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Is Cloaking Affiliate Links Bad For Rankings ?

     
10:16 am on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Hello all,

I just noticed a huge drop on two of my websites, both are quality websites full of relevant content and natural backlinks.

They have been steady in the Serps for almost a year but last night they dropped big time.

I have not made any changes to the site apart from changing the external affiliate links.

Original > Affiliate url cloaked via the WP Simple urls plugin

Changed version > Affiliate url cloaked via Improvely (for tracking) > Affiliate url cloaked via Simple urls

So in the new version the links are redirected twice opposed to only once in the original version.

Could the fact that the links are now redirected twice cause Google to suspect that something blackhat is going on and penalize me for that?

All affiliate links are Nofollow.

I know it is a long shot but it is the only thing that I can think of as none of my other sites have seen a drop like this.
1:25 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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No, doubtful. Sounds like your drop coincided with the core algo update this weekend.

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2:59 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The problem is that Google just updated it`s core algorithm and that`s why you see fluctuations in SERPs. You are not the only one, people all around the world have been complaining about this, even people with 100% legit websites.
I think that it`s just a coincidence and the cloaking of your links is not the problem here
3:10 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I am aware of the drop but strangely enough only the two sites to which I added Improvely have dropped.
3:22 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I didn`t have any problems with link cloaking in the past, ESPECIALLY if they are marked as nofollow. Waiting for someone else to say their opinion...
3:49 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I am trying to get the article where JohnMu explained in a bit more detail how one should cloak the affiliate links he builds. Well he did not say cloak as it is a bad word in Google, but rather explain the best practice that Google can tolerate.
3:58 pm on Jan 14, 2016 (gmt 0)

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am trying to get the article where JohnMu explained in a bit more detail how one should cloak the affiliate links he builds.

I haven't seen that article, but I remember Matt Cutts saying a few years ago that affiliate links didn't necessarily have to be nofollowed since Google had become pretty good at recognizing affiliate links.

FWIW, our editorial site has a great many affiliate links. I nofollow them, just to be on the safe side, but I've never cloaked them, and our site does very well in Google Search.
9:58 am on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@EditorialGuy - keep note that in October (correct me on the month!) there was a wave of penalized websites precisely due to non-no-follow-ed affiliate links. I always go for the extra safe approach, despite what allegedly Google is good at identifying.
12:41 pm on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Has anyone from G said we should "no-follow" affiliate links?

For me, nothing is no-follow in my websites and I have loads of affiliate links, some which G can never be sure if they affiliate or not. I simply link to a url and the recognition work is done on the destination sites stats.

I certainly wouldn't cloak any link. It's an attempt to conceal something.
1:51 pm on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I cloak affiliate links for a variety of reasons - tracking, preventing hijacking by unscrupulous affiliates, branding the URLs with my own domains, etc. As far as I know, there's no problem with that (at least I've never had one).

I nofollow affiliate links because they are, in essence, paid links to some other site. I would never nofollow any link to my own sites, but I'll nofollow links to other sites when there's some kind of compensation.

That's MY best practice.
2:09 pm on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google:

[support.google.com...]

Note that PPC (pay-per-click) advertising links that donít pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad do not violate our guidelines. You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:

Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the <a> tag
Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

They talk about PPC but it surely must mean all affiliate links.
.
2:50 pm on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Exactly Nettulf. Some folks who did not block Google from these intermediate pages however did get penalized, mainly because Google algo thought they are trying to do some link-scheming. Never forget that Google Algo is one huge mathematical equation and though smart, can not provide the correct answer to any and all cases. That is why we have guidelines and "safe than sorry" solutions provided by the community.
3:23 pm on Jan 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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They talk about PPC but it surely must mean all affiliate links.

Isn't it more likely that they meant exactly what they said?

Still, it's easy enough to add "nofollow" to affiliate links if you want to. I do, although I'm sure that I forget a rel="nofollow" here and there. I don't cloak the links, though.
11:33 pm on Jan 18, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I worked on a fairly popular editorial site that had high-quality content and a lot of natural backlinks. Organic search traffic was in the 3.2M sessions per month range. The site added affiliate links (to Amazon's affiliate program) on over 50K of its pages within a specific section(product reviews). The affiliate links were not nofollowed at first, and the site was penalized soon after the launch of those links. However, only the product review pages were penalized, not the entire site. Shortly after the penalty, they added nofollow links and recovered recovered from the penalty within a week.

I'd recommend adding nofollow to affiliate links, just to be safe.
9:34 am on Jan 19, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I listened to the latest John Mueller hangout last week and he talked about affiliate and ad traffic. He specifically said that if the link is no-follow then that is telling Google, hey look they have business relationship and the traffic is the result of that. If you read this between the lines, the same sentence reads "If you have an affiliate or advertising link that funnels traffic from one of the properties to the other and it is not no-follow, we consider this an organic related link and since it is not, we might penalize you."

Just food for thought.
3:32 pm on Jan 19, 2016 (gmt 0)

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"Reading behind the lines" is guesswork, and in the case of affiliate links (not ad liniks) it's contradicted by something that Matt Cutts said earlier. Still, why take chances when it's so easy to nofollow affiliate links, and when there's no discernible benefit to not using rel="nofollow" with affiliate links?
 

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