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Why Link Exchanges Are Like Mosquitoes

Posted By Darren Rowse 30th of August 2010 Search Engine Optimization 0 Comments

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

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Great Post – Catchy title.

    I really don’t like exchanging link with other marketers. I daily get more than 10 request for link exchange.

    Anyways, Thanks for sharing this great Post.

    ~Dev

  2. I’ve never heard of a link exchange, which I am now thankful for. I often link to other blogs or websites because I feel it’s great information that I think my readers would like. I always leave a note to let the blogger know but I don’t expect a return link.

  3. Link exchanges are not bad if they take place between decent blogs and/or websites. However, I have noticed a significant rise in spam blogs with high PR and 0% original content in the past couple of years. Whatever Google does is almost undone by these “mosquitoes” and their cousins, the content-scrapers pretty soon, making the World Wide Web ever more worse. This is perhaps the only thing that I regret about Google.

  4. Links are important when it comes to SEO (and SEM for that matter) but you are right, content is king. nice one

  5. On another blog I had, I was link exchanging when I first started out and didn’t know what to do lol. It helps get your blog noticed faster, but the bad definitely outweighs the good. Like you said, it hurts your reputation with other bloggers and your readers if you’re sending them to crap. You also might have to deal with trust issues because you don’t know really know the person you’re linking to and they could easily delete your link after some time.

    The biggest reason is you miss out on the real relationships and what the other bloggers have to offer because all you care about is link juice. What I noticed is the big bloggers don’t give search engines nearly as much attention as networking/building relationships and creating quality content. It hit me pretty hard when I first saw a big blogger show his stats and a little less than 10% were coming from search engines. It showed me where I should be putting my focus.

  6. Discretion is key. Linking to a few blogs is fine provided they are relevant to your theme and provide excellent and timely content.

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

    Ryan Biddulph

  7. Mario Monk says: 08/30/2010 at 2:27 am

    Some time ago I was participating link exchange programm and found numerous of related sites willing to exchange links. However, I soon realized that link exchange is (or will be soon) history.

    Most logical reason for this is – google wants best content ranking high. Not the content from authors that spend more time building links than writing content.

    Content is king and freshness and frequency of content might be one of most important factors when ranking search results.

  8. I think distribution of content has important role. Furthermore, this role increasing very fast and significantly. If content is still a king, content’s spreading becomes a queen.
    What meant your briliant content, if nobody knows about. And links are cornerstone in this -no matter in which form – facebook walls, tweets or oldfashioned link exchanges.

  9. Very informative post. I hope those mosquitoes can read your post and be educated to what link exchange is all about. New bloggers are prone to this kind of tactic. I hope they stop it before they lose their hard earned pagerank.

  10. Caffeine has indeed made a lot of difference. Google has improved a lot. Link exchange is a sheer waste of time.

  11. I have just recently begun blogging and I have shared some links with friends who have related web sites. Wholesale link exchange is a perfect way to lose the trust of your readers and end up with a blog that is nothing but a link directory.

  12. Wonderful Article!! Excellent!! But, I still have one doubt. You mentioned in your post that Google considers page rank as one of 200 factors used to determine search results. If that is the case, then why do advertisers and other webmasters claim for it? And let me know the other 199 factors too:)
    Everything About Blogging

  13. I love when they get the name of your blog wrong…and that one is even more amusing than normal.

    If you really want a link, be in the same niche, and offer something valuable in return, like a guest post, or at least some content on your site that I or my readers might find interesting.

  14. Very well put, Akila! Nothing irks me more than link exchanges (expect perhaps the ubiquitous spam DM response when you start following someone on Twitter, e.g. “read more about us on our site The Toad Forks!” ha.).

  15. Interesting perspective on an epidemic problem, Akila.

    Everything we do online is a function of authenticity and trust. Anything that falls in line with those two tenets, wins. And everything that falls out of line – fails.

    Link Exchanges are one sure shot way of damaging our reputation – both in the short and long run.

    Why get there, when nothing good is going to come out of it for anyone?

