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Finding and Managing Quality Reciprocal Links: A Tutorial for The Newbie
All of us want to increase traffic to our web sites. It helps our search engine rankings, and is a very cost-effective way to provide us with potential new customers. One of the best, and certainly least expensive, ways to do that is by exchanging links with sites similar to our own, or that contain content our own visitors are likely to find interesting and useful. It is important to restrict our exchanges to such sites because if we indiscriminately exchange with everybody and anybody we become what is known as a "link farm" and wind up being banned by the search engines.
No one wants to be banned by the search engines, so this article will discuss how to find relevant sites with whom to exchange links, and how to keep track of them after you have exchanged the links. Even though there are software programs that will do most if not all of this for you, they have various flaws and inadequacies. If you are one of those people who prefer the personal touch, this article is for you!
The first thing to do is to type your key words or phrases into a search engine and see what comes up. The sites you see on the first few pages have made it to the top of the search engine rankings. Go to these sites and look around on the home page for the phrase "links exchange" or sometimes just "links." Some sites now use "resources." They will have instructions for how to place a link to their site on your site, and instructions on the information they need from you in order for them to place a link to your site on theirs. Some have a form for you to fill out; others want you to e-mail it to them. Have your information (your site Title, URL (your home page where you want them to point their link), Description, and the URL of your links page where you have placed their link, your name and e-mail address) saved in a document ready to cut and paste into both forms and e-mails. It will save you tons of time.
Always remember that the Golden Rule applies here. You want them to place a link to you on their site so you need to reciprocate. If you are uncomfortable with the content of their links page and would prefer not to be associated with that site, then just move on. There are plenty of others.
Some of the higher ranked sites will have non-content related restrictions about with whom they will exchange or will not links. They will only exchange with you if your site and/or links pages have achieved a certain Google PageRank. (To download the Google Toolbar click here.) Even if you do not have such a page rank yourself, you can request an exchange with such sites but do not be surprised if they decline or ignore you. If your site is new, be sure not to stop looking after the first page or two in the search engines. There are many wonderful sites not on the first few pages and most of them would be more than happy to exchange links with you.
Repeat this search frequently because nothing is static on search engines; you might get different results every day searching for the very same word or phrase!
Once you have exchanged links with a site check out the other sites on their links pages. Some sites have links pages loaded with other sites that would be a good match for you. Go ahead and offer to exchange links with them, also. Beware however that some sites may not have been very discerning in their choices of exchange partners. You, however, will be very discerning and will choose wisely the sites with whom you will exchange links! Be careful not to be too narrow, though. Remember that you want to exchange with sites that have content your visitors may find interesting and useful.
If you only exchange with clones or near clones of your site, nobody will be interested for very long. For instance, if your site is about a particular breed of dog, don't limit your exchanges to other sites about that breed, or even other breeds. Try sites that deal in dog food, dog care in general, grooming products, training methods, dog accessories, shows and other events, etc.
Set your site up so that each category has its own page or set of pages, and alphabetize the links on each page by site title if your software does not do that automatically. What you want to avoid are sites that have nothing whatsoever to do with the main topic of your site. In our example of a site about a breed of dog, avoid exchanging links with sites offering bargain vacations on the other side of the globe, casinos, real estate, music, etc. You get the idea. Remember that people who visit your site are looking for dog related information, not that other stuff.
Now that you have accumulated several pages of links, you need to be able to keep track of them so that you don't request exchanges from the same webmasters more than once. It would be embarrassing for them to respond to your request with "I exchanged with you 2 months ago" or something like that. So, what do you do if your software does not do it for you?
Set up a simple spread sheet. Don't worry about setting it up to print out on neat pages, because you shouldn't have to print it out. Make the columns as wide as you need to. You will need to set them up as follows: Title / Description / Category /URL / Reciprocal URL. You can add optional columns for webmaster name and e-mail if you want. Your categories in our hypothetical site would be food, training, accessories, etc. As you add a link to your site, add it to the bottom of your spreadsheet. You can then alphabetize your spreadsheet by whichever column you need. Not only will you know which sites you already have, but you can see at a glance where on your site you have put it! I have used this system extensively and it works extremely well.
One last thing. Please don't ever refuse to exchange links with someone without a high enough page rank because they are new. Everyone was new once and started out with a page rank of "0" including those who are now at the top of the list for their chosen key words and phrases. As people help you to get started when you are new, turn around and help others behind you as they get started.
In case you might be wondering how to tell the difference between a new site with a page rank of "0" and a link farm with a page rank of "0", the new site with have a cached page and the link farm will not. The link farm will have a bizillion links and the new site will have few if any. To find this information look for the icon on the Google Toolbar that looks like a blue circle with a lower case white "i" in the middle, located right next to the little green bar that shows you your current page rank. When you click on that icon you will see a drop down menu that includes both "cached snapshot page" (what your page looked like last time Google checked out your site) and "backward links" which shows how many links Google shows point to your site from other sites.
If when you click on one of those drop down menu choices you find that Google has no record of that site, it's best to wait to exchange links until you find our why there is no record. If the site has been up for more than a few days, there should be at least a cached page. If there isn't, the site may have been banned, and you should not associate with banned sites.
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