For the majority of the years that we’ve been on the web (coming up to 20 years), we’ve maintained a links’ directory. It was disappointing, sometimes, to note that those whom we exchanged links with at the dawn of the web no longer link back. We’ve kept our outward links largely the way they were, updating them whenever we’re alerted to a site moving.
However, some people may have been scared off linking by none other than Google, and I can’t blame them. Its policy:
Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.
I also can’t blame Google for having such a policy because, in the last half-decade or so, there have been many automated requests for link exchanges. I remember spending a good part of one Saturday 12 years ago just sending, manually, requests for link exchanges, so I balk at these automated ones. Back in the 1990s, reciprocal linking was de rigueur. If they are penalizing automated link pages, then good for them.
It’s very easy to misinterpret the policy if you’re reading very quickly. Google doesn’t say that linking is bad—after all, its logarithm is in part built on how many people link to your site—but that excessive linking without regard to quality is bad.
My issue is trust: can I trust Google to determine whether the links’ pages we have, which date back to the 1990s, are not of the automated variety? (I couldn’t trust them to determine whether a blog was a splog, and I couldn’t trust them on certain privacy matters, so the Google brand has been tarnished badly in my book.) How many links are considered ‘excessive’, because if you’ve been building a section of your favourite ones, it’s bound to grow? (There’s some site out there called Yahoo! that started this way; maybe Google has heard of it.) Is a link exchange ‘scheme’ one of those automated ones that I, too, hate, or is a weekend of ﬁnding compatible sites and requesting link exchanges considered bad? I’ve certainly built ‘partner pages’, long before there was such a thing as Google, with the links hand-selected for relevance.
Of course, Google provides a solution to all of this: if you want to link to someone, join ‘the buzzing blogger community’. Call me cynical, but I wonder why it’s used the word blogger, even though it’s lowercase, and not blog or blogging. Sometimes, I just want to put up a link with a one-sentence description—and a blog post is not the way to go for that, with a massive headline and a bit too much spectacle.
Like many things at Google, where the lines lie are shrouded in a bit of mystery. On transparency, it does well on some matters, but others—where it can be scammed—it plays its cards close to its chest. Speaking for myself, I like links’ pages—at least the ones that are manually done, endorsing sites where you’ve had a good relationship or dialogue with their webmasters. Dialogue is a good thing. And sometimes you get this dialogue from companies that are very unrelated to your own and you want to give them props.
It’d be a pity if some links’ pages had a negative effect on their parent sites, just because the Googlebot has made yet another random, wrongful decision that can’t be appealed. But I’m not about to give up our links’ pages—we’ve put sweat into those and we still want to endorse so many of those people.