What is URL Masking

Domain masking – as its name suggests – refers to the hiding of a website’s real URL from a user’s browser. While it can be a useful tool for websites, it can also negatively impact the user experience if designed to be misleading.

So, why would a website use URL masking?

In this article, KnownHost explains the potential advantages and disadvantages of URL masking, as well as how it’s different from redirecting URLs and the key ethical considerations around the technique.


What is URL Masking?

Before understanding the effects of URL masking, it’s important to understand what exactly it means.

URL masking refers to the display of one URL in the web browser, while content is loaded from a different URL. It gives the appearance that the user is viewing content from one website, while technically accessing a different website. However, it is not to be confused with redirected URLs.

Imagine a website with the domain ‘’, but its site owner wants to display content from another website, with the domain ‘’. However, they want to keep the URL as ‘’.

With URL masking, when someone visits ‘’, the content displayed is actually loaded from ‘’ – leading the user to believe they are viewing content from the displayed URL, when this isn’t the case.

When Should You Mask a URL?

While there is no single situation that definitively requires URL masking, it can be used for marketing purposes. A website may have an old domain name that requires masking to maintain unified branding. It may also help with creating a seamless user experience.

The main situations in which URL masking may be used include:

  • Security & Privacy
  • Marketing
  • Unified Branding
  • Shortened Or Memorable URLs

When you own your dream domain name, you don’t need to use URL masking – saving time and effort in manipulating the displayed domain.

Choosing a memorable, concise, and SEO-optimized domain name should be done through a trusted registrar. KnownHost provides an effective hassle-free domain registration service with free WHOIS privacy.


What Are the Advantages of Masking a URL?

URL masking can prove beneficial in certain situations – mostly where branding and user experience are concerned. Here, we take a look at some of the common situations in which a website owner may choose to adopt URL masking:

  • Branding: URL masking allows a website owner to display the website’s custom address in the browser for a unified, memorable form of branding. This encourages user recognition.
  • Affiliate Marketing: Masking affiliate links can make them appear more consistent, professional, and trustworthy, which in turn improves the user experience and increases the likelihood of clicks and conversions.
  • Link Tracking: URL masking can be combined with link tracking tools to monitor click-through rates, engagement, and other analytics data. This provides valuable insights for marketing campaigns.
  • Security: Masking a URL can also help protect sensitive information such as session IDs and internal server details by preventing them from being exposed in the address bar.
  • User Experience: Masking a URL can provide a consistent and cohesive browsing experience, keeping users within a particular domain or website while displaying content from different sources.

The potential benefits of domain masking will be ineffective without a secure and stable web hosting server.

KnownHost provides fully managed hosting services, from VPN hosting to shared and dedicated hosting. With affordable rates and 24-hour customer support, KnownHost is the best option for web hosting.


Are There Any Disadvantages to Masking a URL?

Despite these advantages, there are also potential disadvantages of domain masking that must be considered before using the strategy:

  • SSL Certificates: Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates can only be assigned to the website’s original URL and will not work with any new URL that comes from domain masking, potentially increasing security risks.
  • Lack of Transparency: URL masking hidesthe true destination of a link.This could raise concerns in perceptive users who would like to know where a link will take them before clicking on it and may find the strategy deceptive. Therefore, it could result in a dip in traffic from these users.
  • Reduced SEO Value: Masking URLs can also impact search engine optimization efforts. Search engines will have difficulty indexing and ranking content when using a masked URL. This will potentially result in reduced visibility for a webpage in search engine rankings.

How to Mask a URL

Masking a URL is a relatively simple process and can provide potential benefits for those who have thoroughly considered the pros and cons.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to mask a URL:

  • Step 1 – Use cPanel: Login to cPanel with the account associated with the desired website. Select file manager, then locate the .htaccess file. If there is no file by the name, you may have to make cPanel show hidden files.
  • Step 2 – Implement the Code: Copy and paste the code below into the .htaccess file. The save changes.
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^exampledomain\.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.exampledomain\.com$
RewriteRule ^/?(.*)$1 [R=301,L]
  • Step 3 – Test: Test the mask by revisiting the website’s original domain, and then the new domain mask.

There are various methods to do this, but using .htaccess might be the cleanest.

What Is the Difference Between Masking and Redirecting URLs?

