Link Cloaking: What It Is, How to Do It, and Why It’s A Good Idea

Link cloaking is an easy way to manage your affiliates, transform your URLs into memorable links, and more. Learn why else it's so special.

Sean Brison by Sean Brison | Last Updated: February 22, 2021

Affiliate links are long, ugly, complicated URLs. They’re also difficult to say, impossible to remember, and horrible for branding purposes. Using a link cloaking tool helps solve the above problems in a manageable way.

This post details what link cloaking is, why you should do it, how Lasso can help, and more.

Let’s get to it.

What Is Link Cloaking In Affiliate Marketing?

Link cloaking is the process of taking a long, incomprehensible affiliate URL (given to you by an affiliate program) and converting it into a shorter, attractive affiliate link.

It’s similar to link shortening, but technically the two are different (more on that below).

A URL redirection occurs with a cloaked link. The cloaked link sends your visitors to the non-cloaked version (i.e., the destination URL).

Cloaked links are more user-friendly than their complex counterparts.

Link cloaking also conceals your affiliate ID from others.

Hiding your affiliate ID is also good to protect you from malware or other malicious software used to hijack your commissions.

Although, I’ve read those occurrences are rare and shouldn’t scare you into affiliate link cloaking- although you should cloak your links (more on that in a minute).

As you might already know, Amazon doesn’t let you cloak links, and it’s one of the largest affiliate programs on the planet.

What’s a Cloaked Link Look Like?

Here’s an example from our personal finance site:

listenmoneymatters.com/betterment

Cloaked links let you display your brand name, too – always a marketing advantage.

What would the real affiliate link look like without its cloaked version?:

https://betterment.ptf.io/c/76792/330747/4962?subId1={url}

That link above sends traffic to Betterment’s sign-up page via the affiliate URL hidden within.

But, it doesn’t include our domain name, which serves as our business card across the internet.

Whether you’re blogging, using social media, or a featured guest on a podcast, it’s easier to say, “listen money matters forward-slash betterment” than the alternative.

Should I Cloak My Affiliate Links?

Yes, it would help if you cloaked links 99.99% of the time. There are instances where you may not need to (or want to cloak them).

For example:

However, in most instances, you’ll want to use a link cloaking tool. Many plugins that manage affiliate links will do this for you already (Lasso included).

Increases Click Confidence

The single most important thing bloggers can do is build trust with their audience.

If you’re playing the long game, you understand that building a relationship takes time, and the way you do it is by ethically promoting products.

And, once your visitors see a clean URL like: listenmoneymatters.com/betterment, they’re more likely to click that link as they know where it’s going to send them.

You’ll see an improved CTR with a cloaked link especially, one that’s on-brand with your website.

Increased click-through-rates result in higher conversions, which is what you want as an affiliate marketer.

Clean affiliate links inform your visitors what they’re about to click because they can see the destination in the URL.

Easier to Manage

Many link cloaking plugins provide you with link management as part of their features.

For example, our tool, Lasso, lets you see every affiliate link across your entire site in a single dashboard.

What makes it easier is you can organize your links into groups (or categories). If you only have a handful of affiliate URLs, link management may not be as important to you.

For example, our personal finance site’s toolbox has several links grouped by category. We have groups consisting of “debt,” “courses,” “investing,” and more.

You can click here to see it live.

However, if you have thousands of links to manage at scale, a tool designed with that purpose is what you want.

And you’ve probably experienced your partners jumping between networks like ShareASale and CJ Affiliate. When they switch links, it’s easier to manage when they’re in one place.

Or perhaps you built affiliate relationships during your website’s later years, and now you need to monetize your blog posts long after their creation.

Maybe you’ve changed your mind about a product or service and want to use another affiliate partner.

Case in point: When our site switched from recommending SoFi to Earnest for refinancing debt. We needed to replace the SoFi affiliate link with Earnest’s.

Memorable & Shareable

Clean URLs are easier to remember. They’re easier to share on social media and in emails.

In many instances, you avoid having to manually dive into your dashboard and look up what your affiliate URL is if yours follows a simple format.

For example, our personal finance site follows this formula:

Something like this is far easier to share with other partners or potential brands you’d like to build relationships with.

And they’re easier to say on a podcast or interview.

Tracking

Keeping tabs on your best-performing links gives you greater control of your income. With Lasso, you can test different display types, including:

You can then track your affiliate links with Google Analytics to refine your marketing approach and see what works with your audience (and what doesn’t).

Tracking lets you see which links drive the most clicks.

You can see what products are performing well by examining your “Events” category.

tracking affiliate links in google analytics

Head to Behavior > Events > to see which products are the most popular with your audience.

To see your top-performing products, click “Top Events.”

If you want to see what affiliate URLs are doing well on a page level, click “Pages.”

Check out how you can set up Google Analytics click tracking with Lasso.

How to Start Link Cloaking Using Lasso

If you’re using a WordPress plugin like Lasso to cloak your links, it’s pretty straightforward. First, you’ll install the plugin.

Once you’ve created your account, you’ll arrive on your Account Details page.

From there, download the plugin:

account details page screenshot

Copy your license key because you’ll need it when inside WordPress.

