Leslie Camacho Leslie Camacho President of EllisLab
Simon Collison Simon Collison Co-founder of Erskine Design and a true EE evangelist
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Thomas Myer Thomas Myer Owner of Triple Dog Dare Media and author of "Professional CodeIgniter"
Link Exchange - pros and cons.


Introduction

Since the evolution of the search engine, webmasters have strived for a way to ensure that their content is at the top of the search results. This has taken a variety forms, from keywords to buying links, people have been determined to try everything to ensure they have maximum exposure. Since the late 1990s, people have turned to links and link farming as a method of climbing the search engine rankings and generally optimising their websites. However, sometimes there is a fine line between white hat and black hat link exchanges, it is important that you always stay on the right side of the search engine rules and guidelines, otherwise you may find yourself plummeting down the rankings!

While definitely successful in its early years, there are fears among internet marketers and webmasters about whether this is still a worthwhile method of search engine optimization. There has been a slight turn away from this method of search engine optimisation however, as search engine algorithms become more complex and more adaptive to this method of optimisation. However, as search engines have developed, so have internet marketers, we’ll also explore the alternate and more developed ways of link exchanging.
In this article we are going to explore what link exchanging is, and how it works, whether it is a good method for today’s webmasters to use, how to do it and the pros and cons, think of this as the ultimate guide to link exchanging, everything you need to know to get you started. So read on, and find out all you ever wanted to know about link exchanging, from link farms to private deals, we cover it all.

What is link exchange? How does it work?


Link exchanging is a simple concept – the very foundation of the internet is links! Websites sharing links to each other, connecting and spreading their user base amongst themselves. This can be done in two simple ways – either through a dedicated “links” box, or embedded within the text, however, the key difference between a link exchange and a web ring, is that on a link exchange, a central organisation monitors everything and the webmasters place banners onto their sites, which act as the links.
How do they get set up? There was a huge trend in the early days of internet marketing and search engine optimization, for so called ‘link farms’. These were essentially a ring of web masters that all agree to interconnect their sites. For example, a group of 15 members would all link to each other, giving a huge number of new links between them all.

The technique worked on the basis that search engines gave better rankings to websites they deemed more popular – and in the early days the designated popularity according to the number of links on a page. This was particularly effective when the web search engine Inktomi was at the height of popularity. There is still an impact on search results of the number of inbound (links from other websites to your website) links, but as we will discuss later there are a number of limits of this, and how engines such as Google balance out links and rank them according to importance.

Link exchanges primarily operate through a banner system – operated by a central organisation that runs the exchange and ensures that everyone gets an equal share of the traffic. Simply, the HTML banner code is provided to members and they add this into their website. This is very helpful at escaping one of the main problems with link exchanging systems – that people will place some sort of code into their website that means they avoid having to add links to other people’s sites. This would normally help their rankings, as links are more valuable to search engines when you don’t have to follow other people back. A banner system escapes this because the only code is the code put in by the central system, which will, hopefully, if they know what they are doing, avoid letting people be able to do this.


Pros

1) You determine how your site is seen
When you are part of a link exchange system, you determine the words/images used to link to your site. This means that if you are trying to establish a certain image for your site you can do it. For example, if you are in the casino niche, you can use the text link “the best roulette tips on the internet”, thereby helping you to establish the image your site is given, instead of, for example a reviewer linking to your site as simply “tips on roulette”.

2) It can boost your rankings
Unsurprisingly, this is the main reason people use link exchange. It is a system designed to increase people’s website’s search engine optimisation and their ranking in results. There is however, quite a lot of debate as to whether this is nearly as effective anymore, due to a change in the algorithms used by search engines. You also need to consider the amount and quality of the links you are using, a few good, reputable websites linking to you is much better than one hundred poor quality, low traffic websites. Also consider the value of the domain name you are being linked by, a .edu name has a much higher benefit than a .info for example.

3) It can boost your traffic
Having your link posted across hundreds, possibly tens of hundreds, websites is a huge benefit, even if only ten people visit from each linked site, that can add up to a huge increase in visitors, and if these visitors then share your link on, you can really start to see the power of link exchanges. This is why link exchanges are often better viewed from the perspective of gaining real visitors as opposed to using them in an attempt to trick or to fool search engines into thinking your website is more popular than it actually is.

4) It can increase your how your authority is viewed
From a visitor perspective, if they see your website linked by a lot of websites, it can make it appear that your popularity and authority is really good, increasing the length of time people spend on your websites, the amount of articles they read, the amount of people they then refer on, and so the cycle of increased authorities continues.

Cons

1) Search engines are smarter
One of the big problems with link exchange at the moment is that search engines have got smarter. Having a thousand links going to your page seems great, but search engines know where these links are coming from, and how many you are linking back to. They can spot these simple link exchanges very easily, and be warned – they can punish your site a lot if their algorithm thinks you are attempting to cheat the system somehow. There are however, a few new techniques to link exchanging – different methods of connecting, that we will look at later on, but it is, and always will be a big concern to internet marketers, as once your site plummets, it is very difficult to try and build up that reputation again.

2) People aren’t stupid
Link exchanges can also damage your reputation with visitors. People are not stupid and they can easily see when a site is simply being linked to for no apparent reason. This will damage your real reputation, and this authority is much more important than a simple search engine ranking. You do not want to tarnish your site’s image by being associated with crass, obvious link exchanges that have no relevance to your site. To take advantage of link exchanges, but not damage your reputation, you should try and look for link exchanges in your own niche to network with, rather than random sites.

3) It is fake growth
As much as it might appear like a great way to get traffic to your site, you need to remember that the growth and search engine ranking improvements you get from link exchanges is just fake growth! Your new visitors probably will not stick around, and they will not be passing you on. The search engine boosts will not last once you fail to keep up new quality with a great content, your rankings will slowly begin to drop back down. You need to maintain your growth, and that can mean starting slowly at first, but in the long term the benefits are much better.

4) There are better things to spend your time on
Instead of focusing on building these link exchanges, or paying for link exchanges, spend your energy on creating great content and a community where your readers will spend time, and generate really high quality links back to your site that will bring in other readers, creating a real buzz around your site.

How to implement

A simple Google search will unveil a huge array of link exchanges – but if you are going to go down this route of search engine optimisation, you should be looking for link exchanges that are at least three ways. This means that you do not directly link to all the sites, for example take three sites : A, B and C. Traditionally A would link to B and C, and they would all link back, however, with a three way system, A would link only to B, B would link to C, and C would link to A.

With all of this information, you may be a little dubious about entering this world. However, there are shifts in the world of link exchanging, three way link exchange by sites such as http://ezmlm.org are examples of this move to that does not break the rules. They offer a safe, three way link exchange, thereby not violating any sort of search engine regulation – making it a very legitimate and very easy way to build links. Not only does it work technically, it also protects you. Once a link is in place, it makes sure the site can never link back to you, holding the three way link exchange in place. It also monitors and checks that links are active – you will never be short changed by people who are looking to con you out of your valuable links!
If you are going to go for link exchanging, for the sake of the internet marketing community, do it properly and within the rules of search engines, if you don’t, it only damages your site and ranking, and gives everyone involved in internet marketing a bad name. Use legitimate sites, and go for a EZMLM Link Exchange Tool.

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