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Everyone seems to agree, it is good to get links (to your site). And to avoid links from bad neighborhoods (adult sites and Stanford U).
But then it becomes muddy, to say the least. I am talking about link exchanging and with both on and off topic sites. I have seen sites get amazing PR from link exchanging, both with on and off subject sites.
So here are my questions.
I have a "blue widgets product sales" site. Should I;
1) Reciprocal link at all?
2) Reciprocal link with off subject sites, like my friends "cold thingy services" site?
3) Reciprocal link with related sites, like "green widget information" sites?
4) Reciprocal link with other "blue widgets product sales" sites?
I ask, as I have seen reciprocal linking benefit many sites. Google seem to advise against anything whose sole purpose is to manipulate search returns, yet do not seem to object to link exchanges (or am I wrong). And then I read in another thread about some guy who has three "blue widget product sales" sites and is advised NOT to cross link them as this is a "no-no".
Can others help qualify?
And as with everything i read through bretts post on building a successful site... trying to find something applicable to the question in front of me. So try reading that there soem useful point in there.
The trickiest thing will be how you choose to reciprocate the links. You will also notice that once you get a good base of links (even on the off topic sites) that other sites will contact you because they found you through someone linking to you.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I have never heard of penalties for linking to off topic sites. You just need to make them seem somewhat relevant to your users.
I ignored this advice and traded links with an extensive neighborhood of sites in my industry. Subsequently, I have done very well in the SERPS, and I have yet to see anyone in my neighborhood draw a penalty, dispite some of them using various shady tactics.
My opinion, for what it's worth, is that the whole paranoia trip about linking is overblown. Look at the sites you link to. Don't link to obvious link farms or total junk (why would you want to anyway?). Other than that, I say go ahead and trade links like crazy. It seems to have worked well for me, and it also seems to be working well for others in my neighborhood.