Thousands of Reciprocal Link Partners & Getting Nowhere in Google

SEO Question: I have traded hundreds (maybe thousands) of links. I am ranking great on MSN, but am nowhere on Google. What gives?

SEO Answer: Your site is associated with sites of similar link profiles. If most of your inbound links and/or outbound links are of low quality that may preclude your ability to rank. As your reinforce the identity of your site as being associated with low quality sites you are digging a bigger and bigger hole.

Your site may stay in the search index but just have it's rankings suppressed for your targeted keywords. The reasons search engines may want to leave sites in the index that are using ineffective search spamming methods are:

Sometimes you will see an older site that heavily relied upon reciprocal linking ranking well and think that you can just duplicate their link profiles, but typically it is not that easy. Largely because:

  • when search was less sophisticated and there was less content on the web it was much easier to get quality links

  • they probably have a few decent quality links you will not be able to get
  • they likely built their link profiles over time, during a time when search was less sophisticated
  • their domain might be trusted more (and thus given higher authority and more leniency for algorithmic infractions) because of its age

Recently I pulled the reciprocal links page off a friend's domain and got them about a half dozen average to decent quality links. Their site went from nowhere in Google's search results to the top 30 for their core term in a month. And I still haven't even built any linkage from sites I would consider core trusted seed sites or sites that are extreme topical authorities (in other words, in a few months they are probably going to be doing far better).

Algorithms will continue to advance, and what happened at one point in time, in one engine, with one site, is probably not enough to call it a representative sample. But if you think of search from the eyes of a search engineer, how hard could it be to detect mass reciprocal linking? What website content quality is typically associated with sites sharing that footprint?

Consider the math as well. Time is worth money. And my friend was paying $500 a month for a large scale reciprocal linking campaign. All they needed to do was stop doing that and get about a dozen reasonable links and they were suddenly a market player.

I often get asked about optimizing reciprocal linking methods, but unless they are associated with real social relationships that pull you into your topical clique I generally think they are not worth the effort and have a poor risk to reward ratio, at least if you are intent on building a long-term brand, and want to rank well in Google.

Published: December 4, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


December 7, 2006 - 8:29am

Hi DomainDrivers

A few points back at ya ;)

Clearly counting massive off topic reciprocal links are not in the interests of Google.

For every person who is doing well exclusively from reciprocal links there are probably at least 10 (maybe 100) websites being held back by the overt pattern associated with a reciprocal linking campaign.

I didn't list the handful of links because I do not think I would be much of a friend to my friend if I did list their site and their specific links. If I listed those my friend's site and marketing methods would both be under scrutiny, and many people would try to duplicate and devalue the weight of said links. It doesn't help being too specific with case studies like that when I write a site about SEO that many SEOs read.

December 7, 2006 - 11:54am

Link Building is the most important component for all those in SEO, wheather it is a one way link or reciprocal link. Only few points should be considered during this process:
*Always check the link popularity of your website and check wheather you have many users linking to your site.
*Check the relevancy of a website linking to your site.In short it should match your subject of content.
*Always place keywords in link text which is used to link to your site.

December 7, 2006 - 12:02pm

I can't agree with that Jack.

You shouldn't ALWAYS have keywords in your links. Variation is a good thing.

And I don't think link quantity matters so much if you can get quality. That was the purpose of this post.

Legitimate link patterns fall under certain profiles. So do spammy ones. The whole idea is to try to replicate what looks legitimate.

December 7, 2006 - 5:19pm

Hi Aaron,

All fun...

You said: "Clearly counting massive off topic reciprocal links are not in the interests of Google. "

I completely agree. Anyone doing off-topic linking of any kind stands to waste time and money. Make link decisions as if Google did not exist. That keeps it relevant.

You said: "For every person who is doing well exclusively from reciprocal links there are probably at least 10 (maybe 100) websites being held back by the overt pattern associated with a reciprocal linking campaign."

Aaron, I can only accept that what you say is what you see with respect to the 1 out of 10 or 100, but that's not at all what we see. If it were, then only 10% of our clients would be doing well, and we'd be out of business. That's not at all the case.

We're more like 90% + doing quite well. Remarkably well. Most of the rest are too new to have broken out, or, at times, it has to do with the clients themselves refusing to do the on-site work necessary. We don't control that.

