Feature Article (Pub: December 05) Google punishing reciprocal links? by Paul Rudman

Everyone in the world of SEO has known for a link time that links pointing to your website are good, and the more you have of them the better. For years reciprocal linking has been a commonly used strategy for improving your Google page rank, gaining higher rankings and being the envy of all your friends.

You approach a fellow webmaster requesting a link on their website and vice versa, you mutually oblige, slap each other on the back and off you go to find another link partner to dance with.

However it really was only a matter of time before Google twigged that if Site A is linking to Site B and Site B is also linking back to Site A, then this really is a linking strategy that smells suspiciously like a manufactured process, not the regular "wow your site is so good I am going to provide a link to it from mine!" type deal that is regarded as important by Google when they figure out how to rank one website higher than an other.

It appears that now Google have decided to do something about it, as during the last PR update in October it seemed that those struck the cruellest in terms of lost placements were those indulging in the mutual back-slapping art of reciprocal linking.

I'm a reciprocal linker, what should I do?!

Never fear, there is still hope! As with any industry where you attempt to stay (at least) one step ahead of the game, it is important to move with the times and adapt your linking strategy. It is a tricky situation as the links you got in the first place could well have helped get you the placements you have just lost, so don't do anything out of blind panic, make small changes and monitor the impact and check out the steps below.

The Steps:

  1. Whatever you do, don't upset your link partners. If you haven't looked for a while, check that all your link partners are still actually linking to you, and also that the Google page rank for your link is still as valuable as it was when you reciprocated in the first place. This allows you to weed out certain partners before you make any more decisions.
  2. Consider whether you have got another website with a similar Google page rank in your armoury that you can shift all your reciprocal links to, so in effect create a 3-way reciprocal linking love triangle, Site A links to Site B, and Site B links to site C. This will get your round the problem of having 2-way links, just make sure that you email all your back-slapping buddies and let them know why you've moved their link and that you have provided a similar quality link on another site in your portfolio. They should understand, if not then swear at your monitor and point them at this article to read.
  3. If you don't have another website you can provide links from then get one! You should never put all your eggs in one basket anyway, as any SEO strategy could eventually backfire, blow up in your face, and any other number of aggressive, war-like analogies could happen as a result.
  4. Ok, if you honestly don't have another site you either have to sit tight and accept your loss of traffic and see if you can make it up using other conventional methods of SEO, such as keeping your content fresh and keep building... always building... If you don't like the thought of that you can try things like spreading the links out across different pages of your site rather than keep them in a concentrated section that screams "I Am the artificial linking strategy section of the website", and add a bit of text around them rather than just having keyword hyperlink (full stop). This may or may not work, but at least the Google spiders will appreciate the effort you've made.
  5. One more ghastly option is to remove the links from your site altogether and pray that you have enough genuine links not acquired through link exchanging to be able to lose the benefit of the reciprocal links - and not lose many more ranking placements. Remember to contact your partners and let them know though, no-one appreciates providing outbound links and then finding out that the original agreement has been broken (it's as low as dressing up your dog during a party).
  6. Start considering other methods of link building, such as link broker subscriptions and buying permanent one-way links into your site instead of using reciprocal linking.

Keep monitoring your placements when you change your strategy and don't do too much too soon, as it isn't wise to make huge, wholesale changes as you could do more harm than could.

Hopefully this will help you get your website back on it's feet again, and remember to be patient, as any Google penalty or penalisation can take a while (months) to come back from. Google can be a great and bounteous provider but can also be a cruel beast when it kicks you in your crown jewels. Good luck!


Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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