7 Convincing Reasons Why You Should Cloak Your Blog’s Affiliate Links

[This post is part of a series on Exploring Affiliate Marketing.]

Cloaked Woman

Licensed under Creative Commons by Drodeian

I’ll get straight to the point: cloak your affiliate links and you’ll maximize their earning potential and save time managing your links. In my research, I came across seven important points that convinced me bloggers should cloak their affiliate links.

What is cloaking?

Link cloaking is when you make a link to a third-party website appear to point to another page on your blog. So when a reader hovers their cursor over the affiliate link, they see something like:


in their browser’s status bar instead of


There are several ways to cloak your links (JavaScript, PHP, plugins, etc.). Since I use StudioPress’s Simple URLs plugin for my affiliate links, I’ll base my examples in this post on this very handy plugin.

1. Increase clickthroughs

Affiliate URLs are usually quite ugly. If someone hovers over an uncloaked affiliate link to StudioPress, they see something like this in their browser’s status bar (note not a real link):


It doesn’t look very elegant, and the fact that it goes to a seemingly unrelated site might prevent a wary reader from clicking on the affiliate link.

However, I can (and do) cloak my StudioPress and other affiliate links by creating an internal link that redirects to the affiliate link. Doesn’t this URL look more inviting?


It appears to go a page on my own site, so the trustworthiness of the link is much higher than the naked ShareASale link.

2. Higher email delivery rates

If you put affiliate links in an email to your subscribers, cloaked links are less likely to trigger spam filters than bare affiliate links. Overzealous affiliate email marketers can cause the domain of an affiliate program to get blacklisted by spam filters. So any email you send containing a blacklisted link might never reach your subscribers.

If you send text-only emails, cloaked URLs which tend to be shorter are also less likely to improperly formatted by email clients than long affiliate URLs.

3. Easier link management

What if your affiliate program changed the links to its products or closed business? Unless you’re comfortable with database editing, it’d be a big chore to go back through all your posts and change the links.

If you use a plugin like Simple URLs to cloak your links, you only have to change the link in one place—very convenient.

4. Reduced commission loss

A lot of affiliate marketing websites (usually ones that push cloaking software) warn of malware on your visitor’s computers that can replace your affiliate code with another affiliate code, stealing your commission. The thing is, I can’t find any hard data on how prevalent this might be. There’s really nothing you can do about it, anyway, except partner with networks such as ShareASale or Commission Junction that actively discourage these “parasite” affiliates.

Another form of hijacking is when someone arrives at a product page, and then replaces your affiliate code in the address bar with his own code. However, this is only an issue with programs like ClickBank that allow affiliates to make purchases through their own links. If you belong to one of these programs, then cloaking will help.

Cloaking will also help against bypassers, who, when they notice they’re about to click on an affiliate link, will just chop off the affiliate ID and go straight to the product page. Though if someone really wants to deny you a commission, all they have to do is delete their cookies, so it’s better not to obsess over thwarting bypassers.

5. Tracking

Many of the cloaking or link shortening WordPress plugins out there like Simple URLs or Pretty Link will also keep track of how often your links are clicked. This is very useful for finding which posts, pages, and/or parts of your blog’s layout are driving your commissions.

6. Beat ad blockers

Many of your readers might be using browser extensions such as AdBlock Plus that will prevent them from seeing your ads. Among other techniques, ad blockers look for affiliate links to determine if an image is an ad banner. By cloaking your links, ad blockers will usually let the banner appear as long as it is not hotlinked from the merchant’s domain. So you should also download the banner ad graphic file and host it on your server.

7. Easier to nofollow your affiliate links

In my last post, I talked about nofollowing your affiliate links to make sure Google doesn’t penalize your blog’s search ranking. However, manually adding the rel=nofollow attribute by hand every time you create an affiliate link is a pain.

However, once you make sure your cloaked link is nofollow, you can easily use that link over and over again throughout your blog. Some plugins, like Pretty Link, give you an option to nofollow the cloaked links from within the plugin interface.

I use StudioPress’s Simple URLs because, just as the name says, it’s simple and doesn’t add a lot of extra overhead to my blog. It works by using WordPress’s custom post types and 301 redirects.

Unfortunately, Simple URLs doesn’t have a nofollow option like Pretty Link, but Yoast shows how to block search engines by simply adding one line to your site’s robots.txt file. If you don’t yet have a robots.txt file, all you have to do is create a text file named robots.txt with these two lines:

User-Agent: *
Disallow: /go/

Assuming you’re using the Simple URLs’s default /go/ slug, this code effectively nofollows your affiliate links by preventing search engines from crawling any link that contains http://yourdomain.com/go/.

On a side note, if you’re not fond of the /go/ slug, I discovered from trotterWay that you can change it to anything you like by editing the plugin.php file in the simple-urls/ plugin folder. You can easily edit this file from your WordPress Dashboard by going to the Installed Plugins panel and clicking on the Edit link for Simple URLs.

