Before we get on to what is link cloaking, you need to understand that link shortening and link cloaking are not the same thing as some people say. To get this out of the way, check out their definitions and some examples down below so you can better understand both of them.
What is Link Shortening?
Links shortening, as the name suggests, is the action of making a link shorter. The main goal of link shortening is to create an URL that is more compact to improve the click rate and is also easier to be remembered or shared by your audience.
Link shortening is a strategy widely used in the affiliate marketing world, because people tend to click in smaller links better than giant links filled up with random numbers and letter like the usual affiliate links you’ll find directly from the affiliate networks out there.
Example of a shortened link
A company that is really popular for Link shortening is Bitly, where you can shorten links for free, and if you create a login you can also track the clicks on the links you create there.
Even with this resource, having a link with the name bitly on it, does not bring you the same authority and professionalism than having a cloaked link.
Many beginners working with affiliate marketing use bitly to shorten their affiliate links and spam them all over the internet. This kind of action end up ruining your chances of getting a good click throuhg rate with bitly or any similiar service in the long run.
What is Link Cloaking?
Link Cloaking is the process of branding your affiliate links URL and at the same time protect any sensitive information they may contain, like your affiliate ID for example. This process is a great way to prevent and protect your affiliate commissions from being hijacked by malicious users.
Malicious users can use malwares to swap your affiliate ID on your links and hijacking your valuable commissions, so cloaking your affiliate links will prevent that from happening because your affiliate ID will no longer be displayed in the cloaked link.
The process of link cloaking works in a similar way as link shortening, that’s why many people think they are the same thing, but they are different!
Although you may also make a shorter link by cloaking it, it is not a requirement of this process. The main focus here is to make the link have you domain name and brand on it,
Example of a cloaked link
As you can see from the example above, introducing your brand, your domain name in the URL makes the link look more legit and therefore, will help you increase the click through rate on this link, and that what is link cloaking all about.
How does Link Cloaking work?
We are not going into the technical side details here, we just want you to understand the basics of what is link cloaking so you can use it in your advantage, specially if you’re working with affiliate marketing.
Link cloaking is basically a way to redirect your audience from a URL that is not actually a page in your website to the final destination and targeted URL, that in most cases are an affiliate link.
How to Cloak Links?
Now that you have in mind what is link cloaking, it is time to learn how to get it done in the practical side of it. There are plenty of tools in the market that can help you get the job done, but personally like to use a plugin that has a free version that is called Pretty Links.
To install this plugin is simple, and you can do that from the back end of your WordPress website, just like demonstrated in the image below:
After you intall and activate the plugin, you’ll be able to see it on the left side of your dashboard. To create your first cloaked link, you need to click in the option under Pretty Links to Add New, or on the top of the main page of the plugin, as image below.
After you click to add a new link, it will then show up a screen for you to fill in the target URL or affiliate link, the ending of your cloaked link as you wish, you can add notes and there is also an option to choose between a permanent or temporary target URL. For that I would recommend you to use the default 307 temporary, because in case the affiliate link changes, you can just jump back in to this screen and switch the affiliate link here instead of replacing it in all places you’ve posted the link.
After you fill in this information, you can jump to the advanced tab, where you can choose the link to be follow or no follow. If you are not sure of what is that, this is a feature to indicate the search engines crawlers to consider or not this links in your ranking score, so if you’re using it for affiliate links, it would be better to make them a no follow link for a better SEO (search engine optimization).
You can also check the box to tell people if it is a sponsored link, to forward parameters and to enable tracking. If you’re just getting started, I would leave only the no follow and the tracking enabled, so you don’t get bad scores in the search engines and can keep track of how many people click on your cloaked link.
If you check the tracking box like in the image above, you can check at any time in your pretty links main page at your WordPress website dashboard how many people clicked on it and from what page they clicked in the link, it is a pretty cool feature to follow the results of your affiliate links.
Should you use cloaked links in your website? That is totally up to you, but if you’re working with affiliate marketing, I would strongly recommend you to use it both to protect your commissions and to give the link a more professional look by including you domain name on it and also making it shorter than the original affiliate link.
Now that you know what is link cloaking and how it works, I hope you use it and boost your click through rate with it. I hope this post was valuable to you, so share in the comments your thoughts.