Reciprocal Links are links between sites which are created to link each other. The owner of the website might opt for such links to give their visitors an opportunity to check out both sites since they might be related. At times the union might be as a show of partnership or cooperation. Today, leading search engine optimization specialists are against using reciprocal links as they are no longer highly regarded by search engines.
Why is Identifying Reciprocal Links Confusing?
There is still a great deal of confusion as to which links are being referred to. For instance, what about blogs which link each other on their blog rolls? What about Links in between sites which are under one owner and are reasonable enough? For instance, the storefront on another domain or sub domain. This can also be one company with different websites focusing on different topics.
There is also the concern about websites that cover similar topics or offer complementary services or goods and see it fit to link each other for their mutual benefit.
Another concern is on website resource pages where sites include page links and descriptions to other websites that they deem their visitors will find useful. There is a concern as to what will happen if this referred sites decide to link back. Will it make a difference if those sites include a statement on their resource pages that they will not list your site in exchange for reciprocal links.
What Red Flags Have Search Engines Raised on Reciprocal Links?
Major search engines provide information on linking within their user guidelines. On the Link Schemes Google page, there are some implications outlined for those who will engage in negative linking strategies.
Here are some Google link schemes that might adversely affect your website rankings:
Links which manipulate your Page Rank
Links directed to web spammers
Heavy use of link exchanging or reciprocal links (Link me I link you back).
Yahoo also have Search content quality instructions. One of the content clearly discouraged on their search engine platforms are:
Excessively cross-linked sites which inflate the popularity of a certain site.
On windows Live Help page guideline, they specifically point out that one of the techniques which might prevent your website from appearing on Live Search Results are:
Use of link farm techniques which artificially increase the number of links directed to your web page.
So How Important are these Guidelines for webmasters or searchers?
Three are high chances that a good percentage of Google users who have their websites indexed by search engines are familiar with Page Rank. They might not know what the terminologies ‘link farms’ or ’link schemes’ mean.
Why The New Focus on Reciprocal Links by Search Engines?
While performing a search on your search engine, the pages which pop up in response to the keyword search have been ranked and ordered by this search engine based on several signals which provide you with pages which might match up with what you intend to find on the internet.
Arriving at this ranking is difficult for search engines as they might b thousands or even millions of web pages that might have the particular words you seek out. Their aim of the search engines is to provide the best pages which can appear atop your results. These signals used by search engines when determining the order of their ages can be classified as:
Content centered signals – They focus on the quality of the content appearing on your website.
Link centered signals – They pay close attention to the links between your site and other websites.
User based signals – thy look at data between your website and other sites and gauge how people react to it.
Another way the search engines classify the signals used when ranking pages depends on whether this signal is directly related to the query you seek. This method of classification breaks it down to two distinct categories – the importance of a page and the relevance of the page when a specific phrase or search term is used.
Query dependent & Independent Signals
The signals which focus on the quality of a page while narrowing at number and importance of links directed to it, people who have bookmarked it, time spent while on the page, annotations etc are referred to as query independent signals.
There are also links which look at the relevance of a page in relation to a particular phrase or query term, words that appear on the link, time spent on the page etc, this are query dependent signals.
Mixed Signals & Reordered Page Rankings
Search engines use a good number of signals in determining which pages searchers should use when responding to a search. This might take those ordered results and have them reordered before finally being presented to searchers based on the prevailing facts on those pages.
Links in between web pages are helpful however search engines show a lot of concern and suspicion towards links in between website pages. Some site owners have attempted to take full advantage of links which exist in between pages to make them look more important than they actually are. Their primary focus should be to share those links which provide value to those visiting their websites or are transparently connected to other sites which might be under their control. Unfortunately, there are those who link to manipulate the link based ranking system and get their site high as they possibly can on the search results.
Yahoo has filed a patent application on excessive use of reciprocal links. On this application Yahoo even provided a definition for Reciprocal links and suspicious entities. It clarifies that a web page will be considered to have a reciprocal link when one of its outlinks is also one of its inlinks. So, a reciprocal link exists when two websites are linked back and forth of one another. The patent also goes ahead to clarify that it will regard circular links as reciprocal links, for instance website A linking to site B, a page from B referring to C, and C referring you back to site A.
If your percentage of links is greater than a certain required figure, your search engine might take a number of steps. The website might be manually reviewed by human investigators or might undergo examination from a search engine program which has been specifically configured to fish out suspicious activity.
The patent application also describes the domains or pages which might have a high number of reciprocal links. Upon review of such sites, the affected site will be demoted automatically from the search results.
Are there Exceptions?
There are some pages which might be singled out in whitelist of web pages or domains that are exclusively excluded from being singled out as suspicious. They are instead regarded as legitimate or popular.
Search engines may use links as a ranking signal when determining just how good your page might feature on the search results. So this creates the possibility that some site owners might attempt to have many links point at their pages so as to increase their SERP rankings.
I have referred to three patent filling sin this post which might be used by people to inflate their rankings via linking. If the links within your website are reasonable enough and provide value to your web visitors while covering similar complementary topics, that site will be regarded as legitimate.