In my last post, I discussed the fallacy that linking to others saps the life force from your site faster than those robots from that dumb movie trilogy about the people who are dressed like they’re perpetually going to a rave. Now I’d like to talk about another common link building misconception: Google hates reciprocal linking.
This myth is largely due to SEO firms who promise their clients nothing but one way links, because Google has said time and time again that if you trade links with ANYONE, they’ll drop your site from the SERPs and tell your parents what a failure you are… right?
Not exactly. The people who knowingly allow this myth to exist are twisting the words of a page from Google Webmaster Central titled “Link Schemes.” In a nutshell, this page spells out the difference between good reciprocal links and bad ones. Good: Provide context about the subject of your site, and help indicate its quality and popularity. Bad: Intended solely to pass PageRank, provide no context to your site and associate you with spammers or bad web neighborhoods.
Let’s look at two hypothetical scenarios of how reciprocal linking can be used – One good, one not so good:
Scenario 1: You run a website that sells vintage glam-rock LPs and memorabilia. You hire a web marketing company that will passionately pursue links from every David Bowie and T. Rex and New York Dolls fan site they can find. And when one of these sites asks for a link in return (inevitably, some of them will), you should feel comfortable knowing that Google will not only notice the traded links, but will use them to get a better feel for what both sites are about. Even if the process only gains you 20 or so links a month, the Google bots are happy because they can provide better search results for their users. In the distance, a bell rings, and an angel gets its wings.
Scenario 2: You run a website that sells vintage power pop LPs and memorabilia. You hire a two-bit web marketing company that promises you 500 one-way links a month. They stick some dip of an analyst on your account who has never heard of artists like Big Star or Nick Lowe, but researching this type of information isn’t important to his process. He proceeds to build a network of single page sites and “mini blogs” (aka: crap) for the purpose of cross linking. He trades links with every online casino and penny auction site he can find, because his goal is to get those 500 links, not to improve your rankings or traffic. The Google bots are furious and devalue all of these links, possibly penalizing your site’s placement in the SERPs. In the distance, a white dove sheds a single tear.
It’s unfortunate to see how many misconceptions there are about the process of link building. One-way link building seems to be in vogue these days. Bully to those who have a 100% success rate obtaining links from quality sites that ask for nothing in return, for they are far more successful than all of the people I respect in this game (and also may be descendents of some Norse god). But call me old fashioned: I see the process of refusing all reciprocal link requests as selfish and detrimental to a strong link building campaign.
Reciprocal linking between high quality sites that share a common theme is a good thing. It makes it easier for the search engines to pick out the cream of the crop in any industry and deliver the best possible results to users. And when you make the search engines happy, they will always return the favor.