Cloaking Affiliate Links and Avoiding the Tiny URL Syndrome

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:

http://toplevel.astracker.hop.clickbank.net

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.

I used to do a lot of javascript mouse-over cloaking, but I no longer recommend that method due to browser issues, so we won’t look at it. I also do some htaccess cloaking, but that’s not as practical for most of you, so we’re going to look at basic redirects. Let’s look at a redirect for the same link I used above:

http://erictips.com/adsensegold.html

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:

< html>
< head>
< meta HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" CONTENT="0; URL=http://toplevel.astracker.hop.clickbank.net">
< /meta>< /head>
< /html>

That’s what we call a basic meta-refresh redirect. You could so the same thing with php. Here’s the code:

< ?php $url ="http://toplevel.astracker.hop.clickbank.net"; header("Location: $url"); exit(); ?>

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:

http://tinyurl.com/n6f4s

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…

http://erictips.com/eric-recommends/adsensegold

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.

49 comments on “Cloaking Affiliate Links and Avoiding the Tiny URL Syndrome

  1. Marcelo

    Awesome tip! I was wondering how you sites were doing that…thanks for sharing

    Reply
  2. Georjina

    Great tip Eric. I like the ‘recommends’ better than tinyurl. Can you do a review of Affiliate Cloner? I’m undecided between it and Affiliate Link Cloaker. Thanks again.

    Reply
  3. Eric Post author

    Thanks Georjina, I’ll see if I can squeeze in a review of it sometime soon… I did find this comparison chart:

    Affiliate Cloner Comparison

    So at first glance it looks like the cloner is a clear winner over the afiliate link cloaker. Although I do notice that they didn’t include “Covert Links” (see link above) in the comparison chart. I’m also interested in that one because of it’s ability to beat spyware. So if I do a comparison it would probably be of those two…

    Reply
  4. Danny

    Hi Eric! Thank’s for the tip. I checked the Affiliate Cloner comparison and found out something VERY interesting there! I used (Still) TinyUrl because of few things that I heard (Well… read!) on the fact that some kind of people change your affiliate link for theirs! That’s the main reason why I’m doing this and it’s been only a month that I’m in a Online Business so it’s normal that I’m affraid of that a bit! I try to give a chance to my business… But, you just show me that at the same time… I’m not helping it at all! So I’m stuck!!! Again thank’s for the tip and I’m considering to switch probably for Affiliate Cloner.

    Reply
  5. coach Ratliff

    Awesome tip! …thanks for sharing .
    I have use the tiny thing a few time and decided not to becuse I know and anyone on the net for a while know it for an Affiliate linker.
    I would get a new domain for my links or ever a sub…..

    Reply
  6. Eric Post author

    Hey Coach Ratliff… I just checked out your site out of curiosity… Awesome content, but you need to get some photos on there. Especially near your opt-in forms, it will increase your opt-in rate. I hate to say it, but some pictures of women working out will probably yield the best results because it appeals to women and men. I get most of my photos for $1 at http://istockphoto.com (not an affiliate link)

    Free tip from Eric 😉

    Reply
  7. kenneth s

    hello Eric!

    good tips but this doesnt work on one of my affiliatelinks anyway ;(
    so i suppose the website with the affiliateprogram are doing something with the url themself..

    i tried the graburlthing first, then i tried the metarefresh-thing but with same result ;(
    this is my domain with the refresh code on indexpage.
    http://webmaster-income.top-10-list.com/

    this is my affiliateID url that shows up in the urlfield…
    http://www.unitedpartnerprogram.com/CF191G/

    anyone can recognice and remove the affiliatecode here…

    any tips anyone?

    Reply
  8. Eric Post author

    kenneth – try taking the extra spaces of of all the html tags. When I posted it in my blog I had to throw in some extra spaces, otherwise it was actually turning into live code on the page.

    Reply
  9. Phil Lancaster

    I’m using this type of link for affiliate referrals, but the problem is that my undisguised affiliate link is still shown in the address bar of the landing page, so it is still a simple matter for someone to remove or substitute my affiliate id. Is there a way of changing this?

