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Say, you found a website owner who wanted to exchange links, to help one another with traffic exchange, and perhaps a boost in the search engines.
You and the evil webmaster even had sites that complemented one another, by sharing similar, but not competing themes and topics.
It looked like a great arrangement for everyone involved. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Your link trading partner didn't play fair. Their site's alleged return link was worthless at best, and perhaps was even doing you real harm in the search engines, at worst.
When you checked for the link back to his site, you couldn't find it on the evil webmaster's link exchange page. It wasn't anywhere to be found. You checked the page, and discovered the link was hidden. The page didn't display the link at all, as it was turned into hidden text.
No wonder, you thought, that you weren't getting any traffic from that site. How could you? No one could ever find your supposed link. It was invisible.
The link trading partner was eventually banned from Google, for many other uses of hidden text on his website. You were assessed a penalty for linking to what Google considered a bad neighborhood.
You were the victim of one of many dirty tricks employed by unscrupulous website owners.
Don't let that happen to you.
Identifying the problem
If you are like most website owners, you want to increase your number of incoming links. The additional links will enhance your rankings in the search engine results pages.
To varying degrees, all incoming links will provide a boost to your Google PageRank. It's quite understandable that webmasters might want to enter into link exchanges with other online business owners.
The problems arise when not everyone is entirely honest in their dealings. Many less than lily white webmasters will use any number of unethical linking techniques to prevent providing you with the promised benefits.
It's best to know the possible underhanded tricks that some unscrupulous website owners will utilize against you, and what you can do to prevent being cheated.
Not all of the techniques mentioned here are evil in and of themselves. In many cases, they are legitimate website building methods. What we are concerned with here is their use in supposedly fair exchanges and agreements with link partners.
By agreeing to be an honest link partner, it's implicit that both parties to the arrangement supply fair and equitable exchange. These questionable techniques cause the agreement to favor one side, either very heavily, or even completely.
Don't concern yourself that I'm providing ideas to unscrupulous webmasters. The dishonest ones already know every single one of these underhanded tactics, plus many more besides. They are getting nothing new, that they won't readily use against you, at the earliest opportunity. What you need to know are the possibilities, so you can avoid the pitfalls.
Whether to avoid sending you traffic, or to ensure no Google PageRank transfer, there are many shady tactics frequently used, by the link partners from somewhere well below Heaven. You need to know a few of the dirty tricks employed by many dishonest link exchange partners.
Forewarned is definitely forearmed.
Some unscrupulous tactics often encountered
One of the most commonly used questionable tactics, is the writing of partner links in java script, rather than the more standard html. There are times when using java script, to possibly prevent PageRank transfer, has a proper and useful role in website architecture. That is not what we are talking about in this case.
The whole idea behind this practice, in the hands of a double dealing website owner, is to prevent the passing along of any Google PageRank. The unscrupulous webmaster is operating on two possibly outdated and counterproductive assumptions. They are a classic example of a little SEO knowledge being a dangerous thing.
First of all, some search engine optimization experts believe search engine spiders are crawling java links. In the second place, Google may even be transferring PageRank along java links. What is important to note here, is the intent. The link partner used a technique, where it was deliberately the goal, to not pass along PageRank so as not provide equitable exchange.
A similar tactic to java script links is to reroute your link to prevent spidering and transfer of PageRank. What is especially bad about this practice is the link often is coded so it appears to be a standard link. Watch for reroutes, and avoid link partners who use them.
Some dishonest webmasters don't mind the transfer of PageRank. Their main concern is sending traffic away from their site via outbound links. This is even more true if the link goes to a competitor's site, or perhaps to a complementary business, that may also contain competitor's links.
To avoid having a visitor click of an outgoing link, the link doesn't appear visually on the page. It's hidden or cloaked. The search engines can read it, but no visitor traffic will find it. As with all hidden text, highlight the entire page with Ctrl-A. If your link is cloaked by hidden text, it will show up with that keyboard command.
