Cloak Amazon Affiliate Links

Discussion in 'Search' started by ryandiscord, Aug 18, 2016.

  1. ryandiscord

    ryandiscord

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    Do I need to cloak Amazon affiliate links if I already have nofollow on them? I'm primarily worried about what Google will see.
     
  2. Flex

    Flex

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    dont cloak them... you will get banned at a large enough scale
     
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  3. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    I agree with @Flex. I concerned myself with this because I wanted to set up redirects through my domain.

    I made them 302's with no-follow and no-index directives in the HTTP headers. But then I got paranoid and read every word of the ridiculous TOS and even eventually got on chat with one of the Amazon Associates workers.

    What it boils down to is these redirects are fine as long as they don't obstruct Amazon's ability to see where the traffic is coming from. To fully cloak from Google would be to fully cloak from Amazon, which will get you banned. They are on the ball about these things.

    Also though, it seems problems with Google arise from not using a no-follow tag, because otherwise it's a paid link or incentivized at least.

    I'm not entirely sure because I've never had cause to find out but I think they can retrace the redirect chain through the X-Pingback in the HTTP headers.

    That's what would stop you from redirecting through your own domain and then dropping a post on Reddit or Twitter or wherever.
     
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  4. Flex

    Flex

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    Just to note, you should never ever take the CSR's word as fact. Amazon themselves have even stated that a CSR does not have the authority nor training to interpret the Amazon Associates TOS. Scroll through their forum and you'll understand why, haha.

    "17. You will not modify, redirect, suppress, or substitute the operation of any button, link, or other feature of the Amazon Site."

    AND

    "30. You will not cloak, hide, spoof, or otherwise obscure the URL of your site containing Special Links (including by use of a redirecting page) or the user agent of the application in which Content is displayed or used such that we cannot reasonably determine the site or application from which a customer clicks through such Special Link to the Amazon Site."

    Suggest that it is not worth anyones time to play with that fire. The bottom supports your hypothesis, but if someone is trying to use redirects to monitor KPIs or optimization than they are doing it wrong. You can easily trigger your own impression, hover, click events via Google Tag Manager or any tag manager for that matter, or even js/ajax/DB connection for their own internal dashboard. I just can't see the benefit of not using a naked link and collecting KPIs through other forms.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
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  5. ryandiscord

    ryandiscord

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    That makes things easy, I'll leave them alone. Thank you very much!
     
  6. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    I just got done chatting with Amazon's Associate Support Team.

    I had additional questions for myself and tried to pry a detailed and specific answer out of them about redirects.

    Here's the thing to realize. Never do you ever get told you cannot specifically use a redirect. Ever. It's not that they dance around it. It's 100% acceptable. While some portions of the Operating Agreement are vague, other's aren't. Add them together and the picture gets clearer.

    @Flex points out these two parts:

    17. You will not modify, redirect, suppress, or substitute the operation of any button, link, or other feature of the Amazon Site.
    That looks pretty cruddy for our case but is open to interpretation. You are redirecting to the link, not modifying it.

    30. You will not cloak, hide, spoof, or otherwise obscure the URL of your site containing Special Links (including by use of a redirecting page) or the user agent of the application in which Content is displayed or used such that we cannot reasonably determine the site or application from which a customer clicks through such Special Link to the Amazon Site.
    This is referring to the case where you use a redirection and send people straight to the redirect. In these cases the customer does not take an intermediate step of choosing to click to Amazon. They are tricked into it with an automatic redirect.

    Here's the catch... the chat guy just told me, even in cases where the referrer can't be sent like in some modern browsers where opening a new tab or window doesn't send one, that Amazon can tell every time. They know. So if someone scrapes your content and leaves your redirect in it, you're okay. They can tell it wasn't from your site. If done in bulk and a problem arises, the Enforcement team will look into it and give you an appeal (and likely let you switch ID tags to clear up the problem. I'm saying this parentheses part, not them).

    The point is that a normal redirect is going to leave the referrer chain in tact and is fine. Now check this out from the Link Formatting part of the FAQ:

    Can I use a link shortening service for my links?

    While you are welcome to use link shortening services, the link checker will not be able to verify that these links are functioning as intended. Please remember that you must clearly state that the link in question will take the user to the Amazon site when clicked and ensure that the site on which you are posting the links includes the required statement to identify yourself as an associate. You must also be able to provide detailed information about the site(s) on which your links have been posted if we request it.
    That's as clear as day. You can use as shortener, including bit.ly, which is what initially provided the amzn.to redirects. A shortener is a redirect.

