How do Bitly links affect search engine optimization

Affiliate cookies: User shortens links - Bitly collects the commission unnoticed

The link shortener Bitly has been cooperating with VigLink for some time and converts the URLs of its users into affiliate links in order to collect the commission in the event of a product purchase.

Ignorant users distribute affiliate links

As Johannes Haupt reports on om8, the popular Bitly service has recently been using a questionable method to finance itself. In cooperation with VigLink, after entering a URL in the shortened link, links are created that have fewer characters, but drop a cookie when the user clicks it, which ensures that Bitly and the new partner earn money when a product is later purchased. This is the principle of affiliate marketing and is common practice with links to large portals such as Amazon or eBay, but it seems completely out of place at this point.

VigLink is a company that aims to help monetize websites. To do this, a bot scans a website and places an affiliate link on profitable keywords. The cooperation with Bitly means that users unknowingly distribute affiliate cookies in social networks and entice others to feed VigLink and the URL shortener with commissions. According to Bitly, around 600 million links are converted every month, which leads to 8 billion clicks. How many are affected is unclear.

In view of tough competition, it seems that monetization must now be pushed ahead. At Bitly, this is declared as an "affiliate test" without much notice - a procedure that has apparently been in practice since February or March, as Jennifer Slegg notes in a post on TheSEMPost.

Financial damage for website operators?

Haupt did the test with a link to Expedia.de and was able to prove that the user is directed to the booking portal via a tracking server when the user clicks on the shortened link. A cookie is dropped by Tradedoubler, which apparently comes from VigLink.

Johannes Haupt sees this strategy as extremely critical, as any existing cookies could be overwritten:

... Webmasters who are themselves participants in partner programs can even suffer direct financial damage through the integration of Bitly URLs. Your cookies will be replaced by the cookies from Viglink, in the end only the service provider and Bitly earn on a sale brokered through their own channels.

Website operators in particular should therefore check whether they want to continue using Bitly as a URL shortening service if they are active in affiliate marketing. The case is largely unproblematic for other users, but the lack of transparency of the measure is more than questionable.

How do you rate Bitly and VigLink's approach? Are you surprised at the news or is this method nothing new in your eyes?

Source: om8

Anton Priebe was active at OnlineMarketing.de from 2013 to 2019. As editor-in-chief, the studied German studies and sociologist focused on technology, creative marketing strategies, conversion optimization and SEO.