In their official quality guidelines, Google claims that “excessive link exchanges (‘link to me and I’ll link to you’) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” will negatively impact the rankings of a website in search results and potentially result in a penalty. In our humble view, there are two important points to extrapolate from this admittedly terse explanation:
- The word “excessive” is key here. It implies that reciprocal linking is more likely to result in penalties for a website when Google sees them doing it over and over and over again.
- The intention behind a reciprocal link determines the severity of its impact on a website, and two websites agreeing to exchange links “exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” isn’t the same as two websites exchanging links for legitimate and natural reasons.
The takeaway here is that unnatural and excessive reciprocal linking should always be avoided. We understand it can be tempting when a blog approaches you with a juicy “link-for-link” offer, but its really not worth the potential risks.
Here’s a quick reference point for all the millennials out there: have you ever seen someone on Facebook going through an egotistical phase and essentially laundering hundreds of likes on their profile pictures by offering “like for like”? Do you remember how desperate it looked? Remember how suspicious their badly-lit, badly-framed, badly-captioned mirror selfies looked with 300+ likes tacked to the bottom? Yeah, reciprocal linking is pretty much the same thing, only instead of bored teenagers exchanging likes on profile pics it’s websites exchanging links. In cases where Google sees two (or more) websites linking back and forth and it looks forced, they may devalue those links and (in the worst cases) give penalties to the offending websites.
Exceptions to the rule
There are certain cases where it could be advantageous for two websites to link to each other. Although these matters are never black and white, it’s worth considering some examples of this. One type of situation in which reciprocal linking may occur quite naturally is when two parties are working together in a business capacity. For example, it is common to a see backlinks to website designers or development agencies at the bottom of certain websites’ homepages (although such links should not be used in the footer as this risks being unnatural and spammy). In such cases, whoever is responsible for designing or developing the website in question may want to return their client’s favour by giving them a link back, usually in the form of a case study. Even in such cases, however, you should be careful not to overdo it.
Reciprocal linking may also occur when you link to a page because it has a link to your website. For instance, if a business has been mentioned (and linked) in an article from a trusted source, there’s nothing wrong with that business showing off the article in which they were mentioned. Yes, this would mean posting a reciprocal link to your website. But since it’s a natural response to a naturally-occuring link the chances are that there will be no major repercussions. In fact, we’d encourage it – let your customers know how great you are!
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