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Why Link Exchanges Are Like Mosquitoes

A Guest post by Akila from The Road Forks

Last week, I had a revelation when, after spending ten minutes fiddling around with a VPN in Podunkville, China, I opened my email and found four link exchange requests, including one asking to exchange links with “The Toad Forks” rather than our website, The Road Forks. As I slammed my laptop lid down, I realized that link exchanges are the mosquitoes of the blogging world.

Imagine that all of us bloggers — interesting and interested people engaged in making our blogs the Next Best Thing — sit down at a summer table with platters of thick-grilled hamburgers and corn on the cob next to an open cooler of dripping beers. The mosquitoes hover, pinching our legs and arms. We slap them away but their brothers come to replace them. They bloat with our blood, gorging and feeding on our health, and we develop unsightly rashes. That, my friends, are link exchange requests and we bloggers are helping these mosquitoes breed.

What is a link exchange request? A link exchange request is one where a site offers to link to your site in exchange for a reciprocal link. The key to this request is the requirement for a reciprocal link; in other words, if you don’t link to me, I don’t link to you.

Link exchange requests come in various forms. Some are from corporate entities seeking to promote blogs or sites by selling text links, though Google slashed PageRanks in 2007 in response to this tactic. Others are from bloggers — often, well meaning, newbie bloggers —- who send mass generic e-mails that cause me to inwardly groan, along the lines of, “Hey! Cool blog! Want to exchange links?”

Let me be clear, though: link exchanges are not e-mails from bloggers to others in the same genre inviting them to consider reading or linking to their blog because they have shared interests. If you are producing valuable content, you need to spread the word and e-mailing and networking with other bloggers is the best way to increase traffic to your site. Darren’s 11 tips to increase your chances of being linked to by another blogger boil down to two central tenets: get to know the person whose link you are asking for and produce content worthy of that link. A polite request that a person consider reading your blog is not the same thing as a request for a link in return for a link of their own.

Why do websites/bloggers want link exchanges? Link exchanges are an easy, get-rich-quick scheme to drive traffic and increase search engine results. In the short term, readers will jump to your blog, leading to more pageviews, ad revenue, and perhaps RSS subscribers.

Over the long term, links build your site’s “importance,” in the eyes of Google (and most other search engines, for that matter). A link exchange means more links for your site as well as theirs, more links leads to a higher Google PageRank, and a higher PageRank will cause a site to show up closer to the front page of Google search results, generating greater traffic for a site. Greater traffic means more ad revenue, fame, and the resulting glamour of being a hot-shot blogger.

The bad news: By participating in link exchanges, you risk injuring your reputation, the reputation of others, and angering Google. What do all successful bloggers have in common? Trust. A link might send new readers to your site but they are only going to keep reading your site if they trust that you will produce great content every week. The links on your blog are part of the content on your site; by linking to another site, you represent to your reader that the link is of good quality and will provide something valuable to the reader. If a reader clicks on a link that takes them to a site filled with ads for pills and dating programs, or to a blog that produces worse content than your own, the reader is going to question your judgment and wonder why you chose to link to that site. Nobody likes the guy who has to buy his friends. Unfortunately, by linking to one lousy site, you also devalue the other good sites on your blog. Bad for you, bad for your friends.

And, you certainly don’t want to irritate the most powerful player on the web. Google carries 71% of the search engine market and they hate link schemes. Google is in the business of providing the most accurate website hierarchy for a particular search term and falsely inflated links to a particular site lead to poor search results. In no less than three places in their Webmaster Guidelines, Google explains that participating in link schemes, including excessive link exchanges, could “negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”

Welcome to the new Internet where content is king.

Link exchanges are part of the old Internet, a system in which PageRank ruled and social media was a fancy word for e-mail. Today, Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon drive more traffic to my blog (and, I suspect, most blogs) than links from other bloggers. In the last week of July 2010, Facebook not only dominated the social media sites but was the most visited website in the world – even more than Google – accounting for over 9% of all web traffic in that week. Facebook’s Like button and Twitter’s instantaneous communications reward interesting or useful posts without using artificial means to game a blogger’s popularity.

