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Like most of you, my inbox is hammered by hundreds of link exchange requests. Nearly all are total rubbish with most being auto-generated... no surprises there.
But mixed into these are the odd genuine request from legitimate sites. My rationale for not considering these links is usually the lack of relevance, or my view of relevance.
However, having just completed 2 days of exhaustive review of the top sites in my niches, I am starting to question if my view of relevance is too narrow.
I'll try to explain by way of a hypothetical example:
Let's say my site is about Mexican Holiday Resorts. IMO, a relevant link needs to be from a site that relates to Mexican travel and tourism.. hotels, flights, car rental, shuttle services, travel agents, beach equipment, transport, destination guides etc etc. Let's call these HIGH RELEVANCE
When I try to confirm this link profile with established, high ranking sites of long standing, I more often than not see a very different picture.... one that seems to say that volume of links (internal + IBL's) is the primary factor and that anything to do with travel in its widest sense might be delivering some degree of relevance.
Vietnam vacations, Phuket hotels, Nepal trekking, Australian barrier reef diving, Singapore bungy jumping.... these are typical of the IBL's. Let's call these LOW RELEVANCE
I am beginning to wonder if the low relevance links, if present in enough numbers, may be having an impact on rankings. I have always considered them to be totally unrelated to the viewers enquiry and therefore having no relevance at all.
Based on the rankings I'm seeing, I'm not sure Google sees relevance the same way.
What does link relevance mean to you?
Vietnam vacations, Phuket hotels, Nepal trekking, Australian barrier reef diving, Singapore bungy jumping
LOW RELEVANCE would be dog training, banana tree growing, space station, pen eating etc, you get the point :)
Also as far as I know, if IBLs come from a news web-site they are considered pretty relevant no matter what your site is about.
Also, there are different applications of the word - website relevance, categorical relevance and page relevance.
From a visitor standpoint, site relevance makes sense, since you are most likely to satisfy the visitor when using your website as a topical base of information. Creating valuable link partnerships that provide further resources the user would be looking for is simply good web practice.
In terms of practical application in SEO, I do not see a correlation between 'best practices' and 'results' in the SERP's.