SEO

Reciprocal Linking for Ranking is Anything But Dead

Over the past couple of years I’ve heard the mantra that the value of reciprocal linking is diminishing daily, to the point where it’s no longer worth the time and effort.

Even Google’s Matt Cutts has said, “As Google changes algorithms over time, excessive reciprocal links will probably carry less weight.”

In fact, one of my own quick search engine optimization tips is: The acid test for a potential link is if there is a natural, logical reason for that site to link to you. If not, then you don’t want the link.

If Google’s recent rankings are any evidence, then that mantra is dead wrong and Matt, it ain’t working!

Over the past few months I have noticed that fairly new sites with thousands of reciprocal links, frequently using keyword phrases for anchor text, have come out of nowhere to rank extremely well, sometimes dominating their space. Some are just using power reciprocal linking. Others are combining thousands of reciprocal links with another supposedly dead black hat technique, triangular linking, sometimes called a mini-net.

For this article, I’ll use an example of a site using purely reciprocal links to power it.

Here’s one site that didn’t show up in Google Trends until about March and is now ranking #2 for “sunglasses” in the Google serps.

Google Trends for reciprocal link driven site

The site itself is pleasant enough, but until recently, the only way to contact whoever is running it was using an e-mail form. No address or location information is given, nor is any information about who owns it, just that it is incorporated in Toronto. All I can tell from a domain check is that it was registered with GoDaddy.com and the I.P. is in Albany, New York. They don’t appear to want you to have much information about them. Only recently have they added a telephone number so that orders can be placed by phone.

Not what I would call a trusted, authority site.

What appears to be driving the rankings for this site is the sheer volume of backlinks to it, mostly from reciprocal linking. The site includes a link page that lists hundreds of their link buddies, almost none theme related. The links are from every variety, size and flavor of web site, blog and directory out there.

So much for the value of link theme.

Here’s what Yahoo! Site Explorer sees:

Backlinks for this reciprocal link driven site

See that correctly? This site has 184,079 links to it! By comparison, I did the same backlink check for the Coca-Cola web site, a trusted site with a long history and authority. It only has 87,971 backlinks.

Clearly, reciprocal links are still working and well for many sites that otherwise would be left in the dust by longer established sites with more history and backlinks with theme focus.

I still don’t recommend this magnitude of reciprocal linking, though. Google is supposed to consider massive link trading to be spam, even though it currently appears to be ignoring it’s own statement:

“A spike may indicate either a topical phenomenon (e.g., a hot topic) or an attempt to spam search engine 125 by, for example, trading or purchasing links.”

Apparently, if you can get enough links of any kind, you can still power your way to the top in Google.

At least for the moment.

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10 thoughts on “Reciprocal Linking for Ranking is Anything But Dead

  1. I laughed out loud when I read “At least for the moment”

    Clearly reciprocal links aren’t going away nor are the methods to obtain them.

    Somewhat of a rough transition, but we’ve just launched a backlink prospecting beta test for SEOs. It’s free and should give you a river of backlink candidates.

    More info is here: http://www.attributor.com/link_building_beta

    Feel free to contact me directly at rich(at)attributor(dot)com

    Rich

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  3. Laurisa Katritch says:

    Google has an issue with EXCESSIVE reciprocal linking but obtaining decent links via relevant link exchange is as old as the hills and still works. Google doesn’t want the rate at which you obtain links to exceeed “excesive” (whatever that means). Reciprocal linking is alive and well, expecially among niche sites like my 7 yr old ewelry site.

  4. Jhonny says:

    Great Post. In our industry, which is HIGHLY competitive, we have seen this happening too.

    And the serps are very different even whenhitting refresh on terms that usually don’t change very much.

    Google needs to away their toys and spamapedia projects and get back to the search engine. Oh and can they fix webmaster tools?

  5. “Wouldn’t you call 187,079 backlinks a bit excessive?”

    I would 🙂 That’s a massive amount. And reciprocals are actually quite hard work to obtain, so although they are unrelated sites, there’s a huge amount of effort gone into this ranking.

    Now whethere it will “stick” or not is another question, it may well fall back down, as this is a behaviour I see quite often.

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  8. Just an FYI. I spoke with Google’s Matt Cutts at SES San Jose about this. He was most interested in hearing about how well massive reciprocal linking appears to still be working. He jotted down a few notes and assured me that this is NOT a tactic any SEOs should be implementing, which, of course, we know.

    Frustrating that it still seems to be effective, though, and even more frustrating when it is pointed out to Google and they appear to ignore it.

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