Edition #34 – 4/05/2006
In my review of the CB Niche Builder I mentioned that the program cloaks your affiliate links by putting them into “redirects”. Since then, it occurred to me that some of you might not know what I was talking about…
I’d like to take a few moments today to explain how it works, because this is something you should all be doing, regardless of whether you bought the program. First, let’s define what we’re talking about. While “cloaking” can refer to a number of different things, including the “black hat” SEO tactic of creating “phantom” pages, link cloaking is a common practice considered to be fully ethical in the internet marketing world.
Basically, link cloaking is simply disguising an affiliate link so that your visitor doesn’t see it. Why would you want to do this? First, it’s been tested and shown that visitors are less likely to click on links that look like affiliate links. Second, if a fellow affiliate sees an affiliate link, they will be more likely to use their own link instead, and get the commissions for themselves.
While at first glance, it might seem like you’re in some way “tricking” your visitor. However, I feel that cloaking an affiliate link is actually a MORE honest way of treating them. The reason is, people like to know where they’re going when they click a link. An affiliate link gives them no idea, but your cloaked link can tell them.
Let’s look at a practical example…
Here’s my affiliate link for my friend Jon Leger’s AdSense Gold ebook:
Does that link give you any idea about where you’ll end up? No. The visitor is not going to end up on a site called “hop.clickbank.net”. Does it look like an advertisement? Yes. ClickBank’s affiliate links are actually pretty clean than compared to most…I could have used a much uglier example.
Does it look better? Yeah. Does it give the visitor a better idea about where they’re going? Probably. That’s really up to you, and it depends on how you name your redirect pages. Let’s take a look at the code for this particular redirect page:
< meta HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" CONTENT="0; URL=http://toplevel.astracker.hop.clickbank.net">
< /meta>< /head>
That’s what we call a basic meta-refresh redirect. You could so the same thing with php. Here’s the code:
Ok, now what about all those other URL-shortening programs and sites, like TinyURL.com? I personally believe that a lot of internet marketers are getting the TinyURL syndrome. Here’s what I mean…
I subscribe to newsletters from a lot of internet marketers, and EVERY day I get some newsletters with “Tiny URL” redirects in them. These are well-known marketers too, guys who are doing well on the internet. I don’t want to bash them because a lot of them are my friends, but I think they could be doing even better with their click-through rate. Again let’s look at our example:
To generate that link, I simply went to www.tinyurl.com and entered my affiliate link in the box. Ok, so it’s short, and it’s a little better than the uncloaked affiliate link, but not much prettier. It’s just short and ugly.
Again, does it give you any idea where it leads? No. And how many times do you suppose someone would need to click on a “TinyURL” link before they realize it’s just a way of shortening an affiliate link? My guess is one time.
TinyURL does have some practical applications… Let’s say you’re emailing your friend the URL to a MapQuest map (like the example on the TinyURL home page). If you tried emailing the full URL, it would surely get messed up in the email client, and it would take your friend hours to piece the link back together and paste it into their browser. But when it comes to internet marketing there’s a better way…
The above link not only gives you an idea of where it’s going, but it also reminds you that it was personally endorsed by me. In my opinion, shorter is not always better.
If you’re recommending a product, don’t make it look like you’re trying to hide the destination of the link. I understand why my internet marketing friends, are using TinyURL; first, it’s quick and easy and probably saves 30 seconds compared to creating their own redirect. Second, it can help protect your domain in case of spam complaints. But if those are your excuses, I would say this…
If you’re using TinyURL for convenience, get off your lazy butt and take 30 seconds to make your own redirect (actually you can stay on your lazy butt while you do it). And if you’re worried about spam complaints, then you probably don’t have a good relationship with your list… but just to be safe you can simply register a separate domain for your redirects. Something like yourname-recommends.com, and host it in a separate location from your primary domain.
By the way, I do think TinyURL is brilliant. The guy has a PR7 website getting over 345 million hits per month, and he gets to display ads to everyone who goes there to create a link. Plus it grows virally because people see their friend or favorite internet marketer using it, and they think “hmm, I should do that.”
So hats off to the creator of TinyURL for creating a helpful application, but to you my internet marketing friends: use it sparingly. It’s better than a straight-up affiliate link, but as I demonstrated above, it’s not the “best” way.