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  1. #1
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Masking & Cloaking Difference?
    What is the difference between masking links and cloaking them?
    I think masking uses httaccess or a similar name but I do not understand what that is either.

    I "met" someone online who volunteered to mask my links for me but I am not sure whether to jump at the offer or decline. It is for this personal reason that I prefer my question to be answered in the "Virtual Family Subforum."

    Search Engine Land just came out with this article:

    Be Careful When Your Affiliates Practice Link Cloaking
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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  2. #2
    15 years and counting
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    I read this article but I wonder if Lori Weiman understands what she's writing about.
    IMHO, she's confused and is confusing her readers.
    What's she's speaking about is just redirecting, cloaking is something else.
    Cloaking is a black hat search engine optimization technique in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different.
    Masking means hiding the referer. And an affiliate should not do that. If you redirect the link with the proper techniques, you're not "masking"

  3. #3
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    I'm surprised nobody is adding their 2 cent to this thread. It's a touchy subject and you want to be sure your AM knows exactly what's going on or you could be in trouble without knowing it.
    Link cloaking is a method used to make a long affiliate URL link into a shorter and prettier one—often to the detriment of a brand.
    That's first sentence made me mad. So, I've not been reading the end of the article too closely.
    LinkShare and SAS are offering ways to shorten affiliates URLs to use on Twitter... WordPress has mod_rewrite for "Pretty Permalinks", you'll find WP plugins like "Pretty Links" To my knowledge they are not doing it to "the detriment of a brand"
    Cloaking is "redirecting", masking is "redirecting". Redirecting is not Cloaking or Masking links. Link redirecting has nothing to do with black hat, and is not detrimental to a brand. Cloaking and Masking could be.
    Redirecting links (not cloaking links) is mostly done to shorten an URL (for various reasons) and some of her points are correct like tracking or consumer-friendly practice, others are not proven like "boost quality score" or "commission hijacking". Parasites are still doing their dirty job if you redirect your links. It can offer some protection for Clickbanks or other networks but if an "unsavory affiliate" or an AM want to see what's behind your redirect they can use software like fiddler to capture HTTP traffic and log it for review.
    Shortening an URL (or redirecting) is not masking (or erasing) the information in that URL if it's done properly. A merchant can still see the origin of the click. All my links are redirected thru my own tracking system and my original clicks are in the network reporting.

  4. #4
    http and a telephoto
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    I think that terms as just getting redefined Zeus. Most link shorteners are saying they "cloak links", but they just mean they are hiding the destination via a short code, and redirecting a short code to a longer url. Which can still be used for not so good things, but in general people are trying to not have long ugly urls on their sites, either to affiliate destinations or to their own very long winded WP article page names.

    Tiny Url started it way back when and now the whole world wants to do it because when Suzy the Blogger puts up http://www.mycoolblog.bloghostingplace.com/my-great-summer-recipe-for-keeping-cool-while-jogging-on-the-beach-with-the-baby-in-a-sling-and-the-dog-on-a-leash in an email or tries to post it to twitter or show her friends, it's too darn long

    In the meantime, affiliates (and spammers) use those same shortners to "getcha" so the immergence of plugins that allow you to expand and see what a shortened link really is are also coming down the pike. They need to get here faster IMO.

    I didn't read the article, but it sounds like another misinformed blogger trying to explain something they didn't research thoroughly first (THAT never happens!!!).
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  5. #5
    http and a telephoto
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    Went over and read it. I hate clueless writers.

  6. #6
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    There is not a consistent usage of the terms, which leads to quite a bit of confusion.

    I do see several things in that article that I do not agree with. I think my disagreement has to do with the confusion and propagation of misinformation because many just don't understand the technical side.

    Once again, I hear that affiliates cloak links to protect against commission theft. One of my pet peeves. Link cloaking does NOT provide ANY protection against commission theft. Not even for ClickBank affiliates.

    Nor does "link cloaking" necessarily indicate any type of bad behavior by an affiliate.

