Google SEO & Search Engine Marketing Services

Reciprocal Linking – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A few of my recent posts have put a somewhat negative light on reciprocal linking and in today’s post I wanted to fully explain my position on reciprocal links.

There are Lot’s of ideas on reciprocal linking some of them are fine others can actually cause your site to be penalised, let me run through the 3 main types of reciprocal links…Starting with the BAD.


These are the type of links that caused all the real estate problems back in 2007/08. Site owners were contacting other real estate site owners in different parts of the country and offering to exchange links and  using anchor text for the sole purpose of increasing PageRank and Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Rank.

So they did this by creating a links page on their sites and sent a link to the homepage of the reciprocal site. The Reciprocal site would then return the favour from their links page.

It looked a little something like this;

Link Exchanges

Now these link pages could sometimes have hundreds of links on them and it did not take long for the search engines to figure them out. The links were quickly devalued and the sites lost their rank.

If you have a links resources page on your site, don’t panic. As long as your not using it to create a reciprocal directory then it is natural.

This type of linking is set up for the prime purpose of manipulating the search results and PageRank algorithm, my advice would be to stay well away as it is not uncommon for sites to receive penalties for it.


I’m sure people are not going to like me for what I’m about to say but this is my opinion based on personal experiences.

Reciprocal links to directories, including blog directories are plain ugly and will pass little if any real value to a site. This also includes mass blogroll lists.

Now before you simply click the back button, hear me out.

If you have reasonable amount of these links it is going to make no difference however if you find your homepage has over 30 of these types of links your site may start to suffer. I have not seen sites penalised for this sort of linking but have seen link juice completely run dry.

Let’s think about this logically;

link exchanges

Does the above link profile look natural to you? Remember what Google wants is to award links based on credit worthy content. If your linking to loads of exchange directories or to a long list of blogging friends, these are not awarded based on quality content, they’re based on relationships.

Your blogging buddies may have quality content on their sites/blogs, but why are you exchanging links? If it’s based purely on a relationship this is not something Google will want to use to base their rankings on.

Again I will say there is nothing wrong with a hand full of these types of links, but having a long reciprocal link list in your side bar is simply ugly and will do you no favours in the search engines.


Finally the good, the way reciprocal links can work and pass real benefits to your site.

If you come across content that is highly relevant and similar to something on your own site you may want to link to it, you may also want to send a link to the homepage of the site that published the content. YOU MAY…. even want to contact the site owner and say

“hey loved that article you have published, I published something on my site that backs up your opinion, you may want to link to it”.

This could result in a link pattern like so;

good link exchanges

This type of linking is perfectly legitimate because it is natural and the links have been awarded based on quality, relevant content.

If a manual review was to take place the above linking pattern would not stand out at all, where as the other two would stand out like sore thumbs!

So if your thinking about a link exchange ask yourself the following questions;

  • Am I exchanging to point my readers to a useful, relevant resource?
  • Will I still award a link even if I don’t get one back?
  • Is the page the link is pointing to a relevant quality resource?

If you can answer yes to them all your on the right track.

Once again, thanks for reading.

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Author: Tim (254 Articles)

is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.


{ 7 comments } August 14, 2009 at 8:20 am

Thanks for your submission to the Sixtieth edition of the Blog Carnival: Blogging. Your post has been accepted and its live:

Stephen October 10, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Not buying this post.

Diagram 3, which is described as GOOD, is nearly identical topology as diagram 1, which is deemed BAD.

The comment that IF a manual review took place it would be validated as OK, doesn’t hold much water because we’re not talking about a manual review, we’re talking about search engine rankings! (ie, automated).

Will robots be able to tell the difference?

One thing is for sure – they’ll recognize reciprocal links.

Do you want to take the change that they will also recognize a good contextual link?

Why not use a “no follow” tag on the link and cut the risk?

If you think this is wrong, please share why – always up for learning something new.

Tim October 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Hi Stephen,

Let me first explain the diagrams and the difference between 1 and 3.

Diagram 1 relates to sites that build lists of links on specific pages, they use the pages to send hundreds of links back to reciprocal partners. Real estate sites were hit with penalties early last year for this practice.

Diagram 3 Shows how you can link to a site from a genuine piece of content and in turn the author of that content may wish to refer to your resource also, a bit like a ping back.

I looked over the post and it doesn’t explain it as well as I thought so apologies for that.

With regards to your thoughts, yes Google is an automated search spider however if it found a page filled with lists of links this may spark a manual review by the Google team. Manual reviews can result in loss of PageRank and SERP rankings. Nofollowing or even noindexing the pages or links is not an option as this would defeat the object of exchanging links.

If you have tons of reciprocal links on your pages to directories and the directories in turn are pointing to you, this is fairly straight forward for a search spider to discover, what I would advise is only exchange links when it provides real value to the reader and try and stick to an editorial or contextual link exchange.

Does this clear things up? If not I’m more than happy to discuss it in more detail.

Thanks for the comment

Jokesmantra October 19, 2011 at 4:55 am

very useful post. This post removed my confusion..

Nimantha November 20, 2011 at 12:26 am

I agree with you and this link may help your readers too.


Aarik Iftekhar February 18, 2012 at 7:55 am

Thanks for this really useful article, for this days i really confused about whether i am using web directories reciprocal links or not and now i am no longer confused. Thanks also Tim.

Astro Gremlin September 8, 2012 at 8:35 pm

So I guess I need to stop commenting on the sites of my commenters. THAT seems unnatural to me.

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