Likewise, I can go out and review the results of the sites that we link with, (which is an even larger sample than our client base), and find essentially, the exact same thing. They tend to rank well.

I look at this kind of thing every day. Your 10% conclusion doesn't really seem to hold, from what we see here. That's just my perspective, from someone who actually does this work, all day, every day, for hundreds of sites.

It's amazing the kind of disrespect and dismissive attitude for that experience that exudes from the SEO crowd. I am used to it. At this point, I have realized that the anti-reciprocation SEO crowd actually helps us, by keeping our client's competitors at bay.

Aaron, it's easy to bash reciprocation. Reciprocation is a favorite whipping horse of the SEO crowd. It amuses me that the conclusions about it are never really backed up with any factual analysis at all. Just anecdotal assumptions, derisive comments, etc.

Maybe a lot of people do it improperly, but that's because they are doing it with anyone and everyone. When it comes to all forms of linking, someoe will abuse it in some way.

Aaron, what drives reciprocation is not the SEO community. It is individual site owners who have decided to ignore the SEO "common wisdom", and instead look at what works for their own sites as well as other sites.

If reciprocation did not work, people would stop doing it. It's that simple. To conclude that all these reciprocating site owners are misguided or ignorant, as is implied by a lot of people in the SEO world, is so far off reality that I can't even comprehend that kind of arrogance.

Aaron, here's a fact. A lot of our clients are people who have been marketing websites since the mid-1990s, and they can run circles around a lot of the so called "SEO experts". You name it, and they have been there and done it. We work with some spectacularly successful site owners, for very competitive keywords. Many of these people are just not very vocal, since they are private site owners, not guns for hire. But we also do work for some SEO houses who don't subscribe to the "common wisdom" about reciprocation, based on their own experience.

Why do these very Web-savvy people continue to being new domains to us to work with? Because they don't know any better and it's a waste of their money? Or because it works?

You are preaching to one crowd that wants to hear that reciprocation is not the solution. A lot of them want verbal reinforcement for their position, in the face of competitors who are doing it successfully. They certainly can get that reinforcement by attending SEO conferences, reading the pontifications of the leading SEO pundits, and visiting the forums.

I am preaching to another more pragmatic crowd that simply wants duplicable results at an affordable cost. They are willing to buck the common wisdom, not out of ignorance, but out of studied and experienced practice.

As time goes along, it seems that the two camps continue to diverge. Some people will follow the prescriptions of the SEO crowd. Others will just ignore it. It makes the world go round.

So far, those who ignore it seem to be doing remarkably well, in spite of the admonishments coming from the box seats in the SEO world.

Where's my proof? In a pile of real world examples. I can cite success endlessly, and point to reciprocation as the primary driving off-site factor. As long as that is the case, there will be a huge divergence in what advice people follow.

Dirk Johnson

December 7, 2006 - 7:16pm

If reciprocation did not work, people would stop doing it. It's that simple.

Is that why I still see ads for submitting my site to x thousand search engines?

I don't think your blanket statements are any more accurate than mine, and I even stated that I was just pointing out one example. You state you have an endless pile of real world examples but offer none.

Another thing, when you consider the cost of the attention necessary to do all the reciprocal link trades, etc. often it will be faster, cheaper, more stable, and more profitable just to build a real brand.

December 7, 2006 - 8:16pm

"Is that why I still see ads for submitting my site to x thousand search engines?"

Aaron, that statement has virtually nothing to do with what we do here, with either our clients or our link partners.

Reciprocation is a part of brand building. If you sell motorcycle helmets, and you link with other motrocycle product and service vendors, via directory-to-directory link exchange, that practice pre-dates every single search engine and represents one of the orginal branding methods on the Web. That approach still holds today.

Aaron, I will never sway your opinion, and I hold no hope of doing that. I am just here presenting an very experienced voice on the subject of reciprocation, for what it's worth.

Most people in SEO who discuss this subject have a lot of concepts about it that are just misguided, due to their own admitted lack of experience with it. Their statements fail miserably when held against real world examples. I see that all the time coming from the SEO community. Some of it is just comical.

But again, those same people are not interested in the facts. They have theories to prosecute and substantiate. In addition, many have alternatives to reciprocation that they want to sell.

