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Link Development Forum

    
The Link Exchange Question.
Analyzing the Utility of Link Exchanges.
Kantro




msg:3248110
 11:47 pm on Feb 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

So I have come to a crossroads in SEO-ing my site. Here's the situation. There is another site that offers to exchange links with my site (obviously, there are many of these). This other site:

a) Is in the same industry as my site.

b) Is ranked pretty high for some good keywords.

c) Has a "links" page that is exclusively devoted to exchanging reciprocal links. (A.K.A., they are meant to help in SEO and not to be actual helpful resources for a user of the site.)

d) Furthermore, the links page is a PR 3,4, or 5.

e) There are a large number of links on the "links" page to external sites.

f) Finally, this other site's method for obtaining reciprocal links using this large link exchange (albeit links in the same industry) would obviously not exist if not for the practice of Search Engine Optimization, and like I said before is of no real help to a user of the site.

So, it seems like people are in agreement about the fact that it is a bad thing to engage in giant link farms and exchange links from possibly "bad neighborhoods."

But seeing a large number of sites that fit the above description, I am presented with the choice to either a) trade links, or b) do nothing.

Clearly, if I do nothing, I will not benefit in any way. Simple.

So if doing this link exchange would benefit my site in even the least little bit I would find it optimal to do so if the alternative is to do nothing. The only reason I wouldn't do the exchange would be if the reciprocal link set-up could possibly hurt my site at all.

So that is my question. Assuming I'm considering trading links with a site like I described above, is there any possible way this could hurt my site?

Even if it only helps a tiny, tiny bit, it would be better than doing nothing at all.

I look forward to hearing your input on this.

Thanks,
Kantro

 

Quadrille




msg:3248130
 12:13 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Of course it can hurt your site.

Google has made clear for some while now that link exchanges are depracated, and many commercial link exchanges have crashed, leaving members high and dry in their bad neighborhoods.

Yes, some have survived. but as Google has made clear that they don't like them, why would you take that risk?

You need to read around on the topic, here and elsewhere; it's all been said, many times.

martinibuster




msg:3248135
 12:24 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Analyzing the Utility of Link Exchanges

Did you analyze how many of it's backlinks are from actual link exchanges versus how many are one way inbounds?

Did you do an analysis of the backlinks by TLD to see how many are from the different domains?

But seeing a large number of sites that fit the above description...

Might want to do a deeper analysis than simply checking for a recip link page.

Kantro




msg:3248153
 1:15 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

I understand what you both are saying and appreciate your input, but I'm a little puzzled about one thing.

The type of sites I'm considering exchanging links with are usually ranked on the first page of Google for some relatively high-traffic keywords - many of them the same keywords for which I intend to optimize my site.

Is the fact that these sites are already ranked extremely high by Google not implicit evidence in itself that they are "important" sites in the eyes of Google?

martinibuster




msg:3248166
 1:31 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

The topic of this thread is:

Analyzing the Utility of Link Exchanges

Imo, analyzing why these sites are in the top of the SERPs is of some importance for creating a strategy for overtaking them.

Quadrille




msg:3248184
 2:03 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

They may be ranked high in Google DESPITE some spammy behiour, rather than BECAUSE of it.

But there's all sorts of possibilities in a specific situation; the general rule remains, if you choose to ignore the SES guidelines, you are taking a risk. If you depend on site income, you need to consider carefully how big a risk you can afford - or the benefits of investing your brain power and effort into non-spam techniques.

We can only make you aware of these issues; how you proceed is your choice.

hiredesigner




msg:3248245
 4:41 am on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ofcourse it will not be as beneficial to you as it is going to benefit the site with whom you you are linking.

cnvi




msg:3248586
 4:34 pm on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Assuming I'm considering trading links with a site like I described above, is there any possible way this could hurt my site?

Excellent concerns and questions but it will be easier if I simply respond to your last question quoted above. My company has been managing thousands of link exchange campaigns for many years, pre-Google so I have some expertise in this area.

First.. don't over analyze. Focus on basic concepts. Does the site you are considering a link exchange with benefit your end user's experience in any way? In other words, does the target site you are evaluating help your own customer or end user learn more about your product or service? Does the site you are considering linking with provide a new "knowledge gateway" to additional information that they would have not found otherwise about your own product/service if you had not linked with them? If the target site adds benefit to your end user's experience, link with it. Relevance is the proverbial gold nugget when it comes to proper link exchange strategy.

