Reciprocal links: Are they friend or foe for SEO?

Posted: 10 Oct 2022

Reciprocal links are a fascinating subject in SEO. This type of link building used to be a hugely popular way to increase your search traffic, even though Google itself was very much against them. But they flourished anyway. 

Did you know that this type of link building is still against Google’s guidelines? They call it a ‘link scheme’ and are frowned upon by the search giant. 

Nevertheless, it still happens. This detailed study from Ahrefs shows just how common reciprocal links continue to be. But why are they still popular? Mostly because the way reciprocal links occur now is very different to how they occurred 20 years ago. The process is much more natural – people link to your website, for example, because hopefully it has excellent content that others will find interesting or relevant. You no longer have to ‘beg’ for other site owners to feature your links. 

But if you’re trying to increase your search traffic and boost your backlink authority, how friendly is reciprocal link building? In this article, Graeme, the SEO freelancer behind Detail Marketing takes a look at this subject in more detail.

What are reciprocal links? 

An agreement by two businesses or individuals to trade links in an effort to boost SEO and site authority. Simply, one links to the other’s site, and vice versa. 

Those of you with some SEO experience might think this is dodgy behaviour and to some degree, you’d be right. But the key to reciprocal links is the intent behind them and the frequency you use them. 

Good reciprocal links versus bad ones

Any SEO consultant worth their salt will show you that natural reciprocal links are something worth pursuing. But what is a ‘bad’ reciprocal link? Check out your email spam folder and you’ll probably spot a few!

Bad link offers can include: 

  • An exchange or deal that will boost your SEO or help you rank in Google.
  • Mention of a ‘link exchange’.
  • Offers of multiple links or links on multiple sites.

Are reciprocal links good for SEO? 

Well, they aren’t inherently bad – but only if they are done right, with good intentions. If you want to grow your website’s authority without facing the wrath of Google, there are plenty of other techniques that you should focus on before considering reciprocal links. Any link-building strategy you create and implement should put the end user at the forefront of the experience. Who will benefit from including a link? If it’s not your target audience, you might want to reconsider.

As always, high-quality content sits alongside good SEO. Prioritise making your content the best it can be, rather than using some higher-risk strategies that might negatively impact your site’s progress. Some external links on your site can help your SEO, but they shouldn’t be your primary focus. 

Using reciprocal links to help your SEO

You might be thinking “if reciprocal links are a bit of a shady area in SEO, why would I use them at all?” Because including links to reputable websites can improve not just the quality of your own content, but also the reader’s experience on your site. 

When you link to high-value content, you are working towards becoming a trusted source of information. If other websites begin to reciprocate the link, that’s all good – it shows your content is of a good enough quality to warrant other sites linking to it. It’s the cherry on top of an already delicious cake! 

Naturally-occurring reciprocal links are good for both parties, as opposed to requesting 

reciprocation, but if you are considering a link exchange, please ask yourself: 

  • Is the external site an authority in your sector?  
  • Could the external site improve your site’s traffic?
  • Is the business a direct competitor? Because if they are, steer well clear of any link exchange!

How can reciprocal links hurt your SEO? 

Exchanging links can damage your SEO efforts. But how? 

🚫 Site penalisation

Reciprocal links are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you’ve been working hard on trying to improve your SEO, but begin to include more and more backlinks, you could be penalised by Google. Meaning all your previous SEO efforts will have been in vain. 

📉 Decrease in site authority and search engine rankings 

Make no mistake – if you include irrelevant links to external sites in your content, you are very likely to experience a drop in site authority or SERP rankings.

Before linking to any external site, always ensure that the content is relevant and check the site’s domain authority.

🔁 Boosting SEO for direct competition 

As we mentioned above, never consider a link exchange with a competitor. When linking to sites with the same target keywords and phrases as your website, your chances of having that link reciprocated are low. Therefore, you are boosting your competition’s SEO, rather than your own. 

If you are going to pursue reciprocated links, they should only be between sites with similar content – not between directly competing sites.

❌  Loss of search engine trust

You need Google, and other search engines, to trust your site. If you over-use reciprocal links, you run the risk of losing that trust, which can be hugely impactful on your SEO success. 

An experienced SEO consultant can advise you on how to build your SEO strategy without having to use a high number of one-to-one links. Never seek out reciprocal links for the sole purpose of getting more site traffic or building your backlink profile

The bottom line

If you are looking to improve your SEO strategy, there are a number of techniques you can use before considering reciprocal links. When you link out to external sites, always do so effectively – linking out to relevant resources will help you build your site’s authority with search engines. Plus, if you offer readers valuable content, they are far more likely to return. 

You might also be interested in… 

How to build links for SEO

Good versus bad SEO links