    Reply
  10. John

    Hi Eric,

    I’ve been using Mark Idzik’s “Affiliate Profit Guard” ( http://www.affiliateprofitguard.com/ ) since the begining of Jan., 06 and am very pleased with it . Priced at $37.

    Here is an example of it being used on my domain:

    http://www.solutionstoday.net/hoodia-gordonii-review.html

    Go to the second paragraph and click the link on the word hoodia. When the page loads ,look at the web address and then go to the page source and try to find my affiliate link.

    The software also allows for indexing by the spiders.

    John

    Reply
  11. Petre Tudor

    Hi Eric,
    Yesterday I already got the first Clickbank commission from a company from ‘New Products’ sub-category following step by step your instructions from ‘TheWriting Cash’ site.Thank you for all.
    Unfortunately I still can’t promote your ‘The Writing Cash Program by Google AdWords because they requested me $10 as bids for each my 5 related-keywords. And I can’t afford now.
    Which is your advice?
    But today I already read twice this interesting your blog’s Edition #34 as to ‘Cloacking Affiliate Links….’.
    How did you got the 2 your next cloacker links?:
    http:http://erictips.com/adsensegold.html and
    http://erictips.com/eric-recommends/adsensegold
    I’m intersted to get manually the disguise of my hoplinks because your links (Covert Links….) cloackink programs there are paid programs and I can’t afford now.
    Excuse me for my long reply.

    Reply
  12. Eric Post author

    Petre- You need more keywords if you only have 5 keywords. You should have more like 500 keywords. I spend a lot of time building my keyword lists. If you do this, combined with good ads, and god content on your landing pages, you can get cheap clicks. you don’t need to buy a program to cloak your links. You can use a META-REFRESH as described above. you could also use an embed, as mentioned in my review at:
    http://www.ericstips.com/tips/hypervre-review/
    There is also a free version of HyperVRE

    Reply
  13. Petre Tudor

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for your promptness.Today I already spent some time to add some more related keywords into my campaign ad ‘The Writing Cash’.I used AdWords ‘Keyword Tool’ and I got a list of200 keywords but I activated 14 of them of $0.5/keyword because the rest of them there are too expensive of $1;$5 an $10.I still can’t afford so big bids for the time being.I can’t respect your to begin with small CPC of $0.05.
    Last night I created a new campaign ad to promote with AdWords your ’10-free-ebooks’ site.They admitted me some keywords of $0.1.

    As to link cloacker I still am confused.I saw above your HTML code.I can change hoplink with my hoplink but I never used this ‘Meta-Refresh’ skill.If you are so kind and have enough time and you won’t bother mine,please explain me your ‘Meta-Refresh’ skill.Then I’ll read HyperVRE site to see there about cloacing links.

    Lastly, I’m going to prepare and create the first my ‘review’ page for your ‘The Writing Cash Program to upload it on the web to see all world.If you are so kind ,please, offer me a free model of content for this review page

    Respectfully,
    Petre Tudor

    Reply
  14. Curtis

    Can anyone recommend me affiliate programs where you can use text links?
    I need to know of all the affiliate programs out there where you can use text links and that pay per click.
    thanks in advance….

    Reply
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  16. Dave

    This is an old thread but you might want to check out the 2009.1.16 posting and remove it. I was here reading about link cloaking and I was wondering why a simple redirect using “a href” is not suggested. I know the user can easily check the link destination and if knowledgeable know it is an affiliate link. You didn’t say but I assume cloaking as you suggested makes that impossible. I tried using your code and was unclear exactly where to put it in the web page and how to create the link text that is to be clicked to redirect. I make my own web sites so I guess I should be able to make it work but have not. Guess I just have to study it more. I have spent too much time on it already.

    Anyway , thanks for your lessons and information you put on your site.

    Reply
  17. Eric Post author

    thanks for the heads up about that spam.

