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What I woudl do is try and stay topic orientated when I was exchanging links but not from direct competition...ie an american widget maker linking with am australiam widget maker...same content no competition :)
I look at how related sites are ranking, but that's not the sole criteria. Some can also be sources of good complementary traffic and/or just make a good addition by being a good site even if their rankings aren't so hot.
I'll look at a site's links page and see who's linking to them and then backtrack a couple of levels back to see where the links are coming from in a "chain" effect, to make sure they didn't get their links in a way that could eventually land them in trouble and me along with them. I also check back-links at the search engines and backtrack a bit with that.
Basically, I've been looking at links pages of sites that have done a good job of it already. For one, it's locating people who are obviously willing to exchange links, and if well done they're likely to be on topic.
I'm also in some networking groups, so for some it's a matter of contacting people I'm already acquainted with, which is much easier.
I've just started building some links for a client but was fortunate to get a good listing with yahoo & Dmoz so the site within 4 weeks had a PR3 and so far we are getting a good response from other site owners
Example: In just over three months one site with just 23 listings in DMOZ has produced 1490 back links and growing at about 20% per month.
A simple strategy to identifying appropriate multiple categories in DMOZ listing:
1. type your most relevant keyword phrases in DMOZ search box and note the topical cats the appear.
2. go to each cat and record the topical structure of the page, your web site page that would best support being listed and the cats PR level and number of other listings in the cat.
3. overview other listings - does it make sense that your page should be listed here.
4. overview DMOZ submission rules (if you don't - you're wasting your time as well as the editor's time)
5. write your listings - note: it's far better to squeeze precise keyword phrases (once, each) in the description. Don't place important keywords and/or phrases into the title - generally the listings title is irrelevant (at least from search engines that use this listing in their own description and weighing).
6. submit cycle - topical cats with the least number of listings will generally get acceptance faster (regardless of editor availability).
7. Once accepted if google has already indexed your site link to the listing page so to increase Google's immediate chance of reindexing this page (once google has the description you can always drop the link but the initial affects of your link will add a little boost to the PR level of the cat until quality clones start doing this for you).
8. Once accepted use the precise listing in EUROseek and other directories. It is also more likely than not that a listing accepted at DMOZ will be accepted "as is" in Yahoo.
As vitaplease has suggested think of non-profit sites as they tend to have higher PR.
Recently sent the Boys & Girls Clubs in North American free software from the client in exchange for the promotional links. This is 1000 web site links, most of which are PR5 - PR8 for $500 dollars in replicating costs.
You just can't get this value for your marketing buck anywhere else.
At least for Google this is foolishly enough still important.
Many directories or webmasters only allow the site name in the link.
(think of DMOZ/ODP).
Hopefully google will discount this ranking effect sooner or later by:
if "search query" equals "site name", discount normal ranking boosting effect of "search querry" equals or forms part of "anchor text".
I have a feeling the last two updates Google tweaked their algo to give more importance on external anchortext compared to internal anchortexts..
but i could be wrong..
My trigger for the site was the link from the other site. Pure and simple, so if you dont run the other site you need to make friends with webmasters. When i first started out SEO stuff I made a black book with contacts I've made from all different sorts of sites. If I am to need help i seek my book for help and contact one of the people within.
A good way for a link is to write an article and submit it to another site, ask that you be given credit by a hyperlink on the article. This site your submitting to has a high PR of course.
Keep a few new links every month adding up. Make new contacts, soon you can be the king of yer game.
Go for structuring the anchor text on backlinks. The best way I've come up with is to offer a cut & paste "suggested links" page on my site that A) gives permission to link, even deep link, without asking further and, B) gives snippets of html and graphics for their link out.
I thought they only linked your site name.... The Widget Company or JoeCo. But not the title of page ie: JoeCo. Leading the Industry in Widgets.
If you use the domain in my sticky and slap it in the DMOZ search box you will only find 3 listings as site name and 17 that more accurately describes the contents of the pages/subdirectories.
In retrospect, regionals and the higher the topical listing the more relevant the site name becomes however, niche topical listings can easily have a descriptive anchor text.
I tend to believe though that targeted keywords are better suited in the description since Google drops the anchor text.
Vitaplease are you saying the anchor text can only be the sites name (or company name)?
I think "page title" would be more accurate.
1. Many general directories only tend to link to the index page when giving you a link. So "page title" is often "site title" is often what is in between "www.-and-.com".
2. Many directories (not only ODP) have a policy of putting the site's name (equalling url-index name) in the link.
So if your url is: www.reciprocal-linking.com and your site's name (and main title) is "Reciprocal linking corp." you will find "Reciprocal linking corp" in the anchortext.
Check around in Google for a medium competitive "search phrase", look up those that have e.g. ODP listings (easiest to check) and you will see www.search-phrase.com benefiting often from this construction.
Now if you are also a non-profit site, you will get into many directories easier or cheaper (even for nothing many times).
What I am saying is, benefit from it while it lasts. I just hope Google will correct this effect in the manner I described above, or else I have to set up new domains and feel cheap ;).