If you own a web site that displays an e-mail address or if it has a form that people can use to submit comments or questions, or your e-mail address is listed in a visible WHOIS record, you undoubtedly have received requests for link exchanges. These are also called reciprocal links. What most people do not realize is that the vast majority of these requests are fraudulent and provides no benefit to your site.
The fact is that all web sites need inbound links (links pointing to pages in a site) in order to rank well with search engines. A link is a popularity vote for a site and search engines keep track of every link that they find that points to every web site that they find. When all other things are equal, it is usually the site with the most quality inbound links that gets the higher ranking.
I need to step back a minute and define what I mean by quality links. A quality link is a link from another site in a related industry, and preferably from a site that already ranks well for your targeted keyword phrases. If you sell kitchenware, a link from a gaming site or a travel site is not a quality link. Also, pages that contain lists of links to other sites do not generally provide quality links. Ideally, a link to your site should be embedded in the text content on a web site and include your targeted keyword phrase in the hyperlink text. This is the most natural linking pattern that the major search engines prefer. If your link appears with others in the footer of a page, it’s value is likely being discounted. The use of the keyword phrase in the hyperlink text reinforces the keyword theme for the receiving page.
A quality link also comes from a page that is frequently visited by search engines. This is where the fraud comes into play with many link requests. You will frequently find that when a link requestor sends you a URL for a page where he or she will provide a link to your site, it is for a page that is not accessible to search engines. here is where another quality factor comes into play. Reciprocal links are easily detected by search engines and the value of the link is discounted. One way links to a site are therefore more valuable than reciprocal links.
How do you tell if a link exchange request is legitimate?
First, it is wise to assume that all link requests from unknown parties are not legitimate until proven otherwise.
- Check the page they are linking from. If it is a page with no content other than a list of links, it is a link farm page and has little value.
- If the linking site is in an unrelated industry, the link has little value and linking to it could be harmful to your site’s rankings. Google, in particular, has made it clear that excessive linking to unrelated sites can be harmful.
- Check to see if the page is easily accessible by search engines. There should be a link to the page on the site’s home page. It should also show up in the search engine index when you use the site:domainname.com (substitute the site’s domain name) query command in a search engine’s search box. If it doesn’t show up, the search engines cannot find it.
- The linking page should show PageRank in the Google Toolbar (if you have this installed in you browser). PageRank is a factor that Google uses to determine the value of links pointing to a page. PageRank used to play a major role in web site ranking, but is much less important today. Nonetheless, it the PageRank bar is grayed-out, Google does not place any value on the page and it is therefore not likely to benefit your web site.
So what is a quality link?
A quality link to your site is a one-way link, from an industry-related web site, that is contained in the content (natural linking) on a page that already ranks well for the targeted search phrase for your page. Does this type of link sound like it is difficult to obtain? You bet it does!
Getting back to the issue of link requests. Most link requests originate from automated programs that seek sites in a related industry and request that the site owner do a link exchange with them. The chances are that their site will benefit much more from this than your site for the many reasons detailed above. In particular, many of these site owners may initially post a link to your site in a desirable location, but will remove it in a month. They are typically seeking a one-way link from your site to theirs because they know that this type of link is more valuable to them.
There are also other issues that are hard to explain to the non-technically inclined, such as methods to block links from search engines, such as blocking pages in the robots.txt file and using the rel=”nofollow” attribute on links. That discussion is beyond the scope of this post.
How common are scam reciprocal link requests?
Very common. In fact, the overwhelming majority of link requests are likely to be scams. I recently explained this to a client who had about three dozen reciprocal links on a link page in his site. All of the links were from sites in his industry. After going over the methods to determine if a link is legitimate, he decided to check them out. The result was that only one out of all of the links was legitimate. All of the other links were from scammers and offered zero value to his site because either the pages or the link were blocked from spiders.
So how do you respond to link requests and ink exchange requests?
Rule Number 1: Ignore the request. Just delete the message. If you are not familiar with the site, do not respond and do not provide a link, even if they provide you with a link to a page in their site that contains a link to your site.
Rule Number 2: If a link from another site does not provide a clear benefit to your site, ignore the request.
Rule Number 3: Never respond to link exchange requests from people that you do not know. Many of these people fit into the same ethical category as spammers.
Rule Number 4: If in doubt, refer to Rules number 1 through 3.