I’ve actually covered this topic before, but it’s worth discussing it again. In essence, link cloaking means creating a different version of your link than the one you actually display to the public.
There are a number of advantages to this, most notably, that it allows you to prevent people from stealing your commissions. It also takes care of letting people click links because some people don’t like super long links (they tend to think that they’re linking to viruses or some such thing).
So for example, here’s a link to a product on Amazon.com which has interest for SEO professionals: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0596518862/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=theperfinhelc-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399377&creativeASIN=0596518862.
As you can see, the link is very long and confusing. More than that, my affiliate code is present and can easily be replaced. Compare this with: http://dolr.tk/3m. The code is short and simple and you can’t delete my affiliate ID before you visit the link.
Choosing How Your Customers Arrive
Another big advantage of link cloaking is choosing how your customers arrive at a given page. There are some link cloakers for example (I’ll share a few in a moment which I like) which will allow you to open the new page in a frame, thereby creating a link back to your site above the page where the product is advertised. At the very least, you can create a link which will open in a new window or new tab instead of opening in the same window, thus taking your customer away from your website.
Personally, I use a custom URL shortner when I want to cloak a link. It’s not ideal, but it’s a technology I already have access to since I own the short URL (dolr.tk) and I have the system set up on my hosting account. The service I use for this, which I’ve mentioned here before is the dot tk service, which offers free domain names (I originally took dolr.tk as a free domain name). However, they have certain restrictions on the use of freebies and so I decided to pay for my domain name.
This is combined with YOURLS, which is free, though you need to install it yourself in most CPanel systems. The advantage of this system is that it’s cheap and it doubles as something useful for when I post things on Twitter. The disadvantage of this system is that it doesn’t give you all the control over link cloaking that you might want otherwise.
Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of John Chow and LinkTrackr is the service he recommends for affiliate link cloaking. It offers many more features than can be found on something like YOURLS, including detailed tracking of your links, custom layout and more. It’s quite well put together and the best part about it is that they offer a free account. The free service is limited, but it’s a great way to test the service out and see if you like it.
Finally, there is Free Link Cloaker, which a number of people on the Warrior Forum recommend. I personally have never used the service and as such can’t say much about it. However, I have come to find that the advice offered on Warrior Forum is often quite useful and since a number of people seem to like it, it does seem like it could be a good choice. From the descriptions on the site, it also seems to have a lot of the same features that Linktrackr has, though by no means all of them.