The Reality of Linking

On a regular basis I receive e-mail through all my various sites from other site owners offering to exchange links. Most approach me in the wrong manner and I can tell they have no idea about the proper way to run an effective linking program. See, in a real linking program, it isn't just about you - it should be about both sites involved in the process.

So many of these notices are not from complimentary sites in topic or design - some are actually competitors making me wonder why they would think I would link to them. Many having absolutely nothing even remotely similar to the site of mine that they have e-mailed. If they state they have already linked to my site, which is what you want to do when building a valuable link directory - not a link farm - the majority of these requests are immediately responded to asking their link to my site be removed. I know I do not want to have one of my sites "in bed" with another site that can have a detrimental effect on either my rankings or the juried resources I offer my visitors.

Poor grammar, unnecessary formatting and a one-sided approach can doom your link program from the start. Yes, links are important - but all links are not created equal! You will be ranked by the links you keep! You have to be discriminating when it comes to the sites you link to as well as with those who link back. A big warning sign is if the requester is in direct competition with you. This lets you know they will be burying their link directory and really don't plan on site visitors finding it and you - their competitor. Not a good sign!

Here are some basic tips you need to keep in mind and integrate in your linking efforts based in the reality of having an effective and ethical approach. If you cannot take the time to put these issues in play, don't waste your or the other site owner's time.

=> Stay Away From and Do Not Create Link Farms: "Link Farms" is a term used to describe groups of links that have nothing in common other than the sites involved have all agreed to link to each other for the sole purpose of effecting their organic search engine listings. Quality of content, design or site focus is not a consideration that is a requirement to participate. When you create a link directory on your site, you want to have set of guidelines that will be required for sites to be added to your link directory. Only quality links, relational to your site's focus that you know will benefit your site visitors should be considered. Just as you want to see those requesting links from you have done the same.

=> Links Need to Make Sense for Both Sites: On my Lake County, Illinois site, LakeOnline.com, I only exchange links with non-commercial community groups and organizations located within Lake County, Illinois. This makes sense as that is the focus of my site and it benefits the groups within that category to have a link from such a popular site that has proven longevity. It is a win-win for both sides. My site visitors then have links available to them of other Lake County, Illinois resources and the sites that link to LakeOnline.com are linking to a quality Lake County, Illinois resource.

If the site linking to you has no direct relationship to yours in topic or is a poor quality site - don't exchange links. Just having links for the sake of doing so doesn't benefit either site. Think in terms of the fact that the links off your site need to compliment and add to the overall offering for your site visitors.

=> Consider Google's Page Rank: Page rank is not the end-all-be-all! Don't live or die by Page Rank. (From what I've read as of late Google is way behind in updating their PageRank.) However, when it comes to linking it can be a useful tool you can use to guide you. Before you begin requesting links, you want to ensure that you at least have a page rank for your top page for a start. No page rank is an indication of a newer Web site or a site that is not considered to have quality valuable content - that is when PageRank is working properly. Just like everything online, Google's PageRank glitches on occasion too - that is why I stress you use it as a guide not your bible.

Page rank is accomplished by having a valuable resource site that others feel is worthy of linking to. If you are all sales pitch with very little content, page rank is difficult to attain. Always check a site's page rank to determine if it has been determined to have any value. Without a page rank, linking for the sake of linking is moot. Sites with higher page ranks are given more relevancy, as are the sites they in turn link to.

=> Organize and Categorize Your Directory of Links: Google has been known to ignore pages with more than 50 or so links. This is because tons of unorganized links on a page indicate "link farm" and do not indicate any sort of value or relational substance to the site in question. Categorize your links and create a new page when necessary for new topics. When a specific topic starts approaching 50, create a subcategory or an additional page.

You want to do everything you can to avoid the perception of linking purely to manipulate your rankings. When I receive requests from sites with over 50 links and their link directory is not categorized, I generally do not respond as I know they are creating a link farm which will offer no benefit to me and may have even have a detrimental effect on my natural listings.

=> Have a Plan Before You Request Links: After you have reviewed the sites you would like to exchange links with, (Never spam for link exchanges! See #2 above.) here are some tips to keep in mind before you e-mail them with your request.

1. Create a brief but concise e-mail that includes specific instructions on how they can link back to you. You want to make sure that your requested return link text, if at all possible, includes a couple of your main keywords in the link.

2. Be sure to mention why your site and the one you are contacting are complimentary and why a reciprocal link will benefit both sides. If you cannot make this analogy, you probably should not be requesting a link in the first place.

3. Have the other site's link already in place on your site before you e-mail your request and let them know exactly where that is. Be sure if you said their link is in place that it is or you loose credibility and look as though you are not sincere in your offer.

4. Include a comment of exactly where on their site or in what category of their link directory that you would like to see your link. This lets the other side know that you've reviewed their site and see the reciprocal value and are not just spamming for links.

=> Your Link Directory is Easy to Find: Hiding your link directory deep within your site or not obviously linking to your link directory is a sure sign that you are gathering links for all the wrong reasons. Understand the search engines have a way of determining link relevancy based on topic, popularity and as well as other evolving factors. If you are hiding your link directory this is a big clue that is probably has no value to your site visitors or why would you be hiding it? If you cannot have obvious navigation to your link directory, you know that you are not offering value and need to rethink your strategy.

One of the other benefits of exchanging links is the hope that those who visit the other site, will find yours by following the link to your site. If their link directory is hidden, folks cannot find you which prevents you from garnering this potential additional traffic. If you receive a request to exchange links and see that the other site has their link directory buried where their site visitors will have difficulty finding it, I would decline the request as they are not offering me anything. Work only with site owners who understand what linking is all about and have a link directory that is well organized and easily found on their site.

=> Spammy Link Requests: You've probably received those yourself. Some marketer asking if you are interested in exchanging links with a site they are unwilling to identify until you show interest. What is that!? If exchanging links makes sense there should be no reason to hide the identity of any site. This is an indication the site most likely has no page rank, is not related to yours, or is creating a link farm. Use these e-mail as an example of what you don't want to do. Hit the Delete button.

Link exchanges serve two purposes. The first being they add value to both sites and offer visibility to an entire set of site visitors who may not have known the other site even exists to search for it. The secondary reason is that search engines have a ranking algorithm that is built upon evaluating incoming and out going links to your site.

If you do not want to deal with the link exchange process all you have to do is have a high quality, content rich site and the links will happen without you having to make a single request. Create a site worth linking to and the links will come.

About the Author:
Judith Kallos is an authoritative and good-humored Technology Muse who has been playing @ http://www.TheIStudio.com for over a decade. Check out her popular Technology Cheat Sheets @ http://www.LearnAndThrive.com

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