Reciprocal Links: Are They Really So Bad?

Few topics cause as much heated argument and generate as many myths as reciprocal links. Whether the discussion involves link trading, linking together numerous self-administered websites, or search engine filters and penalties, debate about the merits of reciprocal links is certain to follow.

Both supporters and detractors of reciprocal links have very solidly entrenched opinions on the subject. All too often, misunderstanding clouds the arguments on both sides. Reciprocal links need a fairer hearing and greater understanding of all of the variations involved. Not all reciprocal links are bad news for a website.

The first thing that springs to mind when the subject of reciprocal links appears is good old fashioned link trading. In fact, link swaps are only one aspect of the overall topic of reciprocal links. Far more than simple link exchanges, reciprocal links also include website themes and topics, cross linking of self administered websites, and the even more problematic link farms. There is more than one issue bundled into the overall category of reciprocal links.

The reasons for creating reciprocal links are many, but the most important ones revolve around gaining extra website traffic, providing information for site visitors, gaining additional Google PageRank, and adding additional link popularity for a boost in the search engine rankings.

A major problem in the understanding and the discussion of reciprocal links is determining the definition of the topic. Often, a supporter of reciprocal links will announce they are as good as any other incoming link. An opponent of reciprocal links will point out that the link is of no value at best and harmful to a website in the search engines at worst. While there is a bit of truth in both statements, under certain circumstances, both sides in the argument are wrong.

In and of themselves, most of these reasons for exchanging links are sound and honest. The difficulty arises when the same concepts are applied to attempts at tricking the search engines. That’s where the water turns a bit murky.

The entire subject of reciprocal links, deserves another examination, to separate the various issues that make up the discussions.

{mospagebreak title=Sorting Out the Links: The Good}

There are many good and valid reasons to consider reciprocal links. Under the right circumstances, they can help your site in the search engines, and provide benefit to your visitors as well. Good old fashioned link trading works well, provided it’s done correctly, and with the right goals in mind.

Trading links adds to a site’s total of incoming links. They provide additional inflow of Google PageRank. The problem is one of degree. Not all incoming links provide equal benefit. To ensure that your reciprocal links generate the maximum value for your site and its visitors, you have to understand how links work in the search engines. In particular, the requirements of link obsessed Google must be taken into consideration.

When considering a reciprocal link arrangement, use the following rule of thumb, and it will create the best results. Think of the interests of your visitors first and ignore the search engines. While that concept might not seem logical at first glance, it’s the one that works best. What is best for the visitors to your site is also what the search engines want to see from your site as well. It’s all about relevance.

Relevant links are simply more valuable to a Website’s visitors than links that have little or nothing in common with the themes and topics found on the site’s pages. At the same time, Google’s search algorithm in particular gives much more weight to an on theme link than to one that is not related to the site.

Reciprocal links to and from sites that share the same themes and topics are more valuable. Swapped links from sites that share little in common are given much less search engine value.

When link exchanges are made between sites that share common themes and topics, visitors are helped as well. Providing outgoing links, to other useful and informative sites, raises a Website’s value as a resource. Visitors will regard the site as a source of useful links.

The search engines will view the site as remaining entirely within its overall themes. Higher visitor traffic and sales result, on the one hand, and higher Google PageRank and better results in the search engine results pages (SERPs), appear on the other.

As a site develops a more powerful group of theme related incoming and outgoing links, it has the beginnings of a Hub Site or an Authority Site. The important point is relevance of links. A Hub Site is like a link airport with theme relevant incoming and outgoing links. An Authority Site is a large site that is considered to most important for its keywords.

A well planned relevant linking strategy can start a site on the road to that status, which is highly rewarded by the search engines.

{mospagebreak title=Sorting Out the Links: The Bad}

Not all reciprocal linking arrangements are given high marks by either the site visitors or by the search engines. The least valuable reciprocal links are link swaps involving link farms. Such arrangements are in violation of the search engine webmaster guidelines. Instead of benefiting a site, linking to such bad neighborhoods can result in penalties being imposed or the site being banned from the search engine indexes entirely.

Link farms are bad news for any website owner. Becoming involved with such undesirable schemes whose sole purpose is to artificially increase PageRank and link popularity is a huge mistake. The link farm requirements of multiple link placements regardless of site topic is counterproductive. Any benefits gained will be very short term at best and could lead to a site being severely penalized or banned from the search engines at worst.

Less well known but providing minimal if any value are link trades between completely unrelated websites. Made with only the search engines in mind, these non-theme related links are not given much weight in the current versions of the various search engine algorithms. Google, in particular, has apparently downgraded their value to almost nil.

The value of these non-related links has been reduced to near worthlessness, either in PageRank transfer or in link popularity boost. It is almost pointless for the website owner to pursue unrelated links any longer. The time spent searching and offering link trades,with non-related websites would be far better spent on adding fresh content. Instead of exchanges, natural one-way incoming links would be the result.

Providing little in the way of search engine value and of almost no interest to website visitors, irrelevant links might even do more harm to a site than good. In fact, site visitors who are your potential paying customers, might even be repelled by pages of links that have nothing in common with the topics of the site.

{mospagebreak title=Using Reciprocal Links Wisely}

Reciprocal links are not all bad. If employed properly, they are an extremely valuable tool for adding value to site visitors, building link popularity, and increasing a site’s Google PageRank. If not used correctly, however, reciprocal links can lead to difficulties ranging from loss of visitor traffic to problems with the search engines. Those problems run the gamut from no net benefit to outright penalties.

A good rule of thumb when choosing link exchange partners is whether or not the link provides value for your site’s visitors. If every outgoing link provides useful information that is related to the overall content themes of your website, you will have no problems with reciprocal links. In fact, both your site, and that of your linking partners, will benefit greatly.

Think in terms of what will help your visitors first, and you won’t go wrong. By keeping all outgoing links from your site on topic, you not only provide useful information to visitors on their current visit, but on all subsequent visits as well. Developing your site into a powerful source of topic information will create more repeat visitors. That thinking builds many more short and long term buyers of your site’s products and services.

A powerful technique for building strong theme related reciprocal links is to start a blog on your site. A blog is a daily column usually written by the webmaster, but often composed by staff or even freelance writers, that discusses the business, type of products, industry, and other topics related to the site.

As more blog columns are posted, the number of site themes and keywords in multiplied, adding strength to the reciprocal links. Links that were formerly off topic, become themed as a result of a combination of several blog posts.

Bloggers are free and generous linkers, thinking more about the requirements of their readers, than about search engine placements or Google PageRank. That urge to only share links with related blogs works to their benefit in the search engines, whether it’s a concern of the blogger or not.

High blog PageRanks and strong search engine results are also proof, that reciprocal links still have value, if used correctly.

{mospagebreak title=Conclusion}

Reciprocal links are not as bad as they are painted by many detractors. On the other hand, they are not a panacea for a site’s search engine woes either.

If used correctly, link exchanges work well for both sites in the trade. The right way to determine link exchanges is whether the link provides benefit to the site’s visitors.

A link to a site that is closely related to your site’s overall theme will help your visitors. It also establishes your site as a useful source of information and helpful links. Visitors who know and trust you and your site as a reliable fountain of knowledge are much more likely to buy from you. Keeping your links on topic adds and retains paying customers. As an important bonus, the search engines will reward you for your actions as well.

Keep the needs of your visitors and the theme of your site in mind whenever you make a link exchange.

With that thought to guide you, reciprocal links will reward you in the search engines, and with your customers.

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