Should Amazon Affiliates Use Cloaked Links Or Not?

I frequently have customers that email me to ask me if they should cloak their Amazon affiliate links or not. Some of them wonder if it may help to improve their search engine rankings by essentially hiding the affiliate links, while others are more interested in trying to disguise the link from their site visitors.

A lot of my customers are actually contacting me because they already use cloaking tactics on a site and have recently purchased one of my plugins like ExtendAzon, UpsellAzon or Local Azon. These plugins detect the existing affiliate links, so they were not initially designed to handle them (Local Azon uncloaks Amazon affiliate links now). These people were initially concerned about whether it would be OK to use uncloaked links to allow my plugins to work.

This is really a highly debated subject, at least in my opinion. There are tons of people, especially other Amazon marketers, that say to cloak your links. Typically, this is done for two reasons: so people are more likely to click the links since they may not identify them as Amazon links right off and so Google doesn’t detect that you are promoting affiliate offers. In theory, both may sound like a good idea, but I really debate the truth of it for a few reasons.

  1. Most importantly, Amazon specially says in their affiliate agreement that cloaking or tracking their links is in violation of their terms of use. Even if you can argue benefits for cloaking links, I highly advise against it for this one reason alone. Technically speaking, if you start making a ton of money with your Amazon sites using cloaked links and Amazon realizes it, they can technically withhold all payment and even seek repayment of past paid earnings. I cannot say for sure whether they really enforce these policies heavily or not, but personally I don’t feel like it is worth the potential risk.

    In the Associates Program Participation Requirements, #30 specifically states:

    You will not cloak, hide, spoof, or otherwise obscure the URL of your site containing Special Links (including by use of a redirecting page) such that we cannot reasonably determine the site from which a customer clicks through such Special Link to the Amazon Site.

  2. Cloaking links to hide their true nature from site visitors is ultimately a deceptive advertising practice, at least in my personal opinion. I don’t want to be tricked when I am browsing the web, so I try not to do the same to my own visitors. Trickery like this can result in better click through rates on your links, but from past experience, I feel like it just results in lower conversion rates and doesn’t offer much benefit overall.
  3. As for Google, I think this may have worked in the past, but I honestly don’t know if that is the case anymore. With my recent plugin Local Azon, I built a feature in that script to detect cloaked Amazon links to get the affiliate id and product ASIN from the final web address for cloaked links. If I can build this feature in a day for one of my plugins, I don’t see any reason why cloaking a link would fool Google. Personally, I think these are old tricks that already died, but some marketers still cling to them because they still look like they should work from their perspective.

Again, a lot of this is my personal opinion and not necessarily based on facts. However, I also have plenty of sites ranked number 1 on Google that use uncloaked Amazon affiliate links, so I still feel confident offering this advice.

Overall, I feel like my #1 reason above is reason enough to avoid cloaking Amazon affiliate links. However, Amazon actually does offer a legitimate way to cloak your links. They have their own “link shortening” service that essentially does the same thing using one of their shorter, alternate domains.

When it comes to earning money through their Associates Program, you simply don’t want to take major risks that can jeopardize your account. You also don’t want to try to fool search engines, especially Google. Even if you can figure out a way to trick them for now, their technologies are always developing and expanding, which will result in the eventual end to any tactics that work now.

The legal route might be slower sometimes, but it is the only route that has the potential to work long-term. Considering most marketers truly aren’t out to just make a quick buck and would like to be able to earn a regular monthly income, it is baffling why so many of them try to take the easy path to quick success that they know cannot last forever.

This entry was posted in Amazon Affiliate Blog and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.