The silver nugget.. the second most important thing to pay attention to is volume. In my years of managing link exchange campaigns for thousands of clients, I have seen that links must be obtained slowly.. if you obtain 250 links overnight, you are basically asking the search engines to analyze those exchanges to determine if you are up to no good or if you received all of those links maybe because you issued a press release announcing a brilliant new product or cure for a disease.

Relevancy and volume.. if you pay close attention to these factors and don't exceed the thresholds that SE's have built into their algorithms to detect irrelevant high volume linking, you will be fine..

In case anyone is wondering, read Google's 2003 Search Engine 125 patent and they have a whole paragraph that discusses relevancy and volume. So I am not pulling this out of my backside.. My statements are based on experience and analysis of search engine patents.

analyzing why these sites are in the top of the SERPs is of some importance for creating a strategy for overtaking them.

This is an interesting comment but not sure if you can "overtake" them unless you also decide to ramp up your link development campaign. Obviously, we all know that links are part of what causes SEs to provide higher ranks but we also know hundreds of factors go into rankings.. how old your site is, HTML errors, how often you update your content, how often you obtain links and how often you link out.. all of these factors play a part and I think the best strategy to "overtake" your competition is to simply produce significant original content on a regular basis and also obtain (and link out) to quality relevant sites on a long term basis.. Although I cannot prove it, it is my opinion that the search engines save the data from your site every time they crawl it.. They most likely compare past crawl data with recent crawl data. In other words, they are trending your site and watching to see how often you update quality content and how often you both obtain links and receive links.

Based on my years of experience doing this kind of work, I have never seen any proof that the search engines remove points or give you negative points for link exchange. I have seen some sites get penalized for high volume irrelevant link strategies which is why relevancy and steady low volume is important.

They may be ranked high in Google DESPITE some spammy behiour, rather than BECAUSE of it.

This is an interesting comment and I agree with it in part.. but there is no way to know.. we are all not shamans. Might be possible the site has high quality links that were developed with long term low volume link exchange despite a crappy looking site design. I have seen that. If you see a site that you think is participating in spammy behaviour and you can prove it (gateway pages, hidden text, high volume irrelevant links), report it to the SE's via their spam report tool.

if you choose to ignore the SES guidelines, you are taking a risk

Agreed which is why it's important to read the guidelines and note they do not state "don't link exchange". Most search engine guidelines state "have other relevant sites link to yours" and "avoid software or services that you would not want to use if the search engines didn't exist".

You can spend a lot of time analyzing competition and still now know exactly what it is they are doing to have higher rankings than yours... It is my humble opinion that domain age probably is a significant factor. That's just my opinion and I could be wrong.. but based on what I have seen over the past 8-9 years, it's tough to get a new domain to rank well in short period of time unless that domain is in a very unique niche without a lot of competition.

So many factors go into rankings and it's safe to assume those factors are modified for different market segments..different industries.. age of domains and all of that sort of thing.

Getting back to the original question which was "Assuming I'm considering trading links with a site like I described above, is there any possible way this could hurt my site?"

I would respectfully suggest you forget about PR because many new sites have no or low PR.. I would suggest you simply look at the overall quality of a site. Does it help your own site's visitors help them learn more about the product/service/information you have on your own site? If the answer is yes, a link exchange with that site is not going to hurt you. If you make these decisions one at a time with human scrutiny (avoid full duplex link exchange software and services which force you to link without editorial discretion), and if you keep your volume slow and steady, you will have long term success.

The SE's realize you cannot control who links out to you so if a bunch of junk sites link to yours and are requesting a link back to your site, donít link to them otherwise you do show the SEs that you may be up to chicanery. Don't give the SEs any reason to penalize you. You show the SE's you are a quality decent site when you make linking decisions that benefit the end user first.

Quadrille




msg:3248612
 5:07 pm on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Nice post, cnvi.

However, you strive to give the impression that link exchanges are always harmless, whereas for nearly a year now, certain link exchanges, networks, for example, have been very high risk; even before that, bad neighborhoods existed.

I do not doubt your experience - but SEs are constantly changing and updating. Have you updated your advice to allow for Google's current policies?

cnvi




msg:3248845
 9:56 pm on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

you strive to give the impression that link exchanges are always harmless, whereas for nearly a year now, certain link exchanges, networks, for example, have been very high risk; even before that, bad neighborhoods existed.... Have you updated your advice to allow for Google's current policies?

Quadrille, Excellent question and observation.

I do not see any harm between two relevant sites with high quality content linking with each other. I agree with you that junk sites (bad neighborhoods) are high risk and should be avoided. This is why learning how to judge a site based on it's quality factors is so important.

