What Are SEO Reciprocal Links (+ 9 Best Practices)
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. That’s the general idea behind SEO reciprocal links.
You provide a link to a website, providing them with an SEO boost, and they’ll return the favor by providing a link to your website.
Everyone wins, right?
Not always. Here’s everything you need to know about SEO reciprocal links and how to use them correctly.
What Are SEO Reciprocal Links?
If two websites come to an agreement to link to each other’s content, the resulting links are SEO reciprocal links.
The reciprocal links could be to any content on a website. For example, a beauty blog might link to the product page of their favorite lipstick while the makeup company might feature the beauty blogger in a post.
The aim of SEO reciprocal links is to provide both parties with a boost in domain authority, helping them climb the search engine results pages (SERPS). Since backlinks are generally a key contributor to a website’s SEO performance, it makes sense to think that reciprocal links would be a win-win for the website involved.
In fact, reciprocal links happen often enough on the internet without any explicit coordination. It’s not surprising that websites in the same niche might sometimes link to one another, resulting in some reciprocal links between sites.
While SEO reciprocal links do appear to help websites rank highly sometimes, they can also hurt your SEO scores, and even get your page de-indexed by Google. Let’s look at how reciprocal links impact SEO in practice.
SEO Reciprocal Links and SEO
Back in the earlier days of SEO, link exchanges were more common. Websites would sometimes link to one another in ways that didn’t seem natural, but how would Google know?
Google’s algorithm did, of course, catch up with these schemes. Link schemes, including reciprocal links, are technically against Google’s guidelines. In general, any attempt at gaming the system or artificially inflating the authority of your website is considered a no-no by Google.
This makes sense: Google’s ever-shifting search algorithm may drive SEOs crazy, but it has a very simple aim. The goal of the algorithm is to deliver to users the best, most relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy result to a search query.
By focusing on manipulating rankings with link schemes rather than creating the best content, websites are in violation of Google’s terms and will eventually get penalized for it. If it were that straightforward, this article could end here. However, SEO reciprocal links are a bit of a special case. Why?
Because they happen naturally pretty frequently. If every reciprocal link could get you banished from Google’s search results, it would be too risky to ever have an external link on your website. If that same site linked back to you, you could be done for. That, of course, isn’t the case.
Ahrefs conducted a study to determine the impact of reciprocal links in page rankings, and that almost half of the pages that appear in Google’s top 10—that is, the first page of results for search queries in Google—do have some reciprocal links.
Since pages with reciprocal links make up such a large percentage of the most successful pages on the internet from an SEO perspective, it’s clear that the relationship between reciprocal links and SEO is more complicated than what is suggested by Google’s terms.
The general position taken by SEO pros now is that reciprocal links can help SEO, but they should be the product of authentic relationships and should provide value to the user. It’s always a good idea to remember that the aim of SEO is to provide a better experience to the user. The better your content is from a user perspective, the more likely it is to perform well in search, too.
Benefits of SEO Reciprocal Links
When used correctly, SEO reciprocal links do have benefits. Provided they aren’t created as part of a link scheme, here are some ways reciprocal links can boost your site:
- Better user experience – External linking can meaningfully improve your website content. For example, if you’re referring to studies or statistics, users can click the link to verify your claims, increasing trust in the process. If there is some great resource out there that you want to share with your audience, linking to it with an external link can help them find it more easily. If those sites link back to you while similarly providing a better experience for their readers, both parties win.
- SEO gains – While the Ahref’s study we mentioned doesn’t necessarily imply a huge boost from reciprocal links, it does demonstrate that pages with reciprocal links can perform very well in search results. You shouldn’t be afraid to use them if they’re enhancing your content.
- More traffic – If you link to a website that in turn links back to you, and they get a lot of traffic, you might see a considerable traffic boost from being mentioned on their site. Particularly if they are very relevant to your niche, their audience may be ideal prospective customers for your business.
- Build authority – By linking to high authority websites, you indicate to Google (and to your visitors!) that you are a source of high-value information.
