No Site is an Island
First, before I discuss the most overlooked source of cheap web site advertising and a legitimate way to boost your site's position in the search engines, let's get some terminology out of the way.
If I place a link on my site and clicking on this link will bring a web site visitor to someone else's site, my site is linking to their site. I am making the connection as if I were placing a call to them. Conversely, their site can be said to have a link from my site. Following our previous analogy, they are receiving a call from me.
Similarly, if the other site contains a link which a web site visitor can click to bring them to my site, then the other site is linking to my site. I have a link from their site. This may seem a bit trivial or mundane, but it will become profoundly important to those of you who haven't discovered the wonderful world of reciprocal linking.
In the above example, my web site linked to another site. That other site's owner reciprocated by linking back to mine. Their web site visitors can become my web site visitors and vise versa. This is a good thing. What is even better, however, is that most web site owners work on a tight budget and are more than willing to exchange links for free.
So how do you get involved in such an exchange? Well, the first thing you have to do is ask, and this why we started with an English lesson. After all, how can you ask a web site owner to participate in a reciprocal linking venture if you don't know how to phrase the question?
In addition to asking in the first place, and using the right terminology when asking the question, you will want to know who to ask. Now, professional web site developers or marketers can certainly help you in this regard, point you in the right direction, but you know your business and industry better than a web designer or marketer. Besides, you're on a tight budget, right?
So, look for web sites that compliment your own. Start with the web sites of local companies who you already refer customers to or who already refer customers to you. After all, a reciprocal link is just like a real world referral: you are endorsing another company. So, start with the companies that you already recommend. In addition to getting into the practice of asking for links, you will be cementing real world relationships.
The next question, of course, is what should you say. First, ensure that the organization or company has a web site. Review their web site to familiarize yourself with it. Find a spot on the site where you think they could put a link to your site. Keep in mind where you intend to link to them. If you are going to place a link to their company on a special page called "My Favorite Sites," it wouldn't be reasonable to ask the other web site owner to place a link to your company predominant on at the top of their home page. That simply would not be fair.
So, you're initial correspondence might read something like:
Hi, I just visited your site, Widgets 'R Us, and I think your widget sales site compliments my widget restoration company nicely. I noticed you have a page which links to related sites. If you would consider linking to my site, WidgetRestoration.com, from this page, I would gladly link to your site in return. The link to your web site would appear on the page of my site called "My Favorite Sites."
Say it all goes well, and you've got 4 or 5 web sites linking to yours in a matter of weeks or months. Will thousands of potential customers click these links to be whisked away to your site? Well, they might, but it is doubtful. What is more likely is that your site will receive a small trickle of web site visitors from each of these reciprocal linking ventures. Though the direct cumulative effect will boost traffic to your site, it's not going make you rich.
So what makes reciprocal linking so great? After all, it sounds like a lot of work for little pay off. Well, it has to do with the search engines. The basic premise behind many modern search engines is that they judge your site by how many other sites link to yours. The theory is that if your site has valuable content, more sites will link to your site. The more sites linking to your site, the better your site must be so the higher up in the search results it will appear.
So, in addition to establishing your site as part of a community of sites and receiving valuable referrals from other companies online, you will also be giving your site a legitimate boost in the search engines. If you are willing to do the work yourself (or delegate it to an employee) you can accomplish this all without contracting with third party web developers or marketing companies. This, combined with the fact that most of reciprocal links are done on a trade basis, makes this an extremely cheap means of advertising your site.