Linking does in fact boost your site’s popularity, but keep in mind it is only a small part of the equasion when it comes to determining who ranks where in the search engines.
What is Link Popularity?
I will start out by explaining a little about what link popularity is. Not to be confused with Google Page Rank, link popularity is determined by not only the number of links on the web that are pointing to your site, it also takes into account the quality of those links.
I will give you an example. If you have a site about cats, a link coming from a site selling car parts would probably not be of much benefit to you. However, if you can have sites that are related to your own content link to your site, you’re on the right track. With that in mind, the owner of the cat themed site would benefit from seeking links from people who have sites also about cats or even sites about other household pets.
Google Page Rank is similar to link popularity, but rather than take into consideration the quality of the links, it is simply counting the number of links and the popularity of those sites. In order to increase your Google Page Rank (PR), it helps to have sites with a high PR of their own link to your site.
Why should I care about link popularity?
Link popularity is important because all major search engines take link popularity into account when determining page rankings. For instance, if two sites are tied for number one, it’s quite possible that the site with the higher link popularity will be bumped to the number one spot.
When there are literally hundreds of thousands of websites vying for a spot on page one, everything you can do to increase your popularity is worth doing.
What if I trade links with other sites?
This is called reciprocal linking. You post a link on your site to another website. In return, that website has a link pointing to your site.
There are still mixed opinions out there about whether this is beneficial. Some people believe that trading links (remember link circles?) is useless because one cancels out the other. But others maintain the belief that the search engines are more concerned with the links coming IN to your site than those going OUT.
The best advice I can see is to do what fits the needs of your site. There is certainly no harm in trading links with related sites. It would be especially nice if you can get higher ranking sites to link to you in order to help boost your own rank.
On the other hand, trading links with unrelated sites may do more harm than good. Search engines are looking for good quality content. If they see discrepancies in what it thinks the site is about and the content within the site, they may rank your site lower. That site about cats would not benefit much from trading links with the auto parts store.
So how do I get people to link to me?
The best possible thing you can do for your website is to make it the best website available on your subject. Write quality content. Give your visitors something to look forward to when they visit your site. Keep them interested with relevant topics and regular updates.
As people come across your website and like what they see, they are more likely to link to it or tell their friends about it. Word gets around fast on the web. Give the people something worth talking about!