Should I respond to reciprocal link requests?
I get asked this question all the time by many of our clients. They'll shoot through a reciprocal link request they've received and ask me if they:
1. Should create a reciprocal linking page on their site to link back to people who link to them, and;
2. whether it's a good reciprocal linking opportunity at all.
There are few reciprocal linking scams going around at the moment which I'll discuss shortly, but before I do, let's talk about the fascinating topic of link building and how reciprocal linking can fit in to your overall SEO strategy.
Reciprocal linking is a situation where someone links to you and you link back to them. It's a pretty straightforward process and all search engines have said they're okay with the approach. Google does state that it's acceptable as long as it's not excessive. How much is "excessive" is anyone's guess, but it does pay to be very selective before deciding on accepting (or indeed making) a reciprocal linking offer.
My feeling is that you should only reciprocate when the following criteria are met:
1. The site requesting the link is in the same "neighbourhood" as your site from a thematic perspective. Example: If your site is about tanning products, don't reciprocate with a site about real estate. Reciprocate with a site about tanning or something similar.
2. If your site has been around for a while, you probably shouldn't reciprocate with a site that's brand new with no trust or authority, as you're probably receiving less benefit than the site you're linking back to.
3. If you're going to reciprocate, link from a page on your site which has been specifically set up for this purpose; don't create links from your home page to other sites as they could be perceived as paid links (which is bad and could in a worst case scenario, create a search engine penalty).
4. If someone requests a reciprocal link, check the page they're going to link to you from has less than 100 out bound links on it. More than 100 out bound links on a page will dilute the authority (Page Rank) you receive from it so the link to your site will have very little weight.
Now to the most common scam we've seen lately, and one to watch out for because I think that if you fall for it, it could put your site at real risk of a search engine ranking penalty.
What the scammers have been doing lately is requesting a link exchange as most people normally do.
Here's an example that one of our clients received early this week:
Subject: Link exchange proposal between (client travel related website) and my site
I'm Katie Thomas, Web Marketing Consultant. I've greatly enjoyed looking through your site (insert client URL here) and I was wondering if you'd be interested in exchanging links with one of the websites I represent, which has a related subject. I can offer you a HOME PAGE link back from 2 of my Travel Guide websites which are:
http://idriskreview.com/ with page rank 4
http://osdialog.com/ with page rank 4
If you are interested, please send me the following details of your site:
I'll add your link as soon as possible, within the next 24 hours. When your link is ready, I'll send you a confirmation email along with the information (TITLE and URL) of my website.
I hope you have a nice day and thank you for your time!
Web Marketing Consultant
When I visited the sites above, at first glance they looked fine, nicely themed and on topic. Here's the first one:
The only thing that made me suspicious was the domain names, which didn't seem like they were about travel.
What I did next was perform a "cache check", in other words, checking to see what Google's actually indexed for the site.
What you'll see next is a good example of cloaking where what you see and what Google sees (or indexes) are two completely different things:
I think it's a silly thing to do by the site owner, as all they're doing is building inbound links from off topic sites about travel to a credit risk website. It's probably more of a Page Rank boosting initiative than anything else.
But the main problem for you is that if you link to these scammers, you could be linking to a site which has some kind of penalty associated to it from search engines already, or it lives in what's often referred to as a "bad neighbourhood".
It's nigh impossible for you to be penalised because someone bad links to you (because you have no control over it), but if you link to someone else, that's when you can find yourself in hot water with the search engines.
So please be careful out there and check carefully before accepting link exchange requests.
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Chris Thomas heads up Reseo, a search engine optimisation company which specialises in creating and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.