In a previous article I published, Affiliate marketing survival strategies, the focus was on problems that can occur at the merchant end of commission tracking. I also briefly touched on the issues associated with affiliate links.
Many people are hesitant to click on an affiliate link such as this example:
Why? To be quite honest, I don't know - but perhaps people feel it's a security issue; or perhaps they are just plain ignorant of the fact that if a site owner has gone to the trouble of providing valuable information on their site for free, that there is nothing wrong with them receiving due compensation for that effort.
What some people will have a tendency to do is to move their mouse over an external link and then view the target URL in the status bar of their browser. If an affiliate code or URL is present; they'll simply take note of the top level of the domain and manually type that into their browser address bar, or if you've mentioned the company name they may just carry out a search to locate the home page of the company.
It's pretty silly really, it would be much easier for them to just click on the link :).
How to protect your affiliate commissions.
There are many premium software products on the market ranging from US$15 - $50 for special software that will assist you in protecting your affiliate commissions. Their effectiveness and ease of use ranges greatly, so before you pay for one of these software applications, try out a few of these suggestions. I've listed the strategies from least effective to most effective.
Install a banner server
Banner servers just don't serve banners, many of the more recent ad servers will also display textual links as well. The link coding associated with served ads is usually so long, that the visitor wouldn't be able to see via the status bar where it was directing to.
But given the complexity and time consuming nature of installing an ad server, this is probably the least effective means if you just have a few associations.
Click tracking software and scripts
A click-counting software application will not show the target URL as the links point inwards to the software which is usually installed on your own site.
After clicking on the link, the click tracking application then redirects the visitor to the URL you specify within the script. Click tracking software also provides a great way to monitor the effectiveness of your ads and not just having to rely on the reports provided by merchants.
These scripts can be easily found on any search engine by using the following query:
free click counting scripts
They are usually pretty easy to set up. The most effective ones I've used are based on php scripting. For a full solution that will encrypt links and you can also use for tracking, see my article on click tracking software.
In this example, "Merchant ABC" is the advertiser. You can see in the first part your affiliate link, the second part shows what will be displayed in the browser status bar and the last part is the link text. The link is set to open in a new window, so you don't lose visitors from your site.
The best affiliate link cloaking method
Create a new web page that contains the following HTML code in it (replace the merchantabc url with your own affiliate link) and save it.
Then, instead of using your personal link with your cookie ID as you can see below:
As soon as someone clicks on this new link, the page would automatically redirect to your affiliate URL. Make sure that you set the link to your cloaked page in a new window so that you don't lose visitors from your site.
Search Engine Issues
The Robots line in the cloaking page is to prevent Search Engines such as Google trying to index the page. Google hates meta refresh pages as it perceives them as a spamming technique. It's safer to keep search engine robots out of the page, and since the page will have no content, there's no point in it being indexed anyway.
Don't be tempted to have search engines index the cloaking page in hope of your affiliate URL page will be listed highly; the penalty imposed by some search engines if you are caught is not worth the risk.
You can play it even safer by having all of these special pages in one directory and then introducing a robots exclusion statement for that directory in your robots.txt file. Read my tutorial on the robots.txt file.
I highly recommend cloaking your affiliate links. We have definitely experienced higher conversions and therefore commission revenue since we began implementing cloaking strategies. There's nothing unethical about it; like many other site owners, we work hard on our site and have poured thousands of hours into it over the years - there's nothing wrong with receiving a few bucks for this effort.
The following is a list of further affiliate marketing related articles and tutorials that can assist you in generating revenue from your web site.
Affiliate marketing - resources
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