A Guest post by Akila from The Road Forks
Last week, I had a revelation when, after spending ten minutes fiddling around with a VPN in Podunkville, China, I opened my email and found four link exchange requests, including one asking to exchange links with “The Toad Forks” rather than our website, The Road Forks. As I slammed my laptop lid down, I realized that link exchanges are the mosquitoes of the blogging world.
Imagine that all of us bloggers — interesting and interested people engaged in making our blogs the Next Best Thing — sit down at a summer table with platters of thick-grilled hamburgers and corn on the cob next to an open cooler of dripping beers. The mosquitoes hover, pinching our legs and arms. We slap them away but their brothers come to replace them. They bloat with our blood, gorging and feeding on our health, and we develop unsightly rashes. That, my friends, are link exchange requests and we bloggers are helping these mosquitoes breed.
What is a link exchange request? A link exchange request is one where a site offers to link to your site in exchange for a reciprocal link. The key to this request is the requirement for a reciprocal link; in other words, if you don’t link to me, I don’t link to you.
Link exchange requests come in various forms. Some are from corporate entities seeking to promote blogs or sites by selling text links, though Google slashed PageRanks in 2007 in response to this tactic. Others are from bloggers — often, well meaning, newbie bloggers —- who send mass generic e-mails that cause me to inwardly groan, along the lines of, “Hey! Cool blog! Want to exchange links?”
Let me be clear, though: link exchanges are not e-mails from bloggers to others in the same genre inviting them to consider reading or linking to their blog because they have shared interests. If you are producing valuable content, you need to spread the word and e-mailing and networking with other bloggers is the best way to increase traffic to your site. Darren’s 11 tips to increase your chances of being linked to by another blogger boil down to two central tenets: get to know the person whose link you are asking for and produce content worthy of that link. A polite request that a person consider reading your blog is not the same thing as a request for a link in return for a link of their own.
Why do websites/bloggers want link exchanges? Link exchanges are an easy, get-rich-quick scheme to drive traffic and increase search engine results. In the short term, readers will jump to your blog, leading to more pageviews, ad revenue, and perhaps RSS subscribers.
Over the long term, links build your site’s “importance,” in the eyes of Google (and most other search engines, for that matter). A link exchange means more links for your site as well as theirs, more links leads to a higher Google PageRank, and a higher PageRank will cause a site to show up closer to the front page of Google search results, generating greater traffic for a site. Greater traffic means more ad revenue, fame, and the resulting glamour of being a hot-shot blogger.
The bad news: By participating in link exchanges, you risk injuring your reputation, the reputation of others, and angering Google. What do all successful bloggers have in common? Trust. A link might send new readers to your site but they are only going to keep reading your site if they trust that you will produce great content every week. The links on your blog are part of the content on your site; by linking to another site, you represent to your reader that the link is of good quality and will provide something valuable to the reader. If a reader clicks on a link that takes them to a site filled with ads for pills and dating programs, or to a blog that produces worse content than your own, the reader is going to question your judgment and wonder why you chose to link to that site. Nobody likes the guy who has to buy his friends. Unfortunately, by linking to one lousy site, you also devalue the other good sites on your blog. Bad for you, bad for your friends.
And, you certainly don’t want to irritate the most powerful player on the web. Google carries 71% of the search engine market and they hate link schemes. Google is in the business of providing the most accurate website hierarchy for a particular search term and falsely inflated links to a particular site lead to poor search results. In no less than three places in their Webmaster Guidelines, Google explains that participating in link schemes, including excessive link exchanges, could “negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”
Welcome to the new Internet where content is king.
Link exchanges are part of the old Internet, a system in which PageRank ruled and social media was a fancy word for e-mail. Today, Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon drive more traffic to my blog (and, I suspect, most blogs) than links from other bloggers. In the last week of July 2010, Facebook not only dominated the social media sites but was the most visited website in the world – even more than Google – accounting for over 9% of all web traffic in that week. Facebook’s Like button and Twitter’s instantaneous communications reward interesting or useful posts without using artificial means to game a blogger’s popularity.
Google is taking advantage of this revolution with Caffeine, its web indexing system launched in June 2010 that crawls blogs, social media sites, commercial sites, and user generated content at a 50% faster rate. Previously, Google used to crawl pages once every few days or even less, resulting in stale web search results. Now, when you hit publish on your blog post, it will appear in Google search results in less than 30 minutes. This means that fresh content – whether in the form of blog posts, tweets, or Facebook posts – may be the key to landing at the top of Google searches. In fact, Google has recommended for years that webmasters stop obsessing about PageRank because it is only one of 200 factors used to determine search results.
The bottom line is that if you want to increase your readership in today’s Internet, focus on networking with other bloggers, effectively using social media tools to produce fresh content, and, most importantly, producing link-worthy content, rather than populating the Internet with infestations of spam-filled links. Maybe soon, we will all be able to sit back and bask in the sunny glow of a better, more usable Internet.
Read more from Akila at The Road Forks