I get an average of 2 to 5 link exchange requests per day. I used to answer all of them, even those that I declined… I either accepted them, or I offered an explanation for declining.
Usually, if a link to my site had already been added, unless the page where it was added was completely unrelated to my site or was not indexed by Google, I reciprocated with a link back.
I generally did this even if the page with my link on it had a Google PR lower than the page where they asked me to link back from. My only requirements were that the page be indexed by Google and somewhat related to my site.
The above is what I have been doing for years.
However, one day I decided to check if the links incoming to my sites were still live. Big surprise when I found that close to 40% of the links were gone from the pages where they were originally placed, or the actual pages were gone all together.
I contacted those link exchange partners asking for an explanation, but only about 5% of them responded and re-instated my link. The other 95% didn’t even bother responding.
This is when I decided to start tracking my incoming links to make sure that when a link was removed, I knew about it, so I could contact the webmaster right away to find out why the link was removed and to ask for it to be re-instated.
Now I had a tracking system which was good, but I also wanted to find out why so many links had been removed. I wondered if there was something fishy about it. I know that webpages can get deleted or moved and sites get shot down, but could it be that some webmasters had deleted the links deliberately and hoped that I would not find out? Well, I was not able to find any evidence of this, so for now it remains just a suspicion.
But I did find out something very surprising, even disturbing. I found that some of the requests, those offering 3-way link exchange partnerships stating that they had already added my link were scams. Yes, I could see that there was a link to my site, but my records showed that I had already provided a link back in exchange for that link in a previous partnership.
This to me was evidence that the website was either not owned by the webmaster offering the partnership, or he/she had already exchanged links with me, but was contacting me again using an alias name and a different email address hoping to gain a free link. Or perhaps it is both and in the case of the first (website not owned by the webmaster) they look for existing links and then contact the unsuspecting webmaster proposing a three way linking partnership.
I had undeniable proof of the latter when I received a few 3-way link exchange requests asking me to place a link on one of my sites and offering me a link back FROM ANOTHER ONE OF MY SITES. Yes, this is hard to believe, but it is true. This proved to me what I was already suspecting. Some (if not all) of these 3-way link exchange requests are definitely SCAMS.
Needless to say, I have stopped responding to these requests. I know that perhaps in the process, I am ignoring some legitimate requests, but unfortunately this is how it is in the real world. Often the innocent pays for the guilty.
The good news is that all of these requests look very similar, so it is not hard to spot them.
I am pasting here one of those emails as an example. I have removed the URLs and the email addresses, but the layout and the overall wording (with minor variations) are common to all of them.
They all start with “Greetings” or “How are you?” or “Hello there!” or some other generic greeting.
My name is Mr. Smith. I handle link exchanges for a network of web sites. I am sending you this email because your website indicates that this address deals with requests of this type.
Here is my linking information: URL: http://www.xxxxxxxxxxx.com
Anchor: Some Text
Description: Some Description.
Your link is listed as:
Title: My Site’s Title
Description: My Site Description
I have already posted a link to your site, which can be found here: http://www.xxxxxxxxx.com
Please let me know where you will be adding a link back to my site. For the exchange to benefit both of us, please make sure my link is placed on a page that is cached by Google.
Thanks so much for your time, and I hope to hear from you!
PLEASE NOTE this email was sent to you because your website indicates that this address deals with requests of this type. If you believe you have received this email in error or you do not want to receive link exchange requests from any sites within our network, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and your address will be removed within 2 business days.
So now you know… The next time you receive one of these emails, either trash it or if you think that it might be legitimate contact the sender and ask him/her to make a small change to the link that they claim to have added. If they don’t make the change it means that they don’t own the site.