Back when I first got into SEO (2002ish) reciprocal linking was a big deal. The technique had already been around for many years and it seemed like everyone in the SEO community engaged in it to some extent. Link exchanges were so popular that entire software programs like Linksmanager (remember them) were built out to manage automate the process of finding reciprocal link partners, applying for the link exchange, and monitoring said exchanges to make sure your partners held up their end of the bargain. In sense, reciprocal linking was one of the original and most popular “social media” engagement techniques (the term “social media” didn’t exist back then but you get my drift).
Then along came Google, adding a subtle tweak to their Webmaster Guidelines that more or less killed that party. Although to be fair, by that point in time, reciprocal linking had already been exploited pretty heavily and had given way to other techniques including its much more effective yet divisive cousin, the paid link.
Fast forward to 2011 and reciprocal linking is little more than an afterthought on mainstream SEO portals. Now, all you hear about is link baiting, guest posting, article submission, blog commenting, infographics, paid linking, etc.
I guess that means that reciprocal linking is dead, right?
No so fast.
Those of you that take the time to look carefully at the link profile of competitors for keywords that you are targeting have probably come across your fair share of reciprocal links. And I’m not just talking about the traditional exchange of links on “Links”/”Resources” pages (although those are still alive and well). I’m also referring to:
-Blogroll link exchanges on blogs
-mutual contextual linking between bloggers
-directory links that are secured by submitting a reciprocal link to said directory
And guess what? These reciprocal links work, particularly for unsexy verticals (B2B, e-commerce, etc) where it can be difficult to procure more natural and/or one-way links. Moreover, they are definitely a good way to mix in exact-match anchor text. And no, Google is not going to ban your site if you engage in some reciprocal linking. This is a common misinterpretation of their guidelines. Big G is really on the lookout for large-scale, automated schemes. If you need proof, all you need to do is take time scouring the link profiles of your competitors.
Now I’m not suggesting that you make reciprocal linking your lone strategy for securing inbound links. What I am suggesting is that you revisit this relatively ancient technique, particularly if its common in your particular vertical.
And if the site you’re optimizing happens to be “enterprise” in nature (e.g. a big Fortune 500 caliber brand) which more or less eliminates the possibility of using a traditional “Links”/”Resources” page, just get a little creative. There are other ways to introduce reciprocating links (adding them within blog posts for example).
Frankly, there are probably several other ways of engaging in reciprocal linking that I have forgotten to mention or maybe even not aware of.
Take some time to research these techniques and make them a part of your overall SEO mix. You’ll be happy you did.
P.S. Did I mention that sometimes, reciprocal links can also generated targeted direct traffic?