own, to redirect the commission. Yes, some people do this, especially with products sold on ClickBank, since once you have a ClickBank ID you are automatically eligible to receive commissions on every product in the marketplace, and you can receive commissions on sales to yourself. Since ClickBank products often have high commissions, this results in a significant savings, and loses you a nice commission.

Another technique with link cloaking is to take advantage of the URL of the cloaked link to reinforce the value of the product. A very common URL combination to use is to put all redirected affiliate links in the “recommends” directory. So rather than linking directly to a product, you’d use something like www.OnlineOpportunity.org/recommends/SomeProduct. You get the benefits of link cloaking, and additionally reinforce the fact that you think the product is worth having. Instead of “recommends” you could use any text that creates the image of benefit in the mind of the reader. “Recommends” is nice because it reads like a sentence, and is easily parsed subconsciously.

There are different techniques for link cloaking, anywhere from simple JavaScript cloaks that leave the real URL in the web page but display a different URL in the status bar, to .htaccess redirects, to using iframes, to encoding the affiliate link. The JavaScript technique is the least secure, since a person need only view the source of the web page to discover the affiliate link. The other techniques basically vary in how much work is needed for a person to uncover the affiliate link (the thinking being that if it isn’t easy, most people won’t bother).

One advantage of the iframe technique is that the merchant’s web page is shown inside your web page, so if the user bookmarks the page they’re essentially bookmarking your affiliate link and will come back to it later. Or if they email the URL to their friends after seeing the merchant website, it’s your link they’re emailing.

You’ll note that I don’t use link cloaking myself here. I played around with the Javascript method for a few links, but didn’t really like it (it didn’t work well with Firefox for some reason). I’ve used the iframe method on other websites, and it works well. I really should use some form of link cloaking here, but it’s a low priority since it does take a bit of extra time.

The product I’ve used on other sites is Instant Affiliate Link Master. You could also write your own tool pretty easily, if you have the programming knowledge. The affiliate link in this scheme is not secure, it simply takes more work to extract.

You can find Instant Affiliate Link Master around the Internet. I didn’t pay for it, I received it as a bonus for joining a site. It would be one of the items available in the Network library if I set that up as a membership site.

That’s Wise also has a free link cloaker. Just type in your values and click Generate, and you’re done. The tool, unfortunately, uses frames rather than iframes, and so is not quite up to speed for modern web browsers. It should work fine, but iframes are the recommended method these days.

Another option for link cloaking is to use a service such as URLFreeze. The main problem with URLFreeze generated links is that they look ugly, and no more realistic than the affiliate links themselves. But they’re free and don’t require you to have your own website, so many people use them for email campaigns.

What do you think? Is link cloaking something that you worry about?

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