Before we get back to the Creating a Niche Affiliate Site Series (I know, I know, part 4 will be published Friday), I wanted to give some information on the Eclipse Link Cloaker since I will be mentioning it in that post. ;-)
I’m a big one for running my affiliate links through redirects, for several reasons:
1. Running them through my own redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting.
2. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects allow you to create short, memorable URLS for them.
3. If you’re in an industry where you market to other affiliates, it can help prevent folks from switching out your affiliate ID with theirs.
4. If the merchant decides to change networks or linking methods, you can simply edit the one redirect instead of needing to edit every instance in which you linked to them.
5. If *you* decide to change widget merchants, you can simply edit the one redirect instead of needing to edit every instance in which you linked to them.
6. If a handful of the merchants that you mention to bring end value to the user don’t have affiliate programs, you can avoid giving them “free benefits” of link popularity that your paying merchants (with affiliate programs) don’t receive.
7. If you’re running an affiliate datafeed site, anything you can do to make your site more technically unique than the other 4000 affiliates using the same datafeed is a bonus in regards to affiliate datafeed SEO.
8. You prevent sending the merchant a complete list of your keywords that convert.
Now, over at MFE Interactive we built a custom solution years ago to handle this. But “I built one in house that you can’t use” doesn’t really seem to help people who know redirecting their affiliate links is best, but don’t have the ability (technical, time wise or financially) or desire to build something custom and feel confused in regards to how to handle it instead. And since I’m always asked “what to use” when I recommend redirecting affiliate links, I figured I should probably take a look at some potential solutions. Enter the Eclipse Link Cloaker.
About the Eclipse link cloaking plugin
Eclipse is a WordPress plugin I’ve been playing with and now have in use on Sugarrae (among other, non MFE sites). It’s kind of like a souped up GoCodes (which is a free redirect solution that works well, but you’ll soon see why I’m now recommending Eclipse – in spite of it being a paid plugin – currently at $57 USD.)
Manual redirect creation
Much like GoCodes, you can manually enter links you’d like to be redirected into a simple control panel under Tools > Cloaked Links. Enter the name of the link, the URL you want people to be redirected to, keywords and max links (see “Keyword auto-linking” below for more on the last two) and click save. Your cloaked links will appear in a list and you can edit them as needed.
Click tracking is automatically enabled on all redirected links in the panel and you can see them by number and in graph form.
The rest of the Eclipse features listed below are located under Settings > Link Cloaker. You can check out a screenshot of the “Link Cloaker” panel below:
Link prefix naming freedom
You get to decide what folder will house all of the redirects the plugin will create. The default is “recommends”. I’d highly recommend changing it. Remember, you’re looking to be as unique as possible. Personally, I’d also take the time to make whatever I folder I decide will house the redirects disallowed and noindexed via my robots.txt file to prevent search engines from getting to them (they don’t want to index a bunch of redirects any more than you want them to do so.)
Automated redirect creation
The plugin will automatically create redirects for any links you use within posts/pages if you want it to. Especially handy if you’re creating more of a datafeed based/ or “store like” site. You can create redirect links only within the content, or throughout the entire site (including sidebars, etc) with one click. But you don’t have to (see the next item.) It will also automatically create redirect links for previously published pages (meaning it isn’t limited only to new posts.)
My gripe with this feature is that it doesn’t grab the anchor text of those automatically created links to use as the link name. So if you import a datafeed (at least the ones I am playing with), it will create redirects for all the links found within it automatically if you want, but all of them will be unnamed so it’s pretty much good luck on ever locating a specific one you want to edit. I’m *really* hoping this feature gets added at some point in the future.
Redirect everything, be selective or meet somewhere in between
You can also choose never to automatically create redirect links and instead only identify links you’d like redirects created for by adding an extra tag to the link HTML. Manual redirect creation, automated redirect creation or even a hybrid in between are all possible.
Or cloak all links but add a list of exceptions (such as links to your own internal pages, to sites you cross promote with or to large non-commercial authority sites you link to often). You can also exclude automated redirect creation on a page/post by page/post basis (a disable button is available per page/post in the right sidebar of the edit page.)
You can choose from various redirect and cloaking solutions
Eclipse calls itself a “link cloaker” but it really is more of a redirection plugin. You have the ability to automatically or manually create several different types of redirects (including 301, which I’d recommend) AND the ability to also cloak the link in a traditional sense (meaning the “cloaked link” is served in a frame and your URL never leaves the address bar.)
I personally wouldn’t cloak links in the traditional definition. I’d go the redirect route. First, some merchants don’t allow cloaking (they want their brand visible) and actually have it in their terms and conditions that you can’t do it. Second, in my honest opinion, it can confuse the user. Third, cloaking can sometimes cause tracking issues. I don’t know about you, but I like being paid on my sales. ;-)
Google Analytics tracking capabilities
This feature is pretty cool. You can enable “autolinking” of specific keywords to certain redirects. So let’s say I assign the keyword “green widgets” to a specific redirect link in the Cloaked Links panel. I can set it up so that anytime “green widgets” is mentioned within a post, it links to that redirect.
I can control how many links are added into each post and how many times in a specific post a single keyword should be linked. It’s sort of like the Cross Linker plugin, but for external affiliate links instead of internal “anchor passing for SEO purposes” links.
You can disable the feature on specific pages if you want and from appearing within specific tags (such as heading tags.) You have to play with it a bit to find your comfort zone on how much is “too much” but it can definitely help you with tastefully promoting your affiliate links after a bit of tweaking.
As an SEO I feel compelled to note that it also will not override your regular internal linking (awesome). So even though I may tell it to link the words Thesis theme to my Thesis affiliate redirect link automatically every time I write that phrase, it won’t override the link I already have right there that leads to my Thesis review so that I can still pass internal link juice if I choose. It will instead simply not link to my affiliate link or link the next instance of Thesis theme within the post if it is mentioned more than once. ;-)
My request for improvement with this feature is that I’d like to be able to also assign internal linking with it so I don’t need a secondary plugin solely to control autolinking to internal pages for SEO purposes. (Hopefully the plugin creator is listening?)
Conversion tracking capabilities
If you’re lucky enough to have a merchant that allows you to place conversion tracking code on their thank you pages, the plugin also offers conversion tracking stats (enabled in the Settings > Link Cloaker panel and viewable in the Tools > Cloaked Links panel.)
GoCodes vs. Eclipse Link Cloaker
|Manual Redirect Creation||x||x|
|Manual redirects can be edited||x||x|
|Link prefix naming freedom||x||x|
|Automated redirect creation||x|
|Selective automated redirecting||x|
|Various redirect solutions||x|
|Traditional cloaking options||x|
|Google Analytics tracking capabilities||x|
|Conversion tracking capabilities||x|
If I were running one small WordPress based site or blog, didn’t drop a lot of affiliate links and/or wasn’t dealing with datafeeds regularly then GoCodes would definitely work for me. It met my needs on Sugarrae without an issue. It didn’t meet my needs on most commercial blogs I own/run, though.
For folks creating multiple affiliate sites or who want better internal promotion of their affiliate links (not to mention don’t want to manually create redirects for “one off” product mentions they’ll probably never use again) on their well trafficked blogs, I’d definitely save myself time and aggravation by going with Eclipse.