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Reciprocal Linking
Copyright © 2006, P. Lutus

What is a "Reciprocal Link"? | Why I won't do it | Conclusion

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What is a "Reciprocal Link"?
In recent days, partly because of the number of visitors to this site, I have been getting a blizzard of requests for reciprocal links. A reciprocal link is an agreement between two parties, usually businesses, to link each site to the other.

The reason people do this is because a Web search engine like Google ranks a site more highly if it has a lot of links from other sites. This is an idea borrowed from science, where the number of research papers that refer to one of yours causes your work to be regarded more highly.

This "popularity" criterion is a more robust way to rank Web sites, and is harder to fake than simply counting the number of visitors. It is relatively easy to pretend to have a lot of visitors to a Web site — you just tell all your friends and relatives to bang away on your site, or put up bogus Google searches, then click the links to your site, all day long, falsely creating the impression that your Web site is the bee's knees.

So, realizing the problem with ranking sites based on traffic, someone at Google got the idea to count links rather than hits. But it seems for each attempt to craft a legitimate method to assess the value of something, there is a schemer in the wings, waiting to undermine it. In this case the dodge is simple — you just contact people at random and ask to exchange links.

The people who ask me for reciprocal links typically have no idea what my Web site is about, and they appear to care even less. They probably only notice my site's relatively high Google page rank and decide I am a worthwhile target for a link swap. I assume this is how it works, but I could be wrong — the entire process might actually be automated: an automated search for Web sites with high page ranks, followed by an automated request for a reciprocal link. And who knows — maybe an automated reply!

Why I won't do it
I hope the reader is getting my drift. This reciprocal link-by-request business is in most cases just a way to create a false impression, to cheat the system, at a time when more and more people, instead of engaging in honest promotions of worthwhile products and services, are cheating and lying to get ahead.

This Web site has been around for quite a long time. I created the first few pages when there was virtually no Web commerce. I didn't set out to make a business out of the Internet, and that is still true. I originally created this Web site to share ideas and programs, at a time when sites like this were more common.

Because I am not a business, I can afford to be honest with people. I recently received an inquiry from someone using my free finance program PLCash. He wanted to know if there were any other similar programs that ran on Linux, programs he could install so he wouldn't be completely dependent on my program. His concern is legitimate — if he abandoned Windows entirely (and therefore gave up Quicken), he would be utterly dependent on a single program from a single vendor, not a wise thing to do with one'e valuable financial records.

In my reply, I explained that he probably should keep Quicken running, maybe by setting up a dual boot Windows/Linux system, in order not to have to rely entirely on my program. In essence I agreed completely with his position. I offered that advice even though I think Windows is a cancer on the world, which is a perfectly legitimate position to take while standing on a soapbox, but in this real-world case it would mean someone would have no backup strategy if something went wrong with my program.

My point? Businesses don't work this way. Only people, humans, can afford this sort of candor.

For a counterexample, this past week I got a request for a reciprocal link from someone with one of the lowest Internet scams I had ever seen (not that there is any shortage of candidates). He had taken the rendering engine at the heart of Internet Explorer (Trident), added a few gimmicks to it, and was trying to sell it as though it was a different browser. Even better, to try to sell his program this person listed Internet Explorer's defects — even though his program is, in essence, Explorer.

Yes, this was a painful sound emanating from the bottom of the pickle barrel, the marketing equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. And on top of all that, this person was hopelessly illiterate, one of my pet peeves. His e-mails, and his Web site, committed repeated and unspeakable atrocities to English prose.

And — you guessed it — he wanted me to swap links, on the ground (he said) that our sites were so much alike. Hmm. I guess when you spend your entire life lying, you eventually forget how transparent you sound. I performed a Web search and discovered he had been given, and had ignored, plenty of good advice on how to run an Internet business. He ignored my advice too.

All ranting aside, even if I received a request with all the common English words spelled correctly (while writing this I received another request for a link swap in which the writer couldn't even spell "swap"), and even if the request emanated from some saintly, progressive cause, I still wouldn't agree to it, because it is basically dishonest — in most cases it represents two people colluding together to create a false impression.

None of this is meant to suggest that I have no links to other sites — I have plenty. I create links when I want to refer to something elsewhere on the Web, either for further reading, or perhaps to expose something (and plenty of people link to my site, just because they want to, with no expectations). When I make a link, it is for exposition, not exploitation. I'm not motivated to swap links to promote my business, because I don't have a business, I have a life.

I only create links if I decide a Web site is relevant to what I am presenting. There is no other possibility. So ... don't ask for a link. If your Web site is interesting enough, I will find it on my own.

99% of reciprocal links are just a new version of lying, this time in collusion with someone else. There's already enough lying going on.


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