Are Reciprocal Links Bad for SEO?

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Undoubtedly, link building plays a crucial role in helping you move your website higher up the search engine rankings. While there are many ways to build links, reciprocal linking is one of them. In this post, I’ll provide you with some valuable insights on reciprocal links.

What Exactly Are Reciprocal Links?

Have you ever received a reply to one of your outreach email mentioning something like this: 

“We would love to link to your page if you can link to us (You link to me, and I’ll link to you)…i.e., Reciprocity 

Essentially, reciprocal links are considered as those links where website owners link to each other’s pages as a link building tactic. This type of occurrence used to be quite common in the past, but with the advancement of Google’s search engines algorithm, it has died down.

Ahrefs conducted an interesting study where they looked at links for about 140,000 websites with more than 10,000 monthly visitors per site. One of the results showed that approximately 73% of the websites had reciprocal links. 

This part of the study indicated that reciprocal links tend to occur naturally between authority sites.

Will Reciprocal Links Hurt Your SEO?

The answer is they may or may not hurt your rankings depending upon how you do it. According to Google webmaster guidelines, excessive link exchanges are considered as a part of link schemes. And there is a high probability that they may affect your search engine rankings over time.

In the past, many webmasters used to create pages specifically for the purpose of link exchanges. There were scenarios where a webmaster could have three to four different sites with many links between the websites. 

However, this sort of practice doesn’t work anymore. 

In my opinion, the best way to build links is by building relationships through influencer outreach via email. The higher your content quality, the more chances you will have of getting links. 

The question is, what should you do if the influencer asks for a backlink in return? After all, a link exchange can be better than no link at all. 

If you follow the guidelines below, you shouldn’t face any issue with reciprocal linking. But keep in mind, the value of a reciprocal link is always lesser as compared to a one-way link. 

Exchange Links with Related Websites 

If your company manufactures tennis rackets, then you don’t want to exchange links with a debt management company. Unless, of course, you have topics on your website that are related to each other, which is highly unlikely.

On the other hand, exchanging links with a website related to sports news shouldn’t be a problem. Before exchanging a link, ask yourself, will the link pointing to the other website look logical, and would it provide any value to the audience of that page? If not, avoid it altogether.

A few links from unrelated sites is not a big deal, but you don’t want to overdo it. The practice also makes it harder for search engines to decide the keywords to rank your topic for.

Don’t Exchange Links with Low-Quality Websites

In search engine terms, there is no clear definition of a low-quality website. Any website that looks untrustworthy to the average person can be deemed as a poor one. 

After having a closer look at a website, you might be able to figure out if it is set up to manipulate search engine rankings. A site like this will likely have poor content, and it may have links at irrelevant places.

While you may not get a direct penalty for linking out to low-quality websites but it is a negative signal which may start to affect your search engine ranking at one point or another.

Also, a site may start out as a quality site, but it may become untrustworthy over time. So it’s a good idea to review your external links after every few months.

Ensure the Link is Relevant 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this one. I’m sure you always ensure the link relevancy whenever you are linking out. When it comes to reciprocal links, you should be more careful. 

Always place the link on a relevant piece of content or add the context to make it look relevant.

Example: If you have a page on “Stock Photography Guidelines for Students and Universities,” and you want to link out to a page on “charity or non-profit WordPress themes.” You can add a line or two at the appropriate place. Something like: “I recommend to make use of these non-profit themes here for your school project or college-related WordPress website.”

Also, if your website mostly has outgoing links only on keywords, it’s not a very good practice and can get your site penalized. While Google will not penalize you for incoming links, you should be careful with your outgoing ones.

Google gives a lot of emphasis on content that enhances user experience. If your link is not contextually relevant, it won’t make your readers very happy.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, reciprocal links are not entirely bad, but it’s better if your link building campaigns are not focused around it.  

I don’t mind going for a reciprocal link here and there if it’s relevant and provides value to my users. Usually, when someone asks for a link exchange, I offer them a link to one of their resource pages in a relevant guest post. 

In case you are good at creating and editing images, you can also offer a customized image for a webpage. It can work if the blog editor agrees to credit your website in return with a link. 

If you reach out to a site for a reciprocal link, ensure your link will provide value to their readers and similarly, the link you are asking for should provide value to your readers.

Always consider how your outgoing link will impact your readers. If you have a relatively new website, focus on establishing relationships, and build links slowly over time.

Author – Amos Struck


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