Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Linker Beware!

Diving head-first into a link-exchange or swapping relationship could land you in hot water. Be careful when linking to or requesting links from other sites. Partnerships with off-topic or non-trusted sites can hurt your search engine ranking.

As we noted in the post “Link Popularity vs. Page Reputation,” link popularity is important for increasing your page rank, but that’s only small part of the picture. It’s no longer enough to have links from any old place pointing to your site. You need a variety of links from high quality sites in order to improve your search rank.

The Dos and Don’ts of Linking

While it’s true that a collection of in-bound links of a high enough quantity can give your site ranking a slight boost, a more efficient strategy involves targeting the sites whose links can move you up the rankings in greater strides. In a sense, you want in-bound links to give you the most “mileage per gallon,” the greatest boost in rankings per link. To refine your strategy, consider the following Dos and Don’ts of linking:

Linking Dos
- DO seek in-bound links from authoritative pages that do well on the search engines due to reputation and popularity.
- DO stick to relevant sites. That is, don’t look for links from generic or off-topic sites when you can request links from industry- or topic-related sites.
- DO stay away from reciprocal linking. Reciprocal linking is when sites agree to exchange links in an “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” arrangement. These links look the most artificial to search engines. They won’t do you much good and might even hurt your ranking.
- DO work toward building a natural link structure that has gradual and diverse link growth.

Linking Don’ts
- DON’T swap or exchange reciprocal links for the sheer purpose of increasing links. Search engines consider this a big “no-no.” A good analogy is two basketball teams agree to let each other score points. You’ll both get a lot of baskets, but you’re also disqualified for being cheaters.
- DON’T request links from pages with long lists of links. It won’t necessarily hurt to be on these pages (if the pages are relevant), but probably won’t help if your link is buried among a pile of other links.
- DON’T submit your site to a bunch of sites all using the same description. If a large number of identical links to your site appear suddenly, the search engines are likely to get suspicious.
- DON’T link to pages that have been penalized or banned for activities such as search engine spamming. While links from these pages probably won’t affect you much, a return link from your site could get you labeled negatively as well.

If you engage in link swapping with non-relevant sites or sites that have been penalized for policy infractions, it can hinder your rankings and possibly even get your site banned from the search engines.

When it comes to link exchange partnerships, even if you don’t run into trouble, the benefits tend to be relatively minor. Even if your popularity improves, your page relevancy won’t gain much from the exchange. Remember, increasing both your popularity and your relevancy is what will help move your site toward the top of the search results. This can be quite an undertaking, but the hard work involved in quality link building will get you further in the long run than these questionable linking short-cuts can.

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