    The question becomes, regarding the "you must clearly state that the link in question will take them to Amazon,"... do we have to do that for every single stinking link?

    Yes. I asked very specifically.

    Of course they couldn't get into specifics because that would require them to interpret the O.A. beyond what is stated. I asked about the anchor text, a title attribute, and the URL that appears upon hover.

    Here's how I took it, and of course again it wasn't the most precise answer, partially because they don't know:

    We already know that you can put the Affiliation statement in your Privacy Policy or wherever versus sitewide, as long as that page is linked to sitewide.

    So make sure you have this:

    [Your Site Name] is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.​

    So now we narrow it down to the link itself. Common sense says, plus the millions of examples out there, that each link's anchor text doesn't need to say "at Amazon." I asked for more clarification on how each individual link must make this declaration (in anchor text? title attribute? URL?)

    The guys exact words were this: "It has to always disclose that the link is leading to Amazon. Anything else is a violation of the operating agreement. It terms of the operating agreement it refers to literally in the link and or in a description of the product."

    This is blurry but we now know that redirects and shorteners are fine.

    I'm doing something similar to this, and assuming I don't act like an idiot and try to cheat, all will be fine:

    I have my affiliation statement on a Disclosures page that also specifically says "Any link going through the Brand.com/to-amazon/product-name style links go straight to Amazon. Having the sub-folder be named /to-amazon/ or something similar is pretty descriptive, and it includes the product name.

    On each post, I don't declare Amazon Amazon Amazon over and over. But I always use the product name as the anchor text. I have a little statement I use on Top 10 style posts that says these all lead to Amazon. And then I use Amazon's product pictures for image links.

    As long as the image is from Amazon and faithfully represents the product, you're fine. I asked this and got a very concrete answer.

    I also have a couple Call-to-Action buttons that don't mention Amazon, however they are within the product description with the text link and image link within the section that has the little "These all lead to Amazon" statement. And it all redirects through my /to-amazon/ sub-folder.

    I think that's fine. It's still fuzzy but I feel it's at least established that we can use redirects. Just no-follow them. And do as much as is reasonable like I'm doing to make it obvious you're sending them to Amazon, like using the words /to-amazon/product-name.

    Or, just paste in the raw Amazon link, but there's still a million other things to worry about too. It's crappy in this regard, but go look at other giant sites that you know slay it with Amazon.

    I looked at Daren Rowse's Digital Photography School and immediately saw them listing a price and not using the API (they said "around $749"), but they aren't banned. I went to TheWireCutter and couldn't find the affiliation statement anywhere, nor on the photography site.

    So it's not a matter of leeway. It's just not being stupid. I read the entire internet last night about this and every single instance of someone crying that they got banned for redirects was a liar or idiot. They were using iframes, automatic redirects, spamming their links on forums, etc. Just because they had a redirect doesn't mean that's why they were banned. It's just what they tell themselves and declare online to feel better and pretend they weren't the bad guys.

    This long post and adventure clarified a lot for me. I hope it does for you too. 95% confidence isn't perfect but it's close enough to not worry. There's money to be made so keep moving forward regardless and use whatever methods make you feel most comfortable.
     
  7. ryandiscord

    ryandiscord

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    Wow, thank you for all of this! So basically, redirecting to the link is okay as long as you disclose it as Amazon and aren't being an idiot about it.

    I'm currently using the product API to grab the product description, image and reviews. I mention at the bottom of each page that this site uses Amazon Associate to power the store. I don't disclose by each link but I do try and make it clear with the disclaimer at the bottom.

    Not sure if they do this for those not using the API but after my first sale, they reviewed and approved my site. At the time they manually reviewed it I never showed the amazon url, my checkout used a redirect. I have since changed my site to a more simple format without a cart and checkout.

    Interesting that the Daren Rowse example has naked Amazon links without a nofollow.
     
  8. Flex

    Flex

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    By the way, I can tell you as someone who has sold a number of high dollar Amazon affiliate sites, keep it simple. Ex, with Empire Flippers they want the full naked link in order to facilitate a quick affiliate ID swap that they do as a service for their buyers. It's outside your scope here, but something to consider when setting up your link scheme.
     
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  9. ryandiscord

    ryandiscord

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    That is good to know! Would definitely make it a smooth transition for a new owner. Someday it would be nice to flip but, this is only my first step into affiliate marketing, I've got some time before that is even a consideration.
     
