Link Cloaking – The why, the where, the how

This article has been guest blogged by David Wilkinson – 13-Year Old Affiliate Marketing Expert.

Link cloaking, or plain old affiliate link redirection. You might have heard the buzz about how you can ‘increase your sales by up to 400%’ or something equally ridiculous, but what can link cloaking actually do for you as an affiliate?

Imagine the situation. You’re a complete Internet newbie who’s been searching away for some time, trying to find a viable way to earn money online. All of a sudden, this fantastic opportunity pops along (courtesy of you, the affiliate). You’re about to click through to check out the product, when all of a sudden you see an affiliate link, something the stupid ‘Internet 4 Idiots’ book (or whatever they’re calling their silly little franchise now) earned you NEVER to click on. The end user, or Internet newbie, having seen a blatant affiliate link, and now in the knowledge that there’s a chance you’re only promoting a product for it’s excellent commissions is in serious doubt whether to buy or not.

Except the problem is bigger. If the newbies know, then chances are the more ‘advanced’ people up the Internet food chain will know too. Infact, everyone on the Internet who knows what an affiliate link is will immediately have second thoughts about your trustworthyness. The product could be world class, your presell could be so fantastically convincing, that Bill Gates would drop backwards off a Christmas tree on reading it. But at the end of the day? If they don’t buy… If they have second thoughts… If they doubt your opinion and your integrity… Then you will NEVER make a sale online.

Long 30-character affiliate URLs in themselves are quite naturally not the prettiest things in the world, either. If you can disguise your links by making them a simple short snippet such as…

http://www.affiliatedefined.com/recommends/djk.html

as opposed to…

http://zimedia.dayjobkill.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=shoe123

…then you’ll find yourself in a better position when dropping links around forums and such, as well as when targeting a general audience as your affiliate link will now be in the most part hidden. The real advantage of using cloaked links though? The bit that will actually save you money in the long run? All the nasty affiliate snipers out there (people who save money on purchases by switching your affiliate ID with their own) will be in the most part stumped. If they were desperate, even with a cloaked link, they could view your source code, but if you use fancy encryption techniques such as the ones at the heart of Ninja Link Cloaker (a product from Matt Haslem whom which I personally use), then you’ll be covered by all manner of fancy MD5 code encryption and super-fast execution script implementation. Complicated stuff, eh?

I’ve explained to you the ‘why’ and shown you the ‘where’ (when promoting products), but the real bit that stumps most people is the plain and simple ‘how’.

How can you create a cloaked affiliate link? How can you protect your earnings? How can you make a link redirect? There are hundreds of options out there, but I’ll narrow it down to my favourite, top-performing three.

The TinyURL re-direct. Free, though less effective than the options to come, it has no server demands and is externally hosted on TinyURL.com.

The PHP re-direct. Free and effective, though it requires your own server to upload said PHP file to.

The Ninja Cloaking method. Super-advanced, ninja-style, uber-sleek protection and cloaking.

TinyURL. It’s free. It’s quick. It perhaps doesn’t give the world’s best impression either, but all the same. It gets the job done nicely and there’s not much more to say. You simply go to the TinyURL website, pick a link to re-direct to and wham. Link is done and live on the TinyURL server. Just point your links that way and re-direction is instant. You can start cloaking right away at TinyURL.com>.

PHP Re-direction has obvious advantages over TinyURL. If you make a typo and have already published a TinyURL link on your blog, there’s no much you can do in the way of changing where the TinyURL points. With PHP on your own server, you have full control over where your links go and what they do. A PHP re-direct isn’t powerful, but it is effective and for a novice affiliate marketer I’d highly recommend it. You can learn how to create a PHP re-direct at the About.com website.

Ninja Link Cloaking. I’ve already mentioned how I prefer to use Ninja Link Cloaker for many reasons. The sheer power in the software is remarkable. It runs straight from your desktop and boots up at the click of a button. On startup, you’re presented with two options. Do you want a ‘normal link cloak’ (basically an affiliate link in a full-page iFrame as permitted by most major affiliate networks) or a Ninja Link Cloaker special ‘ninja’ link? The ninja link has all the fancy encryption methods in place, coupled with fancy (yet ‘usually’ permitted) cookie dropping tactics, goes in for the big double-whammy.

I use link-cloaking all the time when Affiliate Marketing. On my blog, in e-mail campaigns, on forums, everywhere… Without them I’d be losing a serious chunk of my online profits and you believe me – I wouldn’t be the happiest ‘little’ kid on earth. 😉

— Author’s Unrelated Random Sidenote —

On a sidenote, lots of you commented on my last article, ‘Upselling – The how, the where, the when’, by stating how you’d love to signup to some form of Affiliate Defined pre-notification list. You can do just that now I’ve added a few little boxes to the page, and if you’re interested in my little ‘Affiliate Marketing Revolution‘, I’d advise you to signup now. Thanks for all the encouragement everyone!