As an e-commerce business person, you know that the similarities between your online store and a brick-and-mortar shop are, perhaps, even greater than the differences. In both cases, success is defined by selling a sufficient number of products at a high enough margin to cover your operating expenses and return a profit. Likewise, growth -- whether online or on Main Street -- depends on increasing your sales volume and customer count. Which makes generating site traffic -- particularly attracting new (sometimes called "unique") visitors -- a major marketing objective. Search-engine optimization is, obviously, one way to increase site traffic. But SEO is more an art than a science. And, as is often the case with art, search-engine optimization beauty is totally in the eye of the beholder. When the beholder is a search engine algorithm like Googlebot, which examines more than 200 facets of every "painting" before rendering its critique, the results can be, and very frequently are, random and unpredictable. Such other common protocols for generating traffic as Pay Per Click campaigns, display ads and banners, and paid directory listings can be useful, but dramatically raise customer acquisition costs by charging you for clicks and ads whether they result in sales or not. Never forget that excessive customer acquisition costs -- i.e. spending a dollar for each 80 cents of revenue -- are a recipe for disaster. Exchanging links with complimentary relevant websites was the first and is still one of the very best methods for generating traffic -- and even, possibly, improving those all important search engine rankings -- ever devised. The one problem with adding link power to your arsenal of marketing tools is that manually processing link requests, publishing links, and verifying link backs is a tedious, time-consuming chore that may be difficult to squeeze into an already packed 27-hour workday. Professional link-management applications can be very cost-effective tools for reducing the time required to launch and maintain a robust linking program, but there are five things you should know before signing up for one. 1. Not all link management programs play by the rules If you, like many other webmasters, do decide to use a professional link-management application to handle all the necessary grunt work for you, make sure you select one that adheres to major search-engine quality guidelines and web best-practices standards. Most paid link, link-harvesting, link-farming and similar fully automated linking schemes are considered search-engine spam by Google and other search engines because the links they provide are neither organic (i.e. selected and added to a site by a human) nor relevant and frequently originate from "bad-neighborhood" hosts. Never buy into any system that offers to automatically publish links (or anything else) on your website without your approval. 2. Choose a program that is updated regularly Good links often improve search engine ranking because the quality, quantity, relevancy and freshness of a site's incoming and outgoing links are among the most important of the hundreds of items factored into search-engine ranking and return decisions. To maximize the value of your site's link component, select a link-management application that is regularly updated to accommodate changes in search-engine link quality guidelines. 3. Consider your "geekability" rating Some link-management systems require users to be highly skilled in downloading and installing applications, HTML coding, script writing, graphic design, and/or website creation. Others are web based, point-and-click simple, and easily mastered by just about anyone comfortable with using a web browser and e-mail program. The best way to ensure you select a system compatible with your degree of computer literacy is to consider only those applications which offer a generous, unrestricted free trial period. 4. Scalability matters Relevant link exchanges are great ways to brand your site within a specific realm of interest, generate relevant traffic, and add search-engine appeal to a site, but advanced link strategies are even better. The fact that you may not, right now, be interested in -- or have even heard of -- things like content links, deep links, oblique links, blog links, article links, link rotation, Linklets, and link blogs doesn't make those tools any less powerful. Today you may only need a simple, plain-vanilla linking solution, but your needs are likely to change as your site and marketing program grow. Selecting a novice-friendly, intuitive linking program that allows you to add bells and whistles whenever you're ready for them without additional charge is simply good sense. 5. Nine-to-five help desks can be less than helpful Since your website never sleeps and you, like many webmasters, may have to fit site maintenance chores into such odd moments as 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, the quantity, quality and cost of the tech support offered by solution providers can be almost as important as their applications. Three important questions to ask before signing up for any service -- linking or otherwise -- are: -- Is tech support available 24/7/365? -- Is unlimited access to tech support free? -- Is the support center located in the U.S. and staffed by fully trained full-time employees of the service provider? Learning, understanding and deploying new technology -- whether software or hardware -- is invariably less stressful when the technology is backed by a company which answers "yes" to all three questions. For more information on linking and link-management solutions, visit

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