We'll never get anywhere with this in terms of argeement. As I said, this will continue to play out, with some people participating in reciprocation, and others not.

We are eight years into Google, and I see nothing to make me alter my approach, which as been the same for years. We simply link our clients with other relevant sites. Lately, we are even more encouraged than in the past.

Just more insight from the trenches.

December 7, 2006 - 8:22pm

Aaron, that statement has virtually nothing to do with what we do here, with either our clients or our link partners.

Nope, but it proves people buy crap that is ineffective. Which counters your "If reciprocation did not work, people would stop doing it. It's that simple." quite well, IMHO.

I am just saying that for most people chasing many reciprocal links is a waste of time. Or, put another way, I didn't make serious income until I no longer did much reciprocal linking, because the opportunity cost of reciprocal linking valued my time at too little. That was fine when I was making nothing, but as I started making more it got less appealing.

December 7, 2006 - 9:24pm

I am also in agreement with the quality of links. I had a site that back in early 2006 had just about 12 links oging into it. Several of those links were from one of the highest ranking sites on alexa that has a page rank of 9 on the homepage. With just a handfull of link, the site got a page rank of 4. A friend was furrios as his site had nearly 1,500 spammy and low quality links and he only had a page rank of 3 and ranked poorly on his keywords.

December 7, 2006 - 9:34pm


I am aware that people waste money in this industry on stupid stuff.

That is not the same as a well-seasoned, repeat client coming back to us with new domains, based on what they've seen happen with our previous work. We deliver very consistent results.

And we make good money doing what we do.

December 8, 2006 - 4:13am

I believe that is more about content than link. If you have a good website people will link you for free, but many webmasters just trying to make website with a bunch of advertising links and banners and no original or important content. Just try to be unique.

March 19, 2007 - 8:51pm

In the process of cleaning up my reciprocal linking campaign. This is pretty time consuming. We had about 400 reciprocal links and now only about 150 are still reciprical. We are getting rid of the links that do not reciprocate and sprinkling them through our page copy with in the site instead of on one resource type page.

I am assuming this should help, please let me know if I am on the right track?

December 8, 2006 - 11:50am

I believe that is more about content than link.

I totally agree that in many (maybe most?) markets creating the right content is the cheapest way to build links, but in the example I mentioned in this post there was no significant change to the content of my friend's site to cause ranking boosts, etc. ... the main change was in their link profile.

March 19, 2007 - 10:01pm

Hi Colbs
I think if you are cleaning up links you not only want to remove the people who are not reciprocating, but also remove links to sites of low quality.

December 8, 2006 - 6:39pm

"Thousands of Reciprocal Link Partners & Getting Nowhere in Google"

If those links are irrelevant, this statement is correct. However, you are wrong if you think that applies to every website on the Internet.

Reciprocal linking is thriving primarily by websites who exchange links with sites related to their own and in natural/low volume.

Reciprocal linking should be conducted as a BRANDING function.. never as an SEO function. Link to like minded sites as if the search engines did not exist and you will find a low cost method for obtaining relevant traffic entirely separate from search engine returns.

December 8, 2006 - 6:48pm

Reciprocal linking should be conducted as a BRANDING function.. never as an SEO function.

If this is the case, then it should..

  • be done in exceptionally low volume
  • with people you know and trust off the web, or have significant personal / business relationships with
  • not be done using software that is tied to sites using it incorrectly (ie: bulk and off topic)
  • the brand partners should not be listed on traditional links pages. they should be showed prominently on the site. (like featured in text related specifically to them)
December 8, 2006 - 7:25pm


I agree. 1,500 spammy and low quality links is probably a waste of time and money.

You said, "links were from one of the highest ranking sites on alexa that has a page rank of 9 on the homepage"

Can you share what those sites are and the cost and methodology used to get those kinds of links placed?

December 8, 2006 - 8:42pm


Just another prespctive on that 1500 spammy links.

That sounds to me like they were not ding this right, at all. Msot sites ranking well due to reciprocation have far fewer links that that. 1500 links is a massive effort, if this work is done the right way. Some realms of interest don't even have that kind of reciprocal popularity available.

We have only one client, out of hundreds, that we have earned over 1500 links for them, and that took two years. That site reaches across several categories of interest, and they rank extraordinarly well. That client has brought us three additional domains to work with, and those are now ranking well also, but with far fewer links, as the other sites are more specifc to one realm of interest.

