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Step 9 - Link Exchanges and Paid Links

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Introduction

Link exchanges are the favorite methods of new website owners to increase their site's link popularity. If your website had been around for a while, no doubt you have received at least one or two emails with the subject line "Your link has been uploaded.” Ok great, now what? Should you be impressed? Should you link back to the site requesting the link exchange?

There are a lot of factors you must consider before linking out to sites sending you unsolicited link requests. We'll cover all them to help you to make intelligent decisions whether or not you should accept the request.

What happens when the tables are turned, and your new website could use some much needed "link love"? Should you send out similar emails requesting link exchanges? Yes and no. There is a right and wrong way to request links from other webmasters; don't worry, help is on the way. If you feel your site has something to offer, and it's not just a collection of self serving affiliate links with a bunch of useless content around it, then you are well on your way to gaining link popularity fast. We'll be discussing all the lurking pitfalls of link request, and the most effective methods to make sure potential link partners will actually read your link request emails.

Link exchanges done right

We want to make something clear from the outset regarding link exchanges. A link request should never be based on whether or not a site will give your site a link back in return for yours. If you had found a great resource based on merit alone, it should not matter if they link back to your site or not.

The SEO community itself is very divided on the value of link exchanges and what, if any, ranking increase can be gained from exchanging links. In late 2005, Google had released an algorithm update called "Jagger." This update was widely thought to discount the value of reciprocal links, and in the update process many sites lost their top rankings. We have subsequently discovered most of the sites that lost their ranking were engaged in link exchanges as the sole means of building their link popularity.

There is a valuable lesson here—don't use link exchange exclusively to build your site's link popularity. We can't give you an exact number of exchanged links that can hurt your site's ranking, but as a rule the search engines should not find more than 20% of all your links reciprocated.

The basic rules of link request emails

You can greatly increase the chances of your link request emails being read by potential link partners with a few simple to follow tips. There is noting more annoying than your inbox getting filled with useless sites requesting a link from you. On top of that, a lot of times these sites don't even publish their contact information, which indicates there is no real business behind the site.

Follow these guidelines for email initiated link exchanges:

  • Build a site first that delivers value to its visitors with a prominent "contact us" link on the home page.  The site must be chuck full of good, unique content. It must be indexed by the search engines before you should send out any link requests, and it should have a Google PageRank. Having any Google PageRank will greatly increase your chances of getting a webmaster to reciprocate your link. You should also create a contact us page and publish your physical address to show evidence you are running a real business, and you are not hiding behind an email address only.

  • Create a categorized link page accessible from your home page. Don't be one of those annoying web masters who appear to be legitimate link partners only to burry their link page somewhere deep in the site that no one can find. Also insert the link page category keywords separated by hyphens into the URL of the link pages like this: www.mydomain.com/resources/golf-courses/new-york.

  • Link to your link exchange partners first. As a courtesy you should link to your potential link partners first since you were the one approaching them first for a link exchange in the first place.

  • Don't place more than 50 links on a single link page. The search engines don't like to see hundreds of links on a single page. It's a far better option to break the link pages into logical categories and keep the number of links under 50 per page. The Links Plus+ tool has an option to create link pages based on your main and sub categories.

  • Don't place your link partners' link on a third party site that has nothing to do with your website's topic. Three way link exchanges are easily detected by the search engines and if you over do it, they may even penalize the sites found to be doing this.

  • Don't name your link pages with "links" in the file or folder names. This is only a suggestion; there is no hard evidence to suggest the search engines value pages with the word "link" in the URL less than other pages, but you should use "resources" or "partners" instead to avoid any "link farm."

  • Don't use the obvious link exchange email subject lines "link exchange" or "reciprocal links." Most automated link exchange tools come with a set of predefined templates. Sadly new webmasters send the same email requests without any regard to personalization. In the next section we'll help you come up with more persuasive subject lines that can easily triple the opening rates of your link request emails.

  • Provide some evidence you have at least checked the home page of the potential link partner's site. Generally, people take great pride in their websites, and stroking the owner's ego is a great way to get them on your side. The more, sincere compliments you can give them about their website the higher your chances of getting a favorable response to your link request.

  • Specify in the email your exact link format requirements; if possible provide an HTML code example. Webmasters are busy and don't have the time to figure out what is the best way to link to your site. Give the link partner everything they need to link to you.

  • Proofread your emails. Receiving emails full of typos and misspellings are a huge turn off for anyone. If your emails have spelling mistakes we can guarantee your link request emails will be sent to the trash can in no time. So do yourself a favor and spell check your emails before hitting the send button.

  • Set your expectation based on the perceived value your site can deliver to your link partners. If your website already has a decent Google PageRank, maybe a 4 or 5, you can expect a 10%–15% reply rate to your link request emails. The lower your site's Google PageRank, the lower the number of replies you will receive to your emails. If your site is brand new without any PageRank at all, don't expect a higher than 1%–2% response rate. If you begin to feel discouraged, we suggest you keep on building up your website's content and quality. Submit to some high PageRank directories, or start an article distribution campaign to increase your site's Google PageRank.