Google is taking advantage of this revolution with Caffeine, its web indexing system launched in June 2010 that crawls blogs, social media sites, commercial sites, and user generated content at a 50% faster rate. Previously, Google used to crawl pages once every few days or even less, resulting in stale web search results. Now, when you hit publish on your blog post, it will appear in Google search results in less than 30 minutes. This means that fresh content – whether in the form of blog posts, tweets, or Facebook posts – may be the key to landing at the top of Google searches. In fact, Google has recommended for years that webmasters stop obsessing about PageRank because it is only one of 200 factors used to determine search results.

The bottom line is that if you want to increase your readership in today’s Internet, focus on networking with other bloggers, effectively using social media tools to produce fresh content, and, most importantly, producing link-worthy content, rather than populating the Internet with infestations of spam-filled links. Maybe soon, we will all be able to sit back and bask in the sunny glow of a better, more usable Internet.

Read more from Akila at The Road Forks

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Carolee says:

    I am constantly being hounded to exchange links. I wouldn’t mind so much if we even had something in common, which we usually don’t!

    Love the post title- very catchy!

  2. Thank you for this post. I sometimes get a lot of link requests, but most of all I get a lot of spam comments. I am wondering if this is good or bad with regard to Google. Of course it is bad for me, since I must weed through all of the spam comments. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks! Leanna

  3. Steve says:

    Hey, Thanks for explaining this to me. I too was a newbie blogger and did that. I now know not to ever do that in the future and to be careful if people do it to me.

  4. Link exchanges are a bad idea.

  5. I am very pleased with your article about a link exchange. So far I am still somewhat in doubt, is true that a link exchange has beneficial to increase the ranking in search engine and getting traffic.
    After reading your article, I made it clear that the link exchange must be accompanied by increasing quality content. Fresh content and social media networks should take precedence over the link exchange is not followed by a post fresh content and quality.

  6. Gareth Rees says:

    You hit the nail on the head. Link exchange requests are just as annoying as Mosquitoes! I have a whole new visualisation in my head now. I think the best request I got was from an airport car park saying that our sites were in the same field. I was working on an insurance company site at the time.

  7. George says:

    Reciprocal link is all about perception, i am not a big fan of link exchange for the simple fact that there is a lot of fraud involved. If you have a reciprocal link checker might help you detect if your link is taken off. Otherwise, just do a check on the site to see the legitimacy of their content and if they are informative or not. Anyway thanks for writing about this subject.

  8. Sandra says:

    I really like your post. Lots of info to chew on! There are a lot of unspoken link exchanges going on too. Hey, just all of us be authentic and we’ll all be better for it!

  9. John says:

    It is an old technique, you don’t need any more, Unless you’re linking to PR9 website that share your niche interests.

  10. MsKatrina says:

    I agree with Stacy. If I find a blog posting that I enjoy or learned something, I generally do my own post linking back to the original blog.

    I also find leaving relevant comments, especially on blogs that are do follow, provide me with more juice than any bogus link exchange. And Google doesn’t frown on that.

    However, I hate spam comments…Delete…Delete…Delete….

    Or, rather, I mark them as spam which, I hope, has some negative impact as I use Askimet and other spam blockers.

    If you don’t have anything relevant to say, then it is better than you don’t say anything at all.

  11. Akila says:

    @ Lauren Rains, Yep – I was so happy to leave Chinese internet behind! VPN is not the best solution no matter what you try, I think. Generally, I try to read a site for about a month and then if I like that site, I will add that to my blog roll. If people contact me, I add them to my RSS reader and then add them to my blogroll if I like what I see. I can usually tell within a month (and, often, in much less time) whether they’re a site I will continue wanting to read.

