Reciprocal linking is one of the oldest SEO strategies in the book and in fact is still very much in practice (though many build reciprocal links unknowingly). For instance, when you become a guest blogger you’ll most likely advertise and provide a link directing to your website in each of the articles you submit. You are actually creating reciprocal links right there.
However, any ethical SEO company worth its salt would tell you that direct reciprocal linking has now been rendered ineffective by the recent Google updates. Optimizers will instead encourage you to do other SEO methods like content development, social media marketing, guest blogging, blog commenting, and so forth. While some of these involve reciprocal linking in some way, they’re not straight out “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” schemes.
An Abused and Exploited Strategy
Before the slew of updates by Google, reciprocal linking did enjoy a protracted heyday. Every SEO and website owner capitalized on this to build up their link profiles. However, this quickly escalated to exploitation by companies and webmasters alike who wanted nothing more than gathering as many inbound links as possible. Automated programs and paid services that generate reciprocal links for websites at a blink of an eye cropped up like mushrooms. Understandably, Google put its foot down and declared reciprocal linking to be an unreliable basis for website credibility and quality.
The Uses of Reciprocal Links at Present
Many may now consider reciprocal linking as useless and irrelevant because Google devalued it in 2005 by virtue of the Jagger and BigDaddy updates. However, take note that these links are not automatic triggers for algorithm penalties. Their benefits still exist despite their diminished value.
If your website manages to capture the eye of authority websites and they promote your content, that could be a huge boost for your website’s exposure. The fact that a trusted site is using your site’s information as reference for its readers suggests the credibility of your site and increases its trust value.
2. Increase Traffic
Even if some of these links have zero link juice, they can still help bring in traffic from other sites. This is a direct result of promotion/exposure of course, and another excellent reason for partnering with authority sites. Their visitors are truly looking for valuable information, and if they find your site more than satisfactory, they might just bookmark your site and revisit it periodically.
3. Outreach Opportunity
Reciprocal linking is also a great way to foster ties with other webmasters. Link exchanges typically get accomplished when a webmaster approves of another’s request to post a relevant link on his website, essentially forging a mutually beneficial agreement. Your relationship with reciprocating sites may start out as a formal correspondence, but it’s always possible for the professionalism to thaw and pave way for a more casual, friendly, and trusting interaction.
We should also point out that not all reciprocal links are arranged. It is only natural for websites and blogs to eventually provide links to one another, especially if they have more or less related niches. As webmasters and bloggers get to know each other better, they also have a tendency to refer to each others’ articles for the benefit of their readers.
4. Indexing Advantage
It is possible that when a website you exchanged links with gets indexed, the bots will also find your link and start crawling your website even if you haven’t submitted it to a search engine yet.
What to Avoid
Now for all the benefits it can bring, reciprocal linking can also get you in a bit of trouble—or be utterly useless to your link building strategies (mind you, not all strategies listed there are Penguin-friendly) at the very least—if it’s not done correctly. There are a couple of things you should never do with this method then.
First and foremost, do not build your link profile solely on reciprocal linking. In 2005 Matt Cutts said in his blog that overdoing reciprocal linking will backfire on your website. Besides, too many reciprocal links means you have far too many of outbound links. That can bring down your PR and badly affect your SERP standing.
Second, in a further effort to make reciprocal links look natural, make sure the links are embedded naturally in the content and articles of your website and your partner site. Don’t just place the links on the sidebars, Flash applications or images, and make sure your partner site does the same for you.
While we’re on the topic of making reciprocal links appear natural, make sure the websites you enter into agreements with are related to yours in terms of content and purpose. This brings us to the third: don’t exchange links with websites that are in no way relevant to your own site. That is a flaring red flag for Google Penguin, for one thing.
The placement of the reciprocal links also matters. In relation to that, the fourth thing you should avoid is focusing solely in inserting reciprocal links on homepages. That is too telling of an arrangement between the two linking sites. Embedding the links in articles or author’s profile page is a much better choice.
Lastly, avoid using reciprocal linking programs because these can be easily traced by crawlers. Google for one will recognize them as a manipulative form of link building and SEO, so it will either devalue the links involved or penalize the participating websites. Also, don’t link with spammy websites, link farms, and bad neighborhood sites.
Reciprocal linking per se will not get you into trouble; if you do it just right, the links you get might even give you more benefits than you expect.