An example of an ideal link request email

Writing a catchy, yet sincere link request is not hard if you feel confident about your site's quality and are proud to show it off to other people. Your confidence will shine through your email.

Please take a look at the sample link request email below.

Subject: Merchant Account Guides links to Merchant AccountX

Hi,

I feel that your site provides excellent complementary content to our site. We have taken the liberty of adding a link to your fantastic article on "How to select the best merchant account" from here http://www.merchant-account-guides.com.
I am sure our readers will benefit greatly from visiting your site and explore it further.

Our site is Merchant Account Guides and it has a great deal of content about merchant accounts as well. We hope by linking to our site you will give your visitors the chance to benefit from our tips and guides on applying for merchant accounts.

Please link to us using the following:

Title:Merchant Account Guides
Description: Merchant Account Guides offers unbiased review of all merchant account providers for US and international businesses.
URL:http://www.merchant-account-guides.com

Our HTML linking code

<a href="http://www.merchant-account-guides.com">Merchant Account Guides</a>><br />Merchant Account Guides offers unbiased review of all merchant account providers for US and international businesses.

Best regards,

John Doe
Merchant Account Guides

 

Let's uncover the reasons why this sample link request would most likely get a favorable reply.

  • The subject line tells the potential webmaster up front the website Merchant Account Guides want to link to them, which eliminates any guessing whether the site is related to merchant account providers.

  • The link request describes a specific article on the link partner's site, which proves the link requester actually took a close look at the site.

  • The link requester describes their own site which is closely matches the target link partner's site.

  • The email specifies the link format requested and also provides an alternative HTML code for easy copying and pasting.

Link partner selection criteria

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Once again the selection criteria that apply to directories and article directories largely apply to link partners as well. When it comes to link exchanges, your most important focus should be to seek out link partners that run real businesses and not just a link page directory of unrelated junky sites. The Google PageRank and the website's age are also very important considerations, but above all, you should always aim to exchange links with closely related sites.

This is where the Links Plus+ tool can be very handy to speed up the link partner selection process. Enter a keyword term to search for top ranking sites, or use your direct competitors to find sites linking to them. In both cases, you can harvest a large amount of data to help your link partner evaluation process.

Here are some of the top selection rules for link partners:

  • You should not exchange links with porn, adult, gambling medical, drug, pharmacy sites. Unless your site falls into one of these categories don't exchange links with these sites, otherwise you are risking your own site being penalized.

  • The theme of the link partner site and the main keywords you are targeting should be similar, but not your direct competitor. It's unlikely your competitors will link to your site, but there are usually dozens if not hundreds of others sites with similar themes that make perfect link partner candidates for your site.

  • Choose sites that match your site's main language and geographical location. This should be pretty obvious, the search engines measure relatedness based on language and location as well. Finding link partners in the same country or locality matters a great deal if you are targeting "geo" focused keywords i.e. "Dallas real estate" "San Diego divorce attorney" etc.

  • Don't exchange links with sites that use pop ups, have too many ads, and other intrusive advertising. Do you want to send your visitors to sites that are nothing more than an advertising billboard on the web?

  • The Google PageRank of the linking page should match your own Google PageRank. Webmasters are still very much obsessed with the little "green bar" and will most likely demand a link from a page on your site that is equal or better than theirs. Since this practice is not about to stop until Google does away with the Google PageRank, you should ask your links to be placed on resource pages that have a Google PageRank of 1 at least. A zero Google PageRank site could mean one of two things. The site has been penalized by Google, or it's brand new and has no inbound links yet.

  • Your link partner's link page must be search engine friendly with no redirects, cloaking, META tag "NOINDEX" tag, or frames. This should be your minimum criteria for any link exchanges. If the search engines can't index the link page, you links will never be "seen" by the engines. The link page must already be indexed and cached by Google MSN, and Yahoo!.Check it with the Google Toolbar.

  • Your link must be formatted as a plain text link with no JavaScript or the "rel=nofollow" attribute.  Script based links, or links with the "rel=nofollow" attribute will not give your site any link popularity benefit, and it also won't pass any Google PageRank. This is one of the favorite methods of unscrupulous webmasters to gain one-way links for their own site by fooling new webmasters into thinking they are getting a link back to their site, when in fact, the backlinks is useless.

  • Don't accept links from third party sites called 3-way link exchanges. The link must be placed on the site you are linking to. The concept of 3-way link exchanges have been around for a while, but the search engines got smarter and now can easily find 3-way linking schemes. In some cases they may even penalize sites who are aggressively building links this way.

  • There should be no more than 50 other total links on the same page. If your link gets buried among hundreds of other links, your link will most likely pass very little link reputation or Google PageRank back to your site.

  • Check for fake Google PageRank. The Google PageRank is a real commodity on the web and the value of an entire domains can be raised by thousands of dollars for even 1 PageRank increase. So be very careful exchanging links with relatively new domains having unnaturally high Google PageRank, it could very well be fake.

