We are having a discussion over at Small Business Ideas Forum where Dale King starts things of by questioning the effectiveness of reciprocal linking tactics. He basically says that once upon a time, reciprocal links were one of the number one ways webmasters acquired links from other sites. However, in current times, reciprocal links have been greatly devalued by the search engines, at least as far as helping a SEO effort.
So are reciprocal links a thing of the past? Should webmasters avoid them like the plague? I would say that it really depends on the “type” of reciprocal link.
Reciprocal linking, the process of one web site linking to another and they doing the same in return, has been around long before Google entered the game and changed the way search engine algorithms placed a heavy emphasis on who is linking to who. I don’t see reciprocal linking going away anytime soon either. In fact, it is quite a natural process. Allow me to explain.
Within this blog, I have linked to sites such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Guide, Techmeme, Small Business SEM, Search Engine Watch, and the list goes on. I have done so because I either found something resourceful to my readers, something that helped to support what I was writing about or simply due to the fact that the site I linked to was the original source of my own writing.
These same sites have in turn linked back to our site for the very same reasons. That is true reciprocal linking. So is this a bad thing? Is Google, or any other search engine going to devalue those links because they are not true “one-way” links? I don’t think so. This is a natural process of the web and search engines are smart enough to understand that.
Besides, in the above situation the sites are not always linking back and forth to the same pages. It is not like your typical ” I link to your home page and you link to my home page” scenario.
Now ineffective reciprocal linking is where I subscribe to some kind of reciprocal linking program where everyone links to each other’s main domain.
I could do the same if I have a large number of sites under my control. This essentially creates a network of sites all linking to each other, usually at the main domain (home page) level. Search engines can easily see through this and recognize that it is an “un-natural” linking process. Add to this the fact that most of the sites you are receiving links from in this type of scenario are of low quality and carry very little authority. Not only is this an ineffective strategy now, I believe it always has been.
In our discussion, Stoney deGeyter chimes in and says, “The whole ‘reciprocal links are dead’ issue is a sham. Just like any link, reciprocal or not, the quality of the link is what matters. Search engines don’t care IF they are reciprocal… it’s a matter of HOW.” In fact, he conducted his own testing to prove that reciprocal links are not all bad, but can and do provide value.
So it really depends on the “type” of reciprocal link as to whether it can beneficial or not. It is the old adage, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Reciprocal linking is fine so long as it follows a natural pattern of sites linking to each other.