Name and email addresses of domain name owners are a matter of public record. Sometimes a SEO company will collect a list of names and emails from Network Solutions, GoDaddy, Register.com or any other company and they will send out random link solicitations.
These solicitations are usually pretty simple with the subject line 'Link Exchange" or "Link Purchase."
Inside there are details about the link building. Here's an example:
"I'm building a good list of links on http://www.sandiego-downtown-hotels.com; I was wondering if we can have a link exchange with your website."
Linking between websites is what makes the web, well, the web. Search engines measure the number of links you have coming to your website and rank you according to how many links you have… or at least that was the assumption. Recently through our testing we're starting to believe links from other websites are not as important any more as internal linking, but that concept would be a 90 minute discussion by itself.
For now let's just continue with the random emails like the one above. Further down in the email it says "We will add your details on http://www.sandiego-downtown-hotels.com/partners.html under the right category."
Link exchanges are a good practice, but ONLY if the links are on random pages throughout your website. When someone offers to exchange links and put you on a "Partners" page or a "Sponsors" page, you need to be very careful.
Let's take a look at this real page: http://www.sandiego-downtown-hotels.com/partners.html
You will see that there are at least 100 other websites with descriptions on this page.
As a confirmation, the email received didn't say anything about an offer for money for a link exchange. It just says they want to build a list of good links.
On March 3, 2010 Google created this website to allow users to report paid links pages.
Unfortunately for the San Diego Hotel website, their partner page looks exactly like a "paid links" page. There is no way to prove that the links were not paid for unless you call each company.
According to various official Google blogs, from March 2010 it doesn't matter if the link was paid for or not. Just because the format "looks" like a paid reciprocal linking page you are freely invited to report it to Google.
In return, Google will de-index that website and also penalize all the other sites that have links to San Diego Hotels.
The bottom line of today's Daily Golden Nugget is this: Website linking is important, but do not take money to post a link on your website, and when exchanging links do not have your website listed on a "links" page or a "partners" page or a "sponsors" page if that same page has more than 10 other companies already listed on it.
If you are feeling a bit TFYQA today then feel free to spend a few hours feel free to reading through Matt Cutts (one of Google's Gods) blog regarding this topic: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/calling-for-link-spam-reports/; otherwise, just take our word for it.