Affiliate Marketing: An Introduction to the Underground World of Cloaking
I’ve been getting tons of questions about cloaking lately so I thought I’d write a bit on this topic. It’s one of those things that’ll always be in the industry but no one really talks about, so I’m here to educate!
What is Cloaking?
Cloaking means you show one landing page to a certain percentage of the audience, and a different landing page to the rest.
Here are some scenarios where you might want to cloak:
Want to run an offer that’s banned on a traffic source? Lets use Bing as an example traffic source, and gambling as the offer.
You can’t show the reviewers the gambling landing page because you’ll get banned, so instead the cloaker will detect if someone is working for Microsoft, and it sends them to another page of your choosing. You can send to any page, but we’ll go with an iPhone slots game. However, the cloaker sends everyone else to your “real” landing page which is the gambling website.
Banned Landing Page Techniques:
Perhaps you want to get really aggressive with your landing page to increase your conversion rates. Maybe techniques such as exit pops or GEOIP scripts are not allowed so cloaking the reviewers can send them to an alternative page instead.
A year ago I was in a bidding war for a very competitive spot. What really annoyed me is every time I improved my landing page, this fuckboy would rip my page a few hours later. This would erase any competitive advantage I had and it was basically a race to the bottom of the barrel, and only the traffic source was winning.
I checked my IP logs and took down the top IP addresses that visited my landing page. With that information, I wrote a simple script that redirected people with these IP addresses to a different landing page of mine. For the next few months they stopped copying my new landing pages and just stuck with my old one. The improvements in my landing pages allowed me to bid higher and higher until they just gave up and went away.
Where Do People Cloak?
Google, Bing, and Facebook are the most popular traffic sources for cloaking because the volume’s the highest. You can write a cloaker for any traffic source though.
How Do Cloakers Work?
Each cloaker has their own technology and some work better than others. Here are some of the basic methods they use.
- IP Collection – The software has a database of the IP addresses of the reviewers. This can be as simple as launching a campaign, pausing it, and recording any IP’s that visit the page.
- Referral URL’s – If someone is coming from dev.facebook.com, it’s probably a reviewer.
- GeoIP – This method is quite simple. If you’re running traffic in Italy, then only allow traffic from Italy. Sometimes the traffic source reviewers are in UK or USA, and they’re not going to be able to see your page unless they have an Italian IP address.
- Ban the city – Does the traffic source only have reviewers based in Montreal, Canada? Then they can just block any visitors from Montreal.
The Downsides of Cloaking
- Expensive – Some can be over $1,000 a month or even a $20,000+ one time fee.
- Scams – Many cloaking software are actually sold by scammers and don’t work. Since this stuff is “underground” it can be easier for scammers to get away with it.
- Bleed Rate – The cloakers are NOT perfect. You’re going to have “legit” visitors that the cloaker will mistaken as a reviewer. The bleedrate can be as high as 15%. If your campaign is spending $1,000 a day, that means it’s possible that you’ll lose $150 a day because of the cloaker. Is your campaign profitable enough to handle that?
- Losing Your Accounts – A common situation I’ve seen is someone will have a $5,000 spend Facebook account, and no backup accounts ready or knowledge on how to make more. They’re making $500 a day profit running clean campaigns, and they’re curious about using a cloaker.Truth is no cloaker will work 100%. Sometimes a reviewer will go through the software and you can get your account banned.Imagine running a clean campaign for over a year on that account and making $500 a day vs. running a cloaked campaign. With the cloaked campaign you could end up making $1,500 a day, but it gets banned 10 days later.Clean = 365 * $500 = $182,500
Cloaked = 10 * $1,500 = $15,000
This is a made up scenario, but it’s the kind of risk analysis you have to make.
- Legality – If you’re using a cloaker, chances are you are running offers or techniques that are kind of shady. Get a lawyer and make sure you’re compliant.
Where to Get a Cloaker?
You can write your own or you can purchase one. No one openly advertises cloaking software anymore because no one wants Google’s or Facebook’s legal team coming after them.
Don’t ask me because I don’t know!
The Cloaker is Not a Magic Bullet
If you’re not making any money yet, a cloaker’s just going to waste your time and $. Learn the fundamentals of affiliate marketing first. There are plenty of ways to make thousands of dollars a day without cloaking. Honestly in my social circle, very few people actually cloak. If you’re not making money, please don’t think that this is some kind of magic bullet.
Should you or shouldn’t you cloak? With any scenario in affiliate marketing, it depends. I’m just here to share some information so you can make the decision on your own.
– Ngo Out