    @Zeus Whenever I hear "link cloaking" and "link masking" defined a server-side redirects and a "bad" thing, I just have to laugh at this point. Do people have any idea realize how Networks track? Server-side redirects are an integral part of the tracking system. <shakes head>

  7. #7
    ABW Ambassador 2busy's Avatar
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    That particular clueless writer is working for a site that sells a service. It's bad enough to read a misguided article but how would you feel to be paying for the clueless services they must offer?

  8. #8
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Loxly, I needed a nap after your sample link. Just woke up.

    I think it comes down to a question of how the links look.

    Least Pretty:
    http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=99...=whateverIwant

    More Pretty:
    http://shrsl.com/?~l6 or http://bit.le/d26O12 (neither is a real link that I know of haha)

    Most Pretty (IMHO):
    http://www.mysite.com/goto/legacylearning

    Of course for social media or plain text email then the shortest possible version is best.

    I generally don't see much of a problem with it, but then again we very rarely (like never since I have been here) have affiliates doing anything shady or spammy.
    Matt McWilliams
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  9. #9
    ABW Ambassador cusimano's Avatar
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    Redirecting via .htaccess (mod_rewrite) is easy to do. You can also easily shorten all the links for a merchant, assuming that the affiliate links are in a consistent format, which they typically are.

    For example, let's suppose you want to have ShareASale.com links that you want to shorten. The ShareASale.com link format is:

    http://www.shareasale.com/m-pr.cfm?merchantID=MERCHANTID&userID=YOURUSERID&productID=PRODUCTID

    You can shorten this URL via redirection and use it in a link such as:

    <a href="/shop/PRODUCTID">Buy ProductName</a>

    The "/shop/" can be any name that you choose. It should not be the name of a real directory. Do not create a directory on your server called shop. If you promote multiple merchants, you could set up a different redirection for each merchant and use the merchant's name or product category for the virtual directory (e.g.: /girlychecks/ or /checks/).

    In your .htaccess file you set up the redirection from the short "/shop/PRODUCTID" URL to the full ShareASale.com affiliate link. So in your .htaccess file (located in the root directory, where your index.html homepage is located) you would have:

    RewriteEngine on
    RewriteBase /

    RewriteRule ^shop/([0-9]+)$ http://www.shareasale.com/m-pr.cfm?merchantID=MERCHANTID&userID=YOURUSERID&productID=$1 [R,L]


    Note: The above RewriteRule statement is one very long line that starts at RewriteRule and ends at [R,L]. It may appear on your screen split as two lines. Copy/paste it as one line.

    In the above statement, you would replace MERCHANTID with the merchant's ShareASale.com merchant ID. And also replace YOURUSERID with your ShareASale.com userID. The "shop" is the name of the virtual directory as mentioned above.

    If you are promoting multiple merchants, add a RewriteRule for each merchant; use a different virtual directory for each (i.e.: change shop for each merchant) and enter the merchant's merchantID for MERCHANTID.

    You could also add alias links so you can refer to a product by an alias rather than its PRODUCTID. Suppose product ID 12345 is a bird cage and want to link to /shop/birdcage So add the following RewriteRule above the earlier RewriteRule:

    RewriteRule ^/shop/birdcage$ /shop/12345

    This RewriteRule cause /shop/birdcage to internally redirect to /shop/12345 which then does the full redirect defined earlier. The nice thing about using an alias is that you could easily link to a different bird cage product by changing 12345 to some other product ID; the /shop/birdcage links throughout your website will then go to the new product.

    To verify that the redirection works, add a link to your website using the shortened URL for a specific product (e.g.: for productID 12345, use /shop/12345) and click it. You should end up at that product at the merchant's site. Note: If the final URL in your web browser's Address bar is not showing your affiliate ID or the product ID, that is okay because the merchant is doing a redirection too. To see all the redirections that are taking place, go to HTTP Viewer and enter your shortened URL (e.g.: http://www.YOURDOMAIN.com/shop/PRODUCTID). The first redirect will be (via .htaccess) from the short URL to the ShareASale.com URL. Then to the merchant's domain. If the merchant does it's own internal redirect (most likely), you will see another redirect to the merchant's domain but with a different path.