When done properly and effectively, this work yields remarkably modest numbers that take a long time to build. One to two links per day, on average, is common, for they way we approach this work.

Again, a just view from the trenches.

December 8, 2006 - 9:25pm

The debate on reciprocal links wont end for a few reasons.

First, the rules are not evenly applied. Older sites that have built up a degree of trust with aged links will get a way with more.

Secondly, it varies from industry to industry. With real estate, there exists a perception that since the space has lots of competitors, it is therefore competitive. Not true.

Do reciprocal links work in this space? Absolutely. The reason, however, is not because of the value of these links, but because its the primary tool of the majority of sites in this space. It tends to boil down to winning a race of mediocrity. Will they win in a truly competitive space? No.

Take a site and get a handful of good quality links with only a small percentage of reciprocal links and it will beat sites like domain drivers' clients hands down.

December 8, 2006 - 10:09pm


We don't claim to have magic bullets. We just do what works. Maybe you are right about "get a handful of good quality links ". Maybe not.

This is the third time I have asked this question in this thread, and nobody has provided any guidance at all.

Eactly where do you "get a handful of good quality links ". What are the domains, the cost, the requirements, etc? Not generalities. Specifics.

Is it duplicatable to large numbers of sites?

Until those questions are publicly answered, most people have no idea what to do. So they will do what IS available to them that they understand and that has proven to work for others. Reciprocation is one of those things.

December 8, 2006 - 10:20pm

Hi DomainDrivers
I think inserting a Upton Sinclair quote would be reasonable here

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Part of a good long-term marketing strategy is that it is NOT easy for just anyone to be able to easily replicate it. If it is easy for people to replicate then they will. What value add is there to a marketing strategy that is easily duplicated by anyone? None, to be honest.

There are a virtually unlimited number of link sources out there if you are creative. If you are not then I guess you are stuck relying on cheesy high risk low value reciprocal links. So be it.

December 9, 2006 - 12:00am


Your insults are bouncing off, but it'd be a better conversation without them. No?

We advise our clients to use as many legitimate link building methods that they can deploy. Some do, some don't. That is their choice.

We simply have chosen to focus on this aspect of web marketing. One that pre-dates every search engine, and remains valid.

For the average site owner, they are looking for affordable, accessible solutions, not mystery and intrigue as to what to do. We offer one of those affordable, accessible solutions, and we're rather proud of that fact.

December 9, 2006 - 12:05am

I find it humorous how you can trash virtually the entire field and then talk about my insults.

Some bulbs are not too bright. Others never lit at all.

December 9, 2006 - 8:18am

Interesting how its mystery and intrigue simply because no one is willing to do your homework for you for free so you can then charge your clients.

December 9, 2006 - 6:52pm


"you can trash virtually the entire field "

Actually, I do not trash the SEO entire field. You completely read me wrong. I always say that there are people in the SEO field who do understand proper reciprocation and it's effect on search engines. We work for several of them.

I do take exception with people in the SEO field who make claims about reciprcation that fail to hold any water when compared with real search results. They tend to be very vocal, adamant, and, from what I see with my own eyes, very confused about the subject. Mostly that stems from their own lack of experience, especially current experience.

These people often use all manner of derisive commentary about the subject of reciprocation and it's practitioners. I've seen it all. In the process, they insult tens of thousands of legitimate site owners who are acting properly, in their own interests.

If that's how they choose to present themselves, then that's fine. I just call them out, and ask for subtantiation, which, curiously, never materializes. To the contrary, it's easy to find examples that refute what they say.

The examples are pervasive, in real search results, for just about any commercial keyword term that one chooses. Reciprocating sites rank well. New ones, old ones, etc.

The site owners who reciorocate are generally no longer relying on the SEO world for their guidance, since they have learned that that guidance is at odds with what they've see with their own eyes, and at times, is way off base, in terms of the approach and practicality to them.

December 9, 2006 - 7:02pm

Speaking of current, I currently rank #3 in Google for Forex and #5 for SEO. Please outrank me for either term, then you will have credibility in my eyes.

