As an online marketer, entrepreneur, or developer, you know how important a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is for any website. The right URL can help with branding, SEO, search engine traffic, and so much more. So when you come across a term like “URL masking,” it might be a little confusing.
If URLs play such an important role, why would anyone want to mask theirs?
Well, that’s exactly what we plan to discuss in this article. We’ll dive into the intricacies of URL masking, explore its potential benefits, drawbacks, and even look at alternatives you can consider.
By the end, you should have a good understanding of when, why, and how to use URL masking.
But first, let’s begin with a definition.
URL masking falls under URL redirects ⚙️
In order to fully understand everything about masking URLs, we need to discuss URL redirects.
URL redirects are basically instructions that help to guide users from one web address to another. These can be temporary or permanent and are often used for website updates or rebranding.
There are different types of URL redirects. These are:
- URL frame
The 301 redirect is permanent. We use it when we change the location of a webpage. For example, if your website gets a new name or moves to a different location, the old URL will no longer be relevant. So, we use a 301 permanent redirect to communicate to users that “Hey, the webpage you’re looking for now has a new address.”
The 302 redirect is temporary. Developers often use it when A/B testing or fixing a few issues on a webpage. So, while the testing or fixing of bugs takes place, users are redirected to a different page to ensure that their experience or interaction with your site isn’t negatively affected.
Lastly, we have the URL frame. These are “masked redirects,” which make your users think they’re on one domain when they’re actually on a completely different domain. This is sometimes called “domain masking” or “URL cloaking.”
So, what is URL masking? 🙋♂️
From the above explanation of redirects, it’s clear that they focus on directing users to a new or different webpage.
On the other hand, URL masking is about making a website’s address look different in the browser. It is a technique that involves hiding the real web address you’re visiting. It shows a different, often shorter, and sometimes more user-friendly address in your browser’s bar.
So, when you use URL masking, you show one web address to people, but they’re taken to a different one.
Different types of URL masking
There are different techniques that are used to mask a URL. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most popular ones:
1. Domain masking
With domain masking, a domain or subdomain redirects users to a different URL. This is the most common type of URL masking and is used to make long URLs shorter, more memorable, or just to hide the true URL.
2. Frame masking
This type of masking puts the content of one webpage inside an HTML frame on another website. So, as a user, the address in your browser stays the same. However, the content comes from a different website.
4. Meta refresh
Imagine reading a book, and suddenly, a page turns by itself and takes you to a different part of the book. This is what a meta refresh does. You open a webpage, and after a certain time, it automatically refreshes (using an HTML meta element) and takes you to a new page.
As you can imagine, there can be both advantages and disadvantages to using these techniques. So, let’s take a closer look at them.
Pros of URL masking 👍
When used appropriately, URL masking can have a few great benefits.
- It can help you hide complex URLs
- You can mask your affiliate links
- It can help marketers track clicks
1. It can help you hide complex URLs
One of the most common benefits of URL masking is to mask long, complex URLs into something shorter and cleaner-looking.
For example, let’s say you have a website with the following URL:
These types of URLs can be confusing and off-putting to users.
So, masking this URL into something shorter can make it more visually appealing and easier to share.
2. You can mask your affiliate links
URL masking can also be useful for affiliate marketers. Sometimes, affiliate links can be lengthy, and just like the example, they can also look complex with multiple characters.
So, masking your URL can help you hide the long affiliate links behind a more user-friendly URL.
This can also prevent users from tempering with the affiliate codes and ensure proper tracking of commissions.
3. It can help marketers track clicks
Some URL masking services offer tracking features. This allows you to monitor the performance of the masked URL, track clicks, and gather essential data about user interactions. If you’re a marketer working on a new campaign or A/B testing, this can be very useful in tracking the effectiveness of your efforts.
Cons of URL masking 👎
- Loss of transparency and affected user experience
- Negative impact on SEO
- Users are exposed to potential phishing and malicious activities
1. Loss of transparency and affected user experience
For this first disadvantage, just think about how you use the internet. If you type DomainWheel into your browser, you want to go to DomainWheel’s site.
Seeing anything other than that can be frustrating and make you question the website’s legitimacy.
So, one of the most significant disadvantages of URL masking is that it can mislead users about the actual destination of a link. When people don’t see the actual web address they’ve been directed to, it can create confusion and mistrust.
