Reciprocation vs Friendships & Passion

Brett Tabke closed down his Buddy Links program many years ago, stating the following:

You must ask yourself why sites would join BL in the first place? Because they couldn't get listed in the search engines. That left us at times "bottom" feeding.

Broad Based Reciprocal Links Don't Work:

In spite of Matt Cutts mentioning how reciprocal links were hurting people some of my friends were still making the mistake of being too reliant on link trades, creating obvious links pages. One of my friends hired someone who did nothing but link swaps, and, in the process, prevented my friend from ranking for anything in Google other than one 7 word phrase.

Why Some People Still Think They Do:

I recently posted about how some sites engaged in broad based reciprocal linking are killing themselves in Google. The comments on that post were entertaining. After listening to some guy who goes by the name DomainDrivers comment on and on about reciprocal linking being an effective promotional technique I came to realize the disconnect which prevented him from believing the truth

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

And then some people look at a portion of the market and want to believe that what is easy for them to replicate is the answer to their problems. Kirby made an excellent blog comment about why many people read the market wrong:

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.

A Life of Finite Resources:

And the problem with reciprocation is not one associated with the web. The web is just a reflection of the real world, and the problems associated with reciprocation are that each of us have finite resources, finite attention, and a finite lifespan.

Your PageRank, your authority, your reach, ... they are all finite. Chop it up and trade it again, but eventually you are just going to create weird footprints.

Do Reciprocal Links Build Brands?

On that same thread a person who signed their name as being associated with Links Manager stated the following:

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

But you don't build a brand by trading links. You build a brand by promoting things you like and having people who like you promote you. It is much easier to do this if you allow others to fill in your holes where they are passionate.

How to Reciprocate:

Hugh recently mentioned a killer quote

I don't bother "networking" anymore, instead, I try to build relationships with people I find interesting, and who I think are doing interesting things. And I make it my mission to help them in any way I can to achieve their mission. I find this much more satisfying, much more honorable, and much more fun. And this is the cool thing about people....When you help them out in this way, they help you out. Not because it's a tit for tat deal, but because both parties are engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship that extends beyond the next favor.

Examples of Ways People Have Helped Me:

One person reformatted my ebook just because they liked it. Another friend recommended an editor that is currently editing it to make the grammar better. Another friend wrote my sales letter. Another friend helped me launch an ad network. Another friend offered to do multivariant testing. Another friend designed my site. Another friend gave me public speaking tips. Another friend became a business partner and sat next to me while I was giving a speech to department heads at a fortune 500 company. My most popular SEO tool (SEO for Firefox) was created by a friend who I knew before I got into the web.

Passion as a Proxy for Value:

If you are hanging around bottom hangers (reciprocal link trading hubs, for example) you are valuing your time at next to nothing and are surrounding yourself with bad ideas. Everything you see or do effects how you perceive the world and how you act. And how you act also determines what and who you attract into your life. If you are passionate then passionate people will enter your life.

You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. You build a brand by creating friendships with honest people who are doing well, and try to help them do better. I talk to some friends like Andy Hagans, Caveman, and Werty all the time, and they always give me good ideas to help me improve my site and marketing.

When you are passionate about what you do you create value beyond your income. You accumulate friendships, assets, brand value, and market influence which are worth far more than most people realize.

I still trade links sometimes, or just link to friends knowing that they may link back, but most of my link swaps are only representative of friendships, and, to me, that seems the only way to make it worthwhile.

Published: December 12, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


December 13, 2006 - 10:05am

This year my links pages have just linked to the top 20 most useful sites in the space. No link exchanges, just great sites for my users.

The other day the biggest brand in the industry realised they were not on the list and paid $600 to be added.

December 14, 2006 - 10:52am

Finally from the SEO world has said it about building relationships, instead of links.

Surrounding yourself with passionate people is another great tip, too.

Btw, rumblepup, getting links is easier, if you have something that people will link to your site, such as informative articles, useful tools and entertaining videos.

And mad4, if they can pay you $600 to get a link from you, how good is the editorial control on that link page? Would you show that biggest company to your visitors, if you were not paid the cash? There's a huge difference there, really.

December 14, 2006 - 5:48pm

And mad4, if they can pay you $600 to get a link from you, how good is the editorial control on that link page? Would you show that biggest company to your visitors, if you were not paid the cash? There's a huge difference there, really.

I think it is too easy to be idealistic when evaluating the work and business models of others, but the difference is $600.

Not on this site or a site about SEO, but I recently sold an editorial looking link on another site for $600 per year. And I guarantee nobody would know it was bought.

December 13, 2006 - 6:34am

Aaron, thank you for this post. I have been trying to get out of the link exchange business for some time, because it hinders on my "actual" business, and this article, as well as others, have really helped me decide.

However, sometimes I feel that YOU feel that quality links are easy to get. There is nothing in particular that you have actually written, and I don't want to accuse you of actually saying it. You haven't. But is still kinda feels that way.

First, by way of Quality, I know that it means relevant. However, I also feel that a high PR site like, say, The New York Times, if it decided to pop a text link on it's front page just cause someone likes you, that link really means something. What, I don't know, but work with me.

However, just because I have left reciprocal linking behind, doesn't mean I can just stop trying to build links to my sites. I've asked this question numerous times, not to you, but other SEO's. How can I be proactive about getting quality links without having something to give in return? I'm a little guy, and I think that I have great content. Apparently the SE's think I have too so I'm on first page SERP's for my main keywords for the big 3. But now the real pressure is on. I have to keep it up there. Since my business is relatively competitive, and the other sites have WAY more money than I do, they can PAY for links, where I CAN'T. Sooner or later, I'll loose by attrition, unless I can tempt more branding and link exposure.

I know that good content is supposed to attract people to want to link to it, and I can completely relate to your recip vs friendship, but all my friends are into tech or seo, and my site has nothing to do with either. And, since my business is often overlooked, there is not a lot of people out there who see it in the main. Why blog about or post an article about a subject no one is into?

So can I ask this? Can you site an example of what you think is a good link building strategy that can replace reciprocal linking?

It's true. New online businesses go nuts with the recips, because true links are very hard to be had. Technically, yes you pay for them. But the reality is that by the time a business has finished developing a site, there's no money left for this kind of link building, or even CPC. Sometimes, there's just no other option left but to build up some reciprocals. And if reciprocals are dead, what can a small site owner do?

December 13, 2006 - 6:56am

Relevancy is one measure of quality, but there are others as well. I generally define quality as something along the lines of "increases my chance of ranking well without adding much risk of my site getting banned if a search engineer took a look at it."

How can I be proactive about getting quality links without having something to give in return?

Have something to offer in return, via...

  • cash
  • how you interact with people
  • what content you have on your site (start by trying to relate to other people instead of starting from selling what you currently sell)
  • free gifts of some sort
  • customized gag gifts or stories
  • high quality content

Why blog about or post an article about a subject no one is into?

Have you seen how many SEO blogs mention Vintage Tub & Bath.

December 13, 2006 - 7:15am

A way to be proactive about getting quality links is to write about other people's products, services, or their thoughts/ideas. It is human nature for individuals to crave attention and praise.

By writing about their product, service, or thoughts/ideas, you are fulfilling that craving (or need). In doing this, most individuals will be greatful (or it will give them a big head) and link back to your content.

If you truly are operating in a niche that has few peers, try using the above technique with complimentary niches to yours. An example of this would be if you had a site about cars, talk about the best tires, maybe the best rims, etc. or how someone managed to get 500hp out a V6 engine.

Getting quality links is not always easy, but if you think out of the box, and try some of the examples below, I am sure you will be able to capture more then your fair share.

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