April 10, 2007 - 9:47am

Hi Aaron,

I have found a linking community where all of the sites that i exchange links with, about 100, are all "quality" sites. They are all between the google pr3-pr6 range, however, they are totally unrelated to the themes of my sites. For example, I can make a site about "pizza" on a monday and link to a bunch of pr3-pr6 "jewelry" sites in my community and the new "pizza" site will appear on google and msn by friday. I can then shoot to the top 10 easily on msn in about 2 weeks and takes about a month to rise on google. It makes me wonder about all the different theories outthere. One of my sites holds the top ranking out of 77,800,000 on google since last summer with most of the links being totally unrelated but are pr3-pr6 sites. The whole revelant links theory just doesn't make sense to me. Exactly what does "revelant" mean?

Exactly what does "quality" mean? These terms are so wishy washy.... A search for "robot" on google shows the irobot movie from years ago that still sits in a top 10 position. 99% of those links pointing to their site have nothing to do with the movie and over 75% of them have nothing to do with robots. There are not even any words on the irobot page.... its all javascript... and if you look between the tags of the source code, there are no keywords, description, h1,h2 tags, nothing.... and thats out of 71,200,000 results. It makes me wonder.... "Give your site visitors good content" really? Link to only "Quality & Related Sites" really? Follow basic SEO rules when making your pages like using keywords and a description in your head tags, really? I know that i have strayed a bit off of the linking topic but i just wanted to know your take on how this type of site can be successful by somehow violating every so called SEO basic rule.

December 9, 2006 - 8:40pm


"then you will have credibility in my eyes"

Then that will elude me, I suppose.

But I suspect, from a lot of experience in these kinds of forums, that other people reading this thread will not feel the same. Some will, some won't. That's how it goes with the discussion of this subject.

I am coming from a situation where I do reciprocation work all day, every day, for successful clients. I present what I see in these kinds of forums. Quite often, that requires that I take issue with a lot of statements made by people in the SEO industry, who, usually by self admission, really don't have any current experience with proper reciprocation.

That leaves the reader to decide. Will they hear the voice of an experienced practitioner, or will they accept the theories presented by individuals, who, quite often, admit to having no real current experience?

People will come down on both sides.

Aaron, I'm kind of used to it.

December 9, 2006 - 8:45pm

I guess, based on my current top rankings, I am exclusively biased toward effective techniques. By your own admission, you are biased toward a single particular technique, which may be effective for some of the people some of the time.

You offer no more details about your techniques than I offer about mine. On my site you want people to blindly accept your words as truth and want me to reveal my techniques so you can replicate them. If I don't then I must be lying, which is an absurd angle to take given my current high rankings for competitive keywords which I did reveal.

You can have your cake. And eat it too. But don't expect too many people in the know to be eating at your table.

December 9, 2006 - 8:53pm

"I just call them out, and ask for subtantiation, which, curiously, never materializes."

Yahoo penalized thousands of real estate sites for reciprocal linking in the last 12 months.

To get reincluded, all the reciprocal links must be removed.

Any questions, ask Yahoo's Tim Converse. His blog is easy to find. You can get your substantiated evidence straight from the source. Give him a list of your clients and see how many still rank afterward.

Trey Klegg
December 10, 2006 - 11:07pm

I read over on webmasterworld that the sites busted for reciprocal linking booted out of yahoo were using totally automatic linking softwares or schemes where the site auto linked to other sites very quickly. does anyone know of programs or softwares that do this? I have not seen them but I am curious.

I think you cannot lop sites who exchangelinks wrongly with those who exchange links correctly (for their users). I think domaindrivers point is that it is unfair to put the good guys in the bad guys boat. link exchange can be done sloppily or in a way that benefits my users.

I exchange links but I do it slowly and only with sites that my end users would have an interest in. I think reciprocal linking can be done right or wrong. you need to realize link exchange is done by people who have no clue or those who understand how to do it right. also there are alot of newbies and arrogant people on the web who might not know how to link exchange properly.

Heres what I think about. Google says "have other relevant sites link to yours". I think that google probably understands that some webmasters wont link without something in return (link exchange) - its when webmasters abuse it that sites get into trouble.

December 11, 2006 - 3:28am

They were not using automated programs.

It didnt matter whether links were acquired quickly or over a long period of time. It was done manually and it affected 1000's of sites by several different providers.

