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Done Carefully, Link Exchanges Build Audience Numbers

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Search engine optimizationLink exchanges are a chess game that can increase a site’s audience and rankings with search engines for critical keywords.

But they must be done carefully to avoid penalties from the search engines.

A direct agreement with another site has the benefit of establishing a high-quality link. Contacting these sites directly can result in a lot of rejections but also a small number of links that are easily maintained and that may drive a high volume of quality traffic.

These relationships can be expanded into full partnerships that can include content sharing, banner exchanges and sometimes even advertising agreements.

Although partnerships take more work and require more detailed agreements, they also potentially bring significant benefits.

Smart Link Exchanges

A good link exchange should provide either more audience, better SEO rankings or a combination of both. Sometimes it can enhance a site’s SEO performance, such as this example:

The manager of an actual mid-sized news site had success in getting many other sites to provide links back to his site. In many cases, the anchor text in the link they provided simply had the name of the site.

But the site had “XXX News” in the home page title and again in the meta description. It didn’t even come closer to ranking in the top 10 pages in Google for that keyword phrase.

So the site manager went on a campaign with his partners to convince them to change the anchor text in their links from the name of the site to “XXX News.”

The key to making this campaign a success is that the strategically important “XXX News” was of little importance to the partners. So the site had plenty to gain in ranking while the partners had nothing to lose in ranking.

As a result of the backlinks, the site ended up with a solid #1 ranking in the search engines for that keyword phrase.

On the flip side, this news site had links back to the partner sites with their preferred keyword phrases that are not critically important to this hub site. The end result was win-win.

Choose Keywords Strategically

The best link exchanges are strategic. They gain rank or audience from important keywords on other sites and lose rank on unimportant ones — and the rule should apply to both partners to be fair and successful.

Some sites get high rankings for keywords that aren’t that important. Why not use them for a link exchange?

It is worth pointing out that a site publisher doesn’t want the keyword phrase on the other site to be so unimportant that search engines doesn’t give the exchange much credit.

But the reality is that a site manager can’t have 1,000 important keywords. Choose the ones that matter the most and give up the ones that don’t.

Like everything else online, site publishers should review link exchanges regularly to see if the rewards in the form of more visitors or higher rankings are worth the risk of getting penalized for abuse.

Other priorities become a distraction, and the links can become forgotten and buried deeply in the site. So enter an agreement seriously and be prepared to exit if circumstances change.

A Few Warnings

Search engines in recent years have frowned upon what appears to be link exchanges and have punished some sites severely for abusing them.

Site publishers should not get aggressive with exchanging links. A one-way link is much better, but it also is just as difficult to get as a link exchange.

Google’s terms of service mentions quality, relevancy and transparency, which are three key principles to follow. So a few tips to stay out of trouble:

  • Link in moderation
  • Link only between relevant content
  • Link only with quality sites
  • Don’t link the same two pages; instead, link to different pages
  • Don’t pay for links unless the link has a “nofollow” attribute

Link exchanges are not a path to greater glory with search engines because good ones are difficult to implement and maintain. Most sites probably won’t find that golden opportunity anyway.

But some sites will find the right partner and potentially build on that relationship into something more. After all, plenty of major businesses do partnerships. Even small Web sites can do the same.

 

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