You may be familiar with automatic link exchange services, however, being a member of several of them I can assure you there are some shady webmasters out there who do not reciprocate after they have agreed to exchange or they hide your reciprocal link "in the back" where the automated link exchange software can locate it as directed, but the search engines will never find it.
Manual link exchange does take more time, but it's worth 10 fold more than an automatic link exchange service can offer. Dead links on your site or exchanging links with webmasters who are not reciprocating properly is of no value to you.
True Reciprocal Link Exchange is of great value and these Link Partners are GOLDEN!
If you are going to exchange links... Make it count!
When you are looking to exchange links with someone, there are several important items to look for.
Ensure the site you are exchanging links with has a reciprocal link directory/pages located ON their domain.
Third party link exchange services are NOT recommended. These webmasters pay to use the service, when they decide they no longer want to pay for the service, your exchange is no longer valid. Don't waste your time.
Ensure your link partner clearly shows their directory from their main page with either of these link texts
-Link Exchange Partners
-Link to Us
-Add your Link
Ensure their link exchange software is Search Engine Friendly.
You can validate outgoing links as a spider sees it by using a Search Engine Simulator. Looking into it you'll be amazed at how many scripts available do not provide you with proper back link credit.
Ensure they have a functioning online registration form for you to fill in for exchange requests.
I have experienced quite a lot of request for exchanges with websites who asked me to email them the location of my link, only to see that the email bounced back to me 2 seconds later. Again, time is money, use your time wisely.
Keep within your Niche Market. Keywords that you would use to promote your site is a good indicator of similar sites you should exchange links with.
Manually exchanging links will take some time, but if done right, these exchanges will count.