Quite some time ago, Google made its thoughts on unnatural link exchange schemes perfectly clear. The long and short of it being that swapping links for reciprocal benefit was not conducive with quality SEO.A stance which stands to reason, as reciprocal linking paves the way for black-hat SEO. Where two or more sites agree to link to each other for mutual SEO benefit, they do so without having technically earned these backlinks.
Backlinks which could be placed on sites of no direct relevance to the other sites included in the exchange scheme.
More grey-hat than black-hat SEO, Google has nonetheless made it clear that backlinks earned through merit are really the only backlinks worth bothering with.
But what about reciprocal linking that takes place following the placement of a link earned through merit? If a relevant business within your niche posts a link to your website, can you return the favour without fear of reprisal?
When Reciprocal Links Are Perfectly Justifiable
Somewhat backtracking on the whole issue, the latest comments direct from Google suggest that reciprocal linking is not always a bad thing. In fact, it is perfectly natural to host a link to a site that links to yours, if the original link was indeed relevant and credible.
Google’s John Mueller took the opportunity to set the record straight last week, during a recent Google Search Central SEO office hours hangout.
Mueller was quizzed by an SEO on Google’s approach to this type of link exchange, and whether it was best avoided to preserve backlink value. Or to put it another way - is it ok to link back to a site that links to you, or is it better for your SEO profile to leave things be?
In response, Mr Mueller offered the following advice:
“That’s perfectly fine. It’s also kind of natural. Especially if you’re a local business, you link to your neighbors. Or if you’re mentioned in the news somewhere you kind of mention that on your website like ‘I was featured here in the news’ and essentially you’re kind of linking back and forth.”
It all comes down to the way in which Google’s crawlers are sophisticated enough to decipher between a synthetic link exchange scheme and natural linking. Which in turn means that if reciprocal linking activities are justified and valid, they are perfectly fine.
“It’s kind of a reciprocal link essentially, but it’s a natural kind of link. It’s not something that’s there because you’re doing some kind of crazy link scheme. So from that point of view, I think it’s easy to overthink it. And if you’re doing something naturally, if you’re not kind of making weird deals, behind the scenes, then I really wouldn’t worry about it.”
In a nutshell - reciprocal links do not always contravene Google’s webmaster guidelines.
It is entirely down to their relevance and value - the natural, 100% organic exchange of relevant backlinks is permitted.