“Do you think this is a good idea?” he asked me.

My father-in-law, GS, had received a request from a website that wished to link to his. And he wanted my advice.

The website looked good. It was similar to his business. And it had a reasonably good Google ranking already. So linking would be contextually relevant. And it could be beneficial to both sites’ search engine rankings.

But there’s a caveat I’ll get to in a minute. It’s something very few online businesses consider.

First… let me explain why you would want to link to another site, possibly a competitor.

The World Wide Web is founded on the principle of hyperlinking to other relevant and useful resources. If you are writing an article on whitewater rafting in China, for example, it is helpful to your reader if you provide links to related websites. These could be sites that track water levels, offer translators, or list local businesses where you may rent kayaks and canoes. You get the idea.

Some years back, Google, then other search engines, came up with the idea that the number of websites linking to yours should play a role in determining which websites or Web pages should be deemed “important.”

They factored this in their ranking algorithms to help decide which ones should appear at the top of search results on any given term. Sites with more sites linking to them would appear to be of greater import. So they should rank higher.

More incoming links to your website is, generally speaking, a good thing. So you will occasionally receive requests to link to other websites. These could be reciprocal links in which the other websites link back to yours. Done correctly, this can have a positive impact on your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

For some years now, websites have linked to each other and, as a result, have enjoyed some modicum of improved visibility from the search engines. So why did I suggest to my father-in-law that he not accept that linking request?

Credibility.

“Do you know this company or their website?” I inquired.

“No, I’ve never heard of them before.”

The concern I had was that although the company in question looked credible enough, what would GS do if one of his customers, referred by a link from his website, started doing business with that company and, somewhere down the line, had problems? Ultimately, it would reflect badly on him.

This is a common occurrence in business and in life. I don’t like to recommend a restaurant, for example, unless I’ve eaten there a few times. Quality can be so variable.

And I’ve seen many instances of customers of Business A getting irked because they heard a speaker from Business B at Business A’s conference and started doing business with Business B. But then they found them wanting in some way.

So, although there would have been some SEO benefit to the interlinking, I told GS to wait until he knew more about the other business. It would even better if someone he trusted had done business with them.

This may seem overly cautious on my part. But reputation in business can take a long time to develop but only moments to shatter.

Consider this a guideline for when you are asked, or plan, to link to another site.

You should also take a critical look at the businesses you link to now. You may have felt that any link is a good link — but as you now know, this is not true.

How do you weed out the bad from the good? Do your due diligence:

1. What do you know about the business you are linking to? Check out their site and what they sell.

2. Would you do business with them or refer your customers to them? Would you refer your family to them?

3. Are there any negative reports about their products or services online? Do they advertise products on their website that conflict with what you offer?

4. Is their website already in Google, Yahoo, and Bing? If not, you may be dealing with a very new website (in which case the benefit to them would be much greater than the benefit to you) or a website that’s been barred for any number of reasons (which could be a major detriment to you).

5. What is the “page rank” of your website and of the website that you are linking to? In general, you should not link to a Web page that has a lower page rank than the page you are linking from.

6. Is there a natural business fit between your two websites? If you sell trout fishing guides and they sell cake decorating supplies, that is bad link. But if they offer fishing tours or fly fishing gear, it could be a good link.

7. Finally, is a reciprocal link available, preferably from the site’s home page? (The home page is normally the one with the highest page rank.)

Linking for SEO can work well, as long as you follow these simple guidelines… and use good judgment.

[Ed. Note: Search engine optimization techniques are just a few of the strategies and skills 75 Early to Risers are learning right now at our 5 Days in July Internet Business Building Conference. With help from the Early to Rise team and a dozen of the top online marketers working today, each one of them will leave the conference with a fully functioning online business.

If you couldn’t make it to the conference… you’re in luck. We’re putting every minute of it on DVD, so you can go through all the sessions at your convenience. This “home study” program costs 90 percent less than what conference attendees paid to be here.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies.
David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen!
He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.