A speed comparison of WordPress Link Cloaking plugins

no cost

Save the Internet from WordPress speed abuse.

Updated: November 2017

4 minute read

Affliate links are a way to monetize a WordPress website. We don’t do monetization on PagePipe – but many websites do.

Affiliate marketers use link cloaking plugins to create and shorten external affiliate links. You insert these links into posts, pages, and comments. They are a type of hidden page redirection and mask affiliate partner links from site users. Is it a “Black Hat” trick? Maybe? Why? Because visitors are clueless where they’ll be heading. It’s a way to fool humans.

All plugins cause some load time delay. This occurs in HTML code of at least single-digit milliseconds. A heavy plugin may cause 50 to 70 milliseconds of delay.

The link appears benign as an internal site link – when really it’s a mildly-deceptive offsite link. Some affiliates have a advisory note telling people about affiliate fees or credits if you click a link. This “advertiser disclosure” is often in fine print at the bottom of a long scrolling page. It’s not hidden but it’s not always plain either. The link URL has a long query string embedded in it to earn credit for affiliate commissions. Link cloaking also shortens long URLs to simple “pretty or tiny” links. Such as ‘your-domain-name.com/go/link’.

Affiliate links don’t say, “Click here to download this great thing.” Instead they say something like, “Earn 50,000 bonus miles” or “Get 5% cash back.” They are promotional deals and sound like promises of free money – but you must buy something first.

Click tracking and affiliate link cloaking supposedly sell and convert better. Most cloaking plugins collect lifetime-click statistics. A central dashboard helps you manage all the affiliate links on the website. You can create, edit, delete, and manage links by 301 redirects.

You can send clickers to destinations without them even knowing where they are going to land. Is this fair? We think not. Even so, your clients may insist on this feature. Can you create and manage these links with a WordPress plugin? Yes. You can. So which free plugin solution is the fastest for mobile connections?

SEVEN BEST CLOAKING PLUGIN CANDIDATES
RANKED BY MILLISECOND LOAD TIME

All seven are easy to install and have similar functions and controls.

[table2]

Link Cloaking Plugin,Load Time ms,Installs,Downloads,Retention
,
Affiliate Links Lite,3.1,5000+,20686,24%
Linker,3.2,2000+,12952,15%
WP Cloaker,5.9,6000+,4981,???
Thirstyaffiliates,6.6,10000+,112829,9%
WP Shorties,8.5,400+,4461,9%
Premium Link Cloaker Lite,8.9,40+,469,9%
Easy Affiliate Links,9.1,10000+,60792,16%

[/table2]

We deemed Affiliate Links Lite the “best.” Here’s why:

  1. Affiliate Links Lite plugin is the lightest and fastest.
  2. Affiliate Links Lite has above-average retention rate (24 percent). Retention rate is not the same as popularity – which is active installs. Retention is the percentage of people who tested it (downloaded) and kept the plugin (active). That is a better measure of quality and value. The usual scale ranges from 5 percent (low) to 20 percent (high). There are exceptions of pure lunacy*.
  3. Affiliate Links Lite includes the exact same control features as the other fast plugins. Features include: Title, Category, Date, Link URL, Link Target URL, Link Description, and Hits. And there is an additional control panel for “configuring  link redirection.” Overall we’re impressed.

*The plugin retention joke we laugh about most is P3 Plugin Performance Profiler authored by our beloved alma mater Godaddy. Over 100,000+ installs – sounds pretty good right? And 1.2 million downloads. That’s a retention rate of around 10 percent. Not bad. Except for one thing, P3 slows down every single page of a website by 12.7 milliseconds – when left enabled. What was it those 100,000-plus websites were fleetingly testing? Oh, yeah, plugin speed performance! Big oops.

Affliate Links Lite plugin author boasts these benefits:

  • Boost your SEO by hiding affiliate links from search engines.
  • Protect your earnings by masking referral links.
  • Increase your revenue by analyzing your link traffic and stats.
  • Save your time by using affiliate links easily and with no hassle.

PagePipe Note: Claiming SEO benefits from any plugin is nonsense and untruth. But some of our favorite speed plugins are equally misguided. So we’ll let it slide. The other benefits are weak at best. But if your web-project committee insists link cloaking features are needed, this plugin is the painless way to appease them.

★★★★★
Affiliate Links Lite
Active installs: 5,000+
Retention: 24 percent
Zip archive: 199k

TEN OTHER PLUGINS WE TESTED THAT FLUNKED

FAILED (Wouldn’t work with PHP 7.1 or wouldn’t load)
Affiliate Link Cloaking
WP Affiliate Linker
Clickmeter Link Shortener and Analytics

FAT (Fat plugins had double-digit millisecond load times. )
Shoutcodes Lite
Link Cloaker for Affiliates
WP Auto Affiliate Links
Pretty Link
Shorty Lite

OLD (Crusty. Not updated for many years.)
Simple Link Cloaker
Custom Affiliate Links Cloaker

NOTE:  Some rejected plugins are especially bad for speed. The worst being: Link Cloaker Affiliates which causes heavy site drag. It loads down every page and post with an extra 339k of page weight. The other two worst offenders for ruining speed weren’t so bad. They added extra HTTP requests: WP Auto Affiliate Links – 2 calls, and Shoutcode Lite – 3 calls. But that still disqualifies them from the fast list.

Godspeed—

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Mobile WordPress Speed – without coding!

What others think of us:


"Steve, you are a gent and a scholar. Thanks for your time and feedback. You are definitely right about speed inconsistencies with free Cloudflare!" silvercoast-apartments.com, Portugal

by - Cei Bunyan