  16. Thanks, Akila. Much to think on.

    Those kinds of link exchange requests are indeed spam. And defined by such requests, the principle is very spammy indeed…

    But my definition of “link exchange” has always meant 1) someone contacts you, preferably after they’ve “met” you online, asking to swap links, and 2) you check them out to see if they’re worth following. Then you swap links.

    I know there are some well-meaning folk who contact people out the blue with the Hi Let’s Swap Links See Ya kind of approach…who *aren’t* spammers, just clueless. They want to connect, but they lack the savvy to do it in a social-media way (chatting, commenting, goofing around), or they’re being over-formal in a medium that thrives on casual, relaxed discourse…

    I don’t object to the requests. If they’re mosquitos, swat them and move on. Indiscriminate swatting? You might hit a few butterflies by mistake…

  17. Hello Akila,
    You just wrote a very valuable post. I hope ‘google’ notices it rapidly to help remind people not to be involved in the type of link exchanges you are talking about.

    Personally, requests for link exchanges, spam to my blog and email are real downers for productivity. To avoid the stress of constantly managing them I have had to shut off comments on my blog several times. Truly, a spammer needs to use his or her creativity in a postive manner.

    Worth noting last week I wrote a review on stainless steel water bottles and it ended up ranking number one on the first page of Google with one search term ‘children’s stainless steel water bottles’ and top of the second page for another without any links. It is all about content as you said.

    All the best to you,
    David

  18. I guess readers can tell when your links are “strange”. Like you said before, it will damage your reputation on the long term using this tactic.

    A good blogger simply has to ignore those link exchange requests and keep rocking with his content. Time and true relations will bring the needed traffic.

  19. I think it is important not to through the baby out with the bathwater on this topic. I’d definitely agree that automated link exchange notices are like mosquitoes and are also often also fraudulent (meaning that the send will ask for your link but never reciprocate).

    There are legitimate reasons to exchange links, and Google will never mind, for example a brief post if you like another bloggers site, and have them do the same for you… a real win win.

    Also don’t forget that every time you do a trackback that is a form of link exchange, so Google doesn’t have any general rules against link exchanges, it is more about the pattern and trading patterns.

  20. Hopefully link exchanges will “go the way of the Dodo” this is a positive move on Google’s part stressing higher quality sites with the use of “caffiene”.

    Hopefully the impact is strong.

  21. You mentioned a great point there, Akila!

    Link exchanges sound tempting as it looks like an easy way to enhance your blog/website reputation but in fact it’s not. I agree that creating quality content and building networks with other bloggers is far more better and effective to improve your site.

    And the coming improved technology will decide!

  22. Link exchanges are a bad method to getting backlinks I think. Not only do most fall though but many remove your link after the first few days and decide its cluttering up their site to much. Same goes for me. If I want someone to link to me I provide the best information possible in hopes they link to me instead of asking.

  23. Fantastic post.
    My favorite emails come from the people who tell me that I need to exchange links with them, because without that link, I’m bound to fail. Does that really work?

  24. I believe that mosquitoes are very important. Who we are without them? ;)

  25. This is a very good example and analogy of modern link building, I have never seen this topic applied to a Mosquitoe or any other animals for that matter, very creative. It is certainly obvious from the history of Google PR slashs that this type of link building negligence really does hurt and is often deadly. Exchanging links with high quality related resources can be useful, but not in the typical manner these guys are doing it. I cannot stand when some Indian messages me and tries to get me to exchange links with a page that has over 300 external links to websites of all different types and topics.

    I just want to strangle them sometimes and say; yo man, I know this isn’t making you any money at all, so why do it?!

  26. Amen!

    I did the link exchange thing when I first started. Then I began finding previously legitimate links that had turned into links to objectionable or totally unrelated content to my craft site’s content.

    Is that deliberate?

    Anyway, I still get bugged – or should I say “mosquito-ed” by dozens of link exchange requests a week.

  27. Uh, “Mosquito bites are caused by the bite of a female mosquito.” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mosquito-bites/DS01075/DSECTION=causes

    So, we slap them away, but their “sisters” come to replace them.

    Besides that tiny point, excellent post.

