According to the Graphic, Visualization, & Usability Center's (GVU) 8th WWW User Survey, "Most users find new web pages through other web pages (88%) and through search engines (82%). For the past year (Sixth & Seventh surveys) search engines have outranked other web pages as the source of new pages, that trend has reversed again." http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/user_surveys/survey-1997-10/bulleted/use_bullets.html
As getting a good (top 20) listing in the major search engines and directories becomes increasingly difficult, having a good base of incoming links from other web sites will become proportionately important. Some search engines will even rank you higher based on the number of incoming links that your site has, providing a dual benefit. If these two reasons aren't enough to convince you to start a strategic linking program today, then consider these:
Quality links provide a valuable resource that visitors appreciate and give them a reason to return often.
Quality links tell visitors that you are well known and respected by others in your area of expertise.
Quality links carry on the traditions that the Internet was built on, the free exchange of knowledge, resources, and information.
Do these reasons outweigh the reasons not to link to others? Excuse number one why not to link to other sites, "Links just open the door for visitors to leave my site and that is a sale lost". If that visitor wasn't convinced enough to buy and was just researching the market, they would leave anyway. The only way you can receive a benefit from a visitor leaving is through a reciprocal link of one form or another. The reason we call them visitors is because they all leave at one point or another, with or without our product. If they leave without our product, isn't it better that they leave via a route that provides us a benefit? Excuse number two: "I don't want to be bothered with having to check to see if my link is up at the other site." If your links are well chosen and well executed in the beginning then this isn't a problem. Sure you may lose a link once in awhile, but it shouldn't be that big of a deal, because you are still adding value to your visitors and that is important too.
There is a variety of forms for exchanging links. From the least effective free-for-all, to the most effective content provider. Links can be banners or text. They may lead to a site, an email address, or an auto responder. In exchange, you could receive any of these in return. You could choose to use one or all of these methods depending on your needs and the needs of the other site. You can just list them randomly, first in, alphabetically, placed in a searchable directory, or spread throughout your site. Choose the method that works best for your product and your presentation. I currently use all of these forms of link exchanges at both of my sites. http://athome.hypermart.net and http://www.ptialaska.net/~cortez/.
Who are you going to target for link partners? Think first in terms of what would be of value to your visitors. Where do you go for information and resources? Who are your suppliers? Who offers a product that compliments yours? Who are your competitors?
Yes, I said competitors. Here is why:
If you are offering a quality product, competitively priced, you will help close the deal with your customer by providing them the information they need to make a decision.
If they are researching options, they will probably find your competition anyway (may as well get a link in return).
It makes good business sense to have good relationships with your competition. If you can't help a customer because you are too busy, or their requirements don't fit yours for whatever reason, it never hurts to have a place that you can refer them to. It is also beneficial to be able to just have someone in the same field that you can share ideas, problems, or vent a little steam when things are frustrating.
I suggest you approach looking for link partners the same way you approach looking for customers. Be very specific in what you are looking for, and what you have to offer. Constantly watch for and be open to opportunities to link with sites.
I was doing some research for a potential client and came across Senior Search (http://www.seniorssearch.com). They have a directory of web sites particularly for the over 50 age group. I never thought of that as a primary target for my services, but it has turned out to be one of my leading link traffic generators and all that it has cost me is a button on my site and about 10 minutes of my time. I am constantly looking for potential link partners, just like I am constantly looking for customers and opportunities. What specialized directories or associations can you partner with to your mutual benefit? Another good example of this is SOHO Web.
Two good resources to get started.
Link-O-Matic is a directory of web sites that are looking for reciprocal linking arrangements. You can post the information about your site and what you are looking for in potential link partners. (http://www.linkomatic.com/reciprocate.cgi?1601).
LinkUp is a discussion list type service that you can send messages to seeking link partners, and receive messages from others looking as well. TO SUBSCRIBE: <Subscribe-LinkUp@CommerceStreet.com>
Many times as I am surfing through sites for the first time if I think they would be of value to my site visitors I will use the feedback form or email to ask the web master about the possibility of exchanging links in some way. This is probably the most effective and efficient method. You are at the site, you know whether or not they exchange links and with what type of sites. It only takes a minute of your time and could be the beginning of a very lucrative and long-term relationship.
By the way, would you like to exchange links? firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright 1998 Total Quality Marketing and Bob Cortez
Bob Cortez has 20 years of sales and marketing experience. Through Total Quality Marketing he is providing consulting services to home based entrepreneurs looking to expand their business online and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available. http://athome.hypermart.net/tqm.htm
Total Quality Marketing
PO Box 338
Homer Alaska 99603