I think you cannot lop sites who exchangelinks wrongly with those who exchange links correctly (for their users).

The only opinions that matter are those of the search engines, and Yahoo has already weighed with theirs.

A simple realtor
December 4, 2006 - 8:19pm

Hi Aaron, a real estate related SEO mentioned in your SEO Book does a 500 bucks a month reciprocal linking campaign like you mentioned above. The mentioned SEO claims in their company's forum that as long as the client websites and reciprocal linking partners are real estate related, it still works. Can what he is talking about be defined as a "real social relationship" as you mentioned above. What is a true monthly price tag of a quality SEO link campaign if not $500?

December 4, 2006 - 8:26pm

I would recommend using multiple techniques in conjunction and not just relying on one technique.

For example, if you had $4,000 to spend, rather than spending it all on one technique it might make sense to do something like $1,000 worth of directories + $1,000 worth of creating content for viral marketing + $1,000 worth of joining trade organizations + $1,000 worth of making business partners from trade conferences.

Stuntdubl has a great post called Balancing the Link Equation which might be worth a quick read.

December 4, 2006 - 8:41pm

I think that the most important isn't the number of links that you have to your site, but the QUALITY of this links.

Since you have a site with relevant content, you won't need to ask for others web developers to link to you.

December 4, 2006 - 8:45pm

Hi Carlos
Two points I would like to make

  • Being relevant is not enough. You need to be remarkable, aggressive, or both.
  • Off the start almost every successful site needs to make some amount of a marketing push to make their community aware of their existance.
December 4, 2006 - 9:47pm

I think that I'd have to agree with Aaron that having multiple linking strategies is the way to go. Reciprocal linking, article submission, directory submission, digg submission, blog 'n ping, blog commenting, tagging, linkbaiting, email link requests, wikipedia linking, and buying links can all be used in conjunction to build a better link profile than just focusing on one thing.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

December 4, 2006 - 10:12pm

I think blackbeard has it spot on with the examples given. While it most certainly varies with each site and industry a varied link building campaign appears a lot more natural. It is natural for companies to release press releases, appear in wikipedia, get tagged in and the like. As long as the quantity of obvious link buying and obvious exchanging doesn't far outweigh the other elements of a link campaign you are onto a good start.

Getting the split right is something that comes with experience - I have been too aggressive with link buying / ad networks in the past and have seen sites suffer because of it but I certainly haven't made the same mistakes since!

December 4, 2006 - 10:42pm

i think this is the prime example of quality, and the old SEO ways not working anymore except for few excemptions.

December 5, 2006 - 12:32am

Link building today it`s a matter of finding the right balance between the different type of links we can find today on the Internet, as stuntdubl mentioned in his article posted by Aaron in one the above comments. We need to find the right balance for the sites, it all depends on the stage of the website, whether it is a new website or a stablished one.

December 5, 2006 - 5:36am

Aaron what do you think about sites that have been around long enough to develop trust and have a balanced link profile. Do you think that kind of site can still do well with off-topic reciprocal linking?

My own thoughts are that the recips should still be between related sites for the most part, but do you think there are sites who have climbed above that need? Not so much about the unrelated link trades hurting a site, but rather would they still help?

By the way I came across that Stuntdubl post a few weeks ago and for anyone who hasn't read it, it's definitely worth a read.

December 5, 2006 - 5:39am

I have seen some cases where it looked like sites were primarily there based on nothing but age and cheesy reciprocal links...but the point of this post is that many of those sites tend to shuffle in and out of the results, and that a new site will not catch up by replicating the link profile.

As far as can they work? Sure. But I wouldn't go too aggressive with it if you have a long-term brand you are trying to build. Poor risk to reward ratio in doing so, IMHO.

December 5, 2006 - 9:32am

It is indeed an interesting thought experiment about trust rank, where will it lead? How can it sustain itself?

Every action that is successful in raising rankings does a circle...

1) It raises ranking of a website using that action
2) Others start using that action
3) the action is identified by search engines
4) Search engines correct for that action
4) Action stops working

The same was true for every other action we have seen come and go, "trust" will likely do the same.

Great post, thanks

December 5, 2006 - 9:35am

Hi Pat
I think search engines first chose what they want to trust and then marketers abuse it. But yeah...relevancy is a cycle. The hope for the engines is that by relying on old content and making the algorithms harder and harder to manipulate that marketers will just give in and create good stuff.

