Reciprocal Linking vs. Mutual Linking: What's in it for the Visitor?
By Scottie Claiborne
Some of the advice floating around regarding
linking for your site can be pretty confusing,
especially when it comes to reciprocal linking.
Is it something you have to do? Can your site
succeed without reciprocal links? Will you be
penalized for reciprocal linking? There are so many
conflicting theories... let's try to clear the
subject up a
The founders of Google worked off a premise that
has been active in academic papers for years:
citation authority. They found that the more
academic papers cited another's work, the more
likely that cited work was to be an authority on
the subject. Similarly, when a lot of sites link
to one site, it's likely that site is an
authority for the topic. The "topic" is whatever
those links say it is...if 25 sites link to
another site with the term "oak shelving," it's
likely that page is an important page for oak
Manipulation of Links
It didn't take long for people who wanted to
rank well for certain terms to figure out that
they needed a lot of
links with their chosen keyword phrases to
improve their rankings in the search engines.
Many schemes were born, including mini-sites,
site networks, link farms and reciprocal linking.
At the most basic level, reciprocal links are
links you trade with other sites (you add their
link, they add yours) in order to build link
popularity. There are online services, group
exchanges and software available to help you
link up with more like-minded webmasters, fast.
As a result, many sites have grown sizeable
directories on topics that have nothing to do
with their area of expertise, simply because
those other sites were willing to trade links
Does this work? At the moment, it does seem to
work. The engines (except for Teoma, which
analyzes link communities) tend to count a link
as a link,
regardless of the subject matter of the
Will it continue to work? Who knows? As the
engines look for more ways to determine which
sites are truly expert and which ones are simply
manipulating their way to the top, link
relevance is sure to come into play. Some say
it's already starting to affect rankings.
I like to separate mutual linking from
reciprocal linking. Mutual linking is where the
content of each site
actually benefits each other's sites. If you
sell shoes, you may want to recommend other
sites for replacement shoelaces and still other
sites for shoe cleaning supplies. You may even
maintain a directory of regional shoe repair
service shops. This is useful information for
your visitors, who are likely to need these
services as well. It makes sense for these sites
to also recommend your shoes and link to your
site. While it's technically still a reciprocal
link, it has a mutual benefit for both sites.
While you can make a case that visitors to your
shoe site might actually need weight loss
formulas, like to gamble, or are concerned about
the size of certain body parts, it really isn't
likely that links to these sites will be clicked
and followed by your visitors... they only make
your site look unprofessional.
The links you trade with these sites may or may not
actually be helping you in the engines, but
they're definitely not helping you to make more
Will I Be Penalized for Reciprocal Linking?
You might. I don't say that to send you into a
panic, but the truth is if you link to a site
that is considered a
"bad neighborhood" by the engines, it could
negatively affect your site. That
innocent-looking pet accessories site may be
cloaking, hiding links or text, or participating
in other linking schemes and just hasn't been
caught yet. Why risk it for a link that probably
won't even bring you traffic? Sure, people who
wear shoes often have
dogs, but if you're just linking to them for the
link, it's probably not a good idea.
Be very aware of whom you link to. You control
where your site links to and that could come
back to haunt you. Link only to the sites that
will help improve your credibility and your sales!
Should I Hide All My Outgoing Links?
Absolutely not. There have been many people who
feel that since Google's Florida update (in Nov.
2003), adding relevant outgoing links seems to
have a positive effect on rankings. Besides, if
you hide or block their links, and they hide or
block yours, what's the point of participating
in a reciprocal linking program at all?
So What Will Happen if I Do Reciprocal
While no one knows for sure what the future of
link relationships will be with each search
engine, I tend to think that as soon as they can
figure out how to do it most effectively,
off-topic links simply won't count anymore.
If you pin ALL your link popularity on trading
links with whoever will trade with you, you
could find yourself
starting over from scratch at some point. If you
are looking to build long-term rankings (and
real business links that can attract customers),
it takes more work and creativity than just
sending out automated emails or joining a
Give your site an advantage by giving people a
reason to link to it -- a helpful tool, a guide,
an industry specific directory, or some other
useful content that people will feel good about
recommending on their site. If your site is
worth linking to, you won't have to rely as much
on swapping links as a promotion strategy.
About the Author
Scottie Claiborne, owner of Right Click
Web Consulting is a web specialist involved
with helping web sites to succeed through
fine-tuning the site goals, the audience, and
the marketing message as well as gaining traffic
through search engine optimization. Scottie
received her Master's Degree in Information
Technology Management from Mercer University in
Atlanta, Ga. She specializes in usability,
marketing, and SEO and offers training workshops
as well as individual consultation. Her articles
appear in newletters such as the High Rankings
Newsletter as well as Search Engine Guide and
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Have a great day!
I don't know about you, but pay per click
campaigns have dominated my time this month. In
a single day, Google made 4 unique (large!)
debits to the credit card associated with our
AdWords account, practically draining our entire
business credit flow for September.
