Ah the link exchange. It's the old game of good vs evil. Backlinks = good.... link exchange = evil. What's that you say? It can't be that simple? Well, really it is, and let me explain why.
In order to obtain a higher page ranking in the search engines, you need backlinks (links on the web pointing back towards your website). The more backlinks, the better your page ranking, because in theory people who like your site for it's awesome content will link back to it. There are however different qualities of backlinks. Let's look at an example:
Good backlink example: You have a blog about fishing. Another fishing website links back to an article you wrote about bait and lures because it was a great article and they want their readers to know about it. This is a good, useful backlink. But then there's the other kind of backlink... the conniving, black hat SEO, link exchange kind. You know what I'm talking about, the backlink that has no value whatsoever to anyone.
Bad backlink example: You have a fishing blog. A car website contacts you and asks for a link exchange. You give them your fishing link, which they post on their car site, and they give you their car link, which you post on your fishing blog. Good for both people, right? It might look good from the outside of the deal, but it's really more like fraud since you are trying to trick Google and the other search engines into moving your site up in the rankings.
Firstly, people on that car website don't want to hear about fishing, and the readers on your fishing website could probably care less about the link you just posted to the car website. Congratulations, you've just taken the first step down a slippery slope of alienating your readers and losing your traffic. Why? Link exchanges clutter up your blog for one thing. For another, your readers want to know about the specific topics you're writing on. You will lose the reader's trust if you begin posting non-relevant material on your site.
Link exchanges can also actually harm your page ranking. Google and other search engines don't look kindly on back links from link exchanges or 'link farms' (websites that just post links).
So here's the deal. There are a lot of legitimate ways to build backlinks to your site without risking losing your established traffic and pissing off the search engines. There are also appropriate times to engage in a link exchange, such as when two sites of a similar topic exchange links because it will be mutually beneficial to readers on both sites. There may come a time when you are approached by other sites wanting a link exchange, but I would recommend ignoring the requests and spending your time building legitimate backlinks instead.
What are some interesting, and legitimate ways that you build backlinks for your blog? Have you ever engaged in link exchanges or link farms before? Let us know in a comment below, and don't forget to subscribe to Hot Shot Blogger for more great articles and tips!