The Limits of Reciprocal Linking
As your time becomes more valuable and you learn more, sometimes it is cheaper
to create tools or ideas that will build authoritative links instead of manually going
after low-quality link exchanges.
There are a variety of link exchange networks. A few of the more popular ones are
Link Market, Links4Trade, LinksManager, and Link Metro. Some of these
networks may help you save time, but do not look for them to be the be-all and
end-all solution to your marketing needs. Most of the sites listed in link exchange
hubs are garbage. I would not join one of the automated link exchange networks
with any site I was serious about running long term.
Link networks still suffer from the problem mentioned on June 26, 2000 when
Brett Tabke closed the Buddy Links program:
You must ask yourself why sites would join BL in the first place?
Because they couldn’t get listed in the search engines. That left
us at times ‘bottom’ feeding.
Do not limit yourself to being stuck in networks.
I tend to view the web as a whole as my link pool because if you are willing to work
hard enough and create the right content, you can get almost anyone to link to you.
We Build Pages made a query combination tool that can also be used to find link
sources by tracking various searches on different search engines.
The problem with relying on reciprocal links is that is has been abused. Some
unscrupulous people have e-mailed competitors’ link partners asking them to
remove links. In order to do this, they spoofed the “e-mail from” address to make
it look like their competitor sent the e-mail. If you trade links, you should do so
with trusted sources and ensure they trust you as well.
Keep in mind that since reciprocal links tend to be in virtually hidden sections of
sites chuck full of links that most of them do not carry much weight. Also, if you
link to off-topic resources, quality sites might be less likely to link to your site.
Greg Boser recently pointed out how ineffective most reciprocal link exchange
networks are on his blog:
Jim Boykin mentioned that the fact that link exchange sections are typically tucked
away in a corner that is not heavily referenced from external sources. This also
means that smart search algorithms are not going to place much trust on them,
especially if the pages follow the footprints of a typical link exchange page.
Not every link you request requires giving a link back. Sometimes it is cheaper and
more efficient to just to go target higher quality links. Sometimes you can just
request a link and get it by being personal and empathetic. Other times links may
The best way to go about acquiring links is to be as personal about it as you can.
Look around their website and try to find personal information. The more you
find, the better you are.
When e-mailing them, try to submit it to the person who runs the site, not a
general info submission. If you can state where your link should go on their site
and how it would improve their user experience, you stand a good chance of
getting a link.
Off-topic, somewhat personal statements showing you share similar interests may
make you seem more human and more connected with them and will make it
easier to get links. For instance, if you found out that I like peanut butter,
somehow mentioning that or joking about it in the e-mail will make me far more
likely to link to your site.
Proper Link Request Buy Line
Another good idea is to make the buy line of the e-mail appear as a suggestion. If I
see the subject line of the e-mail as “SEO Book website suggestion,” odds are that
I am going to open it. Feedback is a fundamental part of any successful
business so I have to open it.
I like using the word suggestion versus feedback. If you use feedback, they may feel like
you are tricking them. If you use the word suggestion, they are highly inclined to
open the e-mail. Remember, getting someone to open the e-mail is half of the
E-mail to Use
When building links, you are more likely to have a higher close rate if you use an e-
mail address with the same domain name with the site for which you are building
links. Hotmail and Yahoo! mail type accounts probably do not close as well.
Some people also send their link requests as though they are cute females.
Scouting Out Potential Link Sources
A good way to find candidates for links is to use the Yahoo! link search. Do a
search on Google to find your top few competitors. Go down the list and perform
When asking people to
link to your site, the most
important factors are to be
personal about the link
request and appeal to their
a backward link check on Yahoo! for each of them. See the sites that link to them
and see if you can get links from those same sites.
Also, look at the categories those sites are in and use the Google directory to get
the best sites from those categories to link to you. (Once again, to do a backwards
link check of a competitor’s website, go to Yahoo!’s search box and type
The Cost of Links
Some people are afraid of certain links because they think those links cost too
much money. An expensive link can also be a good deal though.
