Optimizing Reciprocal Links: A Synthesis

Real Estate Agent with Century 21 Smith & Associates
We should all be agreed that links with link partners have value, albeit not as much value as some believe. Getting them is worthwhile, but they rank significantly lower than links within content, which even the more valuable links from published posts to blogs and online zines do not provide.

The problem with reciprocal link exchanges is that everybody we compete with does it. Most of the sites with which we compete are not likely to be bumped from their position in the search engine rankings (realtor.com, yourlocalnewsconglomerate.com, trulia.com and a few others), and the other real estate agency sites have professional SEO people managing their site promo and thousands of inbound links from link partners. Some also have inbound links from yourlocalnewsconglomerate.com, because they made the news.

Part of the reason for the rank of sites like realtor.com and trulia.com are due to the content grabbed by and links from the agency sites on pages not disallowed by the robots.txt or a robots meta tag. In doing so, they shaved room off of the top of the first page of the search engine hits for everyone.

A little strategy I developed can help overcome the drawbacks inherent in getting more inbound links than the competition and the difficulty we may have getting links to our sites from top rated blog and zine posts. I developed it when I noticed that top ranked pages within academia had only one kind of inbound link, other than the links within the professor's own pages. They were links from within the content of pages maintained by other academics who pointed their students and the public to contextual content, often with commentary. The strategy employs this aspect, and is outside the conventional reciprocal link box. I'll add that it requires a bit more work, because it cannot effectively be automated, like a link exchange--but it is a link exchange. It also requires that teh partners be capable of editing their won site and the "optimized" link pages. That's where the similarity ends though:

Optimizing Your Link Exchange

One important aspect of this strategy is that the link pages not look like link pages to the googlebot and others. As simple as this is, almost no one seems to understand this. The search engine bots recognize links on link pages as links on link pages, because of the structure of most (all?) link pages, and the link does not score as highly as a link from a content page. To make a link page look like a content page in the algorithms:
  • The page name and title need to be something other that "links" or "resources"
  • It needs keyword and description meta tags
  • And the links need to be structured like content, ie:
Mike Homeseller's Web site, <a href="URL1">REALTORsite</a>, offers access to the<a href="URL2">MLS listings</a> throughout Home City and the US.

In the example above, URL1 would point to the link partner's default URL, and URL2 would point to the URL of the page on his site where you will find his MLS access.

The next important part of this strategy is to create your "special" links pages in addition to your current page for link partners. One such page might be mls_access.html, where you would list those link partners who cooperate with you in implementing this strategy. On this page, you would dedicate an entire paragraph or two to describing the content of each link partner's site--with links to authoritative sites related contextually to the content being addressed on that page. Ideally, your link partner should provide this for you, and you should likewise provide a content rich description of your site for the partner. In example, the listing for Mike Homeseller's site might look like:

Mike Homeseller's Web site <a href="URL1">REALTORsite</a> offers access to the<a href="URL2">MLS listings</a> throughout Home City and the US. He is able to provide this access through his membership in the <a href="URL3">Hometown Board of REALTORS</a> and the <a href="URL4">Multiple Listing Service</a>. Mike is a real estate agent with <a href="URL5">His Brokerage Name</a>, and serves (the locations he serves).

In the preceding example, we used the top keyword phrase for MLS searches, "MLS listings," and text linked it to Mike's MLS search page. We also pointed to two highly ranked authorities and his broker's site, which are contextually related to the keyword phrase, but otherwise unrelated to Mike's site. Other good key words are "real estate agent" and "Multiple Listing Service." The search engine algorithms will read this as content--and that one link to Mike's site will be worth several times more than a reciprocal link. Moreover, as the number of such links increase, my observations indicate that their value has a tendency to compound algebraically. As the link page itself gains in rank, so too does the value of the link and so on.

And the link page will itself gain rank for two reasons: Your site gains rank through the partnership, and the page actually earns points through the one-way links included with each listing.

The menu (index) page where you would have the links to the various pages linking to your partners, could be named: re-pros.html, references.html, referrals.html and you and each of your partners should choose a different name. The various pages for the listings should be named differently to the extent possible, but would include: mls_access.html (for addressing the site's MLS access), realtor_services.html (for info about the brokerage/agent), closing_costs.html (for pages related to info about closing costs), loan_qualification.html (for pages related to loan qualification/calculators), listings.html (for the featured listings pages), area_info.html (for the area info pages).

The link to the main menu page can be on the default index page or within the are info page on your site, or both. Additionally, you should use "deep links" within the content of pages on your site related to the various links pages. Each of these pages must also employ all the SEO features that make content pages shine:
  • Good <title> tags--In example: <title>Quality Sites With MLS Listings Pages</title>
  • A <description> tag that compliments the title--In example: Reviews of quality sites with MLS listings pages.
  • A <keyword> tag with relevant keywords--In example: MLS Listings, homes for sale, National Association of Realtors, MLS, free MLS search. The menu (index) page would need to use each set of keywords for each for the various links pages.
  • Well developed content (as described above).
Each of the various link partners should also provide significantly different input for each of their partners to avoid looking like a link farm. The search engine algorithms ID link farms by comparing content of each site to those to which it links.

As a suggestion for ways to provide significantly different input to avoid the appearance of a link farm, you could:
  • Write a half dozen 2-3 sentence-long descriptions for your site and each page for which you want visitors.
  • Change a few words within each description you have written.
  • Change the order of the sentences in each paragraph.
  • Change the order of the paragraphs.
  • Write a half dozen 2-3 sentence-long descriptions for your "special" links page(s).
  • Find several highly rated sites with content related to the context for the descriptive matter, and include links to a different one of them within the various different descriptions you are able to write by combining the above to create differentiable "content" for the "special" links pages.
Finally, it may be best to avoid having visitors to your site visit your "special" links pages to the extent possible. The links to them will be in your content pages, so some visits are inevitable. You can however keep visitors who find them in the hits of a Google (etc.) search from going directly to them--and they will find them, because these pages will actually be ranked as content pages.

The problem with having visitors go to these pages is that it will confuse them. Most visitors would likely go to these pages expecting to find information that they will not find, and these pages are intended primarily for the search engines. The pages should not be ordered or arranged by any scheme, and it will be a hodge-podge of references to single features of your partners' pages.

To prevent most visitors from opening the links pages through a search engine, Insert the following JavaScript into the <head> section of your "special" links pages:

<SCRIPT LANGUAGE='javascript'>try { if (top == self) {top.location.href='defaultindex.htm'; } } catch(er) { } </SCRIPT>

You can change the href to either your default index page or your 404 page, or create a special page just for search engine hits. I use a page especially created for this that explains why the link did not open the page they requested--I use frames with little context for the pages alone, and use a force frames action. The consequence for me would be that my default index page would open without the expected content. I also use a 30 second delay to redirect anyone hitting my special page, and a link on the page to open my default index page.

This strategy also needs some ground rules:
  • Most importantly, each  partner will need to include all of the above aspects, and pledge to participate fully.
  • Each partner will need to solicit other participants.
  • Each partner must agree to cooperate with new participants who are relevant to the partnership.
  • Good, open communication needs to be established and maintained by each partner.
Now, all you need to do is to create content pages with rich text-link content throughout your site to be sure that they also show up in the search hits. You need it for your overall SEO strategy, because getting your "link partners" to cooperate in this strategy will be like pushing your car up a 15% grade. If you want it badly enough, it's worth the effort to get enough help to push it over the top though.

Anyone out there in the real estate biz? Contact me, and let's get some reciprocal links pointing to one another.


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