    I almost always use PHP redirects these days, and the code for those is in the lesson above. Just create a text file containing the redirect code. Then change the extension to php from txt. Then upload it, and you make your hyperlink (the href= stuff you’re talking about) to point to your new php file.

    Reply
  18. Dave

    Thanks Eric, I will give it a shot.

    Reply
  19. terry

    Hi Eric,Have you heard about
    Cloak n Rotate
    can you please do a review on it? Thanks for sharing those tips! Cheers!

    Reply
  20. Eric Post author

    I am not familiar with it. These days I mostly use PHP redirects, and sometimes URL shorteners on twitter.

    Reply
  21. Robert

    Hi Eric,
    Like one of your other readers I also had trouble with updating my Adobe Flash Player. After consulting with Adobe I found the solution. Before installing the new Flash Player versions, you must first uninstall the old version; the uninstaller is FREE at the Adobe site. After uninstalling the old version, re-install the new version and everything should be fine; according to Adobe the new Flash Players (9+) will NOT install over the older versions!
    Robert
    PS: Verdana is also an excellent Font.

    Reply
  22. Guy

    Thanks for the tips Eric, I really enjoy this blog. However I just can’t seem to get this to work.
    I am simply taking a notepad file and then copying and pasting the code you have given me (while putting the URL where I want to redirect to) and then saving the file as an html document and uploading to my site via FTP. However when I check the webpage there is nothing there but the code? Am I missing something here? Thanks for all the great tips!!!

    Reply
  23. Guy

    Thanks Micah, but i still can’t get it to work, I’m simply copying and pasting that exact text (obviously with the redirect url changed) onto notepad, saving it as an html file and then uploading it to my site. However when I click on the wed address it just displays the code? Not sure what I’m doing wrong? Thanks anyway.

    Reply
  24. Micah

    Hello Guy,

    Are you using the PHP code instead of the HTML code in your HTML page?

    You should only include this text in your HTML page:
    < html>
    < head>
    < meta HTTP-EQUIV=”Refresh” CONTENT=”0; URL=http://toplevel.astracker.hop.clickbank.net”>
    < /meta>< /head>
    < /html>

    Edit: [You will need to remove the spaces in the tags]

    Reply
  25. David

    I agree w/ you for the most part.

    Tinyurl I think is fine in a newsletter though.

    If someone subscribed to your newsletter, there is some level of trust. Once you have developed a relationship with your list they will trust links you send them.

    You need to cloak in blog posts and whatnot for the reasons you stated, but also to protect yourself.

    You can also customize tinyurl of course.

    Reply
  26. James

    Hi Eric,
    Do you know if there are SEO issues with doing HTML, PHP or redirects vs. 301 redirects through .htaccess? I imagine too many redirects of any sort will have a negative effect, but wonder what would would be a safe percentage.

    Thanks,
    James

    Reply
  27. Eric Post author

    That’s a good question. I have heard that google frowns upon html and php redirects due to their use in cloaking affiliate links, but I’ve never heard any definitive teaching on this. I’d like to know the answer, as I use tons of redirects.

    Reply
  28. Scott

    Interesting. Do you know of any issues using any of these with WordPress? Seems the PHP version would be preferred.

    Great lesson(s)! Looking forward to more.

    Reply
  29. Eric Post author

    No I don’t know of any issues. But the PHP redirect certainly seems to work for me.

    Reply
  30. Stephanie

    Hi Eric,

    Nice tips! I cloaked mine in the past using php but am changing it over to html. Do you know if one has advantages over the other or if one is better for SEO more than the other?

    Your answer is greatly appreciated

    Reply
  31. Eric Post author

    I am not aware of the SEO ramifications of one over the other. However, I think that the PHP redirect is now more browser friendly than the HTML. In some cases, I’ve seen browsers refuse to follow an HTML redirect, so I’d stick with the PHP.