When they occur more or less organically, SEO reciprocal links appear to be harmless from an SEO perspective and can even confer some benefits. However, there can be drawbacks to using them, Let’s take a look at what those are.
Drawbacks of SEO Reciprocal Links
Reciprocal links—and all external links—should be used wisely. Using reciprocal links as part of a link-building scheme or linking feely to low-DA websites can your rankings. Here are some things to be cautious about when it comes to SEO reciprocal links.
- Boost competitor’s SEO – If you link to a competitor that is targetting similar keywords to you, you may give them an SEO bump, hurting your relative standing.
- Reduce your website authority – Your goal should always be to be perceived by both users and Google’s bots as a high-authority resource. Linking to low-authority websites can make it seem like you aren’t a particularly valuable source of information.
- Penalization by Google – If Google suspects you’re participating in inorganic link exchanges, they could lower your SERP rankings (as a best-case scenario) or even de-index your site (as a worst-case scenario).
Clearly, it’s not worth messing around with shady link exchanges. But as we can see from all the pages that rank highly on Google while having reciprocal links, there is a right way to go about using this type of link. Here’s how.
9 SEO Reciprocal Links Best Practices
Reciprocal links are a natural part of the internet. Websites link to each other, especially when they’re in the same community or niche.
Keep the following in mind when it comes to your reciprocal links, and you should have no trouble staying in Google’s good graces.
1. Diversify your link-building tactics
Link-building or link-earning is an important part of SEO. It would be nice if links just built themselves organically, but the truth is, it does take some effort to get other websites to link to your content, even if your content is fantastic.
However, securing SEO reciprocal links definitely shouldn’t be your top technique for securing backlinks. Some reciprocal links are okay, but you should also have plenty of other backlinks, preferably from high-DA sites.
2. Focus on the user
Maybe the customer isn’t always right, but their experience should be a top priority. Your external links, including reciprocal links, should enhance your content.
Is your content better because of the reciprocal link that you just added to it? If so, it should be okay. Value to the customer comes from linking to high-authority sites and high-value content.
3. Focus on high-authority sites
Linking to high authority websites tells Google that you are a reliable source of good quality information. After all, you’re linking to websites that have established themselves as trustworthy resources.
Don’t worry about occasionally linking to a low-authority site, but make sure it’s very relevant and avoid filling your content with these kinds of links.
4. Check SEO metrics before exchanging links
If you occasionally exchange links with a website based on an agreement, it should be indistinguishable from an organic link.
In other words, both parties should be in the same niche and should link in a way that provides value to their respective audiences.
Before agreeing, check the SEO metrics of the website to make sure you’re satisfied with its authority. If it’s not very high, it may not be worth agreeing to a reciprocal link with them.
5. Stay within your niche, but avoid competitors
You definitely don’t want to be linking to your competitors, but any reciprocal links should be with websites in your niche.
If they aren’t, it’s a good clue to Google that the reciprocal links are the product of a link-building scheme. Plus, any traffic you get from a link on an irrelevant site likely won’t do much for your business.
6. Directories are safe
Reciprocal links between your site and a directory website in your niche are generally just fine.
For example, if a hotel wins an award from a hotel directory and booking website, it’s normal for the hotel to mention this while linking back to the directory.
7. Avoid site-wide links
When linking externally, you should link to the relevant content in question rather than to the homepage.
This will almost certainly be more valuable to readers. Similarly, reciprocal links pointing to your site should direct visitors to a specific piece of content.
8. Vary the link text
The more varied the link text for any backlinks pointing back to your site, including any reciprocal links, the better.
If you do have any agreements with other websites, ask them to switch up the link text while keeping it natural and relevant to their content and the linked content.
9. Build relationships
Last but certainly not least, focus on building relationships with other sites in your niche rather than merely exchanging links.
Relationships can result in natural reciprocal links that help you both.
SEO reciprocal links are all over the internet, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s normal and expected for websites in a niche to link to each other sometimes. However, deliberate link-building schemes are not permitted by Google. Aim to build natural relationships with other websites and don’t be afraid to link to each other occasionally, but avoid making reciprocal links a major part of your strategy.