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5 points for assessing link exchange requests

June 8th, 2008
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Out of no where you receive a friendly email from a webmaster that claims that they added a link to your website on theirs and requests that you do the same on your website. They even include a link in the email showing the page with your website name, description, and the link to your website. This is great! now, we are only being asked to add the same link to their website somewhere, should I do it?

Graph representing a network of links

The art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is understanding how it works and what raises your site’s ranking in the various search engines. Links that point to your site from other sites is a big area of SEO and is very important to raise the traffic levels of your sites. However, sometimes links can also hurt your positioning, especially if your site is already established and has a certain level of traffic that you do not want to sacrifice.

let’s explore five ways to asses the value of the link that is now pointing to your site and whether you should or should not add a link back on your own website:

1. Website Relevancy

An incoming link from a related (content wise) website is of higher value than a link from a non related website. So, according to this principle, go ahead and visit the website from which the link is pointing to your and asses the relativity to your content and to what makes your site jazz. Notice that in some cases industry proximity will not be enough but only the specific sub-industry within the industry is what you are looking for. For example: your site focuses on gourmet coffee and the linking website is about coffee in general – while it is more relevant than a website about teas a link from this site might hurt your existing gourmet coffee traffic and in order to keep the momentum and grow your traffic you would want additional links from ony gourmet coffee related website. This is also due to the fact that coffee related websites are a dime a dozen and it is important to stay away from the crowed and onto your little search engine optimized sub-industry.

The reason this is the first rule is because this one makes it really easy to dump the idea of a link excange. Once you realize it is not in your industry or related content you do not need to proceed. Save your time!

2. Website Ranking

Following our Search Engine Optimization logic, a link from a site with a general low ranking might hurt your site more than a link from a medium or high ranking. This principle follows the logic that search engines, in particular Google, will rank your site higher if the links pointing to your site are from established and higher ranked sites. Hence, the beasic question that you want to answer is does the site linking to my site has higher PageRank value at its home page than my site’s home page? Notice that PageRank is aranking system offered by Google, if you do not wish to rely on Google alone you can simply run some relevant keyword searches in all three major search engines and see if your site shows up before the linking website or not.

Once you know which one is higher the action should be obvious, if the site linking to your is of lower ranking you should not proceed with the link exchange. It will never hurt you if you have incoming link from the lower ranked website but it may lower your ranking if you link back. Next.

3. Location and the position of the link

Ok. Now we passed the first two tests and we want to look at the specifics. Where is the link located? is it on every page – that would be the best! Is it on an easy to find page (great!)? is it on a hidden page (bad!)? Unless it is on a hidden page, you may want to proceed – but in most cases it will be located on a links page with a whole lot more links on it and you wonder if this is of any good to you. This is where you need to investigate further:

If the links page has over 100 links and seems like something put together very abruptly and with no real way for a user to find your site in the list of sites easily, you might want to abandon the link exchange. If the page is of about 10-40 links and the sites are clearly labeled and given a description and your site can easily be identified or is located near the top of the list – it might not be a bad idea to work with this website/webmaster.

4. Automated or manual link exchange request?

Some sites pay a third party to enhance their SEO and the third party develops a little utility to bombard every email they came accross to send the link request. This can be seen if the links page is full of unrelated links and is overpopulated or if the email is coming from a third party and you have a feeling it may be automated. It is tru, there is no real way to identify sometimes but here is where you can add some human element to it: call or email the person back with questions or perhaps just ask: ‘where is your business located?’

In general, you should value with a lot more respect the manual requests that come in. Perhaps even be ready to tke it to the next level outside of the boundaries of the web. Automatic requests obviously need not waist any more of your time. Next.

5. Intuition

I had to add this since I have seen a lot of link exchange requests. Always have your site’s best interest at the back of your mind. The bottom line is will this link exchange program bring more business through my site yes or no. You should always regard your site’s business interests and your site’s user experience top before you approach it with SEO tweaks. Remember that search engines work for the same users that you want to serve, so their algorithm will favor better UI in most cases. What it means to youis that if you feel that this link exchange addressed all the above items but you still feel uncomfortable with it – don’t do it! go and work on something else that will bring additional hits to your sites.

Summary

As search engine optimization gets analyzed more and more and the value of an incoming link gets higher you will receive many link exchange requests. Stay on top of the game and work with the link exchanges that bes fit your website while avoid the ones that benefit the other side only. Remember, linking is only one tool of a set of tools in your SEO arsenal.

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