Have you ever received one of those friendly neighborhood spam messages that say, “Linky linky linky, I give you a link here [insert url], and you give me a link here [insert url], deal?” It sounds like a win-win strategy, right? Wrong, this is what Google Guidelines have to say about reciprocal linking…
From my early encounters with reciprocal linking, I always saw the strategy as spammy and outdated that will surely get your websites penalized. However, recent data have shown that this may not be the case in every situation. The keywords to take away from the Googles Guidelines page, and I am not talking SEO keywords are, “exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.” Now the question we have to ask is, “What situations is reciprocal linking not exclusively for cross-linking?”
Keep reading as we dive in-depth into everything you need to know about reciprocal linking in 2019…
What Are Reciprocals Links?
Reciprocal links are when two or more parties link to each other from their sites. There are a few different ways to do reciprocal linking. For starters, there is the most common method that we always hear about, which is asking for links. For instance, Site A is a construction website that wants to rank higher in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), so they reach out to all of the other construction sites on Google asking to exchange links. This example is a precise manipulation of Googles Guidelines and will surely get your website penalized.
Although, one may think surely nobody must do reciprocal linking it merely does not work, well that is not always true. According to Ahrefs, reciprocal links are more common than we believe. Take a look at the results for yourself:
Now we know out of 140,592 random domains with at least 10k organic visits/month they are reciprocal linking 17.61% of the time. What this means is 24,758 sites that are receiving 10k organic visits/month are reciprocal linking and not getting penalized by Google.
How is this possible? Let’s find out…
Do Reciprocal Links Work and Should You Be Doing Them In 2019?
The short answer is yes, reciprocal links do work, and they are worth doing when done correctly. However, if you are having trouble believing reciprocal links work then her
Nearly half of the top 10 ranking pages they observed or 43.7% have some reciprocal links. What this means is 4-5 out of every top 10 organic Google rankings have reciprocal links and are not being penalized for it. Conclusive data and evidence show that reciprocal linking is something that you can do and almost have to do to rank in the top 10 organic search results on Google. Although, there are some questions that you may want to ask yourself before engaging in reciprocal linking.
Is the Link Contextually Relevant?
Are you one of those “link builders” that spams 10,000 websites in a mass blast borderline begging for them to add your link in niches that are not related to your own? If you are one of those “link builders,” you need to stop right now. Not only are you putting your site at risk, but you are also giving genuine link builders a bad name when sending out these spam blasts. The best way to do reciprocal linking is to provide something of value that is contextually relevant to who you are pitching. If you are having trouble with pitching websites you may want to check out this recent case study on how we scaled our guest post campaigns to 60+ per month. In the case study, we cover the principles of creating a personalized email template at scale and providing value.
The simple fix for contextual relevance is only to exchange links with sites that are directly or indirectly related to your own. An excellent example of this is if you own a plumbing business, then you need to exchange links with sites about home repair, water management, and home maintenance. All of the niches have to do with housing in one way or another, so they are indirectly relevant to one another. More so, none of the sites compete with one another, which means the chance of them accepting your link is much higher. Think about it would another plumber link out to his competition? The answer is no; it would be business suicide to refer their web visitors to their competitors. Not only that, but it would be against their best interest to bless their competitors with a glorious backlink in the eyes of Google. However, finding contextually relevant sites to pitch your link to is only the first part of the puzzle.
Does The Link Provide Value To The Prospect?
Once more, are you one of those link builders that send out a massive spam blast to contextually relevant sites asking for a link and not providing value? If so, you deserve a manual action penalty. Just reaching out to contextually relevant sites and asking them for a link because it makes contextual sense is not enough. From now on stop thinking about what’s in it for you when reaching out to websites and start thinking about what’s in it for them.
The better option would be to create or have a high-quality resource or linkable asset that provides something that would be a perfect fit for a prospect or site you are reaching out to. Let’s take the Ahrefs case study on reciprocal linking that we mentioned multiple times in this article as an example. Since Ahrefs possesses the only case study proving reciprocal linking works on the internet and is backed up by data, they can use this as leverage when pitching prospects. Just look at how many articles there are about reciprocal linking on Google…
There are over 20 million results on Google that cover or include reciprocal linking. Every single one of these results is prime prospects for Ahrefs case study. The reason being is that Ahrefs case study would be valuable for these websites to add because it shows data that proves reciprocal linking works. Since Ahrefs is the only website on the internet with data showing this, then their data is rare and highly sought after by these prospects. Having something of value and finding another website that needs it and they have something of value for your site is a perfect source of reciprocal links.
