Link Exchanges

by Doug E. L. Haynes

Recently I got an email from an artist in Colorado who cheerfully greeted me

Hi Doug!
I was looking at your site and was impressed with it. I thought you may be interested in exchanging links. I have a highly ranked site for original egg tempera paintings and canvas art prints. Please link to my site...let me know when you have added my link and send me your link info so that I can add your site right away.

Her email is not the first of this sort. Lately I have been getting a number of emails asking me to link my website to someone else’s website or sometimes simply inviting me to view a link to my site that has been set up on another site. This practice is called a link exchange. It originated in the early days of the web as a way to show others the neat stuff you found on the web. Nowadays most people use search engines to get around the web, but links pages remain and often serve as a way to express solidarity with one’s colleagues. On the surface of it this email looks like a product of the web at its best. A fellow artist has stumbled onto my site and wishes to make a connection. Unfortunately the reality is that this email is much less spontaneous than it appears on the surface. There is nothing untrue in the content of it, but what the author does not say is that her links page it is vast and any link she placed to my site would be buried among hundreds of other links. So regardless of whether her site is well traveled or not it is unlikely that visitors to her site would come to visit my site as a result of a link on her links page. She on the other had has much to gain should I link to her site because I have very few links thus her chances of getting hits from me are proportionally much higher. In fact the very reason her site is “highly ranked” is because of the compendium of links she has built. The term “highly ranked site” refers to the ability of a site to rise to the top of Google. While the exact formula for how sites are ranked is a closely guarded trade secret, it is quite clear that a significant part of the formula is based on who has linked to your site. This is somewhat difficult to put into words, but if the sites that have linked to your site are considered by the search engines to be important with regard to what someone is searching for then your own ranking goes up as a result. It is important to note that who your site links to is does not help your search engine rank, but rather who has linked to you. You could think of it this way: Everybody knows who Louvre is, but does the Louvre know who you are?

On the surface it might seem that this artist has hit on a terribly effective way of promoting her art. Shouldn’t we all emulate this artist and create link compendiums that direct traffic to our sites? Just remember that ranking in Google a transient thing and should not be an end in itself. It is an enormous amount of work to promote one’s site using the method described above. It is likely that only one out of a hundred artists solicited in this manner would link to her site, so it is my guess that she has hired a rather pricey consultant to do this work for her.

Another thing to consider when exchanging links is the company you keep. Hopefully your site is elegant and tastefully presented so presenting a link to a site that is run of the mill or somewhat unattractively presented would diminish yourself by association. In creating a site you have given an effort to present yourself and your work professionally. The effort you have given to create and promote your site should not be treated lightly.