Affiliate linking or link sharing may not be a term that you are familiar with but is something we often get subjected to just through browsing. And if you have been using the internet regularly for a while now, you have experienced it at least once or twice without even knowing what it is or what it does. And although affiliate linking is known for redirecting a user from one site to another and often gets deemed a marketing technique, it is also widely known for masking URLs.
URL masking is how users redirect visitors to a different site while keeping the original URL address. Moreover, it allows you to protect your site from any unwanted visitors. And while opinions regarding URL masking vary from person to person, whether or not it is a viable option for your site is debatable.
So what exactly is URL masking, and how does it help the sites? Is this something you should be concerned about, and if yes, how can you incorporate URL masking into your site? If these queries seem familiar to you, then do not worry because you are at the right place.
So, whether you want to incorporate affiliate linking to your WordPress website or protect it from getting hacked, read on to learn all the different solutions to masking your WordPress URL.
In this article, we will be going through anything and everything that you need to know about WordPress URL masking,
- What is URL Masking?
- When Should I Mask My WordPress URL?
- How to Mask a URL?
- Are There Any Alternatives to URL Masking?
- Why Masking Your URL Can be Bad News?
- Final Takeaways
- URL masking is how web developers mask the website's original domain.
- This process allows developers to redirect the visitors from one site to another while masking their original site address.
- Although URL masking helps your website tackle hackers and prevent affiliate links from making money, there are also a few downsides to it.
- Since URL masking may not be the best decision for your website, there are alternative solutions available in the market that you can opt for instead.
What is URL Masking?
URL masking falls under the category of link affiliation. So, before we start, let us give you a brief on what affiliate linking is and how it gets used to mask URLs.
Affiliate linking or URL redirects, is just as the name suggests, a process utilized by businesses to redirect website visitors from one URL to another while keeping the same domain name. Remember those sites that redirect you to a different address once you click on it? URL redirect does just that.
URL masking, also known as 'Link Cloaking,' is what works as an invisible cloak to help websites hide their true identity. The idea behind URL masking is to help websites mask their actual domain name while redirecting users to an alternate address. Thus, ultimately helping websites protect their original identity and maintain their privacy.
Different Types of HTTP redirects
According to HTTP protocol, this URL redirect is of three different categories,
- 301 (permanent redirect)
- 302 (temporary redirect)
- URL frame (mask)
Let’s start with the 301, the permanent redirect. This redirect is for when you want to change the current URL address of your website. In such a case, after visiting the website, the webpage would directly escort you to the new URL. It is more like shifting apartments, where all your deliveries get shipped to your new address. So, implementing the new site would mean that the crawler interprets your website and then sends all the visitors clicking the link to the current URL.
So, how does this help? People would still visit the old sites even after the company changes its URL or domain name, not knowing about the domain shift. Thus, deleting the domain would mean that when the visitors enter the link, HTTP shows them the 404 Not Found.
So, companies rely on permanent redirecting and ask the server to drive the traffic to the new site. That said, permanent redirecting is almost irrecoverable. So, unless you are absolutely certain that you will not be using your previous website anymore, do not opt for 301 redirects.
Next comes the 302 or temporary redirecting. The idea behind 302 or permanent redirecting is to use the current link as a hosting site to drive people to the actual site. So, this is the URL redirect that companies rely on when they need to fix something on their main webpage or need to perform A/B testing.
In such a case, after visiting the site, it will ask you to click on any affiliated link to take you to the temporary address as the web developers work through the troubleshooting activities.
Moreover, if you plan on migrating from your previous domain, the 302 redirects can be a great solution to avoiding ageing delay. That said, the recent reports by Google indicate that 302 can now pass page authority. Thus, only opt for 302 if you plan on coming back to the old site in the future.
Now, let us move on to URL Frame or URL masking. Unlike the 301 and 302 redirects, this one does not show the original URL link on the address bar. Instead, it masks the address. So, with URL masking, although the user gets transported to a new domain, the address bar remains the same.
