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Reciprocal Linking: Is it
still worth the effort?
Donald Nelson, copyright 2006
When the Internet was young, ten years ago, one of my most
pleasurable online activities was to go to a site’s link page
and follow the links to some cool sites. Equally fascinating
was the prospect of having my site listed on some of those
links pages, which prompted me to get into the activity now
known as reciprocal linking, or trading links with other
My, how times have changed! Now whenever a reciprocal link
request lands in my “in box” I delete it immediately just like
other pieces of obvious spam. How did this come to pass? As
soon as it became known that Google’s PageRank system rewarded
sites for incoming links, the trading of links, and even the
buying and selling of links, heated up and most webmasters got
into the act.
To make matters even worse the flood of reciprocal requests
became a tidal wave in the past year as people sought to cash
in on Adsense, Google’s contextual advertising system. Many
sites have been constructed whose sole purpose is to get
people to click on ads. The owners of these sites have built
complex link directories on their sites and are soliciting
link exchanges, in hopes that many incoming links to their
sites will boost them in search engine rankings.
The net result of these developments is that most requests
that one receives these days are automated and will provide
you with links on directory pages that have no PageRank and
will hardly ever be seen by any human visitor. Another
consequence is that when you, in good faith, send an email to
someone requesting a legitimate exchange of links you may
never get a reply because your email will be deleted by a
webmaster, sick and tired of all the requests.
So is reciprocal linking a dead duck? The answer is a
qualified “yes.” It takes a long time to conduct a link
campaign these days, and it is harder to get links on sites
with link pages that will generate traffic or help you with
your search engine ranking.
Thus you should not have big expectations about reciprocal
linking. If you do want to build up your incoming links with
this method you should do it in a highly targeted manner.
Concentrate on trading links with sites that are closely
related to yours. If you sell lawn mowers, then trade links
with someone who is selling grass seed.
If you are not sure who might be a good link partner then
visit the site of one of your competitors. If you have a
Google tool bar installed do a “backward links” check which
will produce a list of sites that link to your competitor. If
you don’t have the toolbar installed just go to Google’s
search page and make the following query:
Look at the sites that are linking to your competitor and see
if you can find link pages that have a good PageRank (3 or
more) and are situated so that they could send you traffic.
These are the “plums” and you should try to pick them, by
soliciting a link exchange with those sites.
Also, scrutinize the pages where your link might be placed. If
it is buried deep in a directory or not within two clicks of
the main part of the website then you can forget about
exchanging links with that site. If the link pages have more
than 50 links sloppily arranged, then you will also get little
benefit from such an exchange.
This is a time consuming practice, and the results are
diminishing. Along with reciprocal linking you should also try
other ways of getting incoming links: distributing articles
and press releases online with a link back to your site and
buying or getting free placement in online directories.
In the cases of article distribution and also directory
placement, the biggest results will come when your article or
directory listing is highly targeted. If you can get an
article placed in a high volume newsletter or an oft-visited
blog then you have hit the jackpot.
Similarly if you find a directory that is important for
your industry, a listing there may be well worth it even if
you have to pay for it.
The reciprocal linking landscape has changed a lot in the past
ten years, and even in the past one year. Reciprocal linking
can be used judiciously but it is no longer the powerful
traffic generating method that it once was.
Nelson is a web developer, editor and social worker. He has
been working on the Internet since 1995, and is currently the
director of A1-Optimization (http://www.a1-optimization.com),
a firm providing low cost search engine optimization,
submission and web promotion services.