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Meanwhile, bar down road has been thinking same thing as you, he wants to be busiest bar and get extra customers from city. He has hidden or renamed his leaflets, and stopped recommending you, like you stopped recommending him.
That road that used to carry customers between your two bars is now very quiet and no longer buzzing with customers driving up and down to different bars. Eventually, it becomes unused, because customers don't know it exists. (Hidden link sections). You never get customers from your friend, because they too go back to city to ask barman's advice. Your bar is much quieter without his referred customers, and his bar is much quieter without yours.
What can you do? Your bar is not as busy as it used to be, and you still want customers from city. Hey, that's it! Pay barman to promote your bar (Pay-Per-Click or Advertising). Now what happens? The barman sends you a visitor and makes himself some money. When visitor has had a few drinks at your bar, he goes back to barman in city who recommends your friends bar down road. Why? Because your friends bar was empty, so he too paid barman to send customers.
The WEB of back roads is closing down, and being replaced by a network of highways, all leading back to barman who is making lots of money. Who is paying him that money? You, and your friend, who used to share those same customers for free. Meanwhile, customers think only way to find a good bar is to see barman in city. NOT TRUE IS IT? Both your bars are good, and before you had lots of people recommending you, not just barman.
If a child read that story they would probably say how silly it is. This is what linking JUST for rankings produces. The alternative?? Link for traffic first, link only with sites who understand their visitors are leaving at some point anyway, sites who are willing to send their leaving visitors to other sites not straight back to search engines all time.
I am not search engine bashing here, they are excellent and useful resources. However if webmasters are not careful and continue to hide link sections they will give big search engines a monopoly on traffic. Try turning things around. Exchange only quality visible links, that will bring you visitors. If current method of "Guru" thinking is correct, this will automatically increase your popularity and search engine rankings at same time, difference being, you get visitors while your rankings improve not WHEN they have improved.
Just because Google or any other search engine does not consider a site important, it does not mean that site does not have great content, it does not mean that site is not busy, and it does not mean site will not send you visitors.
There are millions of great sites with no PR and millions of great sites who are not on first page of search engine results. The only people who have right to judge a sites importance, and indeed only people who's opinion REALLY matters, are users of your site.
Gary McHugh is co author of HonestLinks.Net , a site dedicated to teaching webmasters to exchange links that bring traffic. He also runs his own web design and hosting company 2001web.com