Link cloaking — sounds kind of shady right?
What if I call it an affiliate URL redirect? That sounds better, but you’re still probably scratching your head at what this is and why it’s useful.
Link cloaking, or affiliate redirects, is a common tactic that marketers and developers use when directing visitors to external sites. It helps them monitor traffic that’s going from their site to an affiliate site, and it helps them build trust with their target audience.
Read on to learn more about link cloaking, including what it is and why you should use it for your website. Then, we’ll provide a list of the best affiliate link cloaking plugins available on WordPress.
What is affiliate link cloaking?
Link cloaking is the practice of disguising a URL by setting up a URL redirect. This shortens the URL’s length and rebrands it so that it’s easier to track and appears more trustworthy to the user who clicks on it.
Here’s a simple example.
Let’s say we started a business selling taco-themed handbags (yes, those exist). Since we’re just starting out, we decided to go through a third-party vendor to help us sell and ship our product. While we market our handbags on our website, our customers have to go through Etsy to actually purchase the product.
If we didn’t use link cloaking, the link to our product may look something like this: https://www.etsy.com/listing/596553538/taco-money-bag-taco-purse-taco-wallet?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=taco+sleeping+bag&ref=sr_gallery-1-19&from_market_listing_grid_organic=1&frs=1&cns=1https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07RPZZ867?linkCode=ogi&tag=goodhousekeeping_auto-append-20&ascsubtag=[artid|10055.g.28649116[src|[ch|[lt|
It looks messy, it’s hard to remember, and it may ward off potential customers who are dubious of where this link might take them.
Now, with link cloaking, our URL could look something like this:
Clean, simple, and you know you can trust it because it has our domain name in it.
This is just one example of how link cloaking can be beneficial to your business. Read on for a few more use cases in the section below.
Why You Should Use Affiliate Link Cloaking
Here are the main reasons why you should use link cloaking on your website.
Link cloaking fosters link trust with your site’s visitors.
If I have a link on a product page that directs you to Etsy, you might not think twice about clicking it. Why would you? Etsy is a very popular third-party seller and many consumers are familiar with the company.
However, if I wasn’t using Etsy, and instead I was linking you to a third-party seller you didn’t recognize, you might hesitate to click on my link. After all, you don’t know where that link is taking you and it might jeopardize the security of your information.
With link cloaking, you can create a link that appears safe to your users. Instead of seeing a strange URL with a series of numbers and letters attached to the end, you can create a link that includes your domain name and product name at the end of the slug.
Link cloaking makes it easier to track outgoing traffic.
If you’re using a link cloaking plugin, you can see who is clicking on your links and if your affiliate redirects are working. You can also leverage this information for your marketing strategy.
For example, let’s return to our taco-themed handbag company. Let’s say we have two products: the flour-shell handbag and the corn-shell handbag. We aren’t sure which one that consumers like more, so we’ll use link cloaking to track which product receives more traffic. The link with the most traffic is likely the one that’s getting more attention from your target audience.
Link cloaking improves SEO and click-through rates.
Link cloaking is great for SEO because it helps maintain a balance between internal and external links. If your site has too many links pointing visitors to external sites, Google and other search engines will rank your site lower.
Link cloaking will also improve your click-through rates. If your links appear more trustworthy and users know where it’s taking them, more people will click on your links. This can make all the difference between losing a customer and closing a deal.
Ready to get started with link cloaking? Let’s look at some of the best affiliate link cloaking plugins available on WordPress.
Best Affiliate Link Cloaking WordPress Plugins
- Pretty Links
- WooCommerce Cloak Affiliate Links
- Simple URLs
- Easy Affiliate Links
- URL Shortener Pro
- Amazon Auto Links
1. Pretty Links
Pretty Links is an all-around solid plugin for link cloaking. It’s easy to install, and comes will a lot of useful features for tracking and redirecting links.
For instance, it can track the number of clicks per link as well as the number of unique clicks per link. This way, you not only know how many times a link was clicked but how many people clicked on that specific link.
You can also set up different types of redirects. You can make your redirects permanent with a 301 redirect, or make them temporary with a 302 or 307 redirect.
One downside of this plugin is that the “cloaked redirect” feature isn’t offered with the free version. While you can still set up 301 redirects that effectively disguise your affiliate links, you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version if you want to use this plugin’s native link cloaking feature.
ThirstyAffiliates is one of the most popular link cloaking plugins available on WordPress. Once installed, there’s no complicated setup process, you just have to click Add New and you can get started with redirecting links right away.
The nice part about this plugin is that it works seamlessly with your visual editor. Similar to the link tool, this plugin appears as a button in your toolbar. You just have to hit TA and you can search for your affiliate links by name. Or, you can use the Quick Add button to create cloaked links right from the visual editor.