Edit Simple-URLs in WordPress Dashboard

In the editor, search for the word “slug” and replace the word “go” with your own word, maybe “recommends” or “affiliate”. Make sure you don’t erase the single quotes around the word.

Edit Simple URLs Slug

Also remember to change your robots.txt file to reflect the new slug.

But what about honesty?

Some might argue that link cloaking is a deceptive practice. But which of these two links do you think most people would say more accurately tells the reader that the link goes to a StudioPress page:




I’d say the cloaked link is more “honest” than the naked affiliate link. If you’re still concerned, there are a couple of steps you can take to make sure you stay in your readers’ good graces:

  • You should have a good disclosure policy in place that discloses all of your affiliations.
  • You could also edit the title attribute of your affiliate links to show something like “Affiliate Link” whenever your readers mouse over the links.

You won’t be able to please everybody, but the benefits of cloaking far outweigh the few readers you might put off using this technique.

Final notes

For well-known merchants such as Amazon, some say that bare affiliate links are good because the reader sees the merchant’s domain (amazon.com) in the link. While that’s a good point, I feel the same can be accomplished with a cloaked link like


and you still get all the other benefits of cloaking.

Finally, if you’re interested in using Simple URLs, Corrupted Development has a good run-through on how to set it up.

How do you handle your affiliate links? Do you think it’s shady to cloak your affiliate links?

Article by Bryan Kerr

I love breaking down the techie side of blogging into easy-to-understand tutorials. That's mostly what you'll find here on The Hobby Blogger.


  1. Bryan, great post, covering all the bases.

    I agree that having a link that is redirected to a merchant site does increase clickthroughs and raises the trust level with visitors. Plus it’s easier to track internally.

    I really like the Simple URLs plugin and it works with all WordPress themes.

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks Nilesh. I should also mention for everyone else out there that Nilesh came up with a cool mod to let you reset the number of clicks recorded for each of your Simple URLs links. Check out my link to his site above in this post for more info.

      Thanks again Nilesh!

  2. Awesome post! I still need to put up a decent disclosure page with all of my affiliates and ads I currently am running (and testing…) I’ll have to check out SimpleURL for my site as well.! Especially for the Sharesale/CJ links!

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks Jason. I’d love to know if you see any changes in click through rate after you start cloaking.

  3. Consider the following:

    1. Every time someone sees the affiliation ID in your link, it challenges the readers trust to you. But do you have such credit? According to stats of my blog, 82% of visitors are new ones.

    2. Consider your experience with particular affiliation program. Did you or anyone you know had a success with that company? For example, I know there is no money behind the Amazon’s affiliation program, so I will not use the affiliation id there, even if that would give me the false feeling of earning money. Readers trust is the best and most stable currency, in my opinion.

    3. Are you sure that when WordPress will release the new version of their blog platform, every add-on you’ve installed will stay compatible?

    Now, saying all that, I must agree that links should be controlled and an additional layer of abstraction should be added. After I started my blog, I spent 3 days to write another website which became a link shortener and redirector with advanced features that other redirectors lack.

    Using that website, I am able to have one of 4 available redirection methods, to show the name of the target server before the redirection happens, automatically check whether the target server became hostile, so the link would be disabled, or whether the user should explicitly state his age to proceed, and so on.
    I don’t need to remember where I left that link and care whether I can edit the message. Because I can edit the target of that link.

    So I, for one, solved that problem by using that service of mine when it’s needed.

    So I think my main point here is that The successful blog is never alone. It should be supported by something else. Some other project, which your visitors may even have no clue about. It’s not a prerequisite, but I rarely see it done another way, and in these rare cases I think I see just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      You make a good point, Dmitry, about limiting your affiliate programs to the ones that will be most successful in your niche. Like AdSense, one has to be getting a lot of organic (search engine) traffic to be successful with Amazon’s program.

      And like you say, blogger’s should be aware of the possibility that WordPress updates can break plugins. That’s why I like using plugins from developers with good track records of maintaining their software.

  4. I used to cloak links manually and never tried wordpress plugins to cloak them and its great to know that we can also track the clicks, next upto download the simpleurl plugin. Thank you for sharing about the plugin.

  5. I prefer to disclose affiliate links. I leave the long ugly link as is, and I * it and include a disclosure at the bottom. Most of my readers are not fellow bloggers, so they may not be up on the ways of affiliate marketing.

    Transparency and trustworthiness is more important than a sale.

  6. The funny thing about finding this article is that I was searching for a way to cloak the Studiopress Affiliate link on my site, yet I mentioned nothing about Studiopress or Genesis in my search terms…but I guess knowing Google, maybe it’s not so strange after all.

    Anyways, great article. Very thorough, clear and concise. I was able to get everything working in a manner of minutes.