  28. Good post.
    The issue is that it is very difficult to get good trade links.
    It’s like you say friend. Those who want links to their sites become annoying as mosquitoes.
    Very good your blog.
    I’ll add to my favorites.

  29. I am always open to consider link exchanges – not only can it bring traffic to my blog but it also adds a certain amount of trust in my site – surely if the other blogger is linking to me then by default there is a certain element of trust inferred.

    I also agree with you that social media is the key to future growth in blog readership – I love twitter in particular as I can build “real time” relationships with my site visitors.

  30. You’re right. Exchanging links can be some how dangerous but what can a new blogger do when he needs to attract traffic to his blog ? I guess nothing :(

  31. Good post. I only link to blogs I like. But then again I am newsphere and thought content was king anyway…….that’s why I like yours ;-)

    Chris.

  32. And this is why I like Problogger.. always to the point!

    Great post! I always wondered why newbies are engaged in these link exchange programs. I too started such exchanges when I entered in blogosphere but quit that later on.
    and thanks for this article for clearing up all the doubts which were left in my mind.

    It should be shared to all those beginners.
    Keep writing on these topics. btw nice title :)

  33. Couldn’t agree more.

  34. Great post! – The thing is now there’s various software which will scan the internet for blogs within a specific niche and then search for contact information then you can send out a mass generic email requsting links!

    I think the problem is that this tactic is used a lot for niche sites, like mini-blogs to get quick backlinks for ranking on a fairly low competition keyword so I can see why people do it, but the only people who would do these link exchanges are likely to be doing the same thing such as a niche blog! – It won’t be damaging to those type of blogs, but I agree it’s something that should be avoided with an authority blog!

    Thanks for this post :-)

  35. When people talk about link exchange I thought that they are still 2 years behind and thinking that this pattern will work.

    I do not understand why they can not create good contents and give to their visitors.

  36. We get a heap of link exchange emails

  37. Due to people trying to cheat (leaving my lnk up for a couple of days and then removing it), and generally having scammy sites, I no longer accept link exchanges.

    It’s a shame that some people psoil it for others.

  38. I have had an uneasy feeling about link exchanges since I first learned about them. Your excellent blog brought my uneasiness into focus. Thanks for the valuable enlightenment. I feel I have just dodged a bullet.

  39. Thank you very much for this post! As a relatively new and inexperienced blogger, It explained a great deal to me. I write a blog concerning Jungian psychology, and to get very generically worded link requests from someone who is, say, a bookmaker in Poland is a real distraction! Yet they keep coming… but you’ve strengthened my resolve to “just say no”!

  40. I don’t do links unless highly relevant and for a purpose. My clients are all local niche businesses. They outrank the major sites who have tons of links. They win because the content rocks. It’s fresh, relevant and educational. My clients get hundreds of prime search engine ranks without links.

    But it takes work.

  41. Lauren Rains says: 08/30/2010 at 11:50 pm

    Akila,

    On Topic – Great post. Great analogy. And I’d looovee to get together with my fellow bloggers in my niche for a kick ass bbq and some tasty cold beers. But in the world of parties, there are always party crashers – human or mosquitos.

    Off Topic – I’m living in Beijing, China right now myself. (been here almost a year and going back to the US in October! – How I made it this long I do not know haha) Anyway, I use Express VPN. Its $13 a month but well worth it – its never down and its not too slow. But forget about Twitter. Trying to access Twitter with a VPN in general is like trying to watch the SAW movies straight through w/o closing your eyes! or something like that haha. Also check out PacketiX VPN – harder to setup apparently but its Free. Good luck w/ the VPN :)

    On Topic Question – If you’ve been talking with a fellow blogger in your niche for awhile – there’s a good connection, etc – do you think that the link exchange should just come naturally or at what point is it cool to suggest it?

  42. There is so much to learn about building a blog. I don’t understand the link exchanges and this is one of the first posts that explained the potential hazards.

    Catchy title–I’m already starting to itch.

  43. Boy Darren

    Link exchanges email flood my inbox everyday, some good and some just off the wall. One email was a site that sold dog food..hey if you ever visited my blog..you will know my blog is far from dog food.

