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Today, I just got a call from them saying they were starting a new linking program and were wondering if I could provide a link to their site for them...I was dumbfounded for a minute. Then I asked "Will you link back to mine?" He said they would.
Does this seem odd or like a bad idea to anybody...it just seems odd to me.
He worked for a department store and told any parent where to buy the toys their children wished for the best price. The department store made more christmas turnover than ever like that as they put the clients above short term profit.
Personally I would not link to my main competitors but why not linking to a someone in the same field if this helps your visitors.
So why not linking to a source where your visitors find more information about homes in the same area and at the same time telling them why your house is better than others and why they will come back to you if they are looking for the best house in your field.
But really, if there are 3 players in a small market and 2 swap links, it should be easier for a search engine to determine that the 2 that link to each other are related and more likely to be on-topic / authoritative.
Competition is a tired old concept. As much as possible, I try to have a unique service. There's room enough for all of us if we are the least bit creative :)
I link to most of my competitors whether they want to swap or not. If they want to swap great, if not, then even better, and link to them anyway.
You should expect your prospects to be intelligent enough to "shop around". In my business if they are not intelligent enough to shop around I probably don't want that prospect.
Given I expect the good prospects to shop around, why make it hard for them? Give them the links to competitors, make life easy for them, let them decide who was the most open, forthcoming, honest and made available the best offering.
I've gained dozens of clients simply because of the straightforward approach to competition. ;)
I imagine they do get some sort of referral fee if the customer decides to go with the "other guy" but I don't know that for sure.
If you don't exchange links with your competitors, why not join their affiliate programs (if available)? That way if your visitor decides to go with the other company you will at least get a referral fee for the link. You are providing your visitor with the service of finding your competitors (so they don't have to) and offering them the option to compare products before they buy. If they buy from you or the other site, you still make money.