    @Matej, The links on my page are to bloggers who I respect and admire and who I want everyone else to know about because they produce great work. Every blog on my blogroll is in my RSS reader (yeah, my Google Reader is always full.) Link exchanges are specifically frowned upon by Google and if these large news organizations are creating link pacts, Google will likely drop their PageRanks. I haven’t seen these link pacts that you mention amongst the major news sites, but I will keep my eyes open for it.

    @Barbara, That’s all you can do. Just keep producing quality content that you believe in and everything else will fall in place. As in life, there aren’t a whole lot of shortcuts to blogging. And, good luck!

  12. Vince says:

    Some famous internet marketers have been banned by Google before because of link exchange.

    Linking should come naturally as time passes by.

  13. Vince says:

    By the way before I forget, if you really want to get some nice one way link, you need to learn how to comment. There are lots of websites and blogs out there that offers do follow links.

    However, don’t abuse it. Just allow it to come naturally. If people will love your site, Im sure many of them will be linking back to you.

  14. Hi thanks for the info. As one of the “newbie” bloggers you mention, I’m sure I’ve made all the mistakes that are out there! :)

    However I think sites like yours – which provide free and useful information to help educate the blogging public are a godsend! I am extremely thankful that I stumbled across your site and will definitely be visiting often to get to learn some of the tips out there.

    Thanks again.

  15. I feel linking should be done naturally over time. Providing great content and building your reputation gradually is the way to go. We started the blog 5 months ago but started being more pro-active say a month ago and our alexa ranking is dropping consistently. Have been approached daily now for reciprocal linking. Most of the times the links are coming from sites not relevant to our photography business.

  16. Speaking of not-so-bright requests, I run a music blog, and received an email from what appeared to be a publicist of a hip-hop artist. First off, if he would’ve done any research, he would’ve realized I don’t talk about hip-hop.

    But the funny part (okay, maybe not so funny) is that in his email, instead of linking to his client’s music, he sent me three MP3 files, amounting to 25MB. I obviously sent those right to the crap heap.

  17. Guy McLaren says:

    Building back links seems to be the spammers way of getting noticed. I have noticed an upsurge in spam comments and link requests on my sites as well. It seems that Ed Dale has rebranded the 30 day challenge and is teaching people to get links at all costs.

    You can have all the backlinks you want on my sites if you contribute to the conversation, but wow cool post, I have stumbled it does not do it for me. If you want to appeal to my vanity or ego, rather get involved in the conversation even if you disagree.

    Reciprocal links are of limited use anyway. Link exchanges in the same arena as yours may be of use. If you are a spammy get rich quick kind of fella, then reciprocal links with other get rich quick spammers is great, but not with photographers, web developers and real life SEO folks.

  18. Tony says:

    I agree with not participating in link exchanges completely. Content, like you said is king and sites with numerous “partner” links are only vainly attempting to increase page rank. I bet we’d see a lot less crowded sites if more people would follow your advice. Thanks again for the insight Darren.

  19. Eddie Gear says:

    Now that you have shed so much clarity on the topic of link exchange and how google consideres it. I will change my way of SEO.

  20. Praz says:

    I personally didn’t like the title of the post… Link exchanges are like mosquitoes??? sounds erratic. anyways well written.

    Thanks,
    Prasenjit.

  21. Excellent information here. This interesting post made me smile. Maybe if you throw in a couple of pics it will make the whole thing more interesting.

  22. I get those emails all the time. I don’t like the fact that if I do exchange with someone that there is no way to track if the link remains on their site for more than a week.

  23. Link exchange is not too bad option especially to the new bloggers who want some traffic to their site. But it should be in limit, and it would be much better get to know the people you want links from.

  24. Jason says:

    I have been around for a little over a year and a half and have tried to stay away from stuff like that. I have tried to do things the right way to the best of my understanding b/c I want to be seen as a legitimate blogger. The world of blogging is such a unique and fascinating place and I love all the challenges it presents and doing it the right way is very important to me.

  25. When I get those requests, I write back, “Since my blog is attractive and so valuable, I would be glad to discuss your buying a display ad to promote your (fill in the blank).”