The Downsides Of Reciprocal Linking To Increase Search Engine Rankings

Reciprocal linking is still a highly sought after method for many companies and webmasters hoping to increase their web site’s ranking in the search engines. Back in 2002, when reciprocal linking firmly took its place as a real way to boost your rankings, many webmasters and sites started using it to quickly and frantically get the upper edge on their competition and the search engines. But, like all short lived and unnatural ways to boost web site rankings, reciprocal linking has quickly just become another very loosely based and often worthless method for many sites trying to get their sites ranked by the search engines.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why reciprocal linking is fading fast, and why some sites who still use the examples I’ll describe below are left with hours, weeks, and possibly months worth of wasted marketing for their own sites.

The first thing I like to think about with any linking campaign or any sort is how easy it is to spot reciprocal linking from Google’s standpoint. If they can spot unnatural linking building, and they likely will, then the other big search engines aren’t far behind.

Here are my methodologies for reciprocal linking from Google’s standpoint:

1) All of the reciprocal pages and links are very easy to identify. The URLs on sites where the links “live” are often a dead giveaway, many times using “reciprocal-links.html, “reciprocal-links-2.html,” etc. for all of the linking pages. Many variations of these types of URLs are used and are easily spotted by Google, even if you call them “resource” pages they are still essentially just reciprocal links pages.

2) On all of the reciprocal links pages, the links are set up and displayed the exact same way. There is no variance in page layout or how the links display. By this, I mean the bulk of reciprocal links pages only have this:

Link & Anchor text – description goes here…
Link & Anchor text – description goes here…
Link & Anchor text – description goes here…
Link & Anchor text – description goes here…

Get the idea here? This is extremely easy to spot and demote by Google or any other search engine.

3) Often reciprocal links are nothing more than completely automated – the emails, the reply emails, the code that inserts the links on pages, everything. Practically the only thing a webmaster has to do nowadays is just click a button and have the new batch of reciprocal links appear on their link pages. And Google and other search engines know this. There’s no “real” reciprocal business or mutual working relationship between the two sites reciprocating. They are simply trying to boost each other’s rankings in the search engines – nothing more, nothing less.

4) Unnatural, unnatural, unnatural. Reciprocal links were built on the reputation of boosting one’s page popularity and rankings in the search engines and are being used very erratically. Some webmasters simply abuse this method without one thought to other, more substantial methods of building quality links to their site. A worst situation is that some webmasters use this as their only method for building links to their site.

An example of unnatural and erratic link building would be a pharmacy web site sending out a link exchange email to practically any site, no matter the industry they’re in, even to a poker related site. This is extremely unrelated and, quite often, just links two sites together that have nothing to do with each other, not to mention the example above describes two industries that search engines frown upon anyway.

Reciprocal page “directories” are worse than the recent hay-day of directories that just scraped results simply regurgitated them on their own site because at least spent the time to categorize and accept links based on some sort of acceptance guidelines. Reciprocal link directories often have no guidelines except the fact that a link has to be placed on one site before it’s placed on the other. In the end you just end up with page of links not related to anything else on your web site, often proving that there’s zero targeting and zero concern for quality.

If webmasters still continue to use reciprocal linking as a method to boost page rankings, changes will need to take place. If you are going to reciprocate links, do it within context on the site that is specifically written for or by the other site, much like what you see on blogs today where links appear randomly throughout the text in a paragraph.

Use reciprocal linking sparingly and really mix up the way they look on the pages of your site. Do not follow the example I listed above and simply display the anchor text and link along side the description. Even use the old method of site A, linking to site C, and site B links back to site A, if they are all on different IP addresses.

Lastly, and the most important advice is do not rely on reciprocal linking campaigns alone. To get truly natural links to your site you need to syndicate articles with links, submit to directories, and gain links through targeted sites willing to work with you in some way. Google’s “Jagger” update proved itself enough to wipe out many reciprocal linking networks and sites who use them and it’s only a matter of time before further Google updates will penalize or demote what they initially left behind.