  • The links must be not only from different domains, but from different C class IP addresses as well. As you may already know, many shared hosting plans allow webmasters to host multiple domains on the same web server. A dishonest web master could easily have hundreds of sites involved in a link exchange scheme using the same server. Check the IP addresses of the sites returned in the Links Plus+ tool and look to see if the first 3 set of numbers separated by dots i.e. 123.21.44.145 and 123.21.44.78 are from the same C class IP block. The inbound links from these sites will be counted as one regardless of how many different domains the links are from.

Automating link exchanges

The SEO Studio Links Plus+ tool offers a very convenient feature to send and manage link partner emails. The greatest benefit of this tool is the ability to manage the entire email correspondence in one place with a highly flexible email template system.

If you have followed our lesson Link Popularity Analysis, you may recall, we have completed an inbound link review of thepartsbin.com website. We'll pick up where we have left off and transfer a few potential link partners to our Links Campaign manager where we'll walk you through the steps of retrieving contact emails, customizing email templates and managing email correspondence with link partners.

1. Open the Links Plus+ tool Links Campaign Manager

Let's assume we have already gathered a few websites linking to thepartsbin.com site, and now we want to retrieve the email addresses so we can contact the website owners with a link request email. Let's open the Links Campaign Manager and select one of the sites called exoticcarrental.com. The next step is to retrieve at least one email address from the website so we can contact the webmaster using the Links Plus+ link request email feature. On the screen below, you see the Links Campaign manager and the red highlighted buttons we have used to retrieve the email address from exoticcarrental.com

In this step we need to input our link details before we open the email editor as seen on this screenshot below.

Now we are ready to compose an email using the Links Plus+ email template tool. Navigate to the "Email" tab in the Links Campaign manager and click on the "Email Link Partners" button as illustrated below.

The screen shot below displays the email template editor in design mode. We have prepared a link request email in Microsoft Word and copied and pasted the content of the email into the email editor.

We have also used the email "Variables" drop down box to select and insert placeholders for our link request contact and link details. Please note the gray shaded variable names will be filled in with the proper contact and link information from the Website Details tab.

Let's preview our link request email by clicking on the Preview Email button as seen bellow. As you can see the contact and link details are automatically inserted in the email for us from the Website Details tab. All we have to do now is to hit the send button.

Wasn't this easy? It will take a bit of getting used to this tool, but once you master it, it can save you literally hours of tedious email preparation. The best part is, the Links Plus+ tool can send out multiple emails based on the same template simultaneously. The only limitation to how many emails you can send at the same time is your ISP's emailing policy.

Verifying your links

In the world of link exchanges there are a lot of people who will try to take advantage of your good will and remove your link after they post it. This gives them an unfair advantage of a one-way link while you are getting nothing back in return. From time to time you must go back to your link partners' resource pages and check on your links. It doesn't have to be every day, but you should schedule a link check at least once a month. Once again you have a choice of doing the link check manually or using the Links Plus+ built in link checker to save you time.

Paying for links

While link exchanges are still a somewhat effective means of getting your website's link popularity off the ground, a much more effective method albeit costly is the purchase of one-way rented or permanent links to gain link popularity. The reason is search engines give one-way links much more weight in their ranking algorithms than reciprocated links.

However, the search engines frown upon link buying. Paid links hurts their search relevancy and can artificially inflate a site's link popularity without actually "earning" a favorable editorial review. For the link buyers, the trick is to find those publishers whose link pages have not been discovered to be selling links by the search engines, which can be a difficult job for even seasoned SEOs. So, it's quite possible some webmasters are paying for links that don't actually deliver any link reputation benefit due to specific filters put on the site selling links.

We are in favor of paying for links when it makes economical sense for the website owner and other promotional methods are not a practical route to take. Our company has worked on many high profile corporate websites and buying links was the only viable option to build strong link popularity. We think Google simply doesn't have a foolproof algorithm to separate the purchased and non-purchased links, and instead they try to discount all types of paid links. In recent years, they have aggressively pursued paid link detection, and we must admit they are getting better at it each year.

The problem is Google already approves many paid links coming from directories and other authority sites. One of these examples is the Yahoo! directory. It's well known in the SEO community that a link from the Yahoo! directory confers a great amount trust and link reputation. So how can Google say paid links from other authority sites should not be counted? It seems to us there is a double standard somewhere in Google's policy on paid links.

Although you may find hundreds of sites selling text links, there are only two top sites selling links that we can recommend, one of them is Text-Link-Ads, and the other one is Text Link Brokers, you may also want to check out LinkAdage, a well known link auction website.

Conclusion:

It's a fact. Exchanged links don't have the same link popularity building power as one-way links. The sites you select for link exchanges should be based on merit and relatedness, and not the value of their Google PageRank alone. One of the most important pieces of advice we can give you about link exchanges is to exchange links with sites that have a real business behind them with their contact information clearly displayed on the site. Verifying that the link partner's site is a legitimate business will steer you clear of link farms and low quality link networks that solely exists to distribute links and Google PageRank.

In some cases paying for links is the only alternative to exchanged links due to a site's high profile or partner relationships. All the criteria used in selecting link exchange partners also apply to buying paid links, but beware of one additional factor. The paid link detection algorithms used by the search engines can discount links from known sites selling paid links. You could be paying for links that don't deliver any link reputation to your target site.

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