My friend Al is a new blogger. He's received his first requests for link exchanges and would like to know what I think of this practice. For non-bloggers: a link exchange is an agreement that says I'll put a link to your blog on my blog if you link to my blog from your blog.
The sites which have solicited Al do not particularly impress him; but they do have fairly high link ratings. That means that, if they point to his blog, he will gain Google juice and Technorati rank and possibly readers. All he has to do is point to them in exchange.
Should he agree to the proposed exchanges? If you're a blogger, you've probably already faced this question.
Links ARE important. I said that in the first post in this series and also described here how the math of a group of cooperating blogs gives the whole group a competitive advantage compared to blogs not in the group – an advantage that can be significant out in the attention-starved desert of the long tail. So should you or Al do link exchanges?
I don't do link exchanges because I want my readers to find that my links are relevant to them. I also don't because I want the blogs that I do link to know that I value them – but can't deny that I hope that they'll find that the value is mutual and that their readers may appreciate my posts and link to me when appropriate. So you might say that I do actually tacitly do link exchanges. I don't insist on a quid pro quo; I don't link to content which isn't either relevant to the current post or likely to be of general interest to my readers.
Readers who come through random links won't become regular readers; they have no reason to. Fractal of Change is eclectic (not a great way to build circulation – focus is better) so sometimes an automobile blog or a company blog or an environmental blog'll point to a single post of interest to their readers. FOC can get a flurry of hits this way and I'm glad for the chance to sound off on whatever the subject is to these people outside my regular reader group. But FOC doesn't get many return visits from these random hits – not enough here to interest them. On the other hand, if a VC blog or nerd blog or even an energy blog points here, some of the new readers become regulars because there's enough content relevant to them to keep them.
Assuming you want regular readers and not just more hits (which may not be true), then link exchanges aren't likely to get you there because they somewhat devalue your content. On the other hand, link exchanges with blogs much more linked to than yours WILL get you a higher Google rank for the subjects you write about than if you didn't have those links so you do pay a price for being a purist (nb. rumor has it that Google bots know how to devalue references from blogs which would otherwise gain authority from link exchanges but I haven't heard this directly from any bot's output device).
What IS a good strategy is to engage in a blog to blog dialog including comments on each other's posts with a group of blogs which cover the same subject matter as your blog – better if you're all NOT always in agreement; better if the links to each other have more substance than "Joe just posted something great"; but links which get each other readers AND give readers value by advancing a discussion are the best kind.
BTW, linking to new blogs which catch your interest is a social obligation of existing blogs,