    Reply
  32. Amgad

    After reading the article I wanted to say exactly what you said: HTML redirects sometimes do not work, so better stick to PHP redirects. Thought I should add a tip to Eric’s Tips, but you beat me to it 🙂

    Reply
  33. Bret

    Hey Eric, I have started to use the php redirects to cloak my affiliate links, and find it to be a way better solution to tiny url. I am experiencing an issue with several of my redirects. After I create the redirect, I test it out to make sure the link works, and it does. However, my affiliate id appears in the url bar. Is there a way to hide my affiliate id when people click on my affiliate link. Thanks.
    Bret

    Reply
  34. Micah

    Hello Bret,

    Unfortunately, that is controlled by the merchant you are promoting for. You could request a special link, where your affiliate details do not appear on the sales page, but they may not always be able to assist you.

    Reply
  35. Bret

    Ok, thanks. I have a follow-up question to that. If someone knows that my link is an affiliate link and they remove the affiliate id info from within the url after clicking on the link, will I still get credit for that sale if they purchase that product? Thanks.

    Reply
  36. Micah

    It would be strange for them to purposefully try deny any affiliate of their sale.

    Regardless, they would have to clear their cookies before revisiting the site, in order to cause you to lose any credit for the referral.

    Reply
  37. Gary Hudson

    Eric,
    The website I have is an online store. Take a look and see what I could do to improve it’s appearance. Also, I have set up a blog on my favorite pastime,metal detecting for old coins and such. (http://allspaceenterprises.com/metal) I have been following these lessons since the #1 lesson and have found them very useful especially since I am planning on going into the hosting reseller business. He said that he would build me a website to go along with my master reseller account and also it will be fully automated as well. I am on lesson 48 and I will be using many of the tips for this new hosting business. Thanks again for all the great tips now and in the future.

    Reply
  38. gerry

    i am sending out solo ads.i go to clickbank- pick a product- click promote- get hoplink-put hoplink in tiny url- take tiny url and enter in into my browser to test it and it does not work.what am i doing wrong? also i have gotten jv links that say replace the xxx with your clickbank link and enter this into your emails.they don’t work either. it not hard to tell i am a newbie

    Reply
  39. Micah

    Hello Gerry,

    You might want to try clearing your cookies, before testing your links. Your computer may still have the information saved from a previous visit, where your affiliate ID was not in the referral link.

    You can also get additional assistance with your ClickBank account at the following link:
    http://www.clickbank.com/help/

    Reply
  40. Prue

    Hi Eric,

    I am trying to create my hoplinks like yours. How do you create the name of a product with the hop link attached to it as you’ve done in the brandable eBooks?

    Reply
  41. Prue

    Thanks Micah,

    I appreciate your help.

    Reply
  42. Peter

    But in your code, there is no mention of what the visitor should see like for example in a HTML hyperlink you can see the anchor text. So how does the browser knows that the cloaked link should read as
    http://erictips.com/adsensegold.html
    HTML hyperlink one uses anchor text “to give meaning plus the display text” so would a hyperlink do?

    Reply
  43. Micah

    Hello Peter,

    That’s because nothing is seen by the visitor. It is a redirecting link. All they would see, is the initial hyperlink that you may name or use whatever anchor text you wish.

    If you only used anchor text to hide the link, visitors could easily retrieve your actual affiliate links in your webpage’s source code.

    Reply
  44. Nzeribe

    Hi Eric.
    Thanks for your explanation regarding this topic, however I have not yet understood how to apply it. I am just a newbie. Must I have the knowledge of html to use it? Let say I have a separate domain as you suggested and I am using wordprss, can you please indicate how to get about it? Or do you have any ebook on how to get this done step by step for newbies like me? Your input will be highly appreciated.
    Thanks again.

    Reply
  45. Maria

    Hi,

    How to specifically use the php redirect? do we need to make new index file for every url we want to redirect?
    How to apply this php codes:

    or do we need to just add the new url we want to redirect and then the list will become longer?

    Reply
  46. Micah

    Hello Maria,

    You only need to create one php redirect for each link you want to eventually send your customers to.

    They have to be separate php files for the redirect to work properly.

    Reply

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