When it comes time to build links, you’re likely going to be faced with a dilemma known as reciprocal linking. Whenever you try to earn a backlink on a website, whether it be through contributing a guest article or otherwise, there is often a chance that the Webmaster you’re speaking with is going to want to earn a backlink from your website in return. Sure they get your great content, but why not push the envelope and try to get even more from this new partnership? After all, you might be tempted to do this when someone approaches you for a link on your website, so you can’t blame someone for asking.
This will then put you in a position to make a decision about reciprocal linking. If you do not allow a featured piece of content and backlink on your website, that website might not give you the opportunity on their site. In other words, you lose the partnership and the backlink if you don’t reciprocate. However, is a link exchange just going to cancel out the link you wanted to earn in the first place? Is it worth it? This is the big question, and it’s actually a somewhat complicated answer.
When to Use Reciprocal Links for Success
We covered this topic back in 2012 here, but things have changed since then. In the past reciprocal linking was more widely used and accepted because link building was seen as a good practice. Today, it’s important to focus on readers and not SEO. In the end, reciprocal linking really can work for your visibility as well as for SEO purposes, so it’s not something you should immediately dismiss. However, there are a few different things that you must keep in mind if you want it to work:
Only link when it is natural and relevant.
These rules apply even when you’re not reciprocal linking, but it’s important to point out because it’s more tempting to ignore this rule. You might want to put a reciprocal link in the sidebar so that it doesn’t hold as much weight, but this isn’t going to look natural to Google. The same can be said if you’re linking to something that isn’t relevant to your industry or website. You have to follow the rules if you don’t want to get penalized.
Do not build your campaign around this system.
It’s not a good idea to build your entire link building campaign around reciprocal linking because then you’re canceling out all of your hard work (more or less). Things are going to move faster if you’re building links and not giving them right back. After all, the goal is to earn links naturally in the copy of the text without ever having to ask for them.
It’s usually not worth it to reciprocate with a competitor.
It’s best if you can engage in reciprocal linking with a company that compliments your company and does not compete directly. For example, if you’re a dentist, consider reciprocal linking with a toothbrush company as opposed to another dentist. This will help make sure that the links are not going to compete with each other.
Consider the authority of the other website.
It’s always a good idea to check the authority of the website you might exchange a link with. If your website has a PageRank 6 and a PageRank 3 wants a link on your website, it might not be worth it to give a link to that page. It’s true that PageRank isn’t everything so there will certainly be exceptions, but I find this is a good place to start. You can then evaluate the site in terms of quality and potential. If the site isn’t up to par, you would be getting a weaker link than your competitor would be getting, so be careful.
It’s important to understand that in the end when you monitor backlinks, your links will be devalued if you’re engaging in a lot of reciprocal linking. Nevertheless, you’re still earning that visibility and you still are giving a relevant audience the chance to click on your link.
A Quick Tip: Remember; don’t offer if you’re not asked!
When Reciprocal Links Are Best Left Untouched
You have to be very careful with reciprocal linking because too much can get you penalized by Google. Search Engine Watch actually labeled too much excessive linking as a gray hat SEO tactic. In the past, websites were exchanging links at a very fast pace, which was not helping readers at all. Google of course put a stop to this and labeled it “link farming.” To make a long story short, it is OK if you want to engage in reciprocal linking following some of the rules above, but do not do this all the time. A few reciprocal links here and there should be plenty to get you that link you wanted on that great site but not put you on trial for link farming.
What are your thoughts on reciprocal linking? Have you found this strategy to be successful, and if so, are there any rules that you tried to follow to make sure you were successful? Let us your thoughts in the comments below.