From time to time we get questions from our clients and friends about link exchanging. My most common first response is, did you get an email that: a) didn’t address you with your real name, or b) came from a newsletter system to which you haven’t subscribed, or c) is from someone you don’t know or trust, or d) is a proposal about a website that has no relevance or relationship to you or your website?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it’s probably spam and you should ignore it. Participating in these kinds of exchanges can actually damage your reputation and hurt your ranking.
The reasoning goes like this. Folks link to you because they think you’re important; so then search engines think that you’re important. This is reflected in your ranking and you are more likely to show up higher in the list. And, of course, everyone wants to be on the first page of search results. And when you choose to make a link to someone else’s webpage, then you’re effectively saying that you think they’re page is important and worthy of attention. And this is ultimately a reflection of you’re reputation. So if you link to a page that has a bad reputation, perhaps because it is a known virus carrier, or perhaps it’s a known spam sender, or perhaps it’s a site that is simply known to be a link trader with commercial interests and little broader social value, then this reflects on your webpage and will effect your reputation and lower your ranking.
A recent example of this kind of email is the email I received from www dot myshopgoods dot com. Notice that I’m not actually linking to this site. If I did make the hyperlink, I would ensure to assign a nofollow value to the REL attribute in the hyperlink (this signals search engines, indexes, and other site users that you don’t want your reputation judged on the basis of your link). But instead of linking to the site, I have included a screenshot of the site below. It is admittedly more attractive than many of these evil link pages are. But my hunch is that it has already been identified as a bad neighbourhood. I think this because: a) it spammed me, and b) it has a google ranking of zero. The website that they want to link trade with is www.whenlovehurts.ca – this site has really cool content, has a fair chunk of traffic, has significant social value and has a google ranking of three: that’s not bad.
Now, all of that said, “link exchange” is an ambiguous term and can be a good thing. Linking to people you know and webpages you admire is really important. Having them link back is also really important. Hyperlinks are a way of directing attention and showing respect. And linking to good neighbourhoods is a way of showing respect to your audience.