  10. Nat

    Nat

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    @Ryuzaki When adding images to a page for an Amazon link, are you allowed to find the image amazon is using, download it, and upload it to your own server? Or do you have to use amazon's image link? Or do you have to use one of those images/button html code that Amazon provides?
     
  11. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    I asked about this too at one point. I said to them, "I'm downloading the images but never change or add anything other than the size, keeping it proportional, and cropping out some white space. The pictures never change or misrepresent the products."

    They said that while it's fine, they discourage it. Using the image links they provide gives them and you more data about click-through-rates and conversions. Of course I still get the data but its not segmented like that.

    They also said that one day I may be asked why I'm doing what I'm doing, and that it won't pose a problem once explained. There are lots of sites that do the same, I've seen, big and small.

    It's one of those things where I don't want to rely on 3rd party stuff. If Amazon ever kills their program, I won't need to change a million posts. I just switch the links to another vendor and I'm still good to go.
     
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  12. Balloon

    Balloon

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    I've never cloaked. There really isn't an added benefit other than getting banned?
     
  13. mikeshinobi

    mikeshinobi That one guy

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    There's a possibility that Google might not be so fond of affiliate sites, so it'd be nice to hide that from them if possible. That being said I don't know if it's actually possible to hide anything from The All Seeing Eye of Google (PBUH), but I'm pretty sure that's the rationale behind cloaking in most cases.
     
  14. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    Although the word "Cloak" was used in the title of this thread, we aren't actually talking about cloaking, just redirecting.

    Cloaking would mean showing something different to Amazon (or Google) user-agents and traffic sources than we show to our real visitors. And you're right, there's never a good reason to do this in this context.

    Like @mikeshinobi is saying, you couldn't cloak from these guys for very long. This is why there are cloaking penalties in Google, Facebook bans cloaking advertisers, as does Amazon, and on and on. You might trick a bot for a second until they change a setting or notice something is off and take a 3 second glance with a human eyeball.

    As far as redirecting links through "pretty URLs," there are benefits of obscuring the specific destination even when you state the general destination, making it look like your company goes the extra mile above others, making it impossible for the few ding dongs out there who try to copy and paste the URL to remove your Aff ID for whatever reasons, etc.

    For me, I bring all of my redirects to one location. Then after I use these redirects 20x each throughout my site and the destination URL changes, I don't have to hunt down these 20 locations or do a database search & replace. I change it one time in my redirect set-up and it all changes automatically from there.
     
  15. Nat

    Nat

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    I was just on LiveChat with Amazon Associates support and images happened to come up. I mentioned using their images on my own server and was promptly flamed. I explained that I was not changing the image, only cropping a bit and allowing it to resize in my responsive site. Didn't matter.

    I explained why I was doing it. I also asked about some other big sites that host their own images.

    After dropping a name of a big site

    Was then sent to this link: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html

    ----

    Looks like I've got an a late night ahead of me.
     
  16. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    Yeah, that's what I hate. It depends on who you talk to, and also the revenue you're creating for them.

    For instance, that link says:

    (f) You will not add to, delete from, or otherwise alter any Product Advertising Content in any way, including by adding additional information (e.g., you may not insert words into a customer review), except that you may resize Product Advertising Content consisting of a graphic image in a manner that maintains the original proportions of the image or truncate Product Advertising Content consisting of text in a manner that does not materially alter the meaning of the text or cause the text to become factually incorrect, misleading, or contrary to any law, regulation or industry guideline.
    Which is exactly what you and I said we do, and got two different answers. Then you read below that:

    (n) You will not store or cache Product Advertising Content consisting of an image, but you may store a link to Product Advertising Content consisting of an image for up to 24 hours. You may store other Product Advertising Content that does not consist of images for caching purposes for up to 24 hours, but if you do so you must immediately thereafter refresh and re-display the Product Advertising Content by making a call to the Product Advertising API or retrieving a new Data Feed and refreshing the Product Advertising Content on your application immediately thereafter.
    If you're worried, I'd follow the TOS, which says it's a no-go. (Thanks for pointing this out, I hadn't seen it before). This COULD be construed to only deal with the API though, which I'm not using.

    I have on record me asking the question and being told I could do it, with names and timestamps, so I'm not about to rebuild all of this. I know the answer will be "The TOS overrides anything our customer service reps say."

    If you read the discussion board, here is a very recent post (Jan 2nd, 2017) that says:

    EDIT: After the umpteenth try, a wonderful rep has confirmed that it's possible to host our own images, just sticking this edit at the top so other paranoid folks like me don't get stressed out for nothing.
    At the same time, this poster shows the same level of contradiction we keep seeing:

    So about a year ago, when I first started participating in the Amazon Associates program, I've asked a rep in live chat if it's okay to use product images from Amazon in my product reviews. The answer was "yes, you can, in fact, it's best practice".

