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What's Wrong with Reciprocal Linking?

Aug 17, 2007
Plain and simple; a lot!

Reciprocal linking has been so abused by webmasters and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts (term used loosely when it comes to reciprocal linking) that the larger search engines have begun the process of disregarding reciprocal links as irrelevant.

Does that mean you will be penalized for having some? No, you won't be penalized (unless they lead to 'bad neighborhoods') but you will also not gain anything from having them either.

What has brought this downfall of reciprocal linking? Automation and spam sites but mostly automation. Automation allowed for membership sites to be created where trading can happen at the click of a button and your site is updated automatically with the new link page including the new link. Automation also allowed for finding link partners to send generic emails to in the hopes that they would take the bait and link back to you in return for your link to them.

Now, I like automation when done in a responsible and sensible way. But much of the reciprocal linking automation was about getting as many links as possible as fast as possible. Obviously, unless you are YouTube or MySpace, this is very unnatural and has been easy for the search engines to include in their algorithms.

Many webmasters threw all senses out the window in their quest for reciprocal links. They would go after anyone and everyone rather than finding related and quality partners to share links. Some even would say that they did it for the traffic, except that most of the sites that they traded links with didn't have any traffic and they were trading links to get higher search engine placement to get more traffic.

Another fatal flaw of reciprocal linking is the unscrupulous webmaster who buries your link on a page that will never be visited by a human visitor and probably not a search engine bot either. Most webmasters were not taking the time to actually see if the page their link was placed on could be found by the visitors to the parent site and therefore didn't get any search engine benefit or any natural traffic benefit. However, because you were a honest webmaster the link from your site did pass page rank and visitors to the other site and therefore the unscrupulous benefited greatly from laziness.

Now, most recently, there have been the 3-way reciprocal linking requests. This is still a reciprocal request and is still very easy for a search engine to identify. In fact, you would need to have hundreds if not thousands of web sites that you were rotating your 3rd site links through for 3-way linking to be difficult to detect. When webmasters explain it they make it sound like it is better than regular reciprocal linking but the reality is that it is more spammy than reciprocal linking because you are intentionally doing it to achieve better search engine placements.

So, my recommendation is to stay away from all reciprocal linking (at least in the traditional sense).

Well, what's left you may ask? The answer really goes back to more traditional marketing methods for creating traffic to a campaign. In the web world, our campaign is usually to gain more traffic and if we get higher search engine placement to get that traffic then it is a bonus.

All of the following, create long lasting 1-way backlinks that may come from highly respected authority sites and therefore carry more value in the search engine algorithms.

To start with, there is the tried and true method of submitting your site to 'hand-edited' web directories. Although not all of them are hand-edited a vast majority are. Which also means that the free web directories have a back log that may be a couple of days to a couple of months. Even still, it is worth submitting to as many directories as you can. Don't expect much traffic from this method but that's ok because we are really looking for the 1-way backlink.

Next, would be article submissions/marketing. Write individual articles or create a series of articles and submit them to the major article repositories. Article marketing doesn't usually have an immediate effect on traffic but will build links over time as a well written article will be republished on many sites, blogs, and newsletters.

I usually recommend directory submissions and article marketing take place first because they take the longest to actually gain momentum. But once they do it can be an incredible experience.

Next come the more time consuming but more immediate techniques. They are signature usage, site development, social bookmarking and context linking.

Signature usage is really simple. It is the task of commenting on blogs or forums that are related to your sites general topic. The benefit is a self-placed backlink to your own site. These links can usually even be to pages on the interior of your web site not just the home page. One of the best techniques to generate traffic from your signature is to offer link followers a discount or unique benefit just for following that link.

Site development is simply the process of making your site attractive and friendly to visitors. Sometimes this is called Visitor Experience Optimization (VEO). VEO becomes more and more important as your site gains more and more visitors. Your goal is to have a site that keeps a visitor there as long as possible. It will also increase the likely hood that anonymous webmasters will place links on their site to your site without a request from you - a 1-way link.

Social bookmarking is one of those things that webmasters may do that will make them feel funny and seem like they aren't doing the right thing. It's really OK as long as it is done without complete automation and without the intent to spam the bookmarking sites. What you are really trying to do is submit a vote for your own sites' pages (don't submit every single page of your site) into the bookmarking sites. Hopefully someone else will see your submission and agree with your vote and so on and so on. This technique will not work with every web site but it is worth at least submitting your pages to a group of bookmarking sites with some hope...

Finally, for those reciprocal request that you will undoubtedly continue to receive, contextual linking is what you want. Even if it is a reciprocal link between sites, if it is embedded within the normal context of the other webmasters web site it will be more trusted than a standard reciprocal link. Basically it will appear more natural to the user and to the search engine bots. Obviously for it to make sense, any reciprocal linking should only be done between sites that are related in some way and please don't make every incoming link appear the same. Change the text of the link and the context of the paragraph or page the link comes from so that it once again appears natural.

Of course, even if you do all of these things perfectly, there is no guarantee that you will be on the first page of any search engine result pages. But you will at least have a chance and will outrank a vast majority of the competition sites in the coming years.
About the Author
Anthony Stai is a proud contributing author and writes articles on several search engine optimization related topics including web directory submissions. You can see more of Anthony's articles on his Directory Site Submitter informational web site located at http://www.directorysitesubmitter.com
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