Occasionally, you will find a not quite above board linking partner will code the robots.txt for the page to No Follow. With that command, the search engine spiders will not crawl the page.
If that non-indexed page is where your link resides, it will never appear in the search engines. The page will never be spidered. You will not only not get PageRank transfer, you will not get any incoming link popularity benefit either.
A variation of the robots.txt theme is to place your link on a frames web page, that doesn't have coding requesting the search engine spiders to crawl and index the page. Once again, your link provides less than the agreed upon value. You should, in both cases, receive some visitor traffic from the link, however.
Another trick to watch for is the non-linked orphan link page. Often, an underhanded link partner will dutifully place your link on the alleged links page, as agreed. There is only one problem. The link page can't be reached from anywhere inside the website. The supposed link page is not part of the site map.
The page is also usually a challenge, of epic proportions, to locate in any of the directories or sub-directories. Because the page is an island on the internet, it will have next to no value as an incoming link, either for traffic or for link popularity.
There are a few basic tricks that most people can readily spot with minimal difficulty. One of the most common is simply never receiving the return link as promised. The linking partner never puts it up at all. The hope on their part is that you won't ever check. They usually know from experience that many link partners don't look for their link.
Often, the one sided link partner will indeed place your link on their page. Of course, your link disappears from the page after about a month. Your link get deleted. As with the case of never being linked, the disappearing link artists depend on you never checking your link partner pages.
When your site has thousands of incoming links, you are especially vulnerable to having your links vanish, or never appearing in the first place.
Protecting yourself for all occasions
Avoiding the traps and pitfalls, that await the unwary linker, is an essential requirement of any careful website owner. While the overwhelming majority of your link partners will be entirely honest, and any problems with your links will be unintentional, there are many people on the internet completely lacking in scruples.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid future problems for yourself and your online business.
While it would appear to be common sense, many website owners are so excited and anxious to find a possible linking partner, they throw normal caution to the wind. You simply don't accept every offer of links that come along. In fact, you may be better off to seek out link exchange partners on your own.
Remember, many of these sites are going to be tacitly recommended by you, as their links will be found on your site. Check them out first. Link later. Don't be associated with web pages of unscrupulous and dishonest people. Your own business reputation is at stake.
Go to their sites. Examine their link pages. Check the Google PageRank. If it shows a PageRank 0, check out the possibilities for that level. If the Google toolbar shows grey instead of the usual green and white, the page has either not been indexed as a new page; or it's under a Google penalty. If the page is orphaned, or is coded to not be crawled by spiders, you don't want to have anything to do with that site. You will gain no benefits in either traffic or link popularity.
In fact, Google could even have them under a penalty for cloaked pages and hidden text, or similar violation of Google's guidelines. Hit Ctrl-A and highlight the entire page, checking for the possibility of hidden text. That is page content that only the search engine spiders are supposed to read. It's supposed to be invisible to the human visitor. Highlighting the page makes all that hidden text appear before your very eyes.
Look over the links on the page. Are they theme and topic related to you site. Properly themed pages carry much more link value than non-themed pages. The emphasis in the search engines is on relevance to the search topic at hand. Related sites and blogs are given much higher rankings as a result of that topic and theme similarity.
In fact, you could even be looking at a situation, where you provide the link from a well themed high PageRank web page, to one where there is little value to be passed along. That is not really a helpful trade to you.
You may find a partner who wants certain anchor text (the wording that appears on the clickable link line), but isn't interested in using yours. Ignore those partners too. They don't offer fair exchanges. To enhance your chances of receiving strong anchor text, simply provide the already written coding, complete with keyword phrased link text. That action usually solves the problem either way.
Finally, if a potential link partner doesn't provide value to your own site's visitors, it's not a site you want to work with anyway. Those sites provide neither you nor your visitors with any value. Avoid them.
Don't simply link for the search engine benefits. That is a very short sighted approach to online business. Think of providing value for your visitors first and foremost, in the form of useful and informative content, and you won't go too far wrong.