I got an e-mail a few days ago from a self-proclaimed “SEO Expert” asking me to participate in a link exchange. I, like many bloggers of all types, get these types of e-mails on a regular basis. I always decline, because they are almost always a stupid idea. I started working in marketing over a decade ago at a small advertising agency in Silicon Valley. This was back when Yahoo! was the top search engine, listservs were a big deal, and having a splash page on your website made you cool. Yes, the internet has changed a lot in the last 10 years.
Back then, link exchanges might have been a good idea. Since then, the algorithms search engines use to determine what sites get top billing have gotten so much more sophisticated that a link exchange sent via e-mail by an unknown “SEO Expert” is nearly always a bad idea. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. Incoming links from unrelated websites are pointless. The Google Algorithm does take incoming links into account. However, it is also smart enough that it does some checking into where those links come from. Every incoming link looks like a “vote” for your site, and sites with more “votes” rank higher. But if the Google Algorithm sees that a furniture dealer is “voting” for your craft site, it is going to realize that the vote doesn’t really count. Votes that count are ones from other sites relating to yours.
2. You may be giving more than you’re getting. On the surface it seems fair – you give a link, you get a link. But the wild west of the internet is not a democracy, and all links are not created equal. The higher the website scores, the more value its links have. Even if your site is brand new, if you are exchanging a link with a site that doesn’t score as well, you’re not entering into a fair trade.
3. The incoming links from these sources are often bogus. There is a way to set up outbound links so they look genuine to an untrained eye, but google doesn’t actually recognize them. So the trade would be less than fair, with you giving a legit link, and getting tricked in return.
4. Broken links make your blog look trashy, and maintaining these links is more work. Google looks at your outbound links. If you have a bunch of “broken” links (links that, when clicked on, go to a site that no longer exists), it makes it look like you don’t have a well-maintained site, which can actually hurt your ranking. So, you’ll need to keep checking back to make sure that the links you’ve exchanged are still up-to-date. And while you’re checking, you’ll want to make sure that the link back to you is still up, and you didn’t get sucked into a bait-and-switch. Would you rather be spending your time checking your links, or crafting something?
5. There are way better ways to improve your SEO. Legit ones. Write good content. Post consistently. Use proper keywords. Build your blog. Create proper links by guest posting. These will do a lot more for your blog than a shady “link exchange” with a random website.
And one more thing – be wary of anyone who claims they are an “SEO Expert.” How does someone get that title? Search engines closely protect the secret of their algorithms (they might as well be in a vault right next to the recipe for Coke), plus, they constantly update their algorithms (heard of the Panda Update?). So, anyone who claims they are an expert on a super-secret, constantly changing phenomenon is making a pretty fishy claim.