If a link is expensive, or if the cost of obtaining it is a significant amount of effort,
money, a long wait, or the approval from a webmaster who is a stickler for quality,
it means those links are not going to be easy to get. People who create $5 sites
hoping to double their money will not usually be acquiring links that take hundreds
of dollars or many hours to get.
As people continue to abuse lower quality links the high-quality links will only
Finding Niche Link Sources
You can do a search for “<your keyword> + directory,” “<your keyword> + add
URL,” “<your keyword> + submit site”…any of them. Start thinking of ideas like
that and finding sources of inbound links should be no problem. You can search
across multiple search engines and even search for various file extensions.
If you have a resource about the ASP language, it may be a good idea
to search for ASP file types.
If you have a golf site with a Flash game on it, try to get golf links, but
also see if there are some game sites or Flash sites that might be willing
to link to your site.
If you have a beautiful site design or an XHTML and CSS compliant
design, try to list your site on sites about beautiful web design.
If you are a site designer, consider creating free open source site
designs and promoting them on OSWD.org.
Let the Link Sources Come to You
If you know how to create and format truly remarkable information then you
might be able to gain a top ranking by
Creating great content
Buying AdWords ads for related keywords
Letting bloggers and the media find your content via the AdWords ad
Watch them write about you, and see your rankings improve as you
If you buy AdSense ads, you can run Google’s position placement report to
find where Google was syndicating your ad to. Webmasters who own these
related pages might be willing to sell you links if you contact them.
Affiliate Program Links
Most affiliate programs redirect your links through third-party websites that
prevent the link from parsing link popularity.
In addition, many other websites use query strings on the links. These typically will
not parse PageRank to the destination page. A query string is something like
“?affil=34565” at the end of the link. This identifies the affiliate for tracking
Even if affiliate programs do not provide static text links, they still help raise your
brand awareness and build trust in the eyes of your prospective customers. A well-
run affiliate program can also mean that some of your affiliates are crowding some
of your competitors out of the search results.
Problems With SEO-Friendly Affiliate Programs (How They
Can Hurt Affiliates, But Help Merchants)
If you build enough link popularity pointing to an affiliate page, it can outrank the
regular version of the document. But if many good affiliates are promoting a
product and those pages link back to the home page of the site they are promoting,
then you can end up pushing a ton of PageRank to the home page of the merchant
site. That PageRank can filter down to the regular (or non-affiliate) version of the
page, which may eventually outrank all the affiliates. More information is available
on the Over The Mark blog.
You Do Not Need To Reciprocate Every Link
If you have a great resource, you do not need to give a link back every time you ask
for a link. If you write compelling content, people may want to link to it free, and
that is the best way to get links.
I often group my sites with a couple other similar resources when I ask for free
links. This gives me a better chance of getting my site listed, because it seems like I
am trying to help them improve their site versus just helping myself. In addition,
this helps clustering search engines such as Teoma know what sites are similar to
You cannot be afraid to ask or get rejected. Most link requests are rejected or
ignored, but if you show that you put a good amount of time and effort in and that
you are actually a human who visited their site, then you stand a much better
chance of getting a link.
Cheesy Link Exchange Trick
Some people also 301 redirect their new site to an established site to have it show
the PageRank of the other site. Since the PageRank only updates every three
months, they can make many link trades based on fooling webmasters with the
toolbar PageRank from the other site.
Automated Link Exchange Emails
Automation is an extremely bad thing during the human interaction portion of
link exchange. There is a program by the name of Arelis that will automate nearly
100% of the link exchange process, and it may be useful to use for most portions
EXCEPT the human interaction.
You stand a far better chance to get links if you are extremely personal in your
link requests. There are a few linking tools I occasionally use, but keep in mind
that anything that sends automated queries to search engines is usually going to be
against their terms of service.