  7. Hi,

    I am still hesitating because I have heard that the load time of the redirection page can offset many of the advantages listed above… I’ll be curious to have an opinion on this.


  8. Well-researched article. #6 is new to me. I’m currently using manual cloaking after upgrading to WP Elvin and realized that Pretty Link Lite doesn’t support it yet. Thanks for providing links for further reading. Great article.

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks and you’re welcome, Lemuel. Have you had any other issues with WP 3.5? I’m about to backup and upgrade.

      • Yeah, I still have issues. My theme and all plugins are Elvin compatible according to their authors but I couldn’t get my edit post to work well without using define(‘SCRIPT_DEBUG’, true); in wp-config. I see you got square buttons did you upgrade already?

  9. Ho, ho, ho…that is one of the best articles about why and how to cloak affiliate links in WordPress! As a Genesis user I can easly use Simple URLs plugin to do that.

  10. Awesome Bryan! This was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for how well explained everything was, much appreciated!

  11. Cool article! I am running a blogspot site, but may consider changing to wordpress. Thanks for your tip about simple URL.

  12. Excellent information for members. Broadly agree with their views on the link cloaking. I use Affiliate Link Cloaking plugin for a long time because it was recommended and it works. Greetings.

  13. Hi Bryan,

    “To be, or not to be”… To cloak or not to cloak… That’s the question!

    Ethically speaking I have no problem with that. I cloak when I can.

    I am an affilliate with Amazon and I use a plugin to redirect my fellow visitors from Uk and Canada to the right store, in this case Amazon.ca and Amazon.uk.
    “The problem is”, I cannot cloak my links if I use the plugin.

    The good news, I make more money by showing the right door to my visitors.

    Thank you for your article and thanks to all the readers
    who take the time to leave a comment.


  14. Great series here Bryan, I’ve been dabbling more and more with affiliate links for things I’m naturally writing about on my blog anyway (mostly iTunes apps and Netflix articles) and trying to manage it better. I did the Simple URLs and robots.txt thing the other day after reading Yoast’s article on cloaking (although he now cloaks manually with a script but I’m not up to that!).

    I read some people saying that doing the robots.txt thing could actually harm your site’s placing in Google results somehow. Anyone heard anything about that?

  15. I am an affilliate with Amazon and I use a plugin to redirect my fellow visitors from Uk and Canada to the right store, in this case Amazon.ca and Amazon.uk..

  16. Very Good Article.

    I use a Plugin Call: Pretty URL, that turn Ugly links, into your Domain link, is also have a track system.

  17. I have a question if you can answer me please…

    I hear that shareasale has real time tracking… but I just had a friend purchase a product through my affiliate link like 5 hours ago, and it isn’t showing a commission for me yet in share-a-sale.

    Just wondering if anybody can elaborate on why this is, if they have real-time-tracking?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Hi Peter. Not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a day or so to show up. The realtime tracking might refer only to clicks. Do you at least see that the link was clicked?

      • Thanks for the reply Bryan. Much appreciated! Yeah, I see the link was clicked, but it also has 7 unique clicks that same day… so, I cant really go by that.

        I am pulling my hair out man because I’ve had 2 commission issues that I didn’t get paid for right in a row with shareasale…. 2 different merchants within shareasale, 1 product from my own computer, and another from my merchant which I’ve spent hours on the phone with — and they did the order… and made sure cookies were cleared and everything.

        and if it can happen with 2 orders right in a row, who is to say that it can’t happen with 50% percent of all my orders…. or even 90% of all my orders.

        I just can’t figure it out, and this really stinks man, because I’ve invested so much time and money in this…. and it’s just not fair to have all your hard work go to waste. I wish I knew why stuff like this happens.


  18. Hi and thanks a lot for the post.

    I have seen a blogger complain about Google indexing his cloaked affiliate links (http://wordpress.org/support/topic/google-indexed-hundreds-of-go-pages). What’s your experience?

  19. This is an interesting article. I have been doing link cloaking for many years, and didn’t even know that’s what I was doing.

    I was taught a method of making your links look nice, and relevant when I first had a course about affiliate marketing and I’ve been doing it ever since.

    In regards to the thought of it being a shady practice, I have to agree with what someone commented above, stating that a cloaked link that describes the product you’re promoting, represents that product a lot better than a crazy looking affiliate link like one from shareasale.

    I think it’s a little sad that link cloaking is looked upon negatively from some folks.

    In addition to what’s stated above, link cloaking does make it much easier to manage your affiliate links. Let’s say you’re affiliated with a site, and they change to a new platform, and you get a new affiliate ID.

    Link cloaking would allow you to change that link in one place, and that would make all of your affiliate IDs work everywhere you have them. It would be a nightmare to go through and change every link you have, if those links are in multiple places.

    Great article and conversation here though.

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