What Makes a Quality Reciprocal Link?
Determining if a link is worth having is a subject that we can all agree on is worth doing. A link must be quality based on some kind of statistics to show that it benefits our site in the eyes of Google. Nobody wants a weak quality link that does nothing for your website in the Search Engine Results Pages. One of the goals in a reciprocal link building campaign is almost always boosting organic search traffic, so this step is obvious.
Even though this is the most obvious step determining if a link is quality is something that is often disputed among link builders. Linkody has an excellent backlink checker that uses Moz Metrics, among other factors, to determine if the links you are acquiring are quality. Using metrics and a backlink checker like the one from Linkody is one quality source for determining if a link is worth it or not. Linkody is an excellent option for link builders because it solely focuses on links and gives you a lower price than Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, and Alexa.
Personally, at Seowithdavid, we like to take it a step further than solely looking at things like Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR). These metrics are determined by an API that crawls Googles Search Engines, which sounds great; however, they do not have the power to crawl every website. What this means is many websites do not have a DA or DR, and there are often bugs that may show a lower DA or DR rating than reality. For this reason at Seowithdavid, we like to check traffic and relevancy as our two key indicators on if a link is worth having or not. The higher the traffic and the more relevant the site is to our niche, the more valuable the link.
How To Do Reciprocal Linking and Not Get Penalized By Google?
As we know, Google’s Guidelines clearly say that reciprocal linking will be penalized if it is exclusively for cross-linking purposes. However, this does not mean all reciprocal linking is bad. Google encourages and expects reciprocal linking if it happens naturally and adds value to the content. Google wants its search engine to be the highest quality aggregator of information on the internet and reciprocal links when adding value do just that.
Here is a recent scenario where we used reciprocal linking the right way and added value to our content for one of our sites davidbuyshousesflorida.com
We were reaching out sites during a guest posting campaign and reached out to Abodo a platform that has helped over 2,000,000 renters find an apartment. Our site David Buys Houses Florida is a real estate investing site that buys houses from people that need to sell their house fast and is unable to do so traditionally with a realtor. Abodo being in the real estate industry it made it an ideal relevant prospect not to mention it receives over 500k traffic every month. When we reached out, Abodo wanted to do a link exchange where we wrote a guest post for their site, and in exchange, we linked to their site or content in one of our posts.
On normal circumstances, we would not condone this behavior; however, Abodo happens to be a perfect contextual fit for our blog article, “Should I Sell My House or Rent It?” Contextual relevance is when a link in an article is directly related and beneficial to the main idea of the article.
We added Abodo’s link because it provided value to the readers in helping them find an apartment through their app, and it is relevant to our article. In exchange, we wrote them a valuable and beneficial guest post that directly benefits their audience of apartment renters and helps them lower their water bill.
Our guest post was genuinely valuable to their audience and relevant. Our link was added contextually as an expert on the subject. In this scenario, a reciprocal link would be hard to be penalized by Google because we both provided value to each other’s websites. Both Abodo and David Buys Houses Florida did not exchange links just for the sake of cross-linking as it says not to do in Googles Guidelines.
Is Reciprocal Linking a Good Fit For You?
The cold hard truth is it depends on your goals for the link building campaign. Earning links benefits a website in three ways.
- Boosting Organic Rankings For Keywords
- Building Brand Awareness Across The Web
- Driving Targeted Referal Traffic That Buys What You Are Selling
Not every link building strategy can hit all three of these benefits consistently, and it is best to decide which one you want most before starting a campaign. In the case of reciprocal linking, you will benefit from boosting organic rankings this one is for certain. However, when it comes to brand awareness and driving targeted referral traffic, it depends on many other factors. We are not saying you cannot attain brand awareness and drive targeted referral traffic; in fact, you definitely can, if that fits your goals. Reciprocal link building for brand awareness and targeted referral traffic largely depends on the traffic the page that you are targeting is receiving and how high up your link will be placed. A page that is receiving no traffic will never be seen so you will not receive any referral traffic. On the other hand, if that page is on a highly authoritative site in your niche, then you can display that on your website and build brand awareness. Of course, these factors are interchangeable and only a small sample size of the factors to consider.
The bottom line is that reciprocal linking is proven to work by data, and when done, the correct way will not put your site in danger for a Google manual action penalty. Now that you know everything that you need to know about reciprocal linking go out and try it for yourself!