Evolving Link Analysis
As Google has moved away from PageRank and anchor text and relevancy
algorithms have moved toward things like TrustRank, site age, and link authority,
most of the link analysis tools on the market provide little ROI for the effort and
price required to use them. They can’t measure what the relevancy algorithms are
looking at – how do you measure TrustRank when the numbers are not public?
You may want to use SEO for Firefox to get an overview of the competitive
landscape, Hub Finder to find topical hub pages, and Yahoo! Site Explorer to dig
up some of your competitor’s top backlinks, but I wouldn’t recommend buying
any link analysis tools at this point. The time and effort spent analyzing outdated
stats would be better spent building links.
SEO for Firefox
The best way to know what your competition level is to look at the quality of the
top few sites and their link profiles. Are their sites .edu sites, old well branded sites,
or other highly useful sites? Do they have many editorial links pointing at their
Google primarily relies upon site age and link reputation to determine relevancy for
competitive terms. Links from government or educational sites are more likely to
be well-trusted in search results since, typically, it is harder to influence them than
the average .com website.
SEO for Firefox allows you to view many data points from directly within the
search results to see how competitive a marketplace is. It will help you answer
How old are these sites?
Do they have quality inbound links?
Are they listed in the major web directories?
Are bloggers mentioning their site?
Are people saving their site on social bookmarking sites?
Hub Finder is a free, web-based link analysis tool I created. The sole goal of Hub
Finder is to help webmasters find co-occurring links. Hub pages that link to
multiple competing sites are also likely to link to your site.
This means you can enter in the URL of two to ten competing websites and
wherever their inbound links overlap, it will return in the search results. On-topic
links may carry more weight than off-topic links in some search algorithms. Here
is a quick visual run through of how it works.
You can enter in a relevant topic to grab the top results from the search engine.
You can choose to grab the results from Yahoo!, Google, or both.
The tool then queries Yahoo! to look for what pages are linking to each site. By
default, the tool searches through the top 50 inbound links for each domain. You
can adjust this value from 50 to 250.
The sites that rank at the top of the search results for competitive phrases in your
field are called authority sites. For the term SEO, the following eleven sites are
After the tool grabs the links pointing at each of the domains, it compares where
they overlap and returns pages that link to two or more related websites. The
pages that link to two or more authority pages are called hub pages.
The numbers at the top of the results coincide with the numbers next to each site
listed above. I clicked on #4 (SeoBook.com). You can see that TopRank and
Search Engine Watch both linked to my website.
Sometimes this tool will return a few useless or spammy results if you are not
searching for a well-established topic, but most of the time it will show some of the
best sites you should try to get links from.
After the results show, you can click the Download CSV button if you want to
save the results to view them later in a spreadsheet.
Yahoo! Site Explorer
If using the “linkdomain:” and “link:” features confuses you, then you may want to
try Yahoo!’s free link analysis tool. Yahoo! will not give you the in-depth
information that Backlink Analyzer will, but it makes it easy to surf through a site
and see what pages have inbound links and what links point at each page.
I created Backlink Analyzer to give people a free option to do link analysis. Some
of my friends have already compared it to the two paid tools listed below and
described it as being on par or better.
Read more about my newly launched backlink analyzer at:
. Backlink Analyzer is currently a
Windows-only application. My programmers are making an extensible cross-
OptiLink ($224) is link analysis software that can scour up to 1000 different
backlinks of a website and return the results in the order of PageRank. You then
have the ability to go through and request links from the most important sites.
OptiLink also lets you know what words are in the different links so you can get an
accurate picture of total link reputation and not just link popularity. Link
reputation is the combination of link popularity and link text. OptiLink will let you
check the backlinks through multiple search engines.
SEO Elite ($167) is newer software that is extremely similar to OptiLink. It
surveys backlinks to find what anchor text is used and linking page PageRank. In
addition, SEO Elite will spider the links on your site or page and check that
reciprocal link partners are linking back to your site.
