I love playing with the User Agent Switcher plugin for Firefox. I just discovered that Amazon was cloaking its affiliate links thanks to that tool.
Cloaking is when a site displays one page to a search engine bot, while a regular user will see something different. Cloaking is used to manipulate search bots’ behaviour, and therefore obtain better search engine rankings.
I was browsing Uncrate the other day and after clicking on a link to Kanye West’s Graduation page on Amazon, I realized something fishy. Uncrate used the following affiliate link on their post:
But after I clicked, the link redirected to:
Wow, something is wrong here… I checked the status of the User Agent Switcher plugin and noticed that it was set to GoogleBot…
So then I decided to check the HTTP Headers of this redirection with Live HTTP Headers,another excellent Firefox plugin. And here’s what I found:
It’s a HTTP 301 Redirect!!! Click on the image (or here) to see the text version of these HTTP Headers. I’ve checked with other Amazon affiliate links, and it always redirected to the product page with a 301. Amazon is cloaking its affiliate links to get more links to their product pages and therefore rank higher in search engine results.
Clearly, this is unfair for other websites’ owners competiting with Amazon.
If Amazon wasn’t using 301 redirects on their affiliate links, they wouldn’t have that many links pointing to their product pages, and then it will be more difficult for them to get high rankings.