While ThirstyAffiliates does offer a premium version of this plugin, it may not be ideal for all WordPress users. If you’re new to WordPress and may require some help setting up, you might want to look for a more user-friendly option with a dedicated support staff. Recent reviews for this plugin reported that some users had difficulty connecting with the plugin’s support team.
This WooCommerce pluginis designed to cloak affiliate links in your online store. It’s simple, useful, and free to install. And, you can set up three types of URL redirects including 301, 302, and 307.
One unique feature that this plugin offers is that it adds a “Disallow” command to your robots.txt file. This prevents bots — like Google’s — from following the external links on your site, which is important for SEO.
The downside of this plugin is that it doesn’t offer any tracking features. If you’re looking for a premium plugin with advanced tracking capabilities, then you might want to consider another option on this list.
4. Simple URLs
Simple URLs is another free plugin that lets you create, manage, and track outbound links on your website. With this tool, you can create cloaked links and shorten existing links to make them more sharable with your customer base.
It works by adding a new custom post type to your Admin menu rather than setting up a page-based redirect. The advantage of this is that you’ll avoid permalink conflicts that can affect the SEO of your site.
While this is a great plugin for link cloaking, it’s important to note that this tool has been deprecated. This means that it will no longer receive updates from its development team. If you run into installation or compatibility issues, there may not be a way to navigate around these roadblocks.
This link cloaking plugin comes packed with a variety of features and tools you can use to improve link tracking on your site. It’s compatible with both the Classic Editor and the Gutenberg Block Editor, and it allows you to track all of the links on your site, whether they’re cloaked or not.
Some unique features of this plugin include automatic text disclaimers, shortlinks, and the ability to assign categories to your links.
There’s also an option to leave specific links uncloaked for Amazon compatibility. Amazon’s Associate program makes it clear that you can’t use redirects or cloaked links to direct people to its site. You have to use a direct link from Amazon, or you could get banned from the platform. This feature helps you avoid any violations by allowing you to uncloak specific links on your site.
One limitation of this plugin is that it’s still under active development. This means you might see some things change as the developers continue to work on this plugin. Fortunately, the development team gives you an option to request a feature so you can voice your feedback while they’re building the plugin.
URL Shortener is geared specifically toward marketers. It helps these teams create sharable links for social media, email, and word-of-mouth marketing.
The nice part about this tool is that the shortened and redirected links load remarkably fast. Your visitors won’t have to wait for one URL to load, only to have it be redirected to another page. The redirect is lightning-fast and seamless to the frontend user.
This plugin will also help you hide affiliate links, ensuring you receive credit for purchases made through your site. In some cases, external sites will take credit for a purchase if the user goes directly to the product page and skips your redirected URL. URL Shortener makes it easy to hide referrer links so you always get credit for purchases made through your site.
One downside for this plugin is that it doesn’t come with a built-in widget for your sidebar — meaning you can’t create redirected or shorten links directly from the editor view. You have to open the plugin itself and create cloaked links from the core interface.
We mentioned earlier that Amazon has specific rules regarding cloaked links. If you’re using Amazon to sell your products, then you might want to check out this plugin.
Amazon Auto Links creates Amazon affiliate links that are tagged with your Amazon Associates ID. With these URLs, you can display one of your products on a blog post without installing any shortcode. You can feature products in a slider section of your post, or as a sidebar that visitors can scroll through.
If you don’t use Amazon to sell your products, then you might want to pass on this plugin. There aren’t many features that are compatible or very enticing to businesses that aren’t Amazon Associates.
EasyAzon brands itself as the “quickest way to create Amazon affiliate links from within your WordPress post editor.” It shares many of the same features as the previous plugin, and it supports every Amazon affiliate location — ideal for businesses that are operating in multiple countries.
You also get access to the plugin’s Amazon Affiliate training. This includes how to build a successful Amazon Affiliate site, tips for maximizing your Amazon commissions, backlinking techniques, and how to do keyword research for your content.
It’s important to note that there are limited support options for this plugin. Additionally, some users have experienced conflicting issues with other plugins when using EasyAzon. If you’re a newer WordPress user or web developer, you might want to opt for a more straightforward plugin.
Choosing the Best Link Cloaking WordPress Plugin
If you don’t have access to marketing tools or a domain provider that lets you set up 301 redirects, your next best option is to download a WordPress plugin. They’re easy to install, and they make visitors feel comfortable with clicking on links on your website. They’ll also ensure you receive proper credit for purchases made through your site.
Use the list above as a starting point and find the right cloaking device for your business today.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.