I hear a lot of debate in the internet marketing community about whether or not to cloak links. Usually, the discussion about cloaking links is motivated by discussions of commission theft and other issues. Often, the people that are talking to you about commission theft are also trying to sell you some link cloaking solution, and increased revenue by decreased commission theft is one selling point they use to separate you from your $47 (a $997 value, of course).

In my next post, I am going to tell you how to cloak links for free. In this post, will cover the basics of how and why to cloak your links.

What is Link Cloaking?

If you are new to internet marketing, you might not even know what link cloaking is. For the purpose of this article, link cloaking is any technique you use to link to something that obscures the real destination link. For example, I can link to my favorite search engine. As you can see, the link is to “https://www.latenightim.com/recommends/search” and lands you at “http://www.google.com.” The link to Google is “cloaked.” You don't know where you are headed until you click on it.

Why Cloak Links — The Wrong Reasons

There are several reason that people use to cloak links that I think are just plain wrong. Here is my personal standard for stuff like this: If you don't want to see it on the front page of the New York Times, don't do it. What I mean by that, is that if you are not comfortable with lots of people knowing about what you are doing, you should listen to that little voice and walk away.  Internet marketing is already full of slimy scam artists — no need to add to that.

Here are a few wrong reasons to cloak links:

  • To hide the fact that you are getting paid for the referral. Look folks, if you recommend a product and get paid for that recommendation, you need to tell people. Failing to tell people that you get paid if they buy something is dishonest.
  • To stuff cookies. Cookie stuffing is a trick beyond the scope of this article. If someone tries to sell you cookie stuffing software, run the other way.
  • To mislead people about the destination link. If you are cloaking links to trick people into clicking, you are doing the wrong thing. Stop doing that.

Good Reasons To Cloak Links — The Right Reasons

Because so many people cloak links for the wrong reasons, link cloaking gets a bad wrap. I think link cloaking is very important and ethical (I use it on my blog) if done in the right way and for the right reasons. These are the reasons that I cloak links:

  • To count clicks. This is critical to any business. If you don't know what people are clicking on your site, you cannot grow your business effectively.  Marketing is about running experiments, testing and making adjustments.  (For example, see also my post on the impact of StumbleUpon on my stats).  If you cannot count your clicks, you cannot determine what is working (and what is not working).
  • To manage affiliate programs. Some times, affiliate programs die, change links or change sites. If you have 30 direct links to an affiliate program out there and the program makes a change, you suddenly need to edit 30 links. However, if you are cloaking that link, you only need to change the destination link in one place!
  • To make clear that you are getting paid for something. I use the word “recommends” in all my affiliate link URLs. In my disclosure page, I explain (in case it is not already obvious) that the word “recommends” in the URL usually means I get paid if people buy.
  • If link cloaking has any impact on theft, I'll get that advantage too from cloaking. I don't think it does have much impact, but people argue that it does.

In most successful businesses, transparency is a critical key to success.

So, cloak your links — but do it for the right reasons

Later this week, I will discuss how to do the cloaking ABSOLUTELY FREE.

Best regards,
Mark

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