3 minute read

At EasyRedir, we make managing URL redirects simple for our clients. Their usual needs for redirection are for website migration, URL changes, or keeping branding consistent when using third-party platforms.

In the past, we have also been asked about using EasyRedir for URL masking. We do not support URL masking at EasyRedir, and we do not recommend it.

What is URL masking?

URL masking, also known as cloaked URL forwarding, or link cloaking, uses your domain name for your website in a different way. In this case, the domain points to a browser with a frame which shows your website within it. No matter which page you click on your website, the URL in your address bar stays the same. Your URL is cloaking or masking the real address of your website, which is the server that they are hosted on.

For example, if your URL is www.MyWebsite.com, and a user clicks away from your homepage to another page (such as your contact page), this does not change in your address bar. On a website with a properly hosted domain, the URL in your address bar would change with each page visited. So the contact page on your website would show as www.MyWebsite.com/contact/. Cloaked URLs are common with free web hosts, which let users build a site and select domains that are only pointed to pages with the frames mentioned above.

The website DomainRedirection.com.au uses a great metaphor when describing the difference between URL redirection and cloaked URL forwarding: “Cloaking and forwarding are a little like a redirection service you put on your mail when moving to a new house; whereas using nameservers is the actual address of your new premises.”

Complete guide to URL redirection management.

The dangers of URL masking: for site owners and site users

Having a masked URL poses issues for several reasons. First, site visitors are not able to see the direct addresses of the pages that they are visiting on a webpage, which means they are not able to bookmark or share specific sections of a website. If you have content that you would like your users to share and link back to, they are unable to because they do not have the actual URL for each page of your website.

Cloaked URLs also have negative effects on a website’s search engine rankings. Because websites with masked URLs are hosted on servers with entirely different addresses, search engines will crawl them on those servers, rather than the domain that website owners or managers want them to be crawled on. Search engines are actively punishing websites with cloaked URLs because they are flagged for duplicate content. If you have two different sites serving exactly the same content (which is what it will look like if you’re using URL masking), then which one is authoritative? Which one is correct? Google will penalize sites with duplicate content. This does not happen when a permanent 301 redirect is used, because search engines know to look at the destination of the redirect.

For users, cloaked URLs also pose a security threat. URL masking can be used to create malicious websites that hide their real addresses from the users for nefarious purposes such as phishing or malware deployment. Even if a website owner has good intentions for using URL masking, it can also be prevented from working properly. It is also used for a practice called clickjacking, which has also been used to trick users into performing actions such as adding likes on social media sites or adding clicks on ads, none of which the user intended to do.

Because URL masking has generally been used for malicious activity, we have decided not to support it at EasyRedir. We’ve also put together a few alternatives to URL masking that might be the right solution for you.

Learn more about how else you can use EasyRedir’s URL redirection services.

Join our mailing list.

Keep up with industry news, best practices, and our latest announcements. Usually about one email per month.