How to Mask Affiliate Links

How to mask affiliate links is one of the most common questions new affiliates often ask. In this post, we will take a look at the hows and whys of why you should mask affiliate links and how to do it effectively, with an eye towards maintaining long term low maintenance.

Should I Mask My Affiliate Links

This is one of the first questions people who start adding affiliate links have to deal with. As with most things in internet marketing, it depends. If the website is primarily a hobby website, not a money making or a business site, then the answer is no, you don’t need to mask affiliate links. However, what often happens is that people start with a hobby website, build nice traffic, and then look for ways to monetize it. I can’t tell you the number of hobby websites I’ve seen turn into $1,000 dollar a month sites. So, unless you are 100% positive it’s never going to turn into a money website, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Do it right and mask affiliate links right from the beginning.

Free Plugins to Mask Affiliate Links

If you are only going to be promoting a handful of affiliate products, or even less than 100, there’s no real need to use a premium product. There are plenty of free plugins like affiliate link cloaker, URL cloak & Encrypt, affiliate marketing tool. I’ve been a long time user of Go Codes. It has served me here without any issues or problems. Two recommendations,though: change the default directory to something other than “/go/” and block that directory from being crawled. This really is critical. The affiliate links are there for the users, not for the search engines. Until Googlebot gets its own American Express card, there’s no benefit to letting it crawl your affiliate links. In fact, the whole point of masking your affiliate links is to keep search engines from knowing what’s going on.

Premium Plugins to Mask or Hide Affiliate Links

If the primary goal of a website is to make money via affiliate links, then investing in a premium plugin is a smart investment. There are a few on the market like SEO Smart Links and Affiliate Link Cloaker Pro, but my favorite is Eclipse link cloaker (see Eclipse link cloaker review). A premium link cloaker has a lot of advantages such as:

  • Masking all outbound links
  • Working with datafeeds
  • Importing a large number of links
  • Direct naming of links
  • Google Analytics integration

Subdomain Affiliate Link Masking

If your website is primarily focused on selling one type of product (like travel bookings) and you work with an established merchant, you can often set up a branded subdomain. This is a little complicated, but basically you set up a CNAME entry for your subdomain to redirect from your website to the merchant. This does require someone with some technical expertise, which is beyond the scope of this post. Usually the merchant will give you instructions, like this document from IAN. The merchant usually lets you upload a stylesheet, header, and footer, so the website has your branding. Again, the specifics are beyond the scope of this post, but you can usually get help from the merchant. You need to make sure to block this subdomain from being crawled by the search engines. I can’t stress enough how important that is. Blocking it via robots.txt is better, but meta tags are an alternate solution. I recommend setting up a Google alert for indexed pages in the subdomain so you will know if Google does somehow find a way in.

Hybrid Solution

In some cases, you will want to mix approaches and use a hybrid solution. For example, I run a travel website with a booking engine on a subdomain. I then use Eclipse link cloaker to mask affiliate links for travel related products.

Dangers of Not Masking Affiliate Links

Letting Google see too many straight affiliate links is a dangerous game to play. Numerous quality rater documents have shown it to be something they are told to be on the lookout for, so it may work against you. Using JavaScript to mask links is also dangerous because Google is getting much better at crawling JavaScript, so it is not recommended. Using nofollow on straight affiliate links is much closer to a band-aid solution, so it is  not recommended as well.

What are the takeaways from this post:

  • Showing affiliate links to a search engine are of little benefit to you. Unless you do it sparingly, masking affiliate links isn’t a good idea.
  • If you will only have a few affiliate products, a free light-weight solution is fine.
  • If you are running a serious website in which affiliate marketing is a primary goal, invest in a premium link masking solution (I like Eclipse link cloaker review).
  • In some cases, a subdomain is a better solution. Be sure to keep search engines out via robots.txt or meta tags.
  • You can mix solutions, such as a subdomain and masked links.
  • The key here is to block the search engines from seeing/deciphering your intent and quality raters from easily detecting that links are affiliate links.

Disclaimer: If you purchase Eclipse link cloaker review from the links in this post, I do receive a commission; however, I use Eclipse link cloaker on this website and many others and am very comfortable recommending it.

photo credit: Photospin

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