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The Cold, Hard Truth About Reciprocal Links and SEO

Reciprocal linking sounds like a great SEO deal.

You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.

Today, we’re going to discuss the cold, hard truth about reciprocal linking.

True, backlinks are influential SEO factors that you need to work on your site.

Since they work like recommendations from different sites, you need to find high-quality, authoritative sites where you can acquire a backlink.

Then the more high-quality links you build, the higher your search rankings will be, right?

False, all backlinks are not the same.

This is what makes link building one of the most challenging tasks in SEO.

To be clear, building links to your site isn’t the difficult part. Anyone can get a bunch of easy links on poor-quality sites—but those do very little for your SEO and SERP rankings. It’s building links that increase your search rankings that’s challenging.

As with any SEO task, there are many different strategies to acquire backlinks from websites.

When you find the perfect, high-quality, high-authority sites to place your backlinks, you want the webmaster to have a great reason to add your link.

True, you do need to find a way for site owners to grant you backlinks on their sites.

The first instinct appears to be buttering up webmasters. You want to offer the target site’s owner something valuable, something for their time spent adding a backlink for you. Why would they add a backlink if there isn’t something in it for them?

That’s why proposing reciprocal linking is the best strategy, right?

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False, reciprocal linking is not always a good link-building strategy.

The Cold, Hard Truth About Reciprocal Links and SEO

What Are Reciprocal Links and How Do They Work?

Reciprocal linking occurs when two or more parties link to each other on their respective sites.

For example, site A wants to boost page X’s search engine ranking for a target keyword. Site A would then reach out to site B proposing that they exchange links. Site A would request site B to link to page X. In return, site A will place a link to site B’s page Y—or any chosen page that site B wants to have ranking in search results.

In layman’s terms, it’s very similar to the “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” concept. Both parties acquire links from each other in the hopes of raising the search ranking of their pages for their respective keywords. Once their rankings do increase, they can attract more clicks and increase their traffic. It’s a win-win situation!

Do Reciprocal Links Work?

Reciprocal linking is a divisive topic in the SEO community.

To apologists, reciprocal links are just like any acquired backlinks from any site. For them, it doesn’t matter if the process of link exchange is prearranged. As long as the link points back to your site, it will be treated like any other backlink.

To dissenters, this link building tactic can be considered as a link scheme and violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These types of links aren’t acquired through natural means—it takes two or more site owners to collude and link back to each other’s sites.

Compared to other link building techniques, reciprocal linking has the greatest possibility of being abused. A webmaster can reciprocally link between sites he or she owns and pass the backlinks off as earned. Site owners may rely on this tactic to build links in the hopes of increasing their search position, which could result in spammy links.

So, Should I Still Do Reciprocal Linking?

While the last section may seem to make a case against reciprocal linking, there’s no solid proof to back up these claims. There are no case studies that attest to the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of reciprocal links in SEO.

While the jury is still out reciprocal linking, there are questions that you should ask yourself when approaching this tactic:

Is the link contextually relevant?

If you’re trying to earn a link from a site that has high SEO metrics but has nothing to do with your niche, then you’re obviously manipulating your search results, which is against Google’s guidelines.

It makes your link stand out like a sore thumb and leave a bad taste in the mouths of readers. Worse, your page’s position may drop in search results because you disregard the relevance of your link to the content.

To avoid issues with this tactic, you need to exchange links with sites related to the topic of your site. If you want to build links to your site about automobiles, for instance, you need to hook up with people who own sites about road travel and auto repair. Both niches are related to cars and vice versa so it makes sense to link back to each other.

It’s also important to consider that, in most cases, the sites conducting reciprocal link exchanges are non-competing sites. Site owners don’t reach out to sites vying for the exact same target keywords because the chances of getting a link from that site are slim to none. Reciprocal links work best when the sites are somewhat related thematically, but are targeting different keywords and audiences.

Are you adding value to your content?

Linking to high-quality resources related to your article will help readers learn more about the subject. Getting a link back from another site should only be a consolation prize.

What’s important is supplying your target audience with the best possible information, which also includes the links you feature in the content.

Does the link have good SEO metrics?

For reciprocal linking, ironically enough, SEO metrics should be an afterthought. You need focus on providing value to the audience of the site you wish to acquire a link from.

However, if you want to maximize your reciprocal linking, you should still check the SEO metrics of your prospective site.

Since you may be dealing with hundreds of sites you want to gain a link from, you can use Monitor Backlinks to find and filter sites that you should prioritize based on their SEO factors. Either log into your full Monitor Backlinks SEO Tool account or hop right on over to the Free Backlink Checker.

Enter a competitor URL in the Free Backlinks checker and you’ll see the sites that have linked back to your competitor. Since they’ve linked back to content similar to the one you’ve made, they’re probably interested in linking out to your content as well.

You might also notice opportunities in broken backlinks or links that lead to pages they no longer have active. You can swoop in, contact the webmaster in charge of that backlink and let them know that your content is better to link out to.

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To find the best sites to reach out for a link exchange, you need to use the SEO factors available on this page as a reference. For example, you can focus on sites with high Domain Authority if you want to pass link juice to your page and increase the authority of your page.

Determine the sites based on your preferred metric and reach out to each one of them from top to bottom.

Real-life Examples of Reciprocal Linking

One of the earliest examples of reciprocal linking comes from online directories. For the directory to successfully include your link, you either need to pay them or link back to their site on your homepage.

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If you don’t pay online directories, then you should instead link out to them on the page you’re submitting to them. It’s an ingenious way for them to acquire more links.

This practice is prominent among online directories even today. However, they no longer carry the weight they did years ago in terms of SEO, which explains why you no longer see links to directories on most sites.

Also, you don’t want to link out to these if you want to improve your site’s overall SEO performance—which I’m sure you do. Linking to directory sites doesn’t make sense for most, especially if you’re working on a site that has nothing to do with directories. If you want to continue with this tactic, at least submit your sites on directories that don’t require reciprocal linking.

Another avenue where reciprocal linking is rampant nowadays is blogger outreach.

Some outreach emails I’ve received about linking to the sender’s resources are… bad. They don’t really care about providing value to my site—they simply want to get that all-important backlink on my site.

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However, I’ve received outreach emails that make a great case for reciprocal linking:

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In the example above, it’s clear that the blogger is thinking about the value his resource page will provide to me and my audience. He makes a very reasonable proposal and explains the SEO benefits his idea will bring to our pages. Also, the page he wants me to link on my site is insightful and offers value to my readers.

Comparing both emails I received is like night and day. Blogger outreach for reciprocal linking is only as good as the intention behind it. If you simply want to generate backlinks to your page, then don’t expect to get backlinks at all. I felt this was the modus operandi of the blogger in the first example, which is why I ignored his request.

Is Reciprocal Linking Right for Me?

You want the truth?

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The truth of the matter is that reciprocal linking is a curious case. There’s no hard data that analyzes the relationship between reciprocal linking and SEO.

Therefore, the verdict is still up in the air for reciprocal linking.

I’m not saying that reciprocal links are in the clear and you should integrate them into your link-building strategy.

What I am saying, however, is that you should practice common sense when it comes to building links.

Since this tactic remains in the SEO gray area, you need to approach it with caution. If you feel the need to practice it on your site, you should always think of your audience and think of how your links will impact the quality of your content for your readers.

In other words, if the priority of your reciprocal link building is to simply generate as many links as possible, then it won’t work.

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