I just spent the last 4 days cleaning up links on this site. Nothing more. Just links.
I periodically use the free Broken Link Checker WordPress plugin to alert me of links that have become broken on the site.
This time, the plugin reported almost 200 broken links!
Why Do Links Break?
Links break because the destination URL has gone offline or is unreachable for some reason. These are the typical causes:
- A product is no longer being sold by a merchant and it’s page has been removed – this can mean a whole site disappearing if the site sells only one product. A typical example is a digital product. The product may be out of date, not work any more or simply not be making any sales.
- A merchant goes out of business and no one else buys the business so the whole site and all its products become unavailable.
- A merchant may switch affiliate networks and the old affiliate links just don’t work any more.
- Maybe a merchant revokes your affiliate status because you’re not making enough, or any, sales for him and your affiliate links are now dud.
- Or a merchant simply closes down their affiliate program.
Then there’s issues with link cloakers that is at the heart of my sudden surge in broken links.
Why Use Link Cloakers Anyway?
Back in my early days with online marketing (mid to late-2000s), I, like many affiliate marketers, used raw affiliate links on my sites. These were often ugly, long web addresses that did not fill visitors with confidence if they were thinking of buying the product linked to.
There were some free link shortening services out there at the time. The trouble with these is that you’re at their mercy. If you create a load of masked links and they go out of business (as some of them did), then all your links go with them and you’re left with a load of broken links. Another problem is that some link shorteners got a bad reputation with the result that any link on their service was treated with suspicion.
And many services didn’t provide any tracking information on how your links were performing.
So I didn’t like trusting my links to a third party.
Around 2011, I came across a new link cloaking plugin for WordPress called Ninja Affiliate which did pretty much everything I was looking for – it masked ugly affiliate links with short, descriptive links that were on my own domain (a big SEO benefit), it tracked link clicks so I could see which links were performing well and which were not, and it allowed keywords in content to be hyperlinked on autopilot, saving a lot of editing of articles to add new links.
Using a link cloaker also allows you to swap out an old affiliate link for a new one in one central place. There’s no need to update several posts manually, just because a link has changed.
The plugin had one irritating bug, however. It also hyperlinked keywords in headings (H tags).
A couple of years later, I started using another link cloaker called Cloak.FM. It was every bit as good as Ninja Affiliate and didn’t suffer from the hyperlinking headings bug.
Then in 2014, MaxBlogPress (who developed Ninja Affiliate) closed up shops. The plugin kept working though; it just meant that there’d be no more updates or bug fixes for it.
And in 2016, Cloak.FM stopped being supported. It had been developed by Profit.FM, which was subsequently bought over and renamed Profit Marketer. Then it, in turn became WP Toolkit and support for Cloak.FM ceased (along with support for several other plugins).
If you’ve bought any commercial WordPress plugins, you’ll have found that some of them require a license key of some sort to enable them on your site. This is how plugin developers protect their work from being pirated.
But what we as consumers never really think about is what happens when the servers that those license keys are validated against go offline (when a company goes out of business for example).
License validation fails and your plugin stops working.
But all my older links were still being handled by Ninja Affiliate and Cloak.FM. I had been moving links from Cloak.FM into Pretty Link Pro (PLP) and most of them had been migrated. Even though the Cloak.FM license validation was failing, I could still use the plugin to retrieve my links so I could them put them in PLP.
Ninja Affiliate was also still working until something happened (I still haven’t identified what) that wiped the license key for the plugin. No valid license – no access to the plugin and the links created with it. And, what’s more, all those links now no longer worked.
So that’s why there was that sudden spike in dead and dud links I was seeing.
What Needed To Be Done
I had no option but to repair the broken links. Besides annoying visitors by taking them to dead and broken pages, that number of bad links would also hurt my site’s SEO.
So it meant going back into into affiliate programs to retrieve links and put them into Pretty Link Pro instead and then using the free Better Search Replace plugin to mass replace the old broken links with the new working ones.
Things Got Interesting
This site has been online since 2004. It’s undergone a number of facelifts and some focus changes in those 13 years and some affiliate links dated back that far!
These were for products, courses and programs I’d long since forgotten about. And even finding login details for some of these old programs proved difficult.
But what really struck me was just how many tools, products and courses were no longer around.
We all know that the world of internet and affiliate marketing is a rapidly changing one but I guess it had never really dawned on me just how much detritus is left in the internet marketing wake.
Courses and products come and go, here today and gone tomorrow. Some are designed to have a limited lifespan or a limited membership before the doors are closed for good. Others fall by the wayside because their developers and creators lose interest in them, or were designed at the outset to be pump-and-dump products.
What’s become apparent is that it’s the quality stuff that sticks around – the courses that are constantly updated; the products that are maintained and continually developed; the merchants who are interested in helping their customers rather than in making a fast buck.
There aren’t a lot of them who’ve stood that test of time but they are still around for a reason – because they offer a quality service or product.
And in almost every case, these services and products are still being maintained by their original developers and creators.
Too many times I’ve seen quality goods destroyed because they’ve been bought by a new owner who either doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to maintain them or has bought them to kill them because they’re a competitor.
All those dead links have forced me to spring-clean this site. Many products and services are no longer available and on the review pages for these, I’ve added current alternatives to look at.
I’m also going to start putting together lists of products and services that have stood the test of time, ones that you can have faith in when you’re looking at extending your internet marketing education and for tools to facilitate your efforts online.
Filed under: Affiliate Marketing