    You might also want to stop search engines from following the "/shop/" redirection links. The easiest way to do that is to disallow via your robots.txt file. So in your robots.txt file, add:

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /shop/


    These statements will stop well behaving robots from spidering the /shop/ redirection links.

    Yours truly,
    Cusimano.Com Corporation
    per: David Cusimano
    Affiliate Tools: Datafeed Merge

  10. #10
    Comfortably Numb John Powell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kellie aka Ms. B View Post
    There is not a consistent usage of the terms, which leads to quite a bit of confusion.

    I do see several things in that article that I do not agree with. I think my disagreement has to do with the confusion and propagation of misinformation because many just don't understand the technical side.

    Once again, I hear that affiliates cloak links to protect against commission theft. One of my pet peeves. Link cloaking does NOT provide ANY protection against commission theft. Not even for ClickBank affiliates.

    Nor does "link cloaking" necessarily indicate any type of bad behavior by an affiliate.

    @Zeus Whenever I hear "link cloaking" and "link masking" defined a server-side redirects and a "bad" thing, I just have to laugh at this point. Do people have any idea realize how Networks track? Server-side redirects are an integral part of the tracking system. <shakes head>
    Life is a whole lot about perception and it's a shame when we have innocent behavior that is described with words that have evil connotations. The article writer may be clueless, but none the less the perception is perpetuated. Some merchants will read that and get the idea that innocent people are up to no good.


  11. #11
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Powell View Post
    Life is a whole lot about perception and it's a shame when we have innocent behavior that is described with words that have evil connotations. The article writer may be clueless, but none the less the perception is perpetuated. Some merchants will read that and get the idea that innocent people are up to no good.
    Exactly. I've seen it more than I care to in connection with trademark bidding and "cloaking". If you are a PPCSE affiliate and using redirects (common for the affiliate to run analytics), then you must be a trademark bidder hiding activity from the merchant.

    Certainly affiliates who are up to all kinds of no good use redirects. But I question the effectiveness of using redirects as a red flag of bad behavior. Once bad behavior is identified, the use of elaborate redirects can strenghen the case the affiliate was attempting to hide their activities, but that doesn't mean the converse holds true. There are too many legitimate uses for redirects.

    And sometimes the use of a URL shortening service just means the person wanted/needed a shorter URL.

  12. #12
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    Link cloaking is a method used to make a long affiliate URL link into a shorter and prettier one—often to the detriment of a brand.
    That pisses me off. What kind of idiot thinks that you're harming a merchant's brand by doing a redirect? The merchant's URL is never shown to your visitors anyway, if you're going through a network... is this writer seriously saying that using networks is harmful to a brand???
    Daniel M. Clark
    Tech Manager
    Greg Hoffman Consulting

  13. #13
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daniel m. Clark View Post
    that pisses me off. What kind of idiot thinks that you're harming a merchant's brand by doing a redirect? The merchant's url is never shown to your visitors anyway, if you're going through a network... Is this writer seriously saying that using networks is harmful to a brand???
    +1 1/2
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  14. #14
    Comfortably Numb John Powell's Avatar
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    Not to defend the article writer, but I think that the issue as they see it is summarized in this paragraph from their text.
    When affiliates cloak their URLs a problem can arise for merchants who are trying to keep tabs on where and how their affiliates are advertising. Cloaking makes it harder to determine the source of the traffic, and to view the affiliate’s ID in the URL string.


  15. #15
    ABW Ambassador cusimano's Avatar
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    ... harder to determine the source of the traffic ...
    No. If the redirection is taking place on the affiliate's website then the referer shown in logs (e.g.: merchant's server log, Google Analytics, etc.) will be the affiliate's website. Even if redirection is through a third-party (e.g.: cj.com, bit.ly, etc.), the traffic source (e.g.: where the link appears) will be in the refer. Note: Perhaps the only exception (I haven't tested it) would be if the third-party is using client-side redirection (e.g.: JavaScript or meta refresh) rather than sending a standard 301 Moved status code.

