Link cloaking is a very important part of affiliate marketing but it's also one of the most frequently asked questions on the Internet marketing forum. People are confused as the why's and how's of link cloaking .
In a nutshell, link cloaking is a way to protect your affiliate commissions from being stolen. It's not totally foolproof. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do against a tech-savvy individual who is out to steal your commission but it most commission thieves are lazy (one of the reasons they're thieves) so they won't bother with going through the extra steps needed to steal commissions from a cloaked link.
Since most thieves won't go that far, cloaking your links will prevent most commission losses.
How do people steal affiliate commissions? Have you ever hovered over a link and noticed that the link was an obvious affiliate link?
Some people type in the parent domain instead of clicking the link as a way of making sure the owner of the site gets paid 100% for the sale. Some people falsely believe that if they buy from an affiliate link, they'll have to pay more for a commission mark-up.
Other people actually do it for a different reason. If you're promoting a ClickBank product, especially to other marketers, many of them know they can insert their own ClickBank ID and get what's usually a 50% or more discount on the product.
This is a different type of affiliate commission theft, because the person doing it gets the affiliate commission themselves, so they can get a "rebate" off their purchase not caring that in the process they're making sure you don't get your hard-earned and deserved commission.
Another less sinister reason for cloaking affiliate links is that some folks get spooked when they see those long URL's that include your affiliate links. Affiliate links like these:
http:// rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?icep_ff3=2&toolid=10005&campid=5335966518&custom id=HybridCars&icep_item=250721587815&ipn=psmain&ic ep_vectorid=238401&kwid=902099&mtid=824&kw=rss
Believe it or not less net-savvy folks are leery of clicking long URL's like the one above fearing it's some sort of shady link to slip in a Trojan or virus.
Most people are honest, and don't mind that you're earning commission in exchange for recommending a good product to them. But it's enough of a concern that you should take steps to prevent it.
Especially, when you can do so easily.
How to Cloak Affiliate Links
There are different software programs and even Wordpress plugin's to cloak your affiliate links but you can easily set up your own link cloaking system for free.
What you would do is set up a directory on one of your domains. Most marketers use the domain of their own name, as in alanpetersen.com. They typically have a subdirectory called /recommends/. But you can let your imagination run wild since the "recommends" is a bit overused.
Anyway, in that directory, they create a new subdirectory for each product. It would look something like this: http://www.alanpetersen.com/recommen...omeproductname. In that directory, they place a very simple PHP redirect called index.php (don't worry you don't need to know "PHP" just keep reading this article).
Whenever they send someone to the above link, the script will redirect to your affiliate link. All you have to do is create a file in Notepad or your favorite HTML editor and name is index.php. Then paste the following information into the file and upload it to your directory:
< ?php header("location:Affiliate_URL_HERE"); ?>
Tracking Affiliate Links
Another big benefit to using a script rather than doing it yourself is tracking. You see, using your simple redirect, there isn't an easy way to check how much traffic you've sent to your link.
Most link cloaking scripts allow you to add new links very easily within an administrative area, and then each link is tracked so that you can see how much traffic is going through the link.
If you use your own file with a simple PHP redirect, the only way to tell how much traffic you've sent is through your affiliate stats, which may be inaccurate, or through your web server's stats, which may be clunky to use or hard to understand.
Simple PHP Redirect
It's also important that you stick to a simple redirect vs. a "hard cloak" known as "masking". Most affiliate networks like ClickBank, Ebay Partner Network, and Commission Junction do not allow masking.
That means when you redirect a visitor to the end website (in our case as affiliate marketers the merchant's offer) the final destination URL should be visible on the end-user's browser's. Domain masking allows you to hide that and cloak it so it looks like the visitor is on another site (usually the affiliate marketer's own URL).
By sticking to simple PHP redirect you'll avoid violating the terms of these networks and losing your commission.