Ask Google, search engines love links. Of course, they love some links more than others. For example, a simple link exchange (reciprocal link) doesn’t have as much value to search engines and so, it doesn’t receive the same weight as a non-reciprocal (one-way) link – the theory being that a one-way, in-bound link is a recommendation from a site owner to visit this linked site. The link, itself, is testament to the quality of the site being referred.
Of course, it does no good to deny that search engines value one way links more than reciprocal links. This has been repeated so often that were it not true I’d believe it any way. But some people have the wrong idea by this truth.
The adage is given as a tidbit of instruction, and it is a worthy instruction indeed. The message is, if you’re intent is to boost your search engine rankings then you shouldn’t have too many reciprocal links; your focus should be on obtaining one-way links. Well, I can’t argue with conventional wisdom. But here’s a little food for thought.
What if your goal is simply to increase traffic to your website? Suppose you notice that a certain website related in subject matter to yours, sitting at a PageRank 5 against your PR2, is very popular. You send an e-mail to the webmaster and suggest they should link to your website. The webmaster writes back, “No thanks.” And why shouldn’t he? You really haven’t given him any reason to link to you. Your need is not his obligation. Which brings me to point one: If you want one-way links into your website that boost you in the search engines, you’ve got make your site linkable; you’ve got to provide something so valuable that you’ll never have to ask anyone to link to you. They will just do it.
But what if you don’t have anything like that and can’t think of anything? That’s OK. Not all of us are MarketLeap. Do you just go away from the PR5 site and act like you never knew them? That would be foolish.
Let’s suppose that in his correspondence back to you the webmaster of this PR5 website suggested a reciprocal link. A one-way link to your site wouldn’t benefit him at all, but he reasons that a reciprocal link just might benefit him as he could attract an entirely different audience of prospects that he’d never reach otherwise. Or he could see potential in your website and want to encourage that potential by linking to you, but wants some immediate benefit to himself. In that case, he reasons, a reciprocal link would be mutually beneficial. Do you accept?
I think you should. You won’t get as big a boost at the search engines, but that’s not your goal. You want traffic, right? Well, a PR5 website that receives 10,000 visitors a month to your 2,500 potentially has lots of visitors that he could send your way.
There are search engine benefits to links, no doubt. But that’s not the only benefit. Links also drive traffic. Your job as webmaster and site owner is to make decisions regarding your links – internal, outbound, and inbound – that will improve your website in some way. If you get shortsighted and start to focus too much on one benefit then you’ll miss the opportunities that might come your way through other strategies with benefits of their own. When it comes to link patterns, you must weigh whether the SEO benefits are more rewarding or whether the traffic benefits are more rewarding. And it’s OK to let the answer surprise you.