Quick Answer: Affiliate links are best left uncloaked to provide optimal user experience & some affiliate programs (like Amazon Associates) actually disallow cloaking altogether. There are, however, some major positives to cloaking affiliate links & those are exactly what we’re going to explain below.
In case you don’t already know, cloaking your affiliate links essentially refers to the technique of “hiding” the destination of your affiliate link URL & it’s a practice carried out by many affiliates.
Some affiliates simply cloak their links to make them look “prettier” & others cloak them as part of an illicit plan to earn some “sneaky” commissions.
But the question is, should you cloak affiliate links? And what are the benefits of cloaking affiliate links?
More importantly, what is the downside of cloaking affiliate links? Does cloaking affiliate links affect SEO?
The good news is that we’re going to cover all of those things & more right here in this blog post. So if you’ve been asking any of those questions, you can rest assured you’ve landed in exactly the right place to find out the answers.
Firstly, for those who are new to affiliate link cloaking, we’ll start off with a bit of a better explanation as to what it means & what it actually involves.
What Is Cloaking In Affiliate Marketing?
As we briefly touched on in the previous section, cloaking an affiliate link refers to the tactic of “hiding” the destination of an affiliate link.
So, for example, a typical affiliate would look something like this, with the affiliate ID clearly appended:
And a cloaked version of that link could look something like this:
Both links would ultimately take the user to the same final destination but the difference is that the second one would take them there via a redirect.
So, in short, the user wouldn’t actually know what the destination URL is until they actually clicked on the link and followed the redirect chain.
Most importantly, they wouldn’t even know that it was an affiliate link until they clicked it.
And that brings me nicely to the next point.
What Are The Benefits of Cloaking Affiliate Links?
Whilst, at a glance, there may not seem to be any real purpose or benefit to cloaking affiliate links, there are actually a number of reasons why affiliates choose to do it.
1 of them, as we’ll explain below, is because it can actually help them to earn more money.
First off though, we’ll start with the obvious.
Hide The Fact It’s an Affiliate Link
I’ve listed this as a benefit, but really it could also be construed as a negative.
Basically, one of the main (and most obvious) things cloaking does, is hide the destination URL.
This means that affiliates can cloak a link to hide the fact that it’s an affiliate link in the hope that it’ll result in more people clicking on it.
You see, some affiliate links are really long, contain lots of weird characters & ultimately, look like a “risky URL” to visit in the eyes of a less tech-savvy user.
So some affiliates believe that by cloaking their links, they’ll be able to get more clicks.
So it could be getting clicks, but it could also be bad for user experience.
Make The Links Easier To Manage
The first point we just mentioned (using link cloaking to hide the fact that affiliate links are affiliate links) is certainly a controversial “benefit”, but making the links easier to manage is an absolute sure-fire benefit.
You see, from time to time, affiliate links can change. For example, let’s say a company changes its domain or affiliate platform – this could result in you having to update your links to the new URL.
If you haven’t got them cloaked, you’d have to manually update each & every single one… Whereas if you’ve got them cloaked, you just need to update the destination that your cloaked URL redirects to & the links will all carry on working as normal.
So in terms of managing affiliate links, cloaking links certainly makes life much easier.
Protect Your Affiliate Links From Commission Theft
One of the biggest (yet most little-known) benefits of cloaking your affiliate links is that it can actually enable you to combat something known as commission theft & ultimately earn more money.
You see, it’s a big bad world out there & unfortunately, there are many folks who are set out to try & steal your affiliate commissions.
How do they do this? Well, there are various ways they attempt it, but one of the most common is through the use of rogue browser addons.
So, in short, what these rogues do is create free browser addons (such as “screenshot addons”) & promote them to get them installed by the masses.
Then, once a large number of people are using them, they put functions into the addons that look for popular affiliate links (such as Amazon affiliate links) and automatically switch the affiliate IDs with the affiliate IDs owned by the creators of the plugins.
After all, it’s pretty easy for somebody to build a function to change the numbers at the end of a URL.
But if you cloak your links, it gives you an additional layer of protection against this type of commission theft.
What Are The Downsides of Cloaking Affiliate Links?
So given that we’ve just run through the benefits of cloaking affiliate links you may be thinking that cloaking your links is a no-brainer but hold your horses cowboy, not so fast…
Cloaking affiliate links can come with some serious downsides if you’re not careful.
Hindering User Experience
The internet can be a big, bad place & if you’re not careful, one wrong move can see you at risk of having your personal information stolen (or worse).
For that reason, many people (like myself) often always hover over a link, or hold down on it if on a mobile, to see the destination prior to clicking/tapping on it.
So, what happens if I see a cloaked link, on a site I’m not yet sure if I trust? I get pretty sceptical that’s what.
And that’s why I personally only ever recommend cloaking affiliate links if absolutely necessary. I’m a firm believer in always putting user experience first, even if that may come at some cost to myself.
But, of course, you don’t have to be. That’s just my personal outlook. To me, users come first.
Can Get You Banned From Affiliate Programs
This one’s the biggy. Cloaking affiliate links can flat-out get you banned from affiliate programs.
Well, some affiliate programs (such as Amazon Associates) simply don’t allow it… And it doesn’t really matter what their reasons are because as the owners of the program, essentially, what they say goes.
So if you do plan on cloaking affiliate links then one thing you must always check is whether or not it’s actually allowed by the particular program you’re promoting.
Does Cloaking Links Affect SEO?
The short answer is no, it doesn’t. Cloaking affiliate links (or any other link for that matter) doesn’t make a blind bit of difference for SEO.
We’ve launched affiliate sites on which we’ve cloaked links & we’ve launched affiliate sites on which we used nothing but raw URLs.
Were there any noticeable SEO differences? Absolutely not.
So you can safely take it from us, cloaking does not affect SEO… And after all, why would it?
A cloaked link is simply a redirected URL & search engines can follow redirected URLs just like any other URL.
All they’re interested in is figuring out where the links go, not whether or not it’s cloaked.
And that brings us to the next point.
Should You Cloak Affiliate Links?
There are some clear benefits to cloaking affiliate links. It can make affiliate link management easier, it can protect your links from commission theft & it can make your links appear “prettier”.
But, should you cloak affiliate links?
Well, in the instances where programs don’t allow affiliate link cloaking the answer is a clear no, you shouldn’t cloak those affiliate links.
But for all other links, it’s ultimately up to your discretion. Cloaking affiliate links won’t harm your SEO, it’ll only stand to annoy the odd user (like myself).
Ultimately, there’s really no right or wrong answer – but in terms of affiliate link management down the line, cloaking is the clear winner.
And if you would like to go down the route of cloaking your links then be sure to check out our free training course as in one of the lessons we uncover the best link cloaker that has an epic “hidden feature” that can enable you to pocket way more money as an affiliate.
But whether you do cloak your links or you don’t, we hope that you found this article insightful.
Of course, feel free to leave any comments below as well. We always love hearing from our readers.