    By now my site is #1 for a number of niche topics, I'm very happy with my earnings, and have invested in several similar projects which I planned to roll out in February. That is, until I've chatted with a rep yesterday and I found out that I cannot, in fact, use any images from the actual products.​

    The sentiment in that thread is the same. "Everyone else does it and nobody is having problems with it." Again the same inconsistency:

    Sadly, this is a perennial issue that Amazon continues to give different answers on.

    I was told in no uncertain terms that you cannot self-host the images used on Amazon. There is apparently a licensing restriction between Amazon and the manufacturers that may not allow for 3rd party use (affiliates being the 3rd party).

    I was told it was a termination-level breach of the TOS.

    On the other hand, some of their own staff also say it is OK to self-host as long as they are product images and not images from customers.

    The last time I researched this, the two different TOS (the regular one vs the API one) did not match on this issue. One implied it was OK the other was somewhat vague but leaned towards not being able to use them.
    This guy points out the same conflict I did... it depends on if you're reading the normal TOS or the API TOS, which are different. It goes on throughout the thread, "they told me yes, they told me no."

    I think it boils down to what miketpowell or someone else stated before... they are wishy washy on rules like this so they have an excuse to terminate you for other reasons if need be, and never tell you what those reasons are.

    Who knows at this point. Using the program itself is a gamble, like anything in life. Have a backup plan and build the best site possible so you raise no other flags. I'm not changing my images out until they can be clear to everyone what their stance is.
     
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  17. Andg

    Andg

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    I actually did this and got banned from Amazon a while ago.

    I also emailed them about it and one of them said it was fine but then, I still got banned and couldn't do nothing about it even though I made them aware of my previous conversations with their representative.

    I would advise you to no follow the amazon links rather than cloaking them.
     
  18. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    I'm back with more for our consideration!

    By some miracle, the regulars on the Amazon Associates forum once managed to summon an actual Amazon employee. This is what this person said:

    The position of Amazon regarding use of images is as follows. Videos, images and editorial reviews that are available in Associate Central may be displayed on any page that includes attribution and a link to Amazon.com.

    Videos, product images, and reviews written/created by other sources, including professional reviewers, authors, publishers and customers, are copyrighted by others. We display them on our site by permission from the third parties. Amazon.com doesn't have the legal right to give you permission to access, use, or display them.

    If you wish to use Amazon.com's product images on your web site,you may obtain them by creating Product Links on Associates Central or through Product Advertising API.
    I added the bolding for emphasis. If you can get the image through an "image link" generated by the Site Stripe or API, then it's fine. That basically includes all of the main product images. The 2nd paragraph is saying "hey, don't use reviewer's pics because we don't own them."

    The implication is that they can't give any of us permission to use the images as they are property of the manufacturers and sellers. But what they are saying without saying is that all manufacturers and sellers agree to let us use the images as long as they come from the Site Stripe or API. That also implies the true nature of the problem, which I asked about very specifically and was given the thumbs up: You must faithfully represent the product you're talking about.

    The best way to accomplish this is to tell people not to mess with the images. Which is what they do by being vague.

    Note the 3rd paragraph. They couldn't stand it. They just had to put a seemingly contradictory statement in there. It sounds like they are trying to wink wink about what is actually okay or not. All it takes is to read between the lines and not be an idiot.

    The poster came back in further down that page with some more info. I'm paraphrasing but basically you can use any of the approved images as mentioned above, but you need to "make a reasonable effort to give attribution." What does that mean? It needs to be at least implied if not directly stated that the image is from Amazon and the link leads to Amazon. We talked about this above.