Head to WordPress and navigate to your Plugins page and click “Add New.”

where to start adding the plugin link cloaking

Then click “Upload Plugin.”

how to upload the plugin

Next, choose the zip file you previously downloaded and click “Install Now.”

click install now example link cloaking

Now, choose “Activate Plugin.”

how to activate the lasso plugin

Then head to Settings in your Dashboard and paste your license key into the address bar and click Activate.

using your license key with lasso

Now, you’re ready to start using Lasso and its link cloaking feature.

Cloak Links Automatically

Lasso automatically cloaks all non-Amazon URLs – in seconds. It’s that quick.

You don’t need to do anything else.

However, you have total control over which links you want to cloak (excluding Amazon).

When you’re inside your affiliate link URL’s product page, there’s a toggle you can click to uncloak any link.

No coding knowledge required.

You’ll see the option at the bottom of your product page to uncloak links, as with the below screenshot:

link cloaking product url example

Once that’s toggled to the off position, your link is uncloaked. And if you want it cloaked again, toggle it to On.

Uncloaking links in Lasso means that Lasso won’t print or display the cloaked permalink (slug) on your site. However, the permalink will still work if you say it out loud in some form of media.

Can You Cloak Amazon Affiliate Links?

You can’t cloak Amazon affiliate links per their Associates Operating Agreement. Anytime you obscure the referring URL (e.g., your blog post link), you violate Amazon’s TOC.

That could potentially mean getting kicked off their affiliate program.

From Amazon:

You will not cloak, hide, spoof, or otherwise obscure the URL of your Site containing Special Links (including by use of redirecting links) or the user agent of the application in which the Program Content is displayed or used such that we cannot reasonably determine the site or application from which a customer clicks through such Special Link to Amazon site.

Amazon says you can’t obscure the link. If it’s not obvious you’re sending website visitors to Amazon, then you’re in jeopardy.

The only tool I know of that lets you cloak Amazon links is with GeniusLink because they have a direct relationship with Amazon.

However, using GeniusLink to cloak your links won’t make them “pretty links.”

Read our Amazon Associates Guide for all the details.

Do Affiliate Links Affect SEO?

Affiliate links don’t affect SEO because search engines don’t index them and should have a “nofollow” tag.

Adding the ‘nofollow’ tag informs search engines that those are monetized links.

Google says to qualify your outbound links, so it understands the relationship between your website and the external link on that page.

There are three rel values:

“Sponsored” refers to any paid link; “UGC” refers to User Generated Content (e.g., forums), and nofollow catches everything else.

Google’s John Mueller has even suggested using rel = “sponsored” for affiliate links, so it’s clearer what kind of nofollow tag it is (although “nofollow” is still good).

Lasso uses rel= “nofollow” as a catch-all for all monetized content (which you have the option to toggle on or off to indicate it’s an affiliate link).

lasso dashboard link cloaking

Google also recognizes the bulk of affiliate networks and will not index these links found inside your posts.

Cloaked URL vs. Shortened URL

Link shortening refers to shortening an affiliate link. It’s incorrect to call a cloaked link a shortened link as the two are different.

Cloaking links are used for tracking and branding.

Link shortening does come in handy, specifically with social media (e.g., Twitter) but can still be unwieldy to say and aren’t memorable.

What’s worth remembering when using a link shortener is:

For example, using bit.ly’s link shortening tool would take the domain drinklab.co/best-coupe-glasses and replace it with bit.ly/ef9lpk7.

So, it’s shorter but still cumbersome to say and difficult to remember. Looking at that link, you can’t tell whether it’s monetized either.

Using a custom domain can help leverage some brand equity, but still can be awkward to say and remember.

It just depends.

For example, Moz.com’s Twitter feed uses mz.cm/3eKDzck as its homepage link.

But, it’s still an extra redirection.

So, if you’re using a link shortener with your Amazon affiliate links (amzn.to), it gets visitors to their destination URL slower.

Short links used to be a big deal back in 2015 when Twitter counted the number of characters when placing a link into a Tweet, but that’s no longer an issue.

Twitter (and almost every other link shortener tool) automatically shortens your links.

A URL of any length posted to Twitter will be altered to 23 characters.

URL shorteners shorten your link. Cloaking was designed to show search engines one thing while your website visitors saw another.

Which meant you could mask your cloaked link’s intended destination.

A Simple Template for Cloaked Links

In 2005, however, many WordPress plugins were created that made it easier for affiliate marketers to make their links look less like an affiliate link.

Essentially, removing the merchant’s info and giving your readers a preview of what’s behind the click.

Simple cloaking nowadays looks like this:

For example, Lasso cloaks all non-Amazon links following using the above formula.

An example of how a cloaked link appears on our website: listenmoneymatters.com/roofstock

Your readers see a descriptive URL without sacrificing either your brand’s or the product’s name.

Last Words

When you cloak affiliate links on your webpages, you present them in a visually appealing way, gain click confidence, and increase your URL’s shareability.

It’s an insanely powerful way to manage your monetized URLs.

Would you like to know more? Read this.

Or, take Lasso for a spin with our 14-day FREE trial.

Sean Brison
Sean Brison is a dad, writer, business owner, and Chief Growth nerd at Lasso. He's spent the past several years in cahoots with Lasso's founder, Andrew, creating awesome things for people. He's also addicted to perfectly-balanced cocktails, the outdoors, and John Mulaney's stand-up comedy.

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