    Not relative at all..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  44. Matej says: 08/31/2010 at 1:22 am

    Biggest blogs in the blogosphere – news blogs – do link exchanges in a way. You can notice a pact of 20some blogs which link to each others stories via RSS on sidebar or footer all the time. It’s a sitewide link. It works.

    What’s this page supposed to be http://www.theroadforks.com/links ?

  45. Matej says: 08/31/2010 at 1:22 am

    Biggest blogs in the blogosphere – news blogs – do link exchanges in a way. You can notice a pact of 20some blogs which link to each others stories via RSS on sidebar or footer all the time. It’s a sitewide link. It works.

    What’s this page supposed to be http://www.theroadforks.com/links ?

  46. “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.”

    – Very powerful description! I agree with this post 100% of the way. Link exchange requests are very annoying, especially if the person requesting the link exchange is a stranger with a blog that has hardly any readers at all. What would the benefit be for you, personally?

    If you want links, get to know the people you want links from. Network with them, talk to them and get to know them on a personal level. An alternative would be to guest post for the blog, so that the article is linking back to your blog in the About section.

  47. I wholeheartedly agree with you that content is king. But even the best content in the world will never be found, indexed, and served in search results if the content does not have any inbound links.

    Content is important, but links are very important, too. You sound very “anti-link” in your post. Yet you enjoy the benefit of a PR 4 site with over 5,800 inbound links as you look down upon newer bloggers who may be struggling to reach that tipping point at which their readership grows itself.

    I think you are really referring to low quality, irrelevant, reciprocal link exchanges, which I agree are largely a waste of time.

    But high quality, relevant links, both inbound and outbound, are good for your website or blog (and your readers). And Google does not penalize bloggers for linking out to relevant sites and blogs as you suggest.

    I’d just hate to see readers mis-read your post and develop into a generation of bloggers who refuse to link to each other (as some of the comments above suggest – “potential dangers”, “dondged a bullet”, etc.). The success of the blogosphere as we know it was built on quality, relevant links, and having a bunch of stove-piped blogs that never link to each other would be counter productive to us all!

    The question of “To link, or not to link” has a simple answer that follows Google’s Page Rank algorithm perfectly – treat any outbound link from your site as a “Vote” for the site you’re linking to. If the site doesn’t have relevant content you actually want your readers to click through and enjoy, then don’t link to it.

    If we all followed that simple rule, which is more or less what Google’s guidelines tell us to do, there would be nothing to discuss when it comes to link building!

  48. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been blogging for just 6 mo. and just finished the 31dbbb challenge through SITs. I have felt all along that quality trumps quantity. I’ve owned 2 brick and mortar businesses and I can tell you from experience that you will not be gangbusters after 6 mo.! It takes time to build a business, a brand, a following. But if you try to just boost your numbers and there’s no quality, you’ve just sabotaged your business.

    After reading this post I took a deep breath and decided to stop worrying about the numbers and continue to do what I’ve been doing, while looking forward to a quality following.
    Thanks again!

  49. I’ve never participated in a link exchange. But when I find a post that really sparks my interest to the point of blogging on the topic myself I usually link to the original post.

    My blog post today is a perfect example of this, I linked back to three different blog posts. It’s a great way to promote other bloggers which is a great way to build relationships with other bloggers.

  50. I couldn’t agree more!!!

    The link exchange requests that I hate the most, are the mass computer generated ones. They send out a generic email telling you that your blog is basically the same niche topic as yours, but when you go check it out, their site has nothing to do with your niche.

    Then – as if that wasn’t bad enough, they leave a URL telling you where they have placed your link on their site and sure enough your link is there. However, there is no way to get to that page any other way – They don’t have a link to it in the navigation, footer, or anywhere else. It’s just a big scam to get a higher PR.

    Or – what about the ones that want you to link to their blog – BUT – they are going to link to you from a totally different blog, because they want to have a bunch of one-way links to their blog. Either that or they are basically saying that your blog isn’t worth linking to from their main site.

    Those ones really piss me off!!! It gets me mad just thinking about it.

    Thanks Darren,

    Brian M. Connole | i Blogger

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