But then even what is considered good stuff changes. As more good stuff exists they then want great stuff. And then lets not forget about their informational bias toward defining what is good or great.

December 5, 2006 - 9:54am

It worked with me, I now only do great stuff.

The engineers got me.

Thank you for your reply!

December 5, 2006 - 6:12pm

The problem with most reciprocal linking campaigns / schemes is on the individual pages that the links are traded. Spammy link resource pages have no inherent value and Google's algorithms are aware of this. If you operate a mini link directory plum full of worthless no content link pages that will not help you. You can do reciprocal linking campaigns, even high numbers, but EVERY trade will need to be on / in a page with real content and I'm not talking about littering your regular pages with reciprocal link partners.

I'm talking about creating specific new content to work your reciprocal links around / into. What type of real content could you create? Be creative as there are many examples, but the simplest one is pages that explain how or what each link your pointing to is, why it's there, and what you think about the site - like a review or analysis. If you do a good enough job on this page you can get free one way links to it all by itself and it could potentially do ok on the social bookmarks / networks ("ok" as in a few people may add it to their list or dig it) the same way you would get links to an individual review.

For example, I recently launched a new website with an SEO blog (and I've gotten enough exposure to gain some high quality links to have some value already). A simple way I could find reciprocal link partners, build valuable content, and increase link pop could be to solicit other SEO bloggers that I already read, ask them for a reciprocal link trade and provide a write up of why I read their blog and consider it a good resource for SEO. If I was even able to find 5 high quality SEO blogs that were willing to trade links (with the modifier that it has to be on a page with actual unique content etc.) I'd be building a lot more value then 1000 traditional massive link swaps on crap pages.

Hey Aaron want to trade links? LOL Of course you'll have to make sure the people you solicit need / want your link.

December 5, 2006 - 6:22pm

I've recently been given the job of SEO for what is a struggling travel product. There's been a site relaunch and essentially there are no links at all. Even in this case is it better to think long term and work for quality links (which are damn hard to get if I'm honest!) rather than the usual route of getting started with some reciprocal links?


December 5, 2006 - 8:19pm

I'm not convinced that the published trust rank algorithm is what Google uses. In the published algorithm, you select a white list of trusted seed sites and push forward trust from those sites through the links much like page rank.

I think this has two flaws from Google's perspective. One is the selection of the white list doesn't seem like Google's style. The other, is that its too similar to page rank. It may not add enough. diversity to the ranking factors. I assume that all of the white-listed sites would be high PR sites.

There are alternative methods of spreading trust. Actually, I'm not convinced that google tracks trust, I think they track "mistrust."

Google already maintains a black list of manually and automatically detected spammy sites. They could start with this black list and pull "mistrust" through each link to the site that links to the black listed site. This is the established concept of linking to a bad neighborhood. Most people think of bad neighborhoods in terms of a direct link, but Google could very well attenuate this "mistrust" several steps back through the linking network.

The traditional bad neighborhood blacklisted/penalized site might have 100% mistrust. However, Google could use many different signals for how trusted a given page, domain, or link is and they can assign a variable trust score. Bad neighborhood might not be a yes/no binary factor. I would be surprised if google did not assign a mistrust score to every domain, every page, and possibly every link. Once pages have mistrust scores, it makes sense to propagate that through links. Propagating it forward would lead to easy Google bowling, so that leaves backward.

When Google associates a certain level of mistrust with a page, it can stop counting links from that page as votes in its page rank algorithm. Too much mistrust is a sign to Google of the lack of editorial control or intent. Not counting links from mistrusted pages along with backward propagation of mistrust would knock out all sorts of artificial linking patterns: comment spam, reciprocal link pages and link buying. Any mistrusted sites that got in the network would poison the whole network. The result being that all of these links "wouldn't help you."

It would be hard to keep mistrust out of reciprocal linking and link buying networks, but if you could do it, then theoretically, these techniques would still work. So, carefully crafted reciprocal networks could still make a difference, not because they are topical, but because they don't admit mistrusted sites to the network. (Assuming there isn't some other anti-reciprocal factor going on.)

