I remember starting out as an affiliate marketer a few years back and thinking I was on the ball regarding link management. However, I was doing things backward. I would search and get links as I needed them, and I kept my frequently used links in an Excel file. The Excel file is still around for convenience and quick access, but I found and having been using a fantastic WordPress plugin to increase my efficiency. Conversely, if you’re looking for a plugin to manage an affiliate program, making you the advertiser, I’ll discuss this briefly later in this post.
Conduct a search for “WordPress affiliate plugin” and the most touted affiliate plugin would be the one by ThirstyAffiliates (plugin carries the same name). As the name suggest, this plugin is designed for those serious about generating commissions. You can install the plugin for free and pay for add-ons as per your requirements. To date, it’s been downloaded over 70,000 times with 10,000+ active installs and a 4.5/5 rating.
The ThirstyAffiliates plugin lets you administer your affiliate links and insert them into your posts, pages, and comments easily while giving you a central location to manage everything. It will create custom links through redirection and link cloaking all the while protecting your commissions from theft (rare but possible).
The free version is powerful on its own and features the following:
- In-built affiliate link shortening/link cloaking (yourwebsite.com/recommends/your-affiliate-link) so there’s no need to use another shortening service consistently
- Commission protection through 301 redirection
- Customizable link URL prefixes
- Hierarchical link categorization to easily segment links
- Quick add tool that lets you easily create new affiliate links without having to leave the post edit screen
- Ability to add graphics, banners, and other images to affiliate links for easy insertion
- DoFollow/NoFollow options (global or per link)
- Open in new window options (global or per link)
- Multiple redirect types (301, 302 or 307 temporary)
- Full importing and exporting support via standard WordPress tools
- Full backup compatibility via standard WordPress backup solutions
- Uses WordPress approved storage techniques
- FooGallery plugin extension to link images to affiliate links
- Premium add-ons for enhanced functionality
ThirstyAffiliate Plugin Settings
The ThirstyAffiliate plugin is incredibly easy to use, so I’ll only delve into the settings tab.
- Link Prefix – Choose the right prefix from the start or else a future change will break your links and render them useless (the Broken Link Checker plugin is another excellent plugin to install). I had changed my mind early on then had to fix my links manually. There are many prefixes to choose from and no one prefix is correct. Choose the one that suits you.
- Use no follow on links? – Yes, checkmark.
- Open links in new window? – Yes, checkmark if you don’t want visitors to leave your site altogether.
I pretty much stuck with the default settings and every setting has a brief explanation next to it to guide you.
ThirstyAffiliate offers several add-ons to amplify your capabilities.
- Geolocations: Allows you to specify a different end-destination for any country giving you maximum flexibility. This is ideal for sending visitors from one country to a specific geographically based store that sells the item you are promoting.
- AZON: With state of the art features such as smart result filtering and 1-Click importing, this add-on will change the way you work as an Amazon affiliate.
- Stats: Add essential click tracking and recording for your affiliate links, with a complete statistics dashboard and breakdown for enhanced analytical capabilities.
- Google Click Tracking: Sprinkle your links throughout your website and the add-on will automatically drop in the correct Google Approved code to reconcile in Google Analytics.
- Autolinker: Automatically cloak affiliate links across your website, blog, or bbPress forum.
Why Link Cloaking Matters
As mentioned, the ThristyAffiliates plugin provides link cloaking capabilities. Link cloaking is a method of converting affiliate links into shorter, prettier, and less conspicuous links, for instance, turning amazon.com/gp/product/B01F25K87W/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creative2&linkId into chadtennant.com/goto/Amazon. In addition to concealing affiliate links, link cloaking has other advantages.
- Build trust: cloaking links is a consumer-friendly practice that strips away the confusion and indecision concerning clicking on links. Users are more likely to click on links that seem credible than ones that look suspect which cloaking addresses. Also, having many links that appear with the same URL syntax projects consistency throughout a site.
- Avoid poor site scoring and search ranking penalties: Google and other search engines focus on ranking high-quality content that benefits their users, not low-quality content primarily focused on advertising, sales, and affiliate activities. Although not entirely applicable but relevant, Google highlights on their ad network violation page that content designed for the primary purpose of showing ads, for example, driving traffic to destinations with more ads than original content, little or no original content, or excessive advertising will be penalized. This suggests that websites containing an inordinate amount of affiliate links and ads are not what pleases them. Link cloaking makes affiliates less exposed to these search algorithms and violations.
- Remain in good standing with social media networks: social media, like search engines, also don’t want to attract constant advertising and spam. As a result, many online marketers and affiliates use URL-shortening services such as Bitly and Owl.ly to conceal their links.
- Thwart ad blockers: Adblock Plus and similar browser extensions block advertisements by picking up on code and thousands of selected URLs. Link cloaking bypasses many of their ad-targeting measures.
- Alternative tracking analytics: link cloaking plugins and URL shortening services can offer additional data points not provided by advertisers or affiliate networks. Also, these plugins may provide more user-friendly dashboards and ways of analyzing data.
Affiliate Plugin Alternatives
Naturally, I recommend the ThirstyAffiliate plugin since I use it, but there are a couple of reasonable alternatives:
Easy Affiliate Links: a relatively new entrant, Easy Affiliate Links currently has a 4.8/5 rating and promises to add more features. Admittedly the plugin looks good and worth trying if you’re starting from scratch.
Pretty Link Pro: Pretty Link Lite is equivalent to a URL shortener with a few added benefits so by itself it doesn’t compete with ThirstyAffiliates. However, the pro version at $47 outperforms the free version of ThirstyAffiliates and is a better deal when attempting to match features.
Creating and Managing an Affiliate Marketing Program
So far I’ve focused on plugins for affiliates and publishers, but there are plugins for advertisers and merchants seeking to build affiliate programs from their WordPress sites. You can read this post to create an affiliate marketing program that will thrive and this post to learn how link cloaking can impact your affiliate marketing program.
Affiliates: The Affiliates plugin provides powerful tools to maintain an affiliate marketing program. Valuable features include automated affiliate registration, an extensive affiliate management section, and the ability to integrate with virtually any e-commerce platform. Commissions on referred users are built-in, free, and premium integrations with other services are available.
Affiliates Manager: WP Affiliate Manager plugin can help you drive more traffic and sales to your site. This plugin facilitates recruitment, registration, login, and the entire management process. Also, it will track the referrals your affiliates send to your site and give commissions appropriately. It integrates with many popular e-commerce solutions and offers many excellent features such as real-time reporting, flat rate or percentage based payouts, unlimited creatives and ads for your affiliates, autoresponder integration, and more.