There has been a lot of talk over the past few months, even more so with the latest Google update, about the value of linking. What types of links are better, which types are still seen as value added to a website. Well if the truth be told, the only people who can tell us are not saying anything. I am speaking of the engineers at Google and the other search engines, the very people who are the one who determine the value of all linking.
According to some people at the various search engine optimization companies, reciprocal links are no longer being considered when determining link popularity for a website. Just like so many of the other theories search engine optimization, outside of the engineering labs, no one really knows for certain. I have read some of the reports that have been issued on this topic and these reports are far from conclusive, offering little more than contradictory examples taken over several days of testing.
So aside from a wait and see what happens next stance what can we do? Rather than adopt a reactive position to this uncertainty I feel that it would be far better to move forward and be proactive by changing my linking strategies. As long as there is any kind of controversy regarding reciprocating links, there really isn’t much point in relying on them to help build link popularity.
Personally, I still place a value in reciprocating links as a valid means of trading traffic and will continue to utilize them however, as more and more misinformation gets spread over the Internet it will become increasingly more difficult to exchange links with quality sites. So what is a webmaster to do now that this style of linking seems to be on its way out? Simple – adapt or disappear off the search engine radar. Well Google’s radar anyway.
For my consultation clients I am going to suggest that they be extremely selective on who they link with now. Spend more time evaluating the potential linking partners. If the site measure up to their standards of web development and the theme of the linking site matches their site in some manner then, go ahead and trade links.
Before they trade links with any site they should make sure that the partner site is placing their link on a page that has some “on topic” content rather than a page that contains just random links. If possible only trade links with sites that employ some form of directory system so that all of the links contained on any given page share a similar theme. I will also be suggesting that they set up their own directory style system broken into categories and every page in each category should contain a topical block of text that ties all potential links together. Setting up their own system like this will make linking with their site more desirable.
Another strategy I will be advising my clients on is the use of 3 way links. For those of you who do not know what three way links are here is a brief, simplistic description: Site A links to Site B, Site B links to Site C, Site C links to Site A. Pretty straight forward eh? The process is pretty straight forward but the application often is not. The only way three way links work is when all the parties involved are honest and are willing to maintain those links.
Recently I tested one of my sites and discovered that approximately 80% of the sites I traded links with were not honoring our agreement. Now I fully expected that there would be some shiftless webmasters out there who would be less than trustworthy but, I never expected the number to be so high.
Although reciprocating linking isn’t too difficult of a task it does require a certain amount of time and effort. To have some unscrupulous webmaster cheat you out of your back link in your reciprocated deal is bad enough but to have one do that to your site in a 3 way link deal is even worse.
You see a 3 way linking deal requires slightly more effort due to the necessity of documenting all of the information regarding this agreement. If you are going to go through all of that effort to set up a three way linking agreement you certainly do not want one of the partners to sour the deal by dropping one of the links without notifying any of the other partners.
The extra work required to establish a successful 3 way linking agreement isn’t too difficult, it is all about record keeping. After you have researched the two sites that you think would make good candidates for your three way link swap, you are going to need to contact them and invite them into the exchange. More than likely you are going to have to lay out the plan and explain to them why a 3 way link deal is good and make sure that they understand that the only way it works is if everybody involved is open, honest and up front about everything.
As part of the research for the 3 way trade you are going to want to make sure that all three sites are in some way related. Not necessarily in direct competition with each other but connected in some way; much like the way a restaurant site would be similar to a hotel site and the hotel site might be similar to a pub site. Pretty simple really as a hotel can contain both a pub or a restaurant, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that these 3 service based businesses could be related somehow.
Once you have the three sites picked that you would like to trade links with make sure you research them thoroughly. The things you want to be checking for are;
Age of the sites
Current link popularity
When checking Page Rank you are looking to make sure that everybody is of a similar PR. Don’t get greedy and automatically suggest that your site should be linked from the site with the highest PR. In fact it might be a good idea to suggest that the higher PR site should link to the lowest PR site. Doing this may make the deal seem a little sweeter.
It would be best if all 3 sites were on different IP addresses. Sites that are all residing on the same IP may be misconstrued as being part of a link farm strategy. Why take the chance?
This one should be a no brainer. If the site isn’t of a quality that you would recommend to your friends or family to visit why would you want to risk the credibility of your site by suggesting that other people go to it? Rule of thumb here on quality is this; if you wouldn’t bookmark the site for yourself, don’t link to it.
Age of the Sites
The age of the site is important because of the alleged age delay sandbox effect in Google’s algorithms. If the site is too new then you may have to wait for the site to mature before any weight is given to the out going links from that site. You should try to make sure that the sites you include in your 3 way linking are at least 1 year old or more. No guarantees that sites over a year are going to be mature enough but at least the odds are better.
Current Link Popularity
The reason you will want to check out the current link popularity is more about the investigation into their linking history. Do they currently trade links with sites that may be considered as being from a bad neighborhood. Do they link to gambling, porn or FFA sites? If they do and they are not part of the gambling or porn world and your site isn’t either then DO NOT link to them.
Three ways linking in this manner revisits the days when linking was more natural. This type of linking will demonstrate to the search engines that you value your linking recommendations and therefore the search engines should value them as well. If the search engines trust your site to make these recommendations then there is no way that the applied due diligence will get you in trouble with the search engines.