June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT5

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Two Simple Steps to Improve Your Web Site and Your Search Engine Ranking at the Same Time

Extension Web sites are not as visible to search engines as they could be. In fact, many are nearly invisible. The search engine optimization technique described in this article, reciprocal linking, can help provide Extension Web sites with increased visibility in the search engines. As a result, millions of searchers will have improved access to Extension's information and services.

Dave Palmer
District Instructional Media Agent
Florida Cooperative Extension
South Central Extension District

Many Extension agents add outbound links to their Web sites. They add links they've found relevant and useful, and links they believe will be helpful to their audience. That's the first step. But the addition of one more step will improve the ranking of your site in the eyes of the search engines.

Ask for a Link

When you add a useful outbound link to your Web site, e-mail the party you're linking to, explain that you found their information very useful and that you believe that it will also be useful to your visitors. Tell them that because the topics are similar, their visitors might find your Web site useful as well, and ask for a link back to a relevant page on your Web site--not the home page. From the search engine's point of view (SEPOV), inbound links from other sites are critical to prove that your site is relevant and useful to others and should therefore be higher in the rankings. This process is called "exchanging links" or "reciprocal linking."

In a sense, search engines see inbound links as "votes" for a Web site from other Web sites. In past years it was mostly a numbers game. The more inbound links you had, the more important the site was in the SEPOV. The search engines, however, have gotten more sophisticated. They now discount inbound links that are not related in some way to the topic of the page the link points to. For example, if your Web site is about food safety and a mortgage company links to you, the search engines don't give you much credit for that link.

On the other hand, if the county health department links to your food safety site, you'll get a boost from the search engines because the inbound link is from a topically relevant Web site. You might also see some extra traffic from that link.

That's the benefit of not only adding outbound links to your Web site, but also asking others to link back to you, especially those who have a related Web site.

The term "networking" can be defined as one's ability to make contact with others to promote the interests and benefits of all parties. It's the way business has been done for thousands of years. The process of exchanging links can be thought of as a digital version of networking. The benefits are mutual.

Avoid Confusion

To avoid confusion when requesting a link, think ahead. Spell out the information you'd like them to use and show them what the preferred result would look like. For example:

URL: http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/CommHort/TropicalFruit.shtml

Title: Tropical Fruit Articles by Gene Joyner (This is the text you want in the link. Make it descriptive and useful to your audience. Use keywords. Never use "Click Here.")

Description: A wide variety of tropical fruit articles by long-time Palm Beach Extension agent Gene Joyner. Several of the fruits are well known, but many are relatively unknown. (Use descriptive text to explain what the audience will find if they click on the link. It helps the search engines as well as the audience understand where the link leads.)

Tropical Fruit Articles by Gene Joyner
A wide variety of tropical fruit articles by long-time Palm Beach Extension agent Gene Joyner. Several of the fruits are well known, but many are relatively unknown.


Exchanging links is one of many techniques known collectively as "search engine optimization." Private industry understands the value of optimizing pages and sites to attract clientele searching for their products and services. Extension needs to embrace these techniques to help increase the visibility of our Web sites and to remain relevant to our potential online audiences.