Ideally links mean more than link popularity. I am not necissarily a moralist or fan of the ethical SEO tag, but I understand some of the fundamental points of marketing. It is good business to be associated with other good businesses.
Have I bought links? Yup. Have I sold links? Yup.
Generally most links do not fall under the buy, sell, or trade category though. Usually they are earned.
When most of your links are greed driven, you are nothing more than a commodity who is working against technology and the forces of nature. When you start linking to things that are good then good things start to link to you.
This morning I wrote a quick article called Keeping Customers, where I attempted to explain that the best way to have customers come back is by sending them away to other good resources.
The web is just a sea of information and the traffic I get is never my traffic to keep.
What I did not realize is that recently Ammon Johns wrote a great little analogy piece called The Real Meaning of Links which describes what I was trying to say a bit better than what I wrote.
(found from Search Engine Roundtable)
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