Beware: Not All Link Exchanges Are Beneficial

Summary:Have you ever had someone offer to place a link to your site in exchange for a link to them from yours? You may just do yourself more harm than good if you accept! This post explains exactly how and why.

Last week, I received an email from an individual who claimed they were interested in a link exchange (a link exchange is when you post a link on your site to another site and then they do the same for you). As I've previously mentioned, link-building is probably the most important factor when it comes to ranking higher in Google (especially when the pages of your Web site are already well-optimized), so the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) value is quite apparent when considering link exchanges. Now, while it may seem harmless to engage in these types of transactions, you can actually do your site more harm than good if you're not careful. To begin, here is the email I received in-full so you can get a feel for what these requests look like:

 

Hi,

My name is Ruby Matthews, Web Marketing Consultant. Ive greatly enjoyed looking through your site zdnet.com and I was wondering if you'd be interested in exchanging links with my website, which has a related subject. I can offer you a HOME PAGE link back from my related websites all in google cache and backlinks which are:

collectiveunconsciousltd(dot)com PR5 emmyelephant(dot)net PR4

If you are interested, please send me the following details of your site:

TITLE: URL:

I'll add your link as soon as possible, in the next 24 hours. As soon as it's ready, I'll send you a confirmation email along with the information (TITLE and URL) regarding my site to be placed at yours.

I hope you have a nice day and thank you for your time.

Kindest regards,

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A SPAM OR AUTOMATED EMAIL, IT'S ONLY A REQUEST FOR A LINK EXCHANGE. YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS HAS NOT BEEN ADDED TO ANY LISTS, AND YOU WILL NOT BE CONTACTED AGAIN. IF YOU'D LIKE TO MAKE SURE WE DON'T CONTACT YOU AGAIN, PLEASE FILL IN THE FOLLOWING FORM: emailsnomore(dot)com ; PLEASE ACCEPT OUR APOLOGIES FOR CONTACTING YOU.

 

Unfortunately, the email above is everything the disclaimer at the bottom of it says it's not: Spam. How do we know this? Well, outside of the email reading in quite a spammy manner, if you visit the sites they link to and you look at all the links over in the sidebars, you'll notice there are TONS of them and they span a number of topics that are completely unrelated to the site and unrelated to each other.

Yeah... that's where your link is going to go; amongst that ocean of links that have nothing to do with one another. Even if you get anchor text of your choice, everything on those sites screams "spam." It's kind of like having a Ferrari and parking it in the middle of a ghetto: it's nice to have, but it's in the wrong neighborhood and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In other words, Google's not going to find your site to be too favorable or relevant amongst a huge list of random URLs like that -- especially when they have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the site. For a link like that to be beneficial, you would need to have a LOT of them -- and that's hoping you either get even a shred of benefit from all of them in the first place or you don't get penalized for showing up on a spammy site. Not to mention, it's not too difficult for Google to see that a link exchange is happening if there's a link from a spammy site to yours and then a link from your site back to said spammy site.

The second clue that these aren't the types of sites you would want to be affiliated with lies in the name of the sites and their Pagerank in relation to their content. Notice that the sites seem to be about cars as far as how the sites look, what their copy says, et al. Now, would you say that "collectiveunconsciousltd.com" and "emmyelephant.net" had anything at all to do with car sites? Not really. Now, the reason I mention that isn't to say that the name of the URL is completely irrelevant, because many people have URLs that reflect their brand name and not their products (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, IBM, etc.). But in this case, it's pretty obvious that the on-site copy holds no relation to the URL name at all. Never mind the fact that if you hit Ctrl F and search for "emmy" or "collective" on each of the respective sites above, they don't appear *anywhere* on the site (or on the home page, at least). What that tells us is that these people most likely purchased a couple of expired domain names that have a bit of age to them and already have a good number of links pointing to them. That's why these seemingly pointless and irrelevant sites have decent PR scores.

Sometimes, you can also visit archive.org and search for a domain name to find the older, original content that populated the site prior to the domain expiring, but there doesn't appear to be any data for either of the sites mentioned above (not at the moment, at least; archive.org can be a little buggy at times in the information it yields or lack thereof).

So, all-in-all, what I'm highly recommending is that you do not engage in link exchanges with completely random sites. Can they provide value? Certainly. I've seen people get sites ranking purely off of backlinks from mostly spammy sites, so it's possible... but if you depend on your site being found in Google and longevity is the name of your game, then I recommend you stay away from link exchanges like this. Having said that, link exchanges in and of themselves aren't bad. If you're going to engage in them, you want the site your link appears on to be as related to the content of your site as possible. Ask for an exact anchor text link and use a money keyword term if possible. Try to get the link to appear as high up on the other person's site as possible since spiders crawl sites from top to bottom (thus, the amount of relevance and emphasis placed on content and links attenuates as spiders crawl further down the page). And remember that within an article's copy is *always* the best place to net a link to your site if at all possible.

Just be be aware that there are sites with reputations that can hurt you more than help you. And if those types of site owners approach you, then you can rest assured they know they have a lot more to gain than you do from the exchange -- no matter how good they try to make a link to your site from theirs look!

If you have any questions or comments on the information above, please do not hesitate to reach out via the comments section below!

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Collaboration

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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