Affiliate Links – Masking, Bad – Redirect, Good

It’s widely known that one of the best ways to make money online is through affiliate marketing. People who own and sell products or services online also realize that one of the best ways to get that product or service known and distributed is through the efforts of affiliates.

The people who promote and sell products for the owners are the “affiliates” and the people who own/operate the affiliate program are the “affiliate managers”. The affiliate programs are mostly run by software installed on the affiliate manager’s website server and is mostly automated. When a visitor clicks on a “join affiliate program” button, they’re usually taken to a simple form to fill out and are ultimately issued a user name and password. Once logged into the affiliate program’s admin area, the affiliate is then issued an affiliate URL. Most of the time, this URL is based on the primary business domain followed by either a few unique numbers and symbols, or a long string of numbers and symbols that are unique to that newly enrolled affiliate. One such affiliate link may look something like this: http://dollarcardmarketing.com/?aif=123abc. This is okay if posted on the Net, but not as easy rolling off the tongue in a casual conversation.

Typically, that affiliate link can be posted anywhere on the Internet on just about any website and start generating referral sales for that affiliate marketer. However, there’s a little something called “affiliate theft” that the affiliate marketer may be concerned with. Affiliate theft occurs when a surfer happens upon that affiliate link and notices the unique affiliate ID behind the base domain. Then, for whatever unknown, illogical reason, the visitor will place their cursor in the browser address bar and simply type in the base URL. So, instead of http://dollarcardmarketing.com/?aif=123abc, they’ll just type in http://www.dollarcardmarketing.com. What this does, in effect, is strips away the affiliate marketer’s ability to earn a commission for that referral. What’s the benefit to someone who strips away the affiliate link? NONE. NOTHING. NO BENEFIT. NO INCENTIVE. So, why do it? dunno.

How do you protect yourself against affiliate theft? Well, there’s several means and methods. But in this post, we’ll talk about one of the most effective; not the cheapest, but most effective. Not to worry, even though it’s “not the cheapest”, it’s also not expensive.

As an affiliate manager here at Dollar Card Marketing, we recommend to our affiliates to purchase a domain of their own and then to redirect it to their affiliate link. For instance, someone could register a domain such as, www.AdsOnCash.com and through their registrar’s admin area, set the domain to redirect to http://dollarcardmarketing.com/?aif=abc123.

This accomplishes a couple things.  One, it prevents affiliate theft by not showing the final destination of the redirect by either status bar on a browser or looking at a page’s source code.  If you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry, just know that it is very effective in preventing affiliate theft.  The other benefit is that when talking to anyone who wants to know where you got those really cool business cards,  it’s much easier to say, “You can get your own really cool business cards at www.AdsOnCash.com!”

Now for those who are a little more familiar with affiliate marketing and purchasing your own domain for redirecting, you might ask, “Well, should I mask the redirected domain or set it to a straight redirect?”  The answer:  DO NOT MASK (stealth) REDIRECT YOUR DOMAIN!  Sorry, was that too loud?  Well, I’ll tell you what; I’ve kinda written a lot here.  There’s some really good info here for those who aren’t very familiar with affiliate marketing and redirecting domains.  However, for those who ARE, if you get nothing else from this post, I want that statement to be the most notable.

Why?  Well, there’s a complicated technical answer to this and then a really simple one.  Let’s go with simple, shall we?  As I’ve previously mentioned, affiliate programs are managed by software.  When a visitor is referred to the website by the affiliate link, the software needs to be able to “read” the unique affiliate ID in the browser’s address bar in order to provide the appropriate credit to the referring affiliate.  When you “mask” a domain, you’re essentially creating a layer on top of the website that is only allowing the masked domain to appear in the browser address bar.  This pretty much disables the affiliate software’s ability to identify who actually referred the traffic because it can’t “read” the affiliate ID.  Therefore, that affiliate will not receive any credit for the referral and thus no commissions for the sale.

John Valente
John is the Owner and Lead Designer at DollarCardMarketing.com. Also owns and operates eMenus.com and SanDiegoBayCruises.com. Click on the icons below to share Dollar Card Marketing and to connect with John!

2 Responses to Affiliate Links – Masking, Bad – Redirect, Good

  1. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this info but I was looking for the more complicated answer. Google no longer allows PPC campaigns that have masked and directed domains and I am trying to find a way around that.

    • JohnV says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Although it would be ideal to be able to simply use a domain with a straight redirect, there may be other alternatives. As this is the first I’m hearing of the Google issue, I haven’t been able to research their policy to see if there’s a work around. At any rate, as strong as Adwords is, there are other PPC networks that also do quite well and may be less expensive. In the meantime, if you have access to your own website account and can build your own pages, I’d suggest a dedicated directory for your affiliate programs where you can create a splash page template and adjust the template for each program. Basically all you need is a graphic showing the product or service, a little blurb of an introduction, and then a “click here for more info” or “click here to order”. That link can then be your affiliate redirected link.

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