Link building is an essential part of any SEO strategy and can benefit your business in more ways than you can imagine. However, not all links are created equal. Some are not always worth your while. One, in particular, reciprocal links have the SEO industry divided in whether or not they provide value to your digital marketing efforts.
The theory behind the use of these links is that they can rank two sites higher in the search results when they link to each other. But the truth is, this “give, then ask” approach can either benefit or hurt your strategy, depending on how you use it.
In this Guide:
- What Are Reciprocal Links?
- How Can Reciprocal Links Be Bad for Your SEO?
- Do Reciprocal Links Help or Hurt Your SEO?
- How Do You Get Reciprocal Links?
- Use Reciprocal Links Wisely
What Are Reciprocal Links?
The term reciprocal linking in SEO refers to the practice of exchanging links between two or more websites. Think of it as a digital version of the barter system where you exchange one product for another, which in this case is a link for a link.
In other words, you are getting links from other sites in exchange for linking back to their pages. This applies to the content you are publishing on your website and to any guest post you may be writing on other sites.
Reciprocal linking is usually practiced with the belief, albeit misguided, that it will boost a site’s search rankings. However, search engines caution against it, as it may do more harm to your website than good. Google lists reciprocal links as a type of link scheme and a violation of its Webmaster Guidelines. Below are some other examples of what it considers link schemes that can affect a site’s ranking negatively:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
- Excessive reciprocal linking or excessive link exchanging (link to me and I’ll link to you scheme)
- Large-scale guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
- Unnatural links or any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking
- Using automation services to generate backlinks to your site
- Cross-linking with sites containing lower-quality content
How Can Reciprocal Links Be Bad for Your SEO?
Of all the link-building strategies, reciprocal linking has the most risks. When used excessively, it can look spammy to both the users and search engines and, as a result, can negatively affect your SEO and site authority.
Google will penalize your site
Excessive reciprocal linking goes against Google’s guidelines and thus will incur penalties. Google may drop your rankings in search results. In more serious cases, it may also de-index your site, which means no matter the search term used, your site will never appear on SERPs.
Lose search engine trust
The more traffic a site receives, the more trusted it becomes, and the better it will rank on SERPs. However, with excessive reciprocal links, you risk losing the trust of search engines. These links can be anything from several one-to-one links or links with anchor texts that are always suspicious and completely irrelevant to your content.
Drop in search rankings
The dramatic decrease in site authority and search engine trust can also result in a drop in SERP rankings. One way to prevent this is by always making sure that you exchange links to external sites that are in some way relevant to your audience and your brand.
Do Reciprocal Links Help or Hurt Your SEO?
This article may have started off putting reciprocal linking in a bad light, but it isn’t all that bad. A few reciprocal links will not harm your site — when used correctly, they may even provide value to your audience. The key is to take it on a case-to-case basis and use your common sense.
For best practice, use reciprocal links only when there is a genuine relationship between your site and another. It should be created for the following purposes:
- to e establish a partnership between two sites in which brand, business, and/or services complement each other; and
- to boost search engine rankings
While Google generally sees reciprocal links as spammy, it makes an exception when it deems that the two websites have relevant information and therefore make sense to link to each other. The key to getting exchange links and benefitting from them is to ensure that the reciprocity in link building doesn’t violate any guidelines and is adding value to your audience.
How Do You Get Reciprocal Links?
Or a better question, should you be building reciprocal links?
The answer largely depends on how well you understand the risks of exchanging links. The process, in general, may seem like an attempt to game PageRank and a violation of Google’s guidelines. But other link-building strategies don’t require reciprocating links yet are more effective in establishing authority and boosting your SERP rankings.
A guest post is any blog you have written and published on another website. It should contain a link that redirects readers to your site. Ideally, you should be working with a site that is in the same industry as you or an expert on the subjects relevant to your business. The content should be original and of high quality, actually provide value to readers, and doesn’t try to manipulate the Google algorithm. It’s a great way to spread the word about your brand and promote your products and services.
The first step to promoting your content is to produce high-quality, engaging blog articles. This way, sites would naturally want to link to your pages and use them as valuable resources. Reach out to several prospects, who you think would find your content helpful to their audiences, through various channels such as social media, email outreach, etc.
Alert: Advance Technique to Getting Reciprocal Links
A good way to lessen Google’s suspicion of your reciprocal link-building campaign is to do it indirectly. While a typical link exchange involves a direct exchange of links between two web pages, an indirect reciprocal link introduces a third party into the equation. This third party can be an existing well-trusted site or even a page on your website. By adding this extra layer, you are effectively increasing the web of trust for your link campaign, making it harder for Google to catch on and penalize you.
To make your indirect reciprocal link-building campaign more effective, it is important to choose your third-party wisely. The best third parties are those already trusted by Google and have a good reputation. Additionally, you want to make sure that the third party you select is relevant to your own website. For example, if your website is about dog grooming, it would be ideal to find a well-trusted website about pets that would be willing to link to your site.
Once you have selected a good third party, you must ensure that the links you exchange are high quality. This means that they should be from well-respected websites and relevant to your website.
If your link partner doesn’t own a lot of relevant websites to your niche, you can also place your partner’s link in another relevant blog article or page that is closely related to the topic of the page that’s linking to yours.
Use Reciprocal Links Wisely
When done correctly, reciprocal links can be a great way to boost your search rankings. If you’re new to this concept, it’s best not to go overboard.
Instead of focusing on just your SEO and SERP rankings, prioritize how you can provide real value to your audience through high-quality content marketing — that’s even if it means linking to higher-quality sites without expecting anything in return. Help your readers solve their problems. You will eventually be able to build relationships with other sites and at some point, they may want to link back to you, thus solidifying your relationship. Talk about a win-win situation.