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When the Internet was new to me, I was fascinated by following links and going to new sites. It was like an adventure. And when I had my own website the first thing that I wanted to do was to place my site’s links on other sites. I began reciprocal linking (trading links with other sites) way back then, but 11 years later things have changed and now I dread getting a “reciprocal link request” in my email inbox. I have a few pet peeves with reciprocal linking, as it is practiced today, and here they are:

1. Most of the Requests are Automated

It used to be flattering to get a link request, knowing that someone had visited your site and wanted to exchange a link. These days most of the requests are done with software and it means that no one has really visited your site. Automation in itself is not bad, but it leads to all kinds of abuses, and it prevents you from picking out the good links from the bad. Even if you have an automated directory to handle link requests, which is what I installed, you will still be swamped with tons of link requests.

2. Most Link Requests are of Extremely Low Quality

The original idea of linking was to provide your own visitors with quality sites where they could visit next. The links were provided as a resource. Today, many sites have been set up only to make money from Adsense and other advertising programs. In addition, driven by the need to acquire PageRank many webmasters went into a link gathering frenzy and sent requests to any and all sites whether they were related to their site or not. If a link is to be a resource to visitors of both sites, then the two sites should somehow be related and the sites should be of comparable quality. Most reciprocal link requests fail this test.

3. Links are Buried on Pages Where Human Eyes Will Never See Them

In addition to being a resource to your own visitors, you want to exchange links in hopes of getting some targeted traffic back to your site. It used to be easier; a webmaster would have a site with say ten different pages and one of his pages would be a “links” page. On that page he would display 30 or so links. The link to this page would be prominent in the site’s navigation menu. You could be assured of getting some meaningful traffic if your link was placed on this kind of page.

That has all changed. People now build huge directories of hundreds of categories, stuffed with pages and pages of links. It is extremely unlikely that many visitors will drill down through all the pages and find your site in such a directory.

4. Many of the Link Requests are for “Three Way Links”

I find three-way links “creepy.” They work like this, if I link to site A, then they will give a link to my site originating from site B. This is done because Google is supposed to value one-way links more than reciprocal links. I can understand this. If someone links to you without asking you and doesn’t request a reciprocal link it means that your site is really good and this is why Google values true one-way links. However, the three-way links proposed by many people are just an attempt to trick the search engines; they are not true one-way links. Sooner or later Google will get wise to such schemes and this kind of effort will yield little benefit to the linking websites.

In addition, I dislike this kind of linking arrangement because you first have to check out who you are linking to, and then you are faced with checking another site that is going to link to you. Usually the site where the link to you will be placed is some kind of strange directory, a link-farm.

This is the state of reciprocal linking today. I delete most requests coming into my inbox, and do mass deleting on my automated systems as well. Now I don’t want to end on a negative note so here are a few suggestions on how to get quality incoming links without adding another reciprocal link request to the flood that is already out there:

1. Make Your Site so Cool that People Will Link to You Without Asking

People come to the Internet to solve a problem, find a solution and get information. If you can make your website a true resource and a great place where visitors can get the information that they need, then it will not go unnoticed. Even if you have a commercial e-commerce site, it is possible to add reviews, articles and information. This additional information will help your own customers and will be a resource for the entire web. Who knows? Maybe one day you will check your referrer logs and see that Wikipedia is linking to you. This is the goal, but it will take some work to achieve it.

2. Get Involved in Blogs and Forums that are Related to Your Field of Expertise

You can learn something from forums and blogs and you can contribute something as well. You can usually leave your url when you make a comment or a posting. If you offer solid advice, you will get a good online reputation and become known as an expert in your field. This newfound recognition as an expert, combined with links from these blogs and forums will be worth much more than low quality reciprocal links.

3. Get into Article Marketing

Article marketing means that you will write articles about your field of interest and distribute them for publication on other websites, blogs and ezines with a link back to your site. Each time your article is published on a website you get a one-way link to your site. As with most good things, this method has been pounced upon by Internet marketers and the net is flooded with a lot of low-quality articles. However, if you produce meaningful articles, you can still get a lot of benefit by distributing your articles.

4. Do Judicious Reciprocal Linking

There is nothing wrong with the idea of websites trading links. However, if you are going to do it, then only link to a site that you think is a good one or has some value for your web visitors. Make sure that your link will be placed on a page that has the potential of sending you some traffic. Make your request with an email that clearly shows that you are a living and breathing human being and not a robot.

So, instead of adding to the spam-like flood of reciprocal link requests, go about building your own content and start using more reliable methods of increasing the number of incoming links to your site.

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