Categorized | Link Exchange Management

Promotions: Marketing and Sales 8.4. Link Exchange Management

In the early days of the World Wide Web, long before search engines, long before banner ads, long before pop-ups, long before―in fact, long before some idjit coined the word “e-commerce”―there was link exchange, the oldest, most venerable, and most effective Web site traffic builder. I was there at the very beginning and built my first Web site the very month the first Web browser, Mosaic for UNIX, was released to an unknowing world. In those heady days on the Web, there were very, very few business sites and exactly zero e-commerce sites; the Web consisted of nothing but personal sites, education sites, and Anna Nicole Smith photo galleries (all with .edu domains, I might add).

We didn’t have search engines; we had “directories,” like Yahoo and Magellan. A search on the word “sex” would pony up about 200 sites (now the word will cough back ½ billion results―one for every sixteen people in the world). Back then, every Web directory submission was personally checked and edited by a real-live, breathing employee.

In 1993 and 1994, the Web was almost exactly like Facebook or MySpace. The ONLY way to get site traffic was through inbound links and the only way to get inbound links was to trade links with other site owners.

Fourteen years later, inbound links and link exchange are still the bread-and-butter of site traffic-building. While search engine optimization, paid placement, and Web advertising loom very large in site marketing strategies, link exchange is still the most cost-effective and tactically rewarding component of those strategies. Because search engines largely base the keyword rankings they assign to sites based on the number and quality of inbound links the site has, link exchange management is as critical to SEM as search engine optimization.

But you really can’t beat the price. If you don’t use a link exchange management service (which, of course, charges you for services), you can usually exchange inbound and outbound links for free―good news when your budget doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.

To understand link management, let’s pull out its parts:

  • Inbound link hosting site: links to your site need to appear on somebody else’s Web site. The sites should have content that at least is related to the content on your site―for instance, if you’re a virtual assistant, links to your site on a business outsourcing site is good―links to your site on a homemade pizza site, not so good. You also want to exchange links with sites that draw the same types of customers as your site. Finally, you will get more traffic if the inbound link is placed on a heavily-trafficked page, such as a home page, rather than some deeply buried, mission impossible page.
  • Keyword strategy: as best you can, you want to control the wording of any inbound link since search engines use the wording of inbound links as keywords for your site.
  • Outbound link: link exchange means that you’re obligated to place a link to your exchange partner’s site on your site. You have to balance helping out your partner with retaining your customer on your site. Remember: anytime a user clicks an outbound link on your site, they’re gone, possibly never to return.
  • Analytics: The final components are the Web analytics that allow you to study inbound traffic and use that to manage link exchanges. You would use Web analytics software (such as any of those described in section 7.12) or use a Web analytics firm. The analysis will tell you what kinds of Web sites drive the highest quality traffic to your site. For instance, even though you run a virtual assistance firm, you may find that the homemade pizza sites send more traffic and leads than the business outsourcing sites. Even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense, numbers don’t lie. You should target more homemade pizza sites for link exchanges!

There are three types of link exchange management firms.

  • Link farms: these are firms that have piled up a mountain of domain names and built tons of Web sites whose only purpose is to house links to other sites. For a monthly fee, they will put inbound links (without requiring you to reciprocate by putting links on your site) on many or all of their sites. You will receive almost no traffic from these sites but the inbound links often help search engine rankings; however, the search engines are constantly perfecting algorithms to disregard links on link farm Web sites.
  • Volunteer link farms: some link exchange firms contract with Web site owners, usually domain name squatters, to place outbound links to client Web sites. These link pages, however, are often deeply hidden on the site. Again, volunteer link farms don’t require outbound links on your part. However, since they are using volunteer sites, they employ a wide range of domain numbers and more easily slip by the search engine algorithms meant to disregard link farms.
  • Link exchange: these are firms or applications that help you manage reciprocal links with other Web site owners. Finding the right partners and monitoring their compliance can be an enormously time-consuming task. These firms and applications simplify and speed up the process.
  • Link exchange membership programs: these firms charge a small fee and add your site to a member site list. Links are exchanged between members. Since the process is partly or fully automated, link exchange membership programs greatly simplify the process of finding partners and requesting links.
  • Social bookmarking: you’ve heard of bookmarks (or, in Microsoft parlance, “Favorites”) and you’ve heard of social networking. Social bookmarking sites are social network sites that allow users to share their bookmarks, that is, their favorite and most useful sites. Content in social bookmarking sites are categorized by “tags” which are used as search words by site visitors.

You alone can determine the value each type of link exchange business brings to your endeavor. Link farms are tempting because they offer tons of inbound links for a relatively low cost (anywhere from $25 to $100 per month). But inbound links on 600 link farm Web sites may only net you six visits per month and may only add the tiniest bump to your search engine rankings. Social bookmarking can be very effective and very lucrative, but it can also be very shady. Social bookmarking has invited unscrupulous spamming practices. As with everything else in life, link management pays off when you do the hard work.

We are not fans of link farms or social bookmarking firms or software because they are largely exploitative. Therefore, we are only pointing you to services and software that are genuine link exchange services.

8.4.1. Automate Link Exchange

You install the Automate Link Exchange software on your hosting server. It then totally automates any requests people make to exchange links either through your Web site or email. The software checks the site, validates its content, and analyzes the link popularity of the site, that is, how many users click outbound links on the site. The software helps prevent duplicate links, checks the reputation of the site, and scans the site for inappropriate content.

You can specify what text your link exchange partners should use to describe your site. If they don’t use the right description, Automatic Link Exchange will notify them and remove their sites from your link directory. Since these descriptions are crucial to your brand image and substantially affect search engine placement, this automatic feature pays for itself several times over. Imagine having seventy inbound links and having to personally check the wording on all of them every month!

Once you’ve entered into a link exchange, Automate Link Exchange regularly checks partner sites to make sure links to your site are live and working. Yes, people being who they are, some folks will try to screw you and not put a link to your site on theirs. Automate Link Exchange has seventy validation tests to catch cheaters.

You can set the software to Semi- or Full-Automation mode. In Full-Automation mode, the software will check and approve submission, generate/update link pages, and perform link checking according to pre-determined criteria and schedules. In Semi-Automation mode, you can review each link exchange submission before accepting or rejecting the link exchange request.

The software costs $120 without installation or $145 with installation. Automate Link Exchange can be installed on any Unix, Linux, or Windows server with a PHP 4.1 or above interpreter and a MySQL 3.23 or higher database management system.

8.4.2. LinksMaster is an automated link exchange service membership program with over 15,000 members. While most link exchange services involve processing individual link requests, when you sign up to LinksMaster, your Web site link goes out automatically to all 15,000 members. You then decide what types of sites not to include in your link exchanges by using an exclusion filter. The link exchange directory is maintained by human editors to ensure that sites meet the program’s standards. The system regularly checks all sites to make sure they are posting the links they’ve agreed to post.

Pricing starts at $20 per month for link exchanges with all members for one to two separate sites and maxes out at $2,450 per month for link exchanges with all members for 1,000 sites.

8.4.3. Link Wrangler

The Link Wrangler software automates reciprocal link management. It searches the Web for potential link partners, automatically generates links on your pages, and checks your partner pages to make sure links to your site are live and working. The software works with an unlimited number of sites and domain names.

While not as feature-rich as other link management software packages, Link Wrangler has a definite price advantage, coming in at $40 which is more than doable for even the tightest of shoestring budgets. It installs on your desktop computer (Windows only), but requires an Internet connection to scan partner Web sites and generate links on your site.

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