    ... harder ... to view the affiliate’s ID in the URL string...
    Maybe. The affiliate manager can click the link and see what final URL (at the merchant's domain) appears in the Address bar. If the merchant's website itself does not do a redirect (some merchant websites do) then the affiliate ID should be in the final URL. If the merchant's website does its own redirect then the affiliate manager can paste the original link into HTTP Viewer (or use Live HTTP Headers, etc.) to see all the redirects and see the affiliate's ID. In this latter case, it is harder -- but not impossible -- to view the affiliate's ID.

    The bottom line is that redirection is fine. And it's how affiliate networks (e.g.: cj.com) work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhia7 View Post
    .. I "met" someone online who volunteered to mask my links for me but I am not sure whether to jump at the offer or decline. ...
    Rhia7, ask the person to clarify what they meant by "mask".

    Yours truly,
    Cusimano.Com Corporation
    per: David Cusimano
    Affiliate Tools: Datafeed Merge

  16. #16
    ABW Ambassador cusimano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cusimano View Post
    RewriteRule ^/shop/birdcage$ /shop/12345
    Typo in my post about setting up redirect via .htaccess. The above statement that adds a "birdcage" alias should be:

    RewriteRule ^shop/birdcage$ /shop/12345

    Yours truly,
    Cusimano.Com Corporation
    per: David Cusimano
    Affiliate Tools: Datafeed Merge

  17. #17
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cusimano View Post
    Rhia7, ask the person to clarify what they meant by "mask".
    Thanks, David (your answers in this thread have been excellent).

    I think the person meant: Redirecting via .htaccess (mod_rewrite)

    I thanked the person who offered the masking and said I wanted to change things around and would think about the offer at a later time.

    I don't know anything about .htaccess -- where can one learn this?
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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  18. #18
    ABW Ambassador cusimano's Avatar
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    Rhia7, see the above two links for information on how to set up a .htaccess file. Also google ".htaccess". See also: Forum: Link Redirection / Protection / Cloaking

    Warning: Check to see if your site already has a .htaccess file before you upload one. For example, a WordPress or FrontPage website will already have a .htaccess file. In that case, you want to download it, add to it, and upload it. If you're not sure, ask your hosting company if the site already has a .htaccess file (if yes, download it first!).

    Warning: Your FTP program may not be configured to show .htaccess files (i.e.: filenames starting with a period are hidden). In your FTP program's help (press F1) search for "hidden". For CuteFTP, see: How to show hidden files in CuteFTP.

    Yours truly,
    Cusimano.Com Corporation
    per: David Cusimano
    Affiliate Tools: Datafeed Merge

  19. #19
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Oh, wow! Thanks, David

    It would take me forever to learn that stuff

    I am a straight html & css (sometimes) webmaster/affiliate.

    I use Filezilla for FTP
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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  20. #20
    ABW Ambassador cusimano's Avatar
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    See also: Apache 2.2 mod_rewrite Documentation (very detailed).

    In FileZilla, select: View > Filename filters... (Ctrl+I). The "Configuration files" filter must be off (unchecked) for Local and off for Remote. Note to other readers: FileZilla is a free FTP program.

    Yours truly,
    Cusimano.Com Corporation
    per: David Cusimano
    Affiliate Tools: Datafeed Merge

  21. #21
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    David, thank you very much for the information you posted in this thread
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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  22. #22
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    If you are going to modify your .htacess file, be sure to do it in a text editor only.

    As far as letting someone do it for you, I'd only let someone I trust have access to my .htacess file.

    Also, if you do have on in place and download as David said, make a back up of it before you do any changes if there is anything in it! Some hosting intefaces, like CPanel, make changes/additions to your .htaccess file via the control panel, so you might have something in it already.

  23. #23
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Thanks for your advice, Kellie, the .htacess file project has been put on hold
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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  24. #24
    Full Member gcarson's Avatar
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    I'm new to the .htaccess redirect and have a quick question. If you have thousands of affiliate links wouldn't your .htaccess have thousands of redirects? Or, is it ok just to use one link for each merchant so that way you'll only have 1 redirect for each merchant rather than multiple?

  25. #25
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    gcarson has a good question. Plus what if you have links from merchants on multiple networks on one page? I don't understand how that would work with .htcaccess

    I don't know how my "friend" would be able to tell the difference among links.
    ~Rhia7 -- Remember the 7
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