Reciprocal Linking: Reports of Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Welcome to my “side” of SEM Crossfire. I’m happy to be a regular part of the Search Engine Watch Experts again and look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with the community over the years to come.

Boggs on Watson’s AdWords 101

Frank Watson provided us with some great introductory content for aspiring paid search marketers in the last two weeks. His insight is the product of years of experience. Most people will get a lot out of what Frank shared.

Hey, Frank, I know you’re made of money and you adult guys like to get tons of impressions. One thing you forgot to mention, though: tell beginners to turn off contextual (content advertising)!

I know Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft may “get their hate on,” but anyone starting into this space should only focus on search networks to start. Then consider allowing your ads to be seen within contextually-distributed listings in the publisher network.

This will limit your exposure and allow for maximum impressions on the search side while you fine tune your campaign. Frank, I’m sure you’ll have an excuse next week for your oversight when you comment on my column.

Hot Topic No. 1: Reciprocal Linking

Some experienced SEOs may think, “Why the heck is this old dried up topic being given the time of day?”

Reciprocal linking is not dead, although it’s been widely rumored to be extinct by “true” SEO (define) professionals. When I interviewed select industry experts, I found reciprocal linking can still be considered in a linking strategy whether or not the tactic is employed.

Pro Reciprocal Linking

Greg Niland, a.k.a. “GoodROI” within community forums and blogs, sent this thought: “It is common sense for related sites to exchange links between each other that is why I use it as a part of my formula. The site for my local fishing charter boat has a reciprocal link with the local bait shop — it makes sense. Of course if you expect to rank by solely getting links from bait shops then you are probably going to end up not catching any fish.”

Con: No Reciprocal Linking

A fellow SEW Expert and Ohioan, Sage Lewis, feels the concept is dated and offers sage-like advice: “The quid pro quo of reciprocal linking, like the entire linking phenomenon, is completely backwards. To link to someone just because they linked to you is ridiculous. I feel like we’re in the Middle Ages of the linking world. Barbarian linkers came in and somehow destroyed all previous record of the enlightened era of linking. Things have gotten so topsy-turvy and screwed up, no one can remember why links became so powerful in the first place.”

Sage thinks the process of linking “really needs to be held in much higher regard simply because there’s evidence Google has set up an algorithm that closely resembles how the human brain works. Understanding Google could likely help us understand ourselves better. You give a link because the link deserves it. Period.”


Longtime WebmasterWorld and SEW Forum member Robert Charlton analyzes the subject from an algorithm (define) deconstruction point of view: “Reciprocals have always been a percentage thing with Google. Matt (Cutts) acknowledges some reciprocals are inevitable, and reciprocals have always been a part of Web ecology. Relevant reciprocals can be helpful to users, and that’s an important consideration for Google. I think one-way inbounds are still the way to go if you can get them. I have my clients link out to sites based only on their quality and usefulness to users.”

The Big Reciprocal Linking Problem

E-mail spam, spawned by reciprocal linking, causes huge headaches. Robert notes that some SEOs and link builders have made automated reciprocals a way of life. Judging by many link requests he sees, not everyone understands what “relevant” means.

Barbara “Webmama” Coll equates reciprocal linking requests with “email spam and harassment.” She’s more neutral on reciprocal linking than Robert. Barbara believes all links on sites not relevant to content on either site are useless and should be be ignored.

The Bottom Line

Legitimate search marketers, myself included, consider reciprocal linking, especially when a client has multiple Web sites. For example, a client with a site devoted to children’s activities may be able to share a link to another related kids’ site in return for a link to any one of its properties, as long as links are relevant and useful to visitors.

Yes, linking just for “payback” is flawed, but it should be part of the plan. Careful analysis of how reciprocally-linked pages perform is paramount to success. Do it right and don’t alienate Webmasters everywhere.

No matter what search engines claim, links are commodities. Our free market should dictate whether site owners are allowed to consider reciprocal links when applicable. Ignoring a tactic simply because of some bad press doesn’t signal a truly educated marketer.

Overusing a single tactic among dozens of effective link building strategies is flawed, as is sending spammy automated e-mails.

Click here to discuss this with Frank and me in the SEW Forums.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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