I created my first website in 1995 - it was so long ago I built it out of rock and wood, not HTML.
Shortly after it went live I realised that nobody apart from me could see it and it started to dawn on me what this 'Internet thing' is all about. It is not about having a stand-alone website plonked somewhere that nobody will ever see - it is about being part of an INTERconnected NETwork of other websites. INTER-NET. The penny dropped - I needed to start getting connected to other websites.
Much has changed since then (my hair got longer, shorter and has since started to recede further up my head for one thing) but it seems the desire and pressure you face as a website owner to exchange links shows no signs of fading. But link swapping is killing your website! Here's 5 Reasons why...
Reason No. 1 - It's Addictive!
It's true. You might not be that far down the link-swapping path yet but I promise you it will happen sooner or later. One day you'll find yourself laughing like a maniac as you run a report to see how many in-bound links you have and start rubbing your hands gleefully as you reach that magic milestone you set yourself six months ago. You'll start mainlining reciprocal links:
"Just one more link. Please - all I need is one more link!"
Take a deep breath, step back from the precipice and think for a moment. Why do you want all these links pointing to your website? No, honestly - why do you REALLY want all these links pointing to your website? To improve link popularity? You're falling into the trap. Do you want it to boost that little green bar that Google assigns to your page? (see toolbar.google.com) Wise up!
Reason No. 2 - It Is Eating Away At Your Time Like A Hungry Hippo!
Just take a look at the last time you went out looking for a link and got it. How long did it take you? Not long? Well, let me put this another way - how long did it take you to find the right type of websites, look through those and find ones that even have a links page, find the contact information for the websites you wanted to contact, create the email, send the email, respond to the email, place their link on your website, check that they reciprocated with you, email back and forth a few times more and so on...?
If you add up all the minutes that each of these elements takes you could be looking at half an hour per reciprocal link established - maybe even longer!
And don't think you're cutting corners if you're using software. It might be quicker to find possible linking partners using software but it's a false economy as, to my knowledge, people are still cleverer than machines.
What I mean by this is I can tell if you email me using software rather than using your own fingers. If you go looking for reciprocal links using software you are FAR less likely to get a response so the whole process will probably take you as long in terms of time spent per link established.
Reason No. 3 - You Are Spending More Time On Other People's Websites Than Your Own
If you spend a lot of your time researching and creating reciprocal links you'd better make sure that your website is perfect. Remember - all that time you're spending developing reciprocal links could be spent adding new content to your website, sending out an up to date newsletter to your mailing list or even sitting down and writing out goals for your website.
If you spend all the time on improving your website, adding great content, providing excellent service, keeping it up to date, testing different headlines and homepage layouts INSTEAD of spending the time building links guess what? You will magically find that more people link to you anyway!
In fact - your website will become such a great resource because of all the time you're dedicating to it that people will go OUT OF THEIR WAY to link to you! How ironic is that?!
You go hunting for links and your site suffers and therefore hardly anybody links to you. You spend time on making your website THE BEST IT CAN BE and everyone starts linking to you as, shock horror, you have a brilliant website that is worth referring to..
Reason No. 4 - You Don't Have A Multi-Million Dollar Budget To Beat The Boffins
Those white-cloaked geeks over at Google towers and the like have millions of dollars at their disposal to create the latest technology that can sniff out the merest whiff of dodginess when it comes to link swapping.
If they think something is suspect you might get penalised. First you started to see sites that used the same phrase for their inbound links get penalised. Then it was sites that engaged with link farms. Who knows what's next?
Ultimately you can bet your bottom dollar that the search engines will change their tack with reciprocal links and their importance - some of them are already starting to look at the words that appear before and after each link to make sure it is on a relevant page and not just created as part of a reciprocal linking deal.
It's a risky game we're all playing and my money's on the guys with the white coats and millions of dollars..
Reason No. 5 - You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye!
When push comes to shove this whole 'game' of website marketing is about balance.
Imagine you are a tightrope walker. Fifty metres beneath you is a huge vat of boiling hot lava. To help you across the rope from the podium of "website launch" to the podium of "website success" you get a balancing rod.
Spending too much time and effort on reciprocal link building is like having a large sack on one end of the rod. This sack has an elephant in it. The elephant is wearing boots. Made from concrete. Get the picture?
Michael Cheney is Author of The Website Marketing BibleTM. Take the Free 7-Part Course "Internet Marketing Made Easy" and get your free sampler of 'The Bible' here: http://www.websitemarketingbible.com/marketing/