A Bad Reciprocal Link -- And Reciprocal Link Request

We've been having quite a discussion about reciprocal links over at the Search Engine Watch Forums in our Reciprocal Linking – Dead or Alive? thread. I chimed in to stress that whether a reciprocal link is bad or good can also depend on what exactly you mean by "reciprocal link." From one page to another and back? From one site to another but between different pages? And what about the underlying reason for the link? For search ranking purposes or for your visitors? Today, a gift (ahem) from the email deity arrived in my inbox. An example of a bad reciprocal link plus a bad link request. Yum, double badness to blog. Let's look.

Here's the email. URLs have been broken so as not to benefit the guilty, but you can always cut-and-paste and piece together, if you're really curious.

Dear Webmaster,

We would like to add http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/ to our online directory, by placing a link to it in our site http:// www. bradandjennifer. com/  In return; we would like you to link back to http:// www. myweddingfavors. com our site.

This exchange will create one way links to both our sites, which is beneficial from SEO point of view. This link will remain active as long as the requested link back is active on your site.

Please mail us your link Title, URL & Description & we will immediately place a link to http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/ on http:// www. bradandjennifer. com/ your link shall appear at: http:// www. bradandjennifer.com/ links.htm

Please place a link back to http:// www. myweddingfavors. com using the information below:

Link Text: Wedding Favors Description: Elegant
wedding favors and unique wedding favor ideas
from My Wedding Favors.
URL: http:// www. myweddingfavors. com

Thank you for helping both our sites achieve higher rankings, and for becoming part of the http://www. bradandjennifer. com/ family!


Want to get 10,000 unique visitors per day from organic search engine traffic, like our Yahoo Store? 

"DISCLAIMER: If you prefer I not send you future emails, please reply with the word 'REMOVE' in the subject line."

Oh, where to begin? Let's go with the biggest reason why I think this is a bad reciprocal link. That's because there's no benefit to my visitors in adding it. Do they care about this Brad & Jennifer site (and no, it's not that Brad & Jennifer). They do not! They care about search stuff. If I link to this site and they link to me, sure, we've scratched each others' backs. But that's to benefit each other, to reciprocate, not to help our visitors.

Hey -- what's the deal with those blogrolls you see in a lot of places, even on our blog. Isn't that reciprocation? Sure is! Move along, you joker. You're messing up my presentation.

Seriously -- yes, it's reciprocation, but reciprocation that also helps your visitors. There's some good reason beyond "I wanna top search ranking" for doing those links.

Now what if we go with this old school reciprocal link request, defying all better judgment. Is that enough to get us banned? Yes. Yes, you will be banned for life. Using mental telepathy, I just beamed that question to all my search engine contacts and received back that unified answer, despite the tinfoil on my head.

Nah. What's one link among many? Honestly, even if I end up doing a fair number of these, I'm still not likely to get banned. But neither are they likely to be doing much good for me.

This is because the links coming at me are likely on pages with a lot of other links -- and links that clearly aren't related to each other -- and thus making it easier to identify that page as one that perhaps shouldn't be able to transmit much importance to other sites. (Want the science bit? Go read the paper about detecting link spam that Gary posted about yesterday. That's full of just one method of knowing good links from bad. Jim summarizes it here, from Aaron's longer summary. Both are better reads for most people).

Specifically to this example, while they want me to link to their home page, they're going to place my link on their links page, not their home page. If you look at that links page, you'll see it's just a jumble of links. A link to a Bahama vacations site next to one for a satellite TV site which is near a Utah homes for sale site.

The Google Toolbar PageRank meter gives the page a big ole whopping 0. That's zero, with a capital Zed. (That's Zed, in what my kids think Z is called. It's because of their mom/mum, who's British. And I ask you, if Z is Zed, then why don't Brits call a zebra a zedbra? But I digress badly, madly). Think you're going to benefit much being linked from that page? Then you'd better go claim that $400 Google's giving away (They're not! It's a scam!).

By the way, notice how the email is a bit confused, even more confused than my critique of it. It starts out about the Brad & Jen site (remember, not THAT Brad & Jen and not even an incredible simulation), but then it starts talking about a wedding favors site. Just a guess, but me thinks someone didn't do the cut and paste right before sending out this bulk email. Another sign of a quality request.

What have we learned from all this?

  • Exchange links your visitors care about, and you'll probably be doing the "good" reciprocal linking and needn't fear people like Google's Matt Cutts, who can fell your site with one swoop of his mighty sword:

    Matt Cutts (right) with mighty sword (left).
    Photo Copyright 2005 Matt Cutts, all rights reserved.
    No swords were harmed in the taking of this photo.

  • Avoid links request that bury you in Siberia in exchange for some nice beachfront real estate on your home page.
  • Brad & Jen look better than that, in their better days when they were still a couple.
  • Send me bad link requests at your peril.

You might also take a look at my post from last year, Thanks For Your Horrible Link Request. In that, I examine not the technical quality of the link request but the style and substance of the request itself -- or lack thereof.

Want to commiserate? Visit our forum thread, Reciprocal Linking ? Dead or Alive?