Competition Makes Strange Linkfellows

Article submitted by Erik M. Cunningham - May 2, 2006

Okay, "linkfellows" isn't a real word but authors take strange liberties. For the purposes of this article, "linkfellows" refers to reciprocal link partners.

One of the first things I was taught as an aspiring link building professional was to seek reciprocal links from websites that had similar content but were NOT in direct competition with my clients' sites. The philosophy behind this practice was that linking to the competition would allow them to keep pace with my clients' marketing progress or even surpass their efforts.

I adopted this philosophy for a couple of years, until experience and common sense led me to understand that trading links with competitors is a very GOOD thing. Let me first explain my change in thought pattern in virtual terms and follow up with a more physical approach. We'll start with search engine query results.

Run with the Pack

It is generally accepted that search engines, YES, "like Google", order their Internet search results by calculating websites' relationship to particular keywords based upon text content and to varying degrees, the number and relevancy of incoming and outgoing links.

Let's assume for the sake of argument, that the value of your site's text content and your competitors' is equal in the eyes of your favorite search engine's ranking algorithm. This leaves us with a numbers and relevancy game.

In our scenario, your site shows up in the 7th position among your competitors' sites in the search engine's top 10. One of your competitors, in 6th position, will not exchange links with any competitors' sites because he believes it's a bad business move. He's sat in that position for a long time with links from marginally related or unrelated websites and he feels secure where he is.

You, being the search engine marketing guru you are, take advantage of your current placement and convince your competitors in positions 8, 16, and 41 to exchange links with you. Lo and behold, your favorite search engine rewards your relevancy to other sites in your industry and your three new inbound links and pushes you and your number 8 competitor into 6th and 7th positions. Meanwhile, your old number 6 competitor gets bumped down the list.

In this common scenario, you and your linkfellows improved your placements while the site that refused to link to the competition was left behind. And what did you lose by helping your number 8, 16 and 41 competitors make gains? Nothing. Even if you were leapfrogged by your number 8 partner, you still improved your position.

Distance Makes the Exchange Grow Fonder

Now, for the physical approach to my understanding. Although many companies with websites offer Internet services or mail order products, there are thousands that rely on locality. If your business is based upon physical location, you have even more reasons to link to your Internet competitors.

As illustrated in the scenario above, linking to the competition will improve your position in search engine results because of the strong relevancy of your content. If your business involves a local industry like window tinting or plumbing, you should have no qualms about exchanging links with another tinting or plumbing business across the country. You might even find that your Internet partnership leads to other business opportunities through industry leads and joint ventures.


Making linkfellows of your online competitors is a good thing. In fact, if you don't partner with other sites in your industry, you may be left behind.