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In Defense Of Reciprocal Linking

Sep 8, 2007
There seems to be a lot of bad-mouthing about reciprocal linking nowadays by SEO "gurus" and amateurs alike, most notably in the various internet forums.
Reciprocal links, according to the naysayers, are virtually worthless because they supposedly do not help your search rankings or pass Google PageRanks to your site.

While no one really knows how search engines factor reciprocal links into search ranking calculations, let's suppose that the naysayers are right-- that is, reciprocal links provide no SEO benefits whatsoever. Should we then abandon the practice of reciprocal linking altogether?

Not a chance!

Reciprocal linking is a perfectly natural and legitimate traffic-building technique that predates the search engines themselves. To abandon the practice simply to satisfy certain fears or assumptions about how a search engine works is unnatural and potentially unethical. That search engines cannot handle reciprocal links properly reveals a shortcoming in their algorithms, not in the practice of reciprocal linking itself.

From my years of internet marketing experience, reciprocal links are an invaluable source of highly targeted direct traffic. Some of my sites are receiving hundreds of visitors a month through my link partners. Best of all, the traffic is all free. While I could have bought these clicks through various pay-per-click campaigns, which I do heavily anyway, I save hundreds of dollars a month just by trading links with relevant sites.

The keyword here is relevant. You'll get clicks to your site only if your link is displayed prominently on your partners' sites and that they are related to yours in some way. By the same token, you must be prepared to trade links with your partners in good faith, which includes devoting premium space to your link partners and limiting the number of outbound links on your site.

Here are some important points to keep in mind when swapping links with another site:

* Is the site in question relevant to yours in some way? Traffic is one thing, but high-quality, targeted traffic traffic is another. While you can get clicks by swapping links with an unrelated site, you can get more relevant traffic at higher click-through rates from sites are related to yours.

* Is the site complementary to yours, or is it a direct competitor? It's not always true that linking to a direct competitor will be detrimental to your business. No two sites are exactly identical. There must be something different that the other site offers that yours doesn't. Ask yourself whether or not the benefits from exchanging links with a competitor will outweigh the potential harms.

* Get an idea of your potential link partner's traffic before trading links with them. Ideally, you'd want to trade links with sites that have comparable or higher traffic than yours. Don't trade links with low-traffic sites as you could gain more by exchanging links with high-traffic ones. One exception to this rule is if the site under consideration is new and looks promising, in which case, the immediate liability in linking to the site is outweighed by the potential future benefits.

You could look at various analytical parameters, such as PageRank, Alexa ranking, link popularity, search ranking, to gauge a potential linking partner's traffic. But none of these measurements are definitive, so there is an art to deciding whether or not a site is worth swapping links with.

* Where will your link appear on your partner's site? Will your link appear in a highly visible spot or in the footer? Footer links will not get you many direct clicks and may not even help you in the search engine rankings.

* How many outbound links does your potential linking partner have? The fewer the number of competing links, the greater the chance that your link will be clicked on.

* Will your link be placed on only a single page or site-wide on your partner's site? Site-wide links provide the greatest exposure as visitors may exit from any page on your partner's site to your site. If your link partner does not do site-wides for any reason, make sure they link to your site from a prominent place on their home page. Links from "Links" or "Resources" pages will not get you much traffic.

The worst possible way to trade links with another site is to have your link appear on a dangling "Links" page to which a visitor cannot reach from the site's home page. Reciprocal links set up in this way is usually done in bad faith and serve no other purpose than to manipulate the search engines and/or cheat linking partners.

* Make sure that your anchor text (link title) is descriptive and keyword-rich. Descriptive, keyword-rich link titles not only will not only get more people to click on your site, but also will help more in the search engine rankings-- to the extent that reciprocal links provide any SEO benefits at all. But we're not concerned about search engines, are we? Bear in mind that your main focus is the people who visit your partner's site, not the search engine bots.

* When in doubt, use the "no follow" tag. If there is any concern whatsoever, by you or your linking partner, about the potential adverse effects of reciprocal linking on search engine rankings, use the "no follow" tag to link to each other.

Site-wide links are often frowned upon because they are thought be penalized by search engines. While this may or may not be true, using the "no follow" tag will circumvent the fear altogether. A "no follow" attribute tells a search engine not to follow the link or factor it into the destination page's link popularity, thereby stripping any SEO benefits from the link. To the extent that the link exchange is done in good faith to swap traffic rather than link popularity, the use of the "no follow" tag should not be a concern.

* Keep an eye out on your link partners. While you should be very selective who to swap links with, so that they don't try to cheat down the line, it's good practice to check on your partners' sites from time to time. While there are software programs to help you check whether or not your partners are still linking to you, you shouldn't have swapped links with too many sites in the first place to have to rely on these automated systems. You should be able to check manually by clicking on your partners' links one by one and verifying that they are still linking to you under the terms initially agreed upon.
About the Author
Oudam Em is the webmaster of UnlimitedTraffic.net, a site that offers a wide range of cost-effective web traffic solutions. Download his SEOPal Toolbar to have all the best SEO and internet marketing tools and resources at your fingertips.
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