Reciprocal Linking Scams
Reciprocal linking scams have increased immensely during the past year. Initially we thought that this problem only related to gambling and casino related websites but an audit of our commercial link partners showed that it is a serious problem within the broader online community.
Over the past eighteen months, our page rank slowly declined whilst we were continually adding new link partners to our link directory. We had slipped from a five down to a two before we finally identified the exact cause of the problem.
We evaluated a series of link checking spiders, but until recently one had to know the URL of the page on which the reciprocal link was located for most of the spiders to find it and none of the available spiders could effectively handle dynamically generated links pages although a few claimed to have those capabilities. We eventually found two that you can run from your desktop machine and find a single link on a dynamically generated link directory. The results were alarming. Out of the first 100 links on our anchor site, only seven were still being reciprocated.
We recrawled the sites where no link was found with the second spider and got exactly the same result. Then we started manually checking the sites where no link back was found and started discovering patterns of deliberate link fraud.
The scams in order of popularity amongst the scammers –
Reduce exposure to link scams
To reduce your exposure to such scams it is essential to carefully vet all potential link partners in the first instance. Enter link back partner details in a database. As an absolute minimum, enter their URL, the location of the link back on their site, the page rank of the page on which your link is located, the date of the link exchange and a real e-mail address for the contact person. I also print a copy of the request and file it in chronological order
Use a good link checking program monthly and contact offenders as soon as you find your link is missing from their site. This is now essential to keep link partners honest. This problem is a direct consequence of the current page rank system and fierce competition for top rankings. It is easier to retain existing link partners than to continually find new ones.
Points to look for when Assessing Potential Link Partners
Before trading links, look carefully at the other site –
If no link to the link directory on the index page –Reject - you will get no traffic from that site
Look at the structure of their link directory and count the number of clicks from their index page to where their link to you is likely to be located and then deduct that number from the PR of the sites index page. If that page is PR3 and there are three clicks to get to the page on which your link will be located, that page will have a PR0. That link will be worthless unless the site gets a minimum of a PR4.
If you have not already done so, download Google's tool bar. If the page rank bar is grayed out, when you are looking at a site, never trade links with that site. The grey bar is said to indicate that it is banned by Google. I do not know if that is true but I have only ever seen two sites produce grey bars.
A growing number of sites with dynamically generated link directories have no page rank on any link pages even though the directories are often constructed in such a way that you would expect the page to rank to be 2 points below the home page. I do not know how most are achieving this. The visible way is to have multiple folders and index pages leading to the links pages and the number of clicks from the home page destroys any potential link page rank. A rare method is to add a no index command for the link directory in their robots.txt file.
Just remember links to such sites are one way links from your site to their site. You give them a good link and they give you a worthless link. A link on a page with a PR0 is a non indexed link and carries no value regardless of the page rank of the index page of the site to which it is attached. When you do a back link check on your domain in Google, you will notice that very few links to your domain that are on Google indexed pages with a PR of less than four are returned in your list of back links. This is why I and others consider that Google now discounts the value of such links.
For indexed pages, count the number of links on the page. The first factor in determining the value of the link is the page rank of the page on which it is located. The second factor is the number of links on the page. The value of the link to you is roughly the page PR divided by the number of links. Of course no one outside of a chosen few at Google knows the actual formula but that is a rough approximation and the reason most webmasters will not trade links with sites with more than 40 links to a page unless the page has a very high PR.
A link on the bottom of a good content page is always better value than a link on a directory page as more people are likely to click on it.
When on the receiving end of a link exchange request, do not hesitate to ask for your link to be placed on a specific page and do not hesitate to reject link requests from sites that do not adhere to basic acceptable linking practices.
When considering link requests from new sites, look at any other sites that belong to or have been built by the webmaster proposing the link. Most importantly, look to see if existing link pages have been indexed and the structure of the directory. This will be a good indicator of what to expect for the new site.
When you create your own link directory, consider a hand edited directory with the links at the same level as the rest of the pages on your site. That way your link pages will be only one point below your index page and you will attract more link requests because of that. Many high PR sites will not trade links with you unless you can place their link back on a minimum of a PR4 page. That way you can start shooting for the top once your index page makes a 5 as opposed to a 7 with the way many link directories are set up.
When you are shooting for the top, it makes that final climb a little less steep.