As any good webmaster knows link exchanges are vital to help get your site placed better in search engines and of course for a general increase in exposure. (In case you don’t know, a link exchange means to exchange a link with another website, you link to them and they link back to you.) The Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry is huge and there are plenty of firms out there that specialise in placing websites in the top pages of search engine results for specific key words (or at least claiming they can). It’s a controversial industry because often companies offer guarantees of results when they shouldn’t, there are no guarantees with SEO.
When I first started out in web business, or at least with my first personal websites, I never thought about SEO. Most of the time I was indulging in hobbies so I simply created something that expressed my passion. I wrote articles and had friends and other people that shared my passion for the hobby provide content. It was a very natural process, not planned at all. At times I would go out searching for other sites on the same topic as mine and request link exchanges. I did this because I wanted more hits (more glory!) and in my understanding the more sites that linked to my site the better. I had no concept that this was contributing to my site’s SEO.
As a result of my efforts I was having a positive impact on my search engine rankings. I call this organic growth and really this is what Google was made to do, find the best sites based on natural linking patterns. Unfortunately with the advent of PageRank and the extensive research conducted into SEO, more and more people understand how websites are ranked in search engines and thus the natural linking process has become at times unnatural. Webmasters now actively pursue link exchanges with a passion because they understand that more links = better SEO. Often people use methods that try to take advantage of Google’s algorithms to boost their SEO when perhaps their content doesn’t warrant it.
Of course it’s not as simple as just completing as many link exchanges as you can. Content, link relevance, link quality and a whole host of other variables must be considered, but the purpose of this article is not to teach SEO, I will save that for another day!
Key Term: PageRank – relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyses the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.
Today I finally finished the basics for a little link directory project I have been working on. Many months ago I completed a link exchange with a site that has a unique linking system that I thought was quite clever. They use a separate site with its own domain and IP address (a different server) to host a directory of links. This directory has a PageRank of 6 so other webmasters are quite eager to get their link listed, because they’re pretty much assured of having their link on a PageRank 4 or 5 sub-page within the directory.
If you have ever done any research into SEO you know that it’s generally a good idea to get many links from high PageRank sites. In fact often a couple of links from a PageRank 6 or higher page can do wonders for your own PageRank, which in turn will make other sites more eager to exchange links with you. I’ve experienced this my self with my own sites, just as they reach PageRank 4 and improve their placement in search engines I’ve immediately had more webmasters ask to exchange links.
As a general rule you want to have lots of good quality relevant and high PageRank sites linking to your site. It’s best if these links come from sites that operate in complimentary industries (similar demographics) or even the same industry as your site. You also want to minimise the amount of outgoing links from your site because this decreases your PageRank. See the trick here – lots of incoming, not much outgoing. This makes sense because in a natural linking world an authority site would have many sites linking to it (because of quality content) and not too many linking away from it.
The technique employed with the directory is to have all the outgoing links come from the directory site, not your main site. You exchange links with other sites, instruct them to link to your main site in exchange for a listing in the directory site. Your main site gets the incoming link, your directory distributes the outgoing link and your new link exchange partner gets a listing on a reasonably high PageRank directory. It’s a win-win situation since your link partner gets some quality and reasonably high PageRank points, you get an incoming link to your main site and the directory gets more links which is what being a directory is all about!
Now you may be asking how the directory keeps a high PageRank if it has all these outgoing links. The assumption here is that your main site, which should have a high PageRank, links to the directory in as many places as possible. So for example with the site that I mentioned earlier, they have a PageRank 7 on their main page and they link to the directory on every sub-page and main page in their navigation system. This results in a PageRank 6 for the directory and it is able to keep this high PageRank despite the high number of outgoing links (this shows the power of a high PageRank).
Of course most of what I’ve written are assumptions and I’ve not completed in-depth research into PageRank to be considered an authority. However the best way to test out this system is to put it into practice. I found some simple automated link exchange software, built it into a site (current template is available at http://www.betteredit.com/directory/ and will soon be at www.student-directory.org) and have started to populate it with my existing link partners. Any new link requests will have to link to my main business, BetterEdit.com, in exchange for a listing in the directory. I’m going to host the directory on a completely different server. I will be linking back to the directory from all the websites I manage which range from a PageRank 1 to 4. This will hopefully ensure it starts off with a reasonable PageRank after the next Google update or two. Consequently I should not have any problems finding websites interested in being added to the directory. I’ve clearly defined the niche (student resources) and will be selective of the sites permitted inclusion so that the directory has the potential to become a valuable tool in it’s own right.
You never know, in a few years time the site itself might generate a little advertising revenue, but I certainly don’t expect it. Worse comes to worse I’ve just spent a bit of time to make the maintenance of my link exchanges that much easier. In a better scenario my main website will enjoy an increase in PageRank and the directory will become a popular site in it’s own right full of quality links.
Hopefully in the next 6-12 months I will be able to report back on how it is doing.
Search Engine Optimiser (or mizer for you Americans).