Cloaking Affiliate Links – Are You Losing Money Marketing Online?
One of the most important ways to protect your hard-earned affiliate commissions is cloaking your links. For example, the following is a ClickBank link for Ryan Lee’s current continuity offer: http://xxx.ryanleecom.hop.clinkbank.net. If you send this link out in a post, tweet, or email do you realize that anyone buying Ryan’s program can simply replace your hoplink and buy from themself, cutting out your hard-earned commission?
Also, what about an affiliate program that changes its link structure? If you’ve posted links all over the Internet will you be able to remember every one of them and have the time to go change each one manually? Also, your vendor may be cancelled from Clickbank or other affiliate system for violating terms of service? In either case, wouldn’t it be better to use a cloaking service in order to be able to change all of your links in one place at one time?
Many marketers commonly use free link shortener services, of which bit.ly is the most popular. But this only solves the cloaking problem above and only in certain cases. For instance, cloaking a ClickBank hoplink with bit.ly will resolve to the full link in the browser address bar, where it can be easily replaced. In addition, link shortening services are now being blocked on the Internet, rendering them virtually useless.
Any service (free or paid) that you use should be hosted on your domain and control the type of masking used. This allows you to manage and control your own redirects from one central place. In addition, this allows you to keep your affiliate programs honest, e.g., are they paying you commissions you deserve. What are the best ways to do redirects?
- PHP Redirect (301 or 302 redirect). Code example shown at below. It takes a couple minutes to set this up on your hosting account. For SEO purposes, it is better to use the 302 redirect so you don’t transfer page rank from your own page.
Header(“HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently”);
- HTaccess Redirect. This is very similar, except that the code is placed in your server .htaccess file Be careful, because one mistake in your .htaccess file. As an example of the 302 redirect, use “Redirect 302 /directoryname/ http://Affiliate_Link”
- Meta Refresh Redirect. Similar to the first two except that only a 302 redirect (doesn’t pass page rank) is supported. An example is shown below:
<meta http-equiv=”Refresh” content=”0;URL=http://Your_Affiliate_Link”>
What is the “dark side” of cloaking your links? Black hat is the use of unethical tactics and methods to increase your chances of making money online. For instance cookie stuffing is a practice of hiding thousands of links on a page, so that after visiting this page, any affiliate purchase you make will go the “stuffer.” A 1×1 pixel “iframe” or “image pixel” is used in this practice. A related “white hat” technique uses a P3P header, depending on if the affiliate program accepts it.
Using the P3P header technique is the only ethical way to completely avoid exposing your hoplink in an affiliate system such as ClickBank. This is also know as a “stealth redirect,” as used in Jason Fladlien and Wil Mattos’ EasyRedirect Script. Using an ethical white hat “cookie stuffing” technique, their system drops in a cookie to the browser. As mentioned above, this technique is ethical and supported by ClickBank and many additional affiliate systems.
- Set up your own link shortening service (christopherspenn.com)
- Why Bloggers Should Care About Affiliate Marketing (growmap.com)
- Affiliate Marketing – What Is the Profile of a Successful Affiliate Marketer? (cash-bandit.com)
- Finding the Time to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing (sugarrae.com)
- Cloaking Affiliate Links (whohascash.com)