Link exchange is facinating to me because junk (scraper/thin affiliate) sites with high quality link exchange campaigns can climb in rankings while quality sites with poor link strategy find themselves stagnating.. so many factors to consider!

And there are "bad neighborhoods" but noone defines that term very often. There are link networks that auto-link you to every site in their network without editorial discretion and then there are some networks that are so involved with humans that you would never know X specific site is involved in a specific network. Sometimes, it's easier to spot junk link strategy than to recognize a site that is conducting a quality link exchange campaign with proper strategy.

To answer your question, absolutely we are constantly updating our policies with our clients and our link exchange partners with regards to the search engine's published policies.

However, one very important factor in all of this is something that is rarely discussed .. and that is the fact that the major search engines have never stated (that I can find in their published guidelines) "do not link exchange".. Because this is not published anywhere, one has to discern the current guidelines and then apply that in a meaningful way with regards to link exchange that is responsible and useful for the betterment of the web.

I hope that helped to answer your question. The bottom line is that there are a multitude of factors to consider when analyzing a site's link strategy. We have seen junk sites conduct perfectly responsible link exchange campaigns and quality sites conduct horrifying irrelevant high volume link exchange campaigns. I hope that help illustrates the complexities that analysis can bring forth.

At the end of the day, a shotgun approach is what we find works: quality regularly updated content combined with a solid link development camapign via a number of link development methods. Others have made that comment here in the past here.. its not just about one approach.. its the right combination of content combined with link development (link exchange, buying links, one way links and so on).

Finally, I just want to clarify that I do not feel that "link exchanges are always harmless" as you suggested above. Certainly, it can most likely harm a site if you link in high volume to junk sites. However, I do not see any harm in linking with obviously quality sites in low volume when it benefits the end user.

Quadrille




msg:3248857
 10:20 pm on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thanks for that; I largely agree.

It's sad, but it's a minefield; you cannot trust emails requesting an exchange, and they won't trust your requests.

Luckily, even Google is less reliant on linking these days, so most can afford to be fussy.

The SEs don't say 'don't exchange' - but the way things are, exchanging can be risky. I'd always advise great care - and never see a link exchange as 'first choice'.

cnvi




msg:3248870
 10:39 pm on Feb 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

Don't feel like it's a minefield.. It's easier than that.

Think about the trend you are presenting to users and SEs, and maintain an ethical trend.

I will quote a famous search engine. This quote is from (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769):

' "A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?" '

If you are managing link development with the following in mind:
- low natural volume
- maintain relevancy
- maintain editorial control

you will do fine long term while sites who play games may see their trendline adversely affect them.

martinibuster




msg:3248905
 12:01 am on Feb 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is an interesting comment but not sure if you can "overtake" them unless you also decide to ramp up your link development campaign.

The OP's issue is having to deal with the sites currently in the SERPs. One of the first steps he should undertake is to analyze the competition to see what they are up against.

The OP is assuming that all the backlinks are from reciprocal links, but it appears the OP may not have researched the backlinks, and may not know how to research the backlinks. Hence my suggestion.

So before concluding on a course of action it's probably best to do the research first.

DomainDrivers




msg:3251991
 3:13 am on Feb 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Kantro,

Tens of thousands of sites that exchange links properly rank quite well. Like you said, many of them are at the top of the SERPS.

There is a good reason for that. They are simply branding their site within their realm of interest, within available link directories. Reciprocation is a fundamental web marketing practice that pre-dates the search engines.

[edited by: martinibuster at 3:26 am (utc) on Feb. 14, 2007]
[edit reason] Removed off topic remarks. [/edit]

martinibuster




msg:3252005
 3:24 am on Feb 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Like you said, many of them are at the top of the SERPS.
There is a good reason for that.

No. No. And No.

You definitely do not know the reason.

Nor does the OP. The OP did not analyze the backlinks. He's making an assumption based on seeing a links directory.

Quadrille




msg:3252006
 3:28 am on Feb 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Tens of thousands of sites that exchange links properly rank quite well. Like you said, many of them are at the top of the SERPS.

There is a good reason for that. They are simply branding their site within their realm of interest, within available link directories. Reciprocation is a fundamental web marketing practice that pre-dates the search engines.

Interesting POV; I've met many reciprocators for whom the sky has fallen; and only recovered after a very thorough spring clean.

Done right (ie sensibly and knowing what to look for), reciprocation is harmless - and useful.

Trouble is, not everyone knows the 'rules'; not everyone can recognise a cr*p site or a bad neighborhood.

To say you've done it and survived is fine; to claim it is 'safe' is just plain wrong.

[edited by: Quadrille at 3:29 am (utc) on Feb. 14, 2007]

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