    He or she then does let us know it's mainly about copyright and faithful representation of the products:

    While copyright is of major concern, the matter of accurate representation of an item sold on Amazon is also of concern. By creating Product Links on Associates Central or through Product Advertising API the images displayed will accurately represent the product a consumer may eventually purchase on Amazon.com. It also reduces the individual Associates effort with maintaining the accuracy of product images.
    Also, once again we are provided more proof from the horses' mouth that "cloaking" (that's the term being used but it's not accurate, everyone really means redirecting) is fine:

    With respect building links and buttons. Any Associate is free to build their own link to direct a customer to Amazon.com.​

    And finally we get a clear statement:

    However, Amazon logos, trademarks, or imagery et. al. not served by Links or API are not approved for use in building a button (unless explicitly made available through Associates Central as noted in my last post; Videos, images and editorial reviews that are available in Associate Central may be displayed on any page that includes attribution and a link to Amazon.com.).​

    The italics is this employee's emphasis. "That are available" means are capable of being pulled from the API or Site Stripe (but not that they must be pulled from them dynamically). All you have to do is have a link to Amazon (be an Associate and be trying to make money for Amazon) and include "a reasonable effort to provide a citation" for the images. I take that to mean that you're declaring your site as an Associate site, and within the page, whether on the buttons or text links, URL paths in the redirects, or as a flat out "this image is from Amazon" citation. I had a representative look over my review posts and they said it was fine, and all I'm doing is saying something along the lines of "all of these images and links take you to Amazon where you can read more reviews and learn about pricing."

    I think it's pretty clear cut, cased closed at this point. Despite what they say about pulling images from the API and all that, millions of us self-host the images too. They basically said "just be faithful to the product, we try to make it easy for people to do that."

    Someone even pointed out in that thread that TheWireCutter, and PCMag (both huge sites) self-host the images. The Amazon employee said nothing about it.

    I conclude that a lot of people don't know why they got banned and then declare it was this or that, and half of them are shady (like the guy I read about tonight hot-linking images with his associate ID tag on the image URL. That's cookie stuffing, but he's running around telling everyone he got banned for hot-linking images instead of using the provided image links). There's a lot of B.S. fear-mongering and making Amazon out to be tyrants. It's simply not the case.
     
  19. MichaelHayes

    MichaelHayes

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    Regarding HTTP headers:

    If you make an effort to thwart Googlebot accessing a URL (either via robots.txt or htaccess), (i.e. link to /folder/ and redirect, +disallow /folder/ and add nofollow link element), could a bot still glimpse the target URL somehow via HTTP headers?
     
  20. Raymond Luo

    Raymond Luo

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    Thanks @Ryuzaki for the incredible and extensive insight. Do you credit OCD to much of your success?

    It seems like given the most correct implementation of Amazon's policies, redirecting (or cloaking) links only benefit easy link switching and as a defense against scrapers.

    Let's face it. If you're already plastering Amazon attribution text and links on your page, is Google actually going to believe that the redirect/nofollow links on that page is not going to be an affiliate link?

    What I'm going to be doing is to implement redirection on some affiliate links from other merchants and leave my Amazonion ones alone. That diversity hopefully means you look slightly better in the number of regular outbound links to obviously affiliate links, and not too much of an edge that can be considered negative.

    A facist site that's completely lacking in diversity (all perfectly hidden affiliates) is going to shine bright like a diamond. You should be more afraid of someone else besides Fred then.
     
  21. Ryuzaki

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    Ryuzaki 女性以上のお金 Staff Member

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    Raymond, I don't have any actual OCD tendencies or diagnosis. I definitely have some perfectionist qualities but no compulsions. In this case I'm just trying to safeguard all of our revenues from Amazon.

    I wouldn't try to hide anything from Google. You're not going to be able to unless you actually cloak what they see, but I suspect if they see something suspicious they can change their user-agent and figure it out automatically anyways. This is definitely just to make the URL's pretty while being able to switch them all from one location.

    It's a myth that Google cares about affiliate links. They don't care, never have cared, never will care. Why would they care? The real problem is spam, not monetization. Over-monetization is a problem when it impacts user experience (welcome mats for email optins, too many display ads, etc), but why would you be doing that if you're trying to get search engine traffic, knowing it will hurt your rankings. That's a good method for social media when you're talking about trying to up your revenue from 5/10ths of a penny per view to 6/10ths of a penny per view.

    If it appears they care, it's usually because spammy sites are associated with them, and mainly because people don't nofollow them, which makes them out to be a paid or incentivized link.
     
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  22. chanilla

    chanilla

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    I've always been confused when seeing thread titles like this... Would it be helpful to stop calling redirects/tracking urls/pretty links/whatever, cloaking?

    I feel like perhaps the bleed over from what cloaking actually is, is what's contributing to giving redirects a bad name? (where I come from, cloaking = intentional deception depicted by your spoofing honeypot)

    I don't know I could be all wrong here, but there's nothing blackhat about not wanting to change 1k links in a YouTube account when an Amazon vendor (or any manufacturer for that matter) changes a product name/better prime option becomes available/many other cases, so long as the referrer data isn't intentionally obfuscated.
     
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