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Reciprocal Linking: Is it Still Worth the Effort?

By Donald Nelson

When the Internet was young, ten years ago, one of my most pleasurable online activities was to go to a site’s link page and follow the links to some cool sites. Equally fascinating was the prospect of having my site listed on some of those links pages, which prompted me to get into the activity now known as reciprocal linking, or trading links with other sites.

My, how times have changed! Now whenever a reciprocal link request lands in my “in box” I delete it immediately just like other pieces of obvious spam. How did this come to pass? As soon as it became known that Google’s PageRank system rewarded sites for incoming links, the trading of links, and even the buying and selling of links, heated up and most webmasters got into the act.

To make matters even worse the flood of reciprocal requests became a tidal wave in the past year as people sought to cash in on Adsense, Google’s contextual advertising system. Many sites have been constructed whose sole purpose is to get people to click on ads. The owners of these sites, in a concerted effort to get high rankings, have built complex link directories on their sites and are soliciting link exchanges.

The net result of these developments is that most requests that one receives these days are automated and will provide you with links on directory pages that have no PageRank and will hardly ever be seen by any human visitor. Another consequence is that when you, in good faith, send an email to someone requesting a legitimate exchange of links you may never get a reply because your email will be deleted by a webmaster, sick and tired of all the requests.

So is reciprocal linking a dead duck? The answer is a qualified “yes.” It takes a long time to conduct a link campaign these days, and it is harder to get links on sites with link pages that will generate traffic or help you with your search engine ranking.

So, don’t have big expectations from reciprocal linking. If you do want to build up your incoming links with this method you should do it in a highly targeted manner. Concentrate on trading links with sites that are closely related to yours. If you sell lawn mowers, then trade links with someone who is selling grass seed.

If you are not sure who might be a good link partner then visit the site of one of your competitors. If you have a Google tool bar installed do a “backward links” check which will produce a list of sites that link to your competitor. If you don’t have the toolbar installed just go to Google’s search page and make the following query: link:

Look at the sites that are linking to your competitor and see if you can find link pages that have a good PageRank (3 or more) and are situated so that they could send you traffic. These are the “plums” and you should try to pick them, by soliciting a link exchange with those sites.

Also, scrutinize the pages where your link might be placed. If it is buried deep in a directory or not within two clicks of the main part of the website then you can forget about exchanging links with that site. If the link pages have more than 50 links sloppily arranged, then you will also get little benefit from such an exchange.

This is a time consuming practice, and the results are diminishing. Along with reciprocal linking you should also try other ways of getting incoming links: distributing articles and press releases online with a link back to your site and buying or getting free placement in online directories.

In the cases of article distribution and also directory placement, the biggest results will come when your article or directory listing is highly targeted. If you can get an article placed in a high volume newsletter or an oft-visited blog then you have hit the jackpot. Similarly if you find a directory that is important for your industry, a listing there may be well worth it even if you have to pay for it.

The reciprocal linking landscape has changed a lot in the past ten years, and even in the past one year. Reciprocal linking can be used judiciously but it is no longer the powerful traffic generating method that it once was.

Donald Nelson is a web developer and social worker. He is the proprietor of A1-Optimization a firm that provides affordable search engine optimization, website copywriting, article writing, and link buiding services. He is also the editor of the A1-Article Directory.

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