There's a lot of misinformation around the concept of link cloaking. The term ‘cloaking' itself sounds nefarious, but this is actually a standard and useful practice in the world of online marketing.
With link cloaking, you can take long, complex URLs and make them more user-friendly. Moreover, cloaking enables you to protect your valuable affiliate commissions from hijacking scripts, which makes the practice even more essential.
In this article, we're going to break down how link cloaking works and why you should be using it. Then we'll talk about how to get started. Let's get to it!
An Introduction to Link Shortening
The first thing we need to do is establish the difference between link shortening and cloaking. A lot of people use both terms interchangeably, but they're not the same thing.
Link shortening involves the practice of taking a link and – you guessed it – cutting it short. Here are two quick examples, first a longer link and then a shortened one:
The goal of link shortening is to create URLs that are easier to remember and share. When a visitor clicks on that second URL, they're redirected to the first one, so nothing changes beyond the look of the link.
However, links created with free online tools such as bit.ly are definitely not memorable. They also don't look particularly professional, and fail to give the user any idea of what type of content to expect on the other side.
Link Cloaking and Why It Matters
Link cloaking works in a similar way to link shortening. In fact, when you cloak a link you usually shorten it as well, although that's not a requirement.
Link cloaking is more focused on branding your URLs and protecting any sensitive information they might contain. Here's an example of a longer link that has been cloaked:
The difference is subtle, but it's a game changer nonetheless. While link cloaking can come in handy in a variety of situations, it's particularly useful in affiliate marketing. With this technique, you can hide your affiliate IDs, and include your brand name as a part of your linking strategy.
Hiding your affiliate IDs is essential if you're making a significant number of sales. As you're probably aware, affiliate marketing is a cutthroat world. There have been cases of malware that infects visitor's computers and seeks out links with affiliate IDs in order to replace them.
This enables malicious actors to steal your commissions, and you might not even notice it happening. Cloaking your links stops this kind of attack, since it hides your affiliate IDs.
Finally, it's a common misconception that link cloaking negatively impacts your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Fortunately, SEO experts have repeatedly debunked this theory. This means that if you're an affiliate marketer, there's no reason not to cloak your links.
How to Get Started With Link Cloaking
There are a lot of tools you can use to cloak your affiliate links. However, as you might imagine, we're partial to our own Pretty Links plugin:
This tool comes in both a free and a premium version, and it enables you to shorten and cloak your links. Once you install and activate the plugin, a new Pretty Links tab will show up in your WordPress dashboard. To get started, click on it and select the Add New option.
On the next page, you can choose what type of redirect to set for your first cloaked link. As a rule of thumb, you should stick with 307 redirects for destination links that you think might change.
301 redirects, on the other hand, pass on ‘link juice', so only use them for URLs you're sure will stick around:
Go ahead and add your target (or original) URL now. Then you can choose what you want to use for your pretty (or shortened and cloaked) link:
As you can see, the plugin also enables you to add notes for any links you create. This can come in handy if you need to remind yourself about any key URLs.
Before you save your new link, head over to the Advanced settings tab. There, you'll find a few additional settings that can come in handy. First, there's the No Follow attribute:
This attribute tells search engines not to pay attention to a specific link, so that it doesn't have an impact on your rankings. You'll want to use No Follow whenever you create a temporary link cloak, but it's optional for permanent redirects.
Finally, you can choose whether to turn on Tracking for your new link. With tracking enabled, the plugin will keep count of every time someone clicks on the link, and record when it happens. With tracking, you can see how well your links are performing, and brainstorm ways to improve conversion rates.
Once you're done with the Advanced section, hit the Update button under publish and your link will be ready to use. If you access the Pretty Links tab, you'll see an overview of all the links you've cloaked.
Keep in mind, however – the free version of Pretty Links won't automatically replace URLs on your website for you. If you're using that version, you'll want to look for the links you want to replace and do so manually, using the cloaked alternatives you just set up.
There's a reason link cloaking is a standard practice among internet affiliates – it works. With the right cloaking tools, you can create pretty links that give users the information they need. Moreover, you can hide your affiliate IDs from scripts that seek to hijack your sales.
If you're using the Pretty Links plugin, getting started with link cloaking is simple. All you have to do is add a new link and customize the URL you want to use, then choose which type of redirection to apply.
Do you have any questions about link cloaking in general or Pretty Links in particular? Let's go over them in the comments section below!