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Index: Website Promotion

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Resource Guide To - Designing & Maintaining Your Website

Index 6: Reciprocal Links Advice

 

Introduction

Reciprocal links form a vital part of any website promotion effort. You have created great content, or offer a superb product or service -- and now, you want people to know about it. In my opinion reciprocal links are second only to search engines as a way to get traffic to ones site.

Reciprocal linkage can be a powerful tool to increase your web sites rankings. Some search engines (Hotbot,Lycos) do include linkage (also called citations) as a criteria - the more links to your site, the better it will add relevancy to your website.  The way to get the best relevancy to your website is to make sure that the criteria the website that you share links with, is of the same subject matter, for example if your website is about architectural design, links to building contractors, building supply etc. would be appropriate and beneficial.  When you get an off site link, you are accomplishing three things: One, this will maximize your exposure and get a link to your website and produce any potential referrals that it may send your way, two, you increase your search engine rankings and three, it is cost effective & free! 

Google is the most prominent of the big search engine to use this method,  more search engines are now prone to use this system in the future; as Google has shown, ranking with method is a very effective for establishing relevancy.

The process of exchanging reciprocal links is essentially a simple one, but there are various approaches that can be taken in searching out and requesting links, as well as pitfalls that must be avoided. In this guide,  I have provided what I have learned over the past.

What is a reciprocal link?

Before plunging into the body of the discussion, it is important to define what a reciprocal link is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.

Reciprocal Links is a way of traffic building but , a  full blown 'link-hunt' can be time consuming however;  the benefits it can bring are huge -- among them are: highly targeted visitors if you choose your linkage well!

A reciprocal link is a commitment. This link basically says "The site at the other end of this link feels that my site is important enough to link to, and I feel that their site is important enough that I am willing to let visitors leave my site via this link."

A reciprocal link involves an element of trust. Few Webmasters have the time or patience to constantly monitor the sites that link back to them, so you are trusting the other sites to maintain the link on their site, and not bury it under other information or delete it during a site upgrade etc... You can also (if you have the time) search to see who has a link back to you on Altavista, Google and HotBot:

 Link Popularity:  http://www.linkpopularity.com/

A reciprocal link is not a quick fix to bring more traffic right away. I have seen sites with over 100 banner and text links on a single page -- now how much traffic do you think the sites featured on that page were getting from those links? I have visited some of the linked sites, and most offered the same scenario: links & graphics broken or out of date, none benefiting the relevant sites, if you are unwilling to spend the time to update your links than this game is not for you!

Hints and tips for finding sites to exchange links with

Finding the right sites to exchange links with is a 1-2-3 process. First, research the sites; second, request a link and third add the relevant information to your own site.

1. Research

Research is the key to finding sites to exchange links with. Before you go any further, take two clean pieces of paper, and make two lists. There's no time like the present, so why not do it now while the idea is still fresh?

Jot down in the first list the kind of sites you think your visitors would be interested in. For instance, if you are selling CDs online, your visitors may be interested in general music info, lyrics sites and the like. Try and find as many alternatives as possible -- you can always narrow down the list later. Now set the list aside, and forget about it for the moment.

For the second list, draw up a list of sites that would benefit from the information on YOUR site. For instance, if your site offers hints and tips on nature photography, it might appeal to photographers, hikers and animal lovers.

Now take the two lists and see if there are any subjects in common. I am pretty sure that you will find several subjects that appear on both lists. If not, read down the first list and ask yourself if the type of people on that list would like to visit your site. Many times, the answer will be yes.

You now have your starting point! Circle the common subjects on the two lists, and jot down three keywords you associate with each subject.

Time to go online now...

The next part of the research exercise is to conduct some searches. I would recommend using a meta search engine such as the excellent Inference Find. Alternatively, you could try using a program such as EchoSearch. EchoSearch carries out searches across multiple search engines, concatenates the results and downloads one or more pages from each of the sites it comes across. 

When carrying out any searches, use all three keywords you selected earlier for each subject. Since you have decided that these keywords most accurately represent the kind of sites you are interested in, sites with all three keywords should have priority.

