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Reciprocal linking: Is it worth the trouble?

From: SEO: Link Building in Depth

Video: Reciprocal linking: Is it worth the trouble?

We need to quickly discuss reciprocal linking. Mainly because it's be such an important link technique in the past and many people still use it and seem to think it's what linking is all about. So what is reciprocal linking? As the name suggests, it's linking with reciprocation. You link to my site and I'll link to yours. It's often also known by the term Link Exchange. You've seen link pages, I'm sure. Many are still around. You still sometimes see links that simply say links, or maybe useful links, or resources, or perhaps our friends or link partners.

Reciprocal linking: Is it worth the trouble?

We need to quickly discuss reciprocal linking. Mainly because it's be such an important link technique in the past and many people still use it and seem to think it's what linking is all about. So what is reciprocal linking? As the name suggests, it's linking with reciprocation. You link to my site and I'll link to yours. It's often also known by the term Link Exchange. You've seen link pages, I'm sure. Many are still around. You still sometimes see links that simply say links, or maybe useful links, or resources, or perhaps our friends or link partners.

Click those links and you'll see pages and pages of links to other websites. For a surprisingly long time, reciprocal linking was a very powerful way to rank a website. It really did work and it worked very well. There used to be hundreds of companies providing reciprocal linking services such as software that helped automate the process of finding link partners and placing and managing the links, and people who would search the web for possible partners and email them. Even now, I still get a few reciprocal link requests by email every week.

But over the years the search engines have devalued reciprocal linking to the degree that in most cases it doesn't work. I'll explain in a moment how it can still work sometimes. The problem with basic reciprocal linking from a search engine standpoint is that the links have no real value. The only reason they're there is to convince the search engines that the reference sites should rank well. Despite the fact that the reciprocal link companies always used to claim that reciprocal linking was about providing useful links to site visitors not manipulating search results.

That was nonsense of course, and over the years as the search engines reduce the value of such links, this companies have mostly disappeared or moved into more general link building services. You may also hear however that reciprocal linking is actually dangerous, that doing it can get you penalized. In most cases that simply isn't true. In fact, the story that reciprocal linking was dangerous first started circulating while I was still seeing sites ranking well using reciprocal linking.

Now using link farms, the automated creation of huge numbers of what are in effect reciprocal links, is dangerous. But most reciprocal linking won't do any harm. It just won't do any good. So when can reciprocal linking work? When it's not obviously reciprocal linking. What are the two characteristics of typical reciprocal linking? Well, first of all, site A links to site B, and site B links back to site A. And the links typically appear in pages containing long list of links.

But what if site A links to B then B links to C and C links to A. Or maybe site A links to B, B to C, C to D and D back to A. And what if those links were scattered around a site rather than in a big list of links? This form of reciprocal linking sometimes known as three way linking or even one way linking, because your links go one way without a second link back, can work and many people use it.

But although there are some companies providing three way linking services, most of this form of reciprocal linking is more informal with owners of multiple sites linking between their own sites with other people who own multiple sites. In general, you'll probably want to avoid reciprocal linking. It's simply a waste of time. But if you run into some kind of multi-site link exchange in which you don't do A to B to A linking and in which you don't create big list of links, then go ahead. It could be helpful.

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SEO: Link Building in Depth

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Peter Kent
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