The motive? To shield the webpage from getting hacked. Moreover, sometimes businesses would try to hide the referral links since they can make money off their site. So, masking the domain helps the site stop promoting the referral links.
When Should I Mask My WordPress URL?
Just like an invisible cloak, URL cloaking will you become invisible.
So, when should I use this invisible cloak to shield my domain? You should incorporate URL masking when-
- You want to hide the affiliate links from your webpage to stop them from making money off your page,
- There is construction happening on your original site, and you want to divert the visitors while masking the address,
- You want to shorten the link to your original site and make it look more in line with your website's overall aesthetic,
- You would like to shield your site from hackers,
- You prefer increasing the overall website security by preventing it from getting tracked.
How to Mask a URL?
Now that we have a basic understanding of each redirecting concept, we can move on to discuss how you can mask your URL in the following two ways,
To mask your website using index.html, you need to first log in to your cPanel account. Next, click on the file manager to locate the file public_html. Create a new file named index.html or click on the pre-existing version. Once you are inside the file, right-click on the Edit file. All you need to do is drag and drop or copy and paste the mentioned code within your file and save the changes made.
<meta name=”description” content=”Description”>
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Keyword1, Keyword2″>
<frameset rows=”100%,0″ border=”0″>
<frame src=”http://yourotherdomain.com” frameborder=”0″>
After that, test your original site for URL masking.
In this process, all you have to do is use the RewriteEngine function and interchange the 'displayed path' code with whatever you want as your new domain address. So, if you write 'my origin,' the URL will show that as your website address. Lastly, test-run your original web address to see if it works.
Are There Any Alternatives to URL Masking?
Apart from the above-mentioned processes, there are other internal and external solutions available that you can opt for to mask your website URL. Think of these tools as an alternative to URL masking that can help you shorten the links and track them as well.
TinyURL is for businesses that want to shorten the look of their current website URL in order to make it look more appealing. It works as an external link that works as a URL shortening service for websites that need a little reshaping. It's like taking your domain address 'to the salon.'
In order to use TinyURL, all you have to do is copy the original WordPress URL that you want to shorten and then paste it onto the TinyURL page, and the tool will generate a shorter version of your current URL.
BudURL is another tool that shortens your WordPress URLs and tracks your links as well. With BudURL, you get the best of both worlds. So, you get to make your links look appealing and track their visits and performances simultaneously.
In addition to that, BudURL allows developers to create multiple interfaces with similar destinations. And this enables users to track each visit and each action of the customers visiting the website.
WP Affiliate or AffiliateWP is a WordPress plugin tool that works great with WordPress sites. And just as the name suggests, this WordPress plugin helps you to run affiliate tracking. The perks? Provides your business with marketing tools that can turn words into URL links and help you track their progress.
Why Masking Your URL Can be Bad News?
Although masking your URL has its fair share of benefits, there are a few drawbacks that you should know about before deciding to mask your content.
One of the biggest drawbacks to URL masking is that it causes the website to lose value to the clients. Why? Because as you decide to incorporate URL masking into your site, it raises the question in the client's mind the next time they visit your site. Since people often use URL masking to spread malicious content, it can raise a feeling of mistrust within your visitors, leading them to stop visiting your site.
Additionally, it can be increasingly difficult to navigate throughout your site as your domain address remains the same no matter the page. Apart from that, URL masking can cause the Search Engines to get confused since they will be seeing two domains comprising similar content. And this can cause your SEO ranking to decrease.
Lastly, having your homepage as your domain address can not only cause the clients issues regarding saving or bookmarking any post, but it can also lower your SEO ranking altogether. Since the search engines see two domains, there is an added risk of having duplicate content.
As you decide to use URL masking on your website, many people may tell you that it is bad news, and they won't be wrong about it. And although there are tools that you can use as alternatives, there is no telling that your links will not break. So, you always run the risk of having your links become non-functional.
That is why URL masking is a tricky business. So, unless you come prepared for all the said consequences, it would be wise to opt for other solutions that can help mask your website needs.