Domain masking and URL redirecting are similar concepts with a few notable differences. They are both designed to provide the user with optimal content, regardless of the URL they enter.

URL masking – also known as URL cloaking – is a technique used to display content from another URL, while showcasing a different URL in the address bar.

Redirecting a URL, however, is a process that involves automatically forwarding one URL to another. So, when a user visits one URL, they’re immediately taken to a new URL.

URL redirecting is commonly used when a website moves domains but uses the old URL to direct traffic to the new site. Instead of preserving the original URL in the address bar, the browser instead displays the redirected URL.

The main difference between the two techniques is that URL redirecting makes no effort to obscure the domain that is hosting the content. When a user is redirected, the new URL appears in the address bar – while URL masking displays content from one website while displaying the address of another.

Redirecting URLs is the recommended strategy for retaining website traffic and is perfect for websites intending to move domains. However, URL masking can be preferable for unifying branded content and offering a user-friendly experience. Masking can also be used to promote a specific domain or to simplify navigation.

What Are the Alternatives to Masking a URL?

Despite the potential benefits of URL masking, there are alternative methods of achieving unified branding without needing to mask a website’s URL:

  • URL Shorteners: Instead of URL masking, URLs can be simplified through URL shorteners, such as Bitly, TinyURL, or These services are more similar to redirects than URL masking but create shorter URLs for websites making them easier to share and link. Shortened URLs are also useful for emails, social media posts, or any other situation where concise URLs are necessary.
  • Custom Domains: Another alternative to URL masking is registering a custom domain that redirects to the desired URL. This allows a user to create branded, memorable domain names that can redirect traffic to the intended content.
  • URL Rewrite: URL rewriting is a server-side technique that allows a URL owner to modify or rewrite a URL for greater readability or SEO purposes. It’s a more technical alternative that intercepts incoming requests and transforms them into different URLs. This can be useful for creating user-friendly URLs or optimizing URLs for search engines.

Are There Any Ethical Considerations Around Masking a URL?

When it comes to URL masking, some essential ethical concerns must be considered before undertaking the change:

  • Transparency & User Trust: Emphasising user trust is important, especially for websites where sensitive information can be entered (e.g., debit card details or personal data). Masking a URL can make users wary of clicking on a link to a website because they won’t be aware of where the real destination of that link will be. This could potentially lead to a drop in traffic from perceptive users.
  • Deceptive Practises: While URL masking can be used to provide a host of benefits for any ethical website, it can also be used by unethical sites to mask deceptive practices, including hiding malicious links, phishing, or engaging in other fraudulent activities.
  • Compliance With Regulations: Before masking a URL, it’s important to ensure that the website is compliant with data protection policies, affiliate marketing regulations, and online advertising standards. Certain jurisdictions have different laws regarding URL masking or privacy so it’s important to do due research.

How Will Masking a URL Affect SEO?

While URL masking can be useful for unified branding, it may not be the best option for websites looking to improve their SEO and reap the rewards of positive search engine performance.

URL masking can result in inconsistent indexing, which can negatively impact a search engine’s ability to rank a website, causing those websites to appear lower down the ranking list than they would otherwise be.

If multiple masked URLs point to the same content URL, then search engine algorithms may flag that website as having duplicate content, which could also dilute search rankings and negatively impact SEO.

Backlinks also play a crucial role in SEO, helping signal a website’s authority and subject relevance. However, when masking a URL, backlinks to the original URL may not pass their full value. This can result in a dilution of backlink authority, which can negatively impact search rankings compared with getting the full value of the link profile.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I mask my URL?

A: Anyone can mask their URL to help provide short-term marketing benefits to their business. Masking URLs can help create memorable domain names or hide affiliate links. However, the drawbacks of URL masking are significant disadvantages to both UX and SEO.

Q: How do I mask a URL in Chrome?

A: Masking a URL in Google Chrome is a relatively simple process. The easiest way to mask a URL in Chrome is to use a browser extension downloaded from the Google Store. Simply find the desired extension and click ‘add to Chrome’. An icon should appear on the Chrome toolbar. Simply select this icon whenever a URL needs to be masked.

Q: Should I forward my domain with masking?

A: While it’s possible to forward a domain with masking, it may also have a significant negative impact on the website’s SEO. Likewise, domain masking could potentially result in duplicate content on the website. This may negatively impact the search ranking of the website and, therefore, website traffic.