Reciprocal Linking is still Good
Although there is a little less fuss about link building and PageRank (PR) today than, say, a couple of years ago, the topic still attracts a lot of attention in the forums. PR remains an important influence on SERPs. And for most of us, reciprocal links remains the only viable link building strategy.
But it’s now fashionable to claim that reciprocal linking is dead, doesn’t work, doesn’t matter, can penalise your pages or even get your pages banned.
In particular the idea that reciprocal links can get you penalised or banned is the result of simplistic and warped reasoning that doesn’t stand the test of a little scrutiny.
At the heart of this reasoning lie two central “ideas”:
1. Google and consorts need to combat the use of automated link building methods.
2. The algo’s wisdom is infinite.
While point 1. may be something Google may wish to do, it largely remains wishful thinking and not strictly necessary (see further down). Detecting a certain practice is one thing but making sure that a malicious competitor cannot emulate that practice is quite another. By emulating I mean making it look like one of their competitors is engaging in that practice.
Making it look like someone is reciprocally linking is free and easy (I’m not suggesting you do this). Just sign up a competitor site to linkpartners.com, using your own email address. Choose a text anchor and description. Reciprocate to incoming requests from your own site. Technically it isn’t reciprocal linking but it sure as hell looks like it: always the same text anchor and always pointing to the same page: these are telltale signs of reciprocal link building. Most other link building programs or software would allow you to construct similar Google bombs.
But, if you can think of this, then so can Google. Who links to you and how is outside your control and it cannot penalise you. Here’s how they put it:
From Google’s “Webmasters facts and fiction”:
Fiction: A competitor can ruin a site's ranking somehow or have another site removed from Google's index.
Fact: There is almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. Your rank and your inclusion are dependent on factors under your control as a webmaster, including content choices and site design.
That brings me to point 2. To detect these practices and emulations would technically be extremely challenging, while completely unnecessary. Instead, it’s much easier for an algorithm to evaluate a number of positive criteria to determine value of a particular link. There are likely to be quite a few aspects of each link that are taken into consideration. The net result is that natural links prevail over reciprocal ones, without actual detection of reciprocal links.
So, whilst reciprocal links have less value, there is no reason to stop reciprocation or change linking strategy completely.