A pretty question about affiliate links is how to mask affiliate links that is safe in Google’s eye. Or is that what Google recommends? Those links are very similar to paid links as those were dumped previously by Google. Many of the popular sites got penalized for paid links. So the question is how to handle those?
Affiliation is the process to drive leads or sells to one’s product referred by the affiliate marketers. As a reward, they will get revenues out of it. So the affiliate marketers put on as much links as possible for higher income. But they should worry that the links are pretending as paid link.
By Google Webmaster Policies, paid links expecting higher ranking is strictly prohibited. The links set up by the marketers are very similar because it’s paid, and it helps ranking. That’s why we have to handle those very carefully. Masking or hiding is the solution what Google would love.
3 Steps to Go Through For Masking Affiliate Links
#1 Create a Sub Folder to 302 Redirect Affiliate Links
Generally the affiliate links are dynamic type of urls containing various characters and signs. That is very hard to type or remember. Even the dynamic urls are not friendly to the search engines. So it is really necessary that we create a specific folder and its sub folder to redirect to the affiliate pages. And that is what Google and other search engines recommend.
As an example, my HostGator affiliate link is:
The url contains various characters which’s not user friendly. Instead, we can create a sub folder and redirect it to the affiliate page:
Please note that /recommended/ is the folder and /hostgator/ is the sub folder. For each and every affiliate link, you have to create different sub folders but the folder should be the same.
Let me explain a few more words about redirection. There are two types of redirection based on HTTP Server Status. Those are 301 and 302. 301 redirection is the permanent redirection to the specific url. That’s mean it will pass link juice.
On the other hand, 302 is the temporary redirection that doesn’t pass link juice. As it is your earning source, you shouldn’t pass link juice to help ranking. So 302 is recommended. Here is a Wiki about How to Redirect a URL.
#2 Disallow The Folder By Robots.txt
The affiliate links are just for users and their participation. It’s same either a bot or a crawler visit the url or not. So why should we harass the bots? In fact, they could take those pages negatively. Be safe by instructing them not to index or crawl the affiliate links. We can do this just from our Robots.txt file.
If you haven’t, you can easily create a robots.txt file in your site directory. Then include the lines as specified below:
User-agent: * Disallow: /recommended/
Here I have disallowed my folder where all the affiliate links are stored. You should also do it for your own folder. It’ll instruct all the user agents not to crawl or index the directory.
#3 Add rel=”nofollow” Attribute to Affiliate Links
Even we disallow the directory with Robots.txt, the crawlers can still pass link juice. So all we have to do is to add rel=”nofollow” attribute to the HTML link. It will strongly pretend not to pass an inch of link juice.
In Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, once a question appeared how to add an outbound link which doesn’t look like paid. In answer of it, Matt Cutts told to add a nofollow attribute. So it looks like this one:
<a href="http://www.bloggingspell.com/recommended/hostgator/" rel="nofollow">HostGator</a>
Look into the HTML link, I have added an additional rel=”nofollow” inside the starting element of my affiliate link. You should consider it to stay out of any trouble.
Why I think Masking in Necessary?
A simple affiliate link has three bad sides. It’s usually dynamic url which’s not accessible by crawlers, it’s not disallowed by Robots.txt and it’ll still pass link juice. I individually think, this type of link will be supposed to paid links. Because you are getting paid by putting these on.
Redirecting those links will lead a clean and unique slug, Robots.txt disallow will instruct not to crawl and the nofollow attribute will stop passing link juice. So the three bad sides are completely gone. That’s why I think masking is really necessary in this case.
A Dumb Question: Is Link Masking Safe in Google’s Eye?
Many people would ask me, link cloaking is totally restricted by Google’s webmaster policies. This process is against their policies. Yep, cloaking is nasty and it would affect ranking for sure. But I named the question dump because you are thinking wrong.
Cloaking and redirecting are two different things. Cloaking is showing two different pages to users and crawlers. But redirecting is same to both of them. So there won’t be any problem at all. In fact the redirection solves dynamic url problem, the link equity problem and crawling problem. So that’s 100% safe in any aspect.
If any of the affiliate marketers ask about it, I would definitely advise him to mask affiliate links. Because it’s really a good practice not just for making money, in fact in SEO. And I am sure there won’t be any problem for Google. Even avoiding would be a problem. So I wish, you would hide affiliate links to keep your site out of troubles.
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