Now comes the hard work... I said that the process of exchanging links was simple, I didn't say that it was effortless! Visit all the sites at the top of the search... set yourself a target of 50 or 100 sites, or whatever number you feel comfortable with. Spend 3-4 minutes per site doing a broad YES/NO sift: is the site relevant enough to bookmark, or is it time to move on to the next site?

Once you have finished, you should have 15-20 bookmarked sites. Now go back and visit each site in more depth. Check that the information or services it offers would be of interest to your visitors, that your own site offers useful information for visitors to the other sites, and that there are no nasty surprises lurking in a corner of the site, such as links to adult sites.

With your final shortlist at hand, you are ready to go on to...

2. Approach

Draft a one-paragraph letter to the webmaster or contact person at each site. Be brutally strict with yourself, and keep the information short and relevant. With all the spam floating around the 'Net, it is vital that you get to the point quickly, and that you show a relevant interest in the site.

For example:

Hello there. I visited your site on Nature Photography earlier today and found it very interesting. I was especially interested in your article on taking pictures of birds in the wild. I run a site about bird spotting [http://URL] and I was wondering if you might be interested in exchanging links with me. I am sure that visitors to my site would benefit from your information when taking pictures of their feathered friends.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

John Doe
WebMaster, Feathered Friends

Ok, maybe this needs a little refinement, and some adapting to individual circumstances, but all the ingredients are there: interest in the target site, reason for interest, and "bait". The "bait" is very important: you have to essentially sell your site in the space of one or two lines. But you have to sell it in reverse: give the target site a compelling reason for YOU to link to THEM, and the reciprocal link will come naturally.

If you send out 15 responses, and you went through all the research, you can probably expect a 30-50% positive responses. This varies, depending on whether the target site has a reciprocal links policy, whether your own site is professionally presented and whether your approach was compelling enough. But you should feel happy to hear from 5 sites, and anything else is a bonus.

Follow up: DO NOT follow up your letter if you have not received a reply. This may go against the grain, but trust me... if your approach was good and your research was thorough, the target site genuinely is not interested in linking to yours. The reason doesn't matter -- just accept the fact, and move on to the next site.

3. Link

Finally, once you have agreed to exchange links, sort out details such as the type of link and the location of the link. Don't be too stubborn, especially when dealing with very popular sites... my own experience ["Reach for the Moon"] shows clearly that even an "unequal" exchange can be very beneficial to your site.

Be prompt, and be accurate. Set up the text or graphical link and test it. Make sure that the graphic loads, and that there is an ALT text tag for any graphics. Ask the target site what text they would like if they have not specified it already. Most importantly, check that the link works, and that it points to the right page.

Once the link is set up, mail the target site a short note, to the effect that the link is now "live" and can be found at http://LINKURL/ Then WAIT. If after a week, your link has still not been added to the target site, send a gentle reminder but don't push it,  bottom line: BE POLITE.

Off Site Links, Is It Worth the click Away From Your Website?

Some folks get upset with the idea of listing a link to an offsite location because it gives the user an easy way to click away from your site. This line of thinking is *not* without merit. Building a links page is a good way to box in all your offsite links. If a user goes clicking to a clearly marked links page, they are already looking for a way out from your site. I feel a good collection of links itself can bring people back to a site. How many times have you found something interesting and thought "I wish I had some other links to reference this information or to see someone else's work on this topic". I have, and I'm sure you too have bookmarked a good site because it had a nice set of links to investigate.

Working with outbound links is a tricky proposition. You should either go all out, or not at all. If you sprinkle a link here or there, you risk a user clicking away, but if you put together a strategic page of outbound links that are fully related to your content, users may book mark your site and come back time and time again just for the quality of the links.

The rewards?

Is all of this effort worth it? A thousand times yes, and yes again! Think of website promotion like growing a bonsai tree: the initial quick fix [listing in search engines and directories] is equivalent to purchasing the tree. After that, careful pruning and maintenance [searching out reciprocal links and other avenues of promotion] will lead to great rewards. Do not expect miracles from a few reciprocal links. However, a small, steady program of exchanging links with relevant sites will definitely help to boost your visitor count and at the same time add an extra je ne sais quoi to your own site.

Good luck in your quest for reciprocal links. 

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