Greg Boser created a free, lighting-quick link analysis application similar to the
three listed above. Tattler is available free. It only works with Yahoo!, but is
Web-Based Link Analysis
If you do not want to download any link analysis software but still want to analyze
anchor text profiles there are a couple free web based link analysis tools.
Similar to SEO for Firefox, the WeBuildPages Top 10 Analysis Tool compares a
URL to the stats of the top 10 ranked pages in Google.
BacklinkWatch.com provides link anchor text and PageRank values.
Link Harvester is a free, web-based link analysis tool I created. Link Harvester will
tell you if a site has any governmental or educational inbound links as well as telling
you the number of unique linking domains and unique linking IP addresses.
Link Harvester also auto-checks boxes next to each site that links in more than
four times so that you can re-query the tool to filter out the sites that link in many
times to search deeper through the backlink database quickly and easily. That is
something that none of the paid link analysis tools do.
In addition to displaying a link from each of the sites linking in, you can easily
export the data to a spreadsheet. It is free, open source, and uses the Yahoo! API,
so you do not have to worry about the tool getting blocked.
Some people have described GoLexa as a Swiss Army knife tool for SEO. It does
not give the detailed link analysis data that some of the above tools do, but it does
have many useful and interesting features.
Microsoft Forward Links
Many search engines allow you to search for what pages link to your site, but
Microsoft was the first engine to show you what pages a specific domain links at.
linkfromdomain:site.com is the syntax for Microsoft’s forward link command.
You can use the forward links function in a number of ways:
To quickly check the quality and types of sites that a site links to
To get a rough indication of what percent of a site’s links are reciprocal
or nepotistic in nature (linkfomdomain:site.com linkdomain:site.com).
To create an index of seed sites for creating a topic-specific search
engine using the Google Custom Search Engine technology.
Bonus Linking Tip
One of the best ways to use these linking tools is to use them to track the links
pointing to a website that has moved. Alert webmasters to broken links on their
sites and let them know that you have a similar site. Many webmasters will likely
link to your site, especially if you list multiple, similar, useful sites and they do not
think your motives are 100% selfish.
Sometimes it helps to be a bit smooth. Sometimes I suggest a few resources other
than my own. Sometimes I just put my URL under my name as if its part of my
signature. Other times I just ask for feedback on an idea. All techniques have
worked to get me many quality inbound links in a short period of time.
A non-link-request link request may actually have a higher conversion rate than an
active link request with some webmasters. You have to read the motives of the
The use of the above listed tools allows me to automate most of the link research
process while still allowing me to remaining personal in the link request e-mails I
Example E-mail (sent to a personal e-mail if they have one available)
Hello <actual person>,
I have been browsing around photography sites
for a couple hours now and just ran across
yours…it’s awesome. [
stroke their ego
Wow! Your picture of that dove—blah blah
blah…bird photography is one of my blah blah
be specific and show you visited their site
I took this pic of a flying mongoose here:
look we are the same
<optional>I have already added a link to your
site on my cool sites page.</optional> [
them if you feel you need to—link or cash or whatever
other offer. If you feel a phone call is necessary, then
you may want to give them your number or call them
up versus sending an e-mail.
[you or] Your site visitors may well be
interested in blah blah blah at my site blah
show them how linking to you benefits them
If you like my site, please consider linking
to it however you like… [
Let them know they have
choices—don’t come across as ordering them to do
something. Also, sometimes just asking for feedback
on an idea gives you all the potential upside of a link
request without any of the potential downside. If they
review your stuff and like it, they will probably link to
it. And by asking for their feedback instead of a link,
you show you value their opinion not just their link
or with this code. [
make it easy for them
I think my site matches well with the theme on
Either way, thanks for reading this and keep
posting the awesome photos. [
me at myemail.com
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested