In my Search Engine Myths Exposed report, as well as in various blog posts I've written in the past, I make the statement that it's much more difficult to get links into your site from other sites in the same general subject area. This is especially true for niche sites like "bonsai trees" or "Florida deep sea fishing" -- any site that has a limited number of similarly themed sites in Google.
Despite making that statement, I've never actually gone into detail regarding why it's so difficult to get links from webmasters who own niche sites related to your own. It's important to understand these reasons, and I think examining them will bring some enlightenment into one of the problems with search engines today.
You see, before the enlightened days where lots of links were the primary factor for ranking a web site, people would link out to each other just because it made sense to do so. There were some competition issues, sure, but it was a rare web site that did not have a "related links" page to help you out in case their own site failed to provide the information you were looking for.
Google changed all that when links started becoming important for ranking. Once links mattered in the ranking of a page, webmasters were much less likely to share links with other sites. You see, before link-based search engine algorithms, linking to someone else didn't help them in their competition against you for ranking in the search engines. Since search engines were then based only on the relevance of the page to the search terms, you could link out to whoever you want and still rank just fine.
When Google came on the scene with their famed PageRank algorithm, a link to somebody else's site in the same niche became a de facto vote against your own site. This caused webmasters to be much stingier, requiring a link back from the other site before they would link out to them. Thus the world of commercial reciprocal linking was born, and it prospered for some years.
Google finally realized that they had to do something about this, and all but shut down a person's ability to rank well with reciprocal links alone. Now Google wants to see "one-way" links (or at least links they think are "one-way"). Webmasters are now even less likely to link to you, because they know a reciprocal link does them no good at all, but what they need are one-way links.
Keep in mind that I'm talking about the webmasters who are familiar with search engine optimization here. That includes a large number of commercial web sites whose business lives or dies on how well they rank. The majority of search terms are dominated by such sites these days.
Are you seeing how things went from bad to worse here? First, it was easy to get links because webmasters naturally linked out to related sites as a courtesy to their visitors. Then things got harder when Google implemented a link-based algorithm, and you could only get links from webmasters who you were willing to link back to reciprocally. Finally, when Google started devaluing reciprocal links, it was like pulling teeth to get other sites to link to you from the same niche, and you often ended up having to pay for those links.
In the past you could send emails to the top 100 sites in your niche requesting that they link to your site because it would be beneficial to their visitors, and if your site had great content the majority would give you a link. Try that today, though, and watch how fast your domain lands on the SPAM lists because those same webmasters report you for "spamming" them with link requests.
So what's a webmaster in need of ranking to do? Get off-theme links!
You see, if you're wanting to rank for "Florida deep sea fishing", you're not in competition with the guy who's trying to rank for "bonsai trees" -- and you both know it. Because of that, there's much less reluctance to link. Compound that with my earlier case studies on how powerful off-theme links are (which was also demonstrated in my Search Engine Myths Exposed report), and you've got a winning combination! Exchange links properly (by using an automated service like 3WayLinks.net) and watch your rankings rise!
Yes, off-theme links work brilliantly to rank you in Google, and they're far easier to acquire. I think, though, that it's a rather sad side effect of link-algorithms that they have create inhibitions about linking to quality sites in the same niche. In the old days people linked to each other just because it made sense to do so, and much of that has been lost in the "links are king" days of Google.
Don't get me wrong, Google has vastly improved the quality and relevance of search results over prior search engines like AltaVista (remember them?), but in doing so, has it caused as much harm as it has good? I mean, search for anything even vaguely commercial in Google and you'll see the top results dominated by sites which have obviously used link manipulation to get to the top.
"Link popularity" is really a myth -- what you see in the search results is the result of strategic manipulation engineered to improve the sites' rank. There's no true "popularity" or "democracy" about it. In order for our businesses to thrive, we have to fight fire with fire and do the same.
I have no problem with automating my link-building to rank my own sites, but wouldn't it be nice if the search engines rewarded quality over SEO know-how?
Please leave your thoughts and comments below.