Reciprocal Link Request Emails - To Link Or Not To Link?
By James Holt
Anyone who has had a website online more than a couple of months will almost certainly have received emails asking them to swap, trade, exchange or reciprocate links (all of which mean the same thing - you link to me, and I´ll link to you). Here´s a brief and hopefully non-technical article that should be useful in deciding whether or not to respond to a request to trade links.
Firstly, it must be said that getting quality links to your site, from relevant sites and web pages is a very important part of any search engine optimisation process. Search engines do place a significant amount of weight on inbound links in deciding how to rank your site, but it very important to note that not all links are created equally; in fact linking to some websites (sometimes known as "bad neighbourhoods") can actually harm your rankings.
The theory behind reciprocal linking is that if I link to you, and you link to me, we are both "voting" for each others website in the eyes of the search engines, the assumption being that each will benefit from the other site´s "vote" by achieving greater search engine visibility. Like so many things in life, the reality isn´t quite so simple, and the search engines are much more discerning in their treatment of links than they were in the past. Furthermore, the popularity of the relatively simple technique of exchanging links has further diluted the benefit that can be gained from it. All the above notwithstanding, a few strategic link exchanges can be of benefit, but careful vetting should be carried out before deciding whether to exchange links with an unfamiliar website.
I want to avoid explaining the technicalities behind what makes a good or bad link. Instead, I will give a few pointers that should help guide website owners in deciding whether to respond to a request for a link exchange.
When you receive an email requesting a link exchange, visit the website that wants to exchange links and ask yourself, "Is this website relevant (i.e. of a similar theme) to my website?" If not, then receiving a link from this website will not benefit your search engine positioning whatsoever (at least not for any relevant keywords). Secondly, ask yourself "Does this look like a quality site, and do I want to endorse this site by linking to it from my website?" Unless the answer to both of these questions is yes, then trading links with this site is likely to be nothing but a complete waste of time.
If you´ve managed to answer yes to those two most important questions, then read that email again - have they said they have already linked to you, or will only do it if you are interested in link exchanging? If they have already linked to you then this is usually a good sign that they are genuinely wanting a link exchange, remember - they are the one wanting a favour from you, and linking to you first is a sign of goodwill. Asking for a link without linking to you first is usually just an indicator that they are trying to get naive webmasters to link to them, and probably have no intention of returning the link. Don´t waste your time linking to them and then find you have to pester them for the next month in the hope that they will add a link back to you sometime soon.
If all the above checks out OK, you are probably safe to trade links and it may be of some benefit to you, but remember that reciprocal linking is rapidly diminishing in value as a Search Engine Optimisation technique and should only form a limited part of your link building strategy.
--- Excerpt From: <Indeterminacy>