If you don't already mask affiliate links, you may be losing product commissions. Masking links can boost your website's quality score and make consumers more likely to buy a product through your affiliate link. However, new government regulations and merchant restrictions make it even more important to use this practice wisely.
Reasons to Mask Links
Masking links, also called link cloaking, is the practice of changing affiliate links to show a different URL. In most cases, the URL is changed to include the merchant name and other identifying information. Cloaking links can boost consumer consumer confidence, leading to more clicks and completed orders. Therefore, this practice can yield increased commissions for your site.
Making more money is not the only reason to cloak links. Masking links can also help maintain your website's quality score. There is evidence that Google penalizes sites with a lot of affiliate links. Choosing to mask your affiliate links may boost your score, especially if your website has a lot of links. A high quality score can help your search engine placement in Google.
Masking links can also make it easier to collect website data. Cloaked links that use your website's URL are easier to track. Many types of reporting software work best with masked links. By cloaking links, you can get better information about the visitors and ads on your site.
Cloaking links prevents commission hijacking, too. Some types of spyware can substitute your affiliate ID with another ID number. This allows unscrupulous affiliates to steal your commissions. Depending on the URL, website visitors can also substitute their own affiliate ID manually. Masking links helps to eliminate this problem by making affiliate URLs difficult to identify and modify.
Concerns About Masking Links
Some online retailers do not allow their affiliates to mask links. Check for any policies that limit link cloaking before implementing it on your site. If there is not a policy in your affiliate agreement, you may want to contact the merchant directly.
Merchants can be wary of websites that cloak links because the practice can mask unsavory advertising practices. Misleading keywords and unethical search marketing tactics can damage a merchant's brand. For this reason, if you are caught masking links to hide your business practices, your affiliate relationship may be terminated.
Some merchants offer their own cloaking software to address concerns surround link masking. If your website's reporting software is compatible, using the merchant’s cloaking software can be an excellent middle ground.
Some website owners don't mask links due to concerns surrounding the U.S. Federal Trade Commission endorsement guidelines of 2009. The FTC endorsement guidelines do not explicitly restrict the practice of masking links. However, you must disclose to your readers if you receive a commission from selling a product through an affiliate link.
There is no specific disclaimer required by the FTC. Each masked link should be clearly labeled as an affiliate link. If you regularly include cloaked links in a product review, you must tell visitors that you receive a commission from each sale of the product.
Uncloaked links must have the same type of disclosures, because not all visitors can easily recognize an affiliate link. For this reason, there is little downside to adding cloaked links to your site as long as you include a disclaimer.