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Are reciprocal links bad for my website?

Computer handshake

Are reciprocal links bad for my website?

A question I was asked recently concerned reciprocal linking, and whether or not it would have a negative impact on a website.

Reciprocal linking is something that has existed for decades in the SEO (search engine optimisation) industry, and I remember having this same discussion around 2001. That takes me back!

First off, what is a reciprocal link?

Website owners often have an unhealthy obsession with links to their website. Links are seen as ‘votes’ for a website, and the more links you have, the better you may rank in Google for relevant keywords. There’s a bit more to it than that, but essentially more links equals “good”.

When you’re looking to build links to your website, and to get other people to link to you, one of the ways you may think of doing it is by offering to link to a friend’s website in exchange for them linking back to you. So your website links to theirs, and their website links to yours. It’s a two-way link – a reciprocal link. Sounds like a good idea, no?

It was one of the earliest link-building ‘ideas’. Of course, Google is smart enough to know something like this happens and devalues reciprocal links. Note that word ‘devalues’ – that doesn’t mean you get penalised for having them; they don’t adversely affect your website’s rankings.

The next bright idea way back then was to have ‘three-way links’. A three-way link is where website A links to website B, website B links to website C and website C links to website A. Every website gets a link, and nobody has a reciprocal link. Guess what? Google knows about that too and it doesn’t work for increasing your rankings.

Then followed link farms and web rings, but we don’t need to go into those as they’re not really something you need to be looking into.

So, should you add reciprocal links between your website and someone else’s? That depends on whether or not the links are relevant. If your website is for a plumber, and your friend’s website is a florist… then no, don’t do that. If, however, your website is for a plumber and your friend’s website sells appliances, like dishwashers and washing machines, then yes.

Before linking to any website, ask yourself if that link helps your audience. Is the website you’re linking to of benefit to your website’s readers? If it is, then link to it. If it’s not, then don’t. Getting preoccupied with links for the sake of SEO and increased rankings is not the way to think. Google wants to rank websites that are good for its users, not websites that have the most links. Websites naturally have more links if they are good websites.

It’s essentially very simple.

When someone makes a search in Google, they’re looking for something. It may be the answer to a question, or to find a product or service. Google wants to offer the best website that meets that need, not the website with the most links.

Look at what you do as a business. What problems do you solve? What are your clients or customers looking for? Does your website contain this information? Does it answer the questions they have? Is it the best source of information in your industry, in your area? If it’s not, then you can’t expect it to rank well in Google because it’s not what Google wants to present to its users.

Whether or not you have reciprocal links with someone else’s website won’t affect this. Concentrate on your own website, and make it the best website it can be, with the most comprehensive information.

Darren Jamieson
  • I was aware of the concept, but definitely not of the implications behind using it. Google’s ranking system tends to make a lot of sense and your points definitely support a claim like that.

    I do have a few questions, though: at what point does Google identify links as reciprocal links and not just one website giving a little appreciation to another? (say through a referral, of sorts)

    Or do they perhaps take it at face value? Context and quantity do not matter; they will just identify it as one thing and move on.

    Whatever the case, this was an interesting read. I am beginning to understand the inner workings of SEO more and more thanks to these posts.

    Thank you. =D

    PS, nice to know this topic evokes some kind of nostalgic feeling inside you!

  • To be honest, if we knew exactly how Google valued links it would be too easy to subvert its rankings. Additionally, if we did know it would then change the way it worked so that we didn’t.

    However – the strength of the websites would be a factor. Say, for example, the BBC’s website linked to a new website for a small business, and the small business website linked back to the BBC’s website – that would be a reciprocal link. The value of the link from the BBC to the small website would be much greater than the value of the link back so, while still being a reciprocal link, it would still have great benefit to the small business website.

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