Turns out that due to an internal technical
error with Google's billing system, our AdWords
campaign had not been auto-charged for 3 full
months, meaning we were
racking up huge amounts of click-debt, which
they attempted to clear in a single hour via
multiple debits. They would've charged even more on
our card, but it was eventually tapped of funds
and declined. THEN, Google had the hide to
switch off all our ads and send me an email
telling me that our credit card had been
declined and we should arrange payment via
As you can imagine, I was confused and pissed
off. I sent a long, detailed complaint to Google
and first I received a standard reply defending
their decision to switch off our ads. I replied
that my complaint had nothing to do with our ads
being switched off, but their inadequate billing
cycle and their failure to follow their own
billing protocols and that perhaps they
should re-read my complaint. That seemed to do
the trick. Next thing I knew, my complaint was
escalated and I had received an apology and an
offer of $500 in credit to be applied to my
It just goes to show that Google can get it
wrong. If you run pay per click campaigns, don't
trust the search engines to always have your
best interests at heart.
Mistakes can be made and
click fraud is apparently rampant. Keep a
close eye on your campaigns for errors and don't
be afraid to complain if you notice something
As for this month's feature article, Scottie
Claiborne (Super Mom, IT entrepreneur and my
long-time forum buddy) shares with us the
difference between reciprocal linking and mutual
Enjoy this issue and remember to visit the daily
Search Engine Advice Column to check out
my answers to frequently asked search engine
questions or submit one of your own.
Till next time - wishing you clicks and
|FAQ1: Should I set up a forum on my site for SEO purposes?|
Great blog! I wish mine was so successful.
Anyway, the question I'd like to ask you is
about forums. I'm setting us a new web site
bestonlinedating.eu where I'd like to include a
Having little experience in the broad SEO field,
I cannot justify if setting up a forum for my
web site would be beneficial in terms of search
engine optimisation. Does Google & others love
forums? Any suggestion from you would be most
Thanks for the blog feedback, I appreciate it.
Regarding setting up a forum, you've got your
priorities all wrong. When making changes to
your site, you can't let search engines rule
your decisions! You should always grow your site
development strategy based on the needs of your
site visitors, NOT because of some supposed
search engine advantage.
Forums can be a good way to add fresh content
and new pages (threads) to your site on a
regular basis, but as far as any search engine
benefits go, it's the same as everything else.
It's the quality of the content you add and it's
popularity with your site visitors that will
benefit you, not the fact it is a forum.
Do you have time to run and monitor a forum on a
regular basis? Can you locate, implement and
update reliable forum software? Do you have the
traffic that is required to keep a forum active
and interesting? Will a forum *really* add value
to your site from a visitor perspective? These
are the questions that should rule your decision.
|FAQ2: Why isn't Google displaying our product page for related searches?|
| ||Dear Kalena...
A client of mine has a site with many different
pistol holsters. He was ranked with a certain
holster (galco holster), and when you click the
site, it takes us to the home page and not the
sub page where that particular brand is at. Is
this normal? I would give you the link but he is
buried deep in Google, page 41 or so, but
shouldn't it bring up that subpage or are they
only posting the main page?
I have always thought the subpage would be
categorized as per the keywords on that page.
Let me know if I am dumb or if they changed it
or if it is just a freak of nature :)
Google displays whatever page/s on a site it
believes is the most relevant match for the
search query. Although it sounds logical that a
page dedicated to a particular product or brand
should be automatically displayed by Google for
related searches, it doesn't always work this way.
This is because Google uses a complex algorithm
made up of over 100 factors to determine which
page is the most relevant match. Important
factors include the density on a page for the
search query in question, the number of links
pointing to that page with anchor text
containing the search query and the reputation
of those linking sites. My guess is that your
client's home page probably mentions "Galco
holster" and has less text on it than the page
dedicated to "Galco holsters" so the density
would seem higher, plus the home page would have
more incoming links from trusted sites than the
You can learn more about how Google collects and
ranks pages in this
article by Matt Cutts.
|FAQ3: Why does our site show different Google ranks in different locations?|
My tech cannot explain and I thought you may.
When searching specific terms on my computer at
work, we come up like on the 4th or 5th page.
When I do the exact same search at home, same
terms and same settings, we come up on the first
or second page. Why is that?
You don't say how far geographically your home
is from your office, but it sounds like your
different IP locations are triggering searches
on two different Google data-centers. Google
shows slightly different results, depending on
the IP address of the searcher and the
data-center the query is sent to.
uncommon for the same search to trigger
different results for searchers in
different locations, particularly if they are
undergoing a major data-center shuffle
(historically known as the Google Dance).
|FAQ4: Where can I find free article distribution lists?|
I just read your article titled How
to Profit From Your Free Reprint Articles.
My question to you is this: You spoke of free
lists for articles; can you point me to one or
more of those services?
Sure, try these free
article distribution lists.
|FAQ5: What is the best way to promote a new SEO product?|
We have created an amazing SEO toolkit. What do
you think is the best way to promote it? Channels?
Using AdWords to promote your new product is a
good start, especially if you opt-in to the
Google Content Network so your ads are shown on
search-related sites via AdSense. You should
also consider advertising via Yahoo!
Search Marketing to reach a larger chunk of
the search market, including MSN searchers.
Here are some other excellent ways to jumpstart
buzz about your product:
- Create a professional press release and
circulate it via distribution channels such as PR Web.
- Send the press release to key bloggers in the
SEO industry and ask them to blog it.
- Send the press release to editors or
widely-read SEO newsletters, ezines and
- Send a free evaluation copy of your product to
journalists in the search industry and/or
influential names in the industry and ask them
to review it. If they like it, they will most
likely blog and/or write about it.
- Start an affiliate program for your product
and begin recruiting affiliates and
- Write an article/review about the product
yourself and syndicate it via search-related
article announcement groups such as those
and in our articles
about article marketing.
Best of luck!