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USING RECIPROCAL LINKS TO BUILD TRAFFIC
by: Cary Christian

Last week I presented an article here on optimizing your site for the search engines. I did not discuss link popularity even though this subject is very important to search engine ranking.

Search engines are very interested in the sites that link to you. Links are one method of measuring how "important" your site is and its worthiness of a high ranking by the search engine. If you have no links, your site WILL suffer in the rankings.

But links to your site are much more important than just the effect they have on your search engine rankings. Done properly, they will generate far more traffic to your site than the search engines ever will! A jump in your search engine rankings is a very nice and desirable side effect.

So let's rush right out and get links from anyone and everyone we can find and join a few of these new "ready-made" links directories than can provide us with hundreds of links automatically. On second thought, LET'S NOT!


LINKS ARE USELESS UNLESS THEY RELATE TO YOUR SITE'S THEME

Someone visiting an auto parts web site will probably not be interested in a link to a needlepoint web site, and vice versa.  You want links to your site from other sites that are similar or that complement your site. For example, if you sell accounting software, a link from a site that evaluates accounting software should yield excellent results for you.

Search engine robots are also smart enough to evaluate your links. A hodge-podge of links that have nothing to do with your site will only hurt you with the search engines. Your rankings will actually go down. For this reason, joining one of these "link farms" is the WORST thing you can do. They are a prime example of free marketing schemes on the Internet that do more harm than good.

Poor linking practices also do nothing for your visitors. You want YOUR outbound links to be meaningful as well. Make your links page a valuable resource to your visitors that they will want to bookmark and refer back to. It won't be if you do not approach reciprocal linking in the proper manner.

Your outbound links should be neatly categorized and presented.  Group similar links together and provide headings and subheadings that make it easy for your visitors to browse and find what they're looking for.

I'll be the first to tell you that I don't like a lot of links out of my site to other sites. Once I have a visitor, I'd rather keep them on my site for awhile. But they will leave eventually anyway, and if your links are all organized on one page that is specifically designated as a "related links" type of page, your visitors will probably visit it only after they have seen everything on your site that they are interested in.  I really don't believe you lose anything with this type of links page.


FINDING SITES TO LINK TO

This takes some work on your part. You're going to have to use the search engines to perform searches on keywords that relate to your site in order to find appropriate sites for linking.  You can also use an automated tool like ZEUS for this purpose (see our Featured Resource, above).

In fact, since you can download and use Zeus for free, a most excellent price, there is no reason you shouldn't use it. The free version is fully functional but does not contain a lot of the "bells and whistles" of the pro version. But it is more than adequate to get you going in the right direction and to help you learn the process. You feed in keywords and other information about your site and show it one site that represents the type of sites you are looking for and it will take it from
there. It will go out and find hundreds or thousands of sites that are potential linking partners and provide you with the information you will need to request a link.

If you don't use a tool like Zeus, be prepared to spend more time reviewing potential sites and digging out the contact information you need to propose a link. If you're doing this manually, loading the Alexa toolbar will make your job easier.  It provides you with contact information on the site and sometimes will provide you with information on where to find similar sites. You can download the toolbar at:

http://info.alexa.com/

(See the bottom of the page for the toolbar download).


ASKING FOR A LINK

Whatever you do, do not just send out a bunch of standardized emails asking for reciprocal links. Take a look at each site, decide what makes it a good match with yours, and craft a personal email to the webmaster that shows you have given the potential link the attention it deserves. Mention to the webmaster specifically what makes your sites complementary and give him or her enough detail to let them know you really looked at their site.

Do not include any advertising in your email. Not even in the signature line! Keep it brief, courteous and professional. You could be accused of spam otherwise.

Make the subject line personalized as well. A subject line of "Let's trade links" probably won't even get read. Chances are, the webmaster gets a ton of those every day. If you have actually reviewed their site, which you WILL have done, you will be able to do much better.

Do not go into linking rules or guidelines in this email.  There is plenty of time for that later if and when the webmaster agrees with your link proposal.

You might be hesitant to approach a large, popular website with a link request, and you probably should be. You might want to save those until your own site is a little larger and has better traffic numbers.

HOWEVER, if your site fills a unique niche and really does make an excellent link partner for the larger site, by all means propose the link. Just make sure you explain what makes you unique and such a good link candidate.

Remember, even large, popular sites are looking to provide valuable resources to their visitors. If your site IS such a resource and is perceived to provide value to the larger site's visitors, you will probably get a link. Then you might not be such a little site any more! Appropriate links really CAN change your life!



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