In addition, since they’re unable to see the actual webpage address, they can’t bookmark or share it with others.
2. Negative impact on SEO
One of the biggest drawbacks to masking URLs is how it can negatively affect your SEO (Search English Optimization) efforts.
There are a few reasons for this. One of the most notable is that search engines prefer clear, direct URLs that accurately represent the content. If this isn’t the case, they can rank you lower.
In addition, having duplicate content on multiple domains can confuse search engines. They won’t know which page to include in the results page and, as a result, may reject all of them.
3. Users are exposed to potential phishing and malicious activities
Sometimes, masked URLs can negatively affect users because cyber criminals can hide bad websites that try to steal personal data or harm a user’s computer.
Hidden addresses are, at times, used for what’s called “clickjacking.” This is where users are tricked into performing certain acts online, such as adding clicks on ads or liking social media content.
While you might not have that intention, a user who has experienced this before may not be happy about seeing an unexpected URL in their browser.
As you can see, there are seriously negative effects that come with URL masking. That’s why it’s essential to carefully weigh your pros and cons before choosing this route.
If you feel that the advantages are worth it and would like to go ahead, the following will help you set up your URL masking correctly. Otherwise, skip ahead to the section on alternatives to URL masking.
How to mask a URL in five steps 👨💻
There are online tools and services that can help you mask your URLs. They often provide an easy interface where you enter the original URL you want to mask and choose the type of masking you prefer.
The below steps are general guidelines you can expect when URL masking. Of course, there might be slight differences in steps, depending on which service you’re using. However, this is a good overall guideline for the process.
- Step 1: Choose a URL masking service
- Step 2: Enter the original URL
- Step 3: Choose the masked URL
- Step 4: Generate the masked URL
- Step 5: Share the masked link
Step 1: Choose a URL masking service
As highlighted, there are different services you can use, and the service you choose will largely depend on what type of masking you need.
For this step, you can use:
- Domain registrar forwarding: Many domain registrars offer URL forwarding services. You can set up a domain to forward to another URL while keeping the original domain in the address bar.
- Web hosting with forwarding: Some web hosting providers offer URL forwarding as part of their services. You can configure a specific page or domain to forward to another URL.
- Content Management Systems (CMS): If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, there are plugins available that allow you to create masked redirects.
Step 2: Enter the original URL
In the masking service, enter the full web address (URL) that you want to mask. This is the destination where you want users to go when they click the masked link.
Step 3: Choose the masked URL
In some cases, you can select a custom web address that you want people to see. This can be a shorter, more memorable version of the original URL.
Step 4: Generate the masked URL
Once you’ve entered the original URL and, if applicable, the custom URL, the service will generate a new link. This new link is the one you’ll share with others.
Step 5: Share the masked link
Copy the newly generated masked link and share it with others through emails, social media, or on your website. When people click on this link, they’ll be directed to the original URL you masked.
Of course, URL masking isn’t the only way make a link more appealing. In fact, there are several other strategies that we’ll discuss in the next section.
Alternatives to URL masking ⌛
If you’re worried about negative SEO, user experience, or any of the other issues that come with masking URLs, you can use one of the following alternatives to URL masking:
- URL Shorteners: Services like Bitly and TinyURL create shorter, more manageable URLs that redirect to the original link. They don’t hide the destination but make it concise.
- Canonical URLs: Canonical tags help search engines determine the preferred URL for a page, preventing duplicate content issues and consolidating link equity.
- Create links between different URLs: If you manage different websites, you can create links between them instead of URL masking.
- Create a subdomain: If you want to make a special part of your website with its own web address, you can use something called a “subdomain.” For instance, if your main website is
www.yourwebsite.com, you can make a subdomain like
blog.yourwebsite.comfor your blog.
So, is URL masking a good idea? 🧐
The answer to this question is – it depends. It depends on your unique needs and circumstances.
Would you like to mask your affiliate links? Are you running a marketing campaign and trying to track your clicks? Then URL masking can be a great choice.
On the other hand, if you’re just trying to shorten your URL or you’re concerned about search engines understanding and ranking your content correctly, then opting for the alternatives mentioned above might be a better option.
Whatever option you choose, remember to always prioritize your domain’s integrity because protecting your business’s reputation in this digital age isn’t an option but a necessity.
Want to avoid URL masking and link shortening altogether? Check out our guide on how to choose a domain name that you’ll always be happy to share!