Since PR link popularity is attenuated forward, a mistrust factor that attenuated backwards would be a good complement. MSN seems to be a good example of an algorithm that has a link popularity component, but without a good complementing anti-manipulation algorithm.

December 5, 2006 - 11:16pm

Jeff Moore, that's an interesting comment. Couldn't Google track both, trust and mistrust as well as have a separate penalty or ranking decrease for sites that matched certain clear manipulation signatures?

I think even if you made sure not to link to any sites that had mistrust and you took a site and gained 1,000 reciprocal links in the stereo-typical link directory way with pages and pages of 10-20 links with no content
other then the duplicated anchor text found on other sites, it wouldn't rank for anything and the net result of all that link trading would be null.

In Matt Cutt's blog he specifically states that webmasters who abuse reciprocal linking would see negative results. This could potentially be calculated at the site or page level. Any individual site with too many reciprocal links in their link equation (like 1,000) or on the page level (I mean what value is a page containing 10-20 reciprocals and nothing else?) may have the SEO value of every single one of those links discounted.

if It's a new site, I would recommend getting some reciprocals, but find a way to work them into something of value. Link directories and link pages will not help you and are a waste of effort. If you're only getting a few reciprocals, you can put up a link page temporarily to move on and spend the rest of your time doing the more important stuff like building content and promoting yourself.

Also we think of everything at the site level, what about at the page level. Does a page have any type of trust sore associated with it as well? Anyone have any specific evidence to look at. I wonder what would happen if a REALLY trusted site like Aaron's made a bad page that linked to a bunch of crappy sites, would it lower his entire trusted domain or just that page?

December 6, 2006 - 12:11am

Great post Aaron. The only constant in SEO is that you can count on the algorithms to change. What works today won't necessarily work tomorrow so relying on just one technique is mining for fools gold. On topic reciprocal links can still add value to your end users and therefore can have value within the SE's algorithms just as in the past, but mass link trading just as clearly does not work today.

Just as shear volume of links can overcome other factors in some SERPs, quality on topic links can dominate SERPs in other cases. Using a variety of techniques for acquiring links is your best bet for maintaining high rankings. A few quality directory links, PR links, blog post links, article links, reciprocal links, SMO link bait all have a place in building long term success. Short term success can sometimes be achieved by focusing on just one means but you are playing with algorithm fire and will get burned at some point.

Jeff Moore, very interesting post. I agree that a mistrust rank based on algorithmic calculations sounds more like Google's style than the handpicked White List of trusted sites. Matt Cutts "mysterious" WhoIs tool lends credence to your theory of tracking signs of mistrust. As Solomon points out a site chock full of reciprocal links that have somehow kept out the mistrust would still rank poorly, although one could easily argue that % of reciprocal links to total links is an element in and of itself for determining "mistrust."

December 6, 2006 - 4:14am

I am in Chicago at the SES conference and I heard in two different sessions that the percentage of your links that are reciprocal is also a factor. If it's 90% you are in trouble. So not only is trust a major issue, so is the ratio.

December 6, 2006 - 4:24am

Good debate here guys.

I agree that having a link from a site which has high page rank (let's say 5 and above) is many times more beneficial than having a link from a site which is simply present in Google's index.

SEO is also not an exact science. I have at least one site where links from not that popular sites have 'paid off'. Reason: the topic is so niche that it is not difficult to make it to No. 1 for the given keyword, hence anything helps.



December 6, 2006 - 5:54pm


That is an interesting case, but a couple of points:

1) We mamange recirocal campaigns all the time, for new domains, old domains, well-optimized sites, poorly optimized sites. We are just the recip link maangers, not the whole ball of wax.

We stay relevnt to home and real estate with our real estate clients. '

Remarkably, in contrast to what you observed with that particualr case, our clients tend to rank well in Google, in some very compettive situations. Even our new clients with new domains. Most of our clients use no other link building methods. Nine months is about the time frame.

So, your conclusins that recip linking does not work anymore are just anecdotal, and a bit presumptuous, as we can point to a lot of situations where it has worked well, long term and short term.

2) $500 per month on recip links is a lot of money. I'd be curious as to what exactly that client was buying.

3) What is the source of those "handful of good links". That sure is vague. How is a reader of this article supposed to act, if they want to duplicate it? Are those links avaialble to any site? What are the criteria to get those links?

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