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Do They Help Or Hurt Your SEO?

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Do They Help Or Hurt Your SEO?

Early in the 2000s, reciprocal link building was a popular method to increase your search traffic and boost your backlink profile.

Also referred to as “traded” or “exchanged” links, reciprocal links were something of an SEO hack – even though they were technically against Google’s guidelines.

These days, Google still says “no” to reciprocal links (they call it a “link scheme”).

But the web today is still full of them.

What gives?

The way reciprocal links appear on sites – and the way they occur – is different from 20 years ago.

Today, reciprocal links are a natural byproduct of owning a website.

It happens when you develop relationships with other sites through authentic outreach, not to mention when you link to sources without any expectation of reciprocation, but they discover your link and, in fact, organically reciprocate.

Further, an insightful link-building study done by Ahrefs shows how common reciprocal links still are on the web.

This graph shows that only 26.4% of the authority domains used in the study are not using reciprocal links:

Screenshot from Ahrefs, August 2022

That means 73.6% of the domains are using them.

So, sure, reciprocal links are common, but do they help or hurt your SEO?

Intentions matter. Let me explain.

What Are Reciprocal Links?

A link exchange occurs when an agreement is made between two brands to trade links to boost SEO and site authority by essentially saying, “You link to me, and I’ll link to you.”

In essence, a reciprocal link is a quid pro quo or a “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” situation.

Does this sound shady?

Maybe.

Is it shady?

It could be. That all depends on how – and how often – you use reciprocal links on your site.

Later in this article, we link to Ahrefs. The link sets us both up for a helpful, naturally occurring reciprocal link situation. Whether Ahrefs chooses to reciprocate by linking back to this article is entirely up to them.

If they do, that’s exactly how a natural reciprocal link is born.

Now, let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum.

You might get emails or come across websites with shady link exchange offers. They’re usually pretty easy to spot:

  • They offer an exchange or deal that will boost your SEO or help you rank in Google.
  • They mention link networks or say the words “link exchange.”
  • They talk about offering you multiple links or links on multiple sites.

Are Reciprocal Links Good For SEO?

If you want to grow your authority and rankings (and reduce the risk of penalties from search engines), the key is to focus on less risky strategies and tactics.

Above all else, your link-building methods should enhance your customer’s experience on your site.

Rather than focusing on SERP rankings and your website’s link profile, focus on providing something of value to your readers and customers by producing high-quality content.

Including some external links on your site can be helpful to SEO, but they aren’t the driving force behind your site’s ranking.

How To Use Reciprocal Links To Help Your SEO

Linking to quality sites that are relevant to your content enhances your reader’s overall experience on your website.

Content is king, and consistently delivering original and valuable information to your readers will earn your site a spot on the throne.

When you link to high-value content, you can establish your site as a trusted source of information.

In this case, if the other site reciprocates the link, consider it a bonus – the content matters first.

If you’re going to request reciprocation, check the site’s SEO metrics to ensure that you’re exchanging links with a high-authority website.

When reciprocal links occur naturally between authority sites, both sites may benefit.

Here are a few things to consider before you pursue a link exchange:

  • Could the external site potentially improve your site’s traffic?
  • Does the site produce content and share information related to your niche?
  • Is the brand or business a direct competitor? (The answer to this one should be no!)

4 Ways Links Can Hurt Your SEO

There are some benefits to naturally occurring reciprocal links, but when you don’t use common sense, exchanging links can harm your site’s authority and rankings.

Here are four ways that links might actually hurt your SEO:

1. Site Penalization (Manual Action)

Simply put, reciprocal links are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

google guidelines and link schemesScreenshot from developers.google.com, August 2022

If your site is abusing backlinks – if you’re trying to manipulate search results by exchanging links – your website runs a high risk of being penalized by Google.

2. Decrease In Site Authority & Rankings

If you’re linking to external sites that aren’t relevant to your content, your page might experience a drop in site authority or SERP rankings.

Before linking, ensure that the content is relevant and check the site’s domain authority.

In some cases, it’s OK to link back to low-authority sites, but excessively linking to these sites will not improve your own website’s authority.

3. Boosting SEO For Direct Competition

When linking to sites with the same target keywords and phrases as your website, your chances of having that link reciprocated are low.

As a result, you’re only boosting your competition’s SEO, not your own.

Link exchanges or reciprocated links should be between sites with similar content and themes and not between directly competing sites.

4. Loss Of Trust

You never want to lose the trust of search engines. But reciprocal links can cause this to happen in two ways:

  • Your site has a ridiculously high number of one-to-one links
  • Your link’s anchor text is consistently suspicious or unrelated to your content.

Developing Relationships And Providing Value Are Key For Reciprocal Links

Don’t seek out reciprocal links for the sole purpose of getting more site traffic or building your backlink profile.

It won’t work, and you might get a Google penalty.

Instead, understand that aiming to be useful and valuable with your on-site linking will naturally lead to reciprocal links.

Linking to relevant, trusted resources is an excellent way to build authority and develop relationships with brands in your niche.

You’ll also give your readers immense value by pointing them to sites with trusted, relevant, useful content. That builds trust with your audience, which nurtures them and pulls them further into your brand ecosystem.

And that’s exactly what you want.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

It was reported that OpenAI is working on a search engine that would directly challenge Google. But details missing from the report raise questions about whether OpenAI is creating a standalone search engine or if there’s another reason for the announcement.

OpenAI Web Search Report

The report published on The Information relates that OpenAI is developing a Web Search product that will directly compete with Google. A key detail of the report is that it will be partly powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Apart from that there are no other details, including whether it will be a standalone search engine or be integrated within ChatGPT.

All reports note that it will be a direct challenge to Google so let’s start there.

1. Is OpenAI Mounting A Challenge To Google?

OpenAI is said to be using Bing search as part of the rumored search engine, a combination of a GPT-4 with Bing Search, plus something in the middle to coordinate between the two .

In that scenario, what OpenAI is not doing is developing its own search indexing technology, it’s using Bing.

What’s left then for OpenAI to do in order to create a search engine is to devise how the search interface interacts with GPT-4 and Bing.

And that’s a problem that Bing has already solved by using what it Microsoft calls an orchestration layer. Bing Chat uses retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) to improve answers by adding web search data to use as context for the answers that GPT-4 creates. For more information on how orchestration and RAG works watch the keynote at Microsoft Build 2023 event by Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, at the 31:45 minute mark here).

If OpenAI is creating a challenge to Google Search, what exactly is left for OpenAI to do that Microsoft isn’t already doing with Bing Chat? Bing is an experienced and mature search technology, an expertise that OpenAI does not have.

Is OpenAI challenging Google? A more plausible answer is that Bing is challenging Google through OpenAI as a proxy.

2. Does OpenAI Have The Momentum To Challenge Google?

ChatGPT is the fastest growing app of all time, currently with about 180 million users, achieving in two months what took years for Facebook and Twitter.

Yet despite that head start Google’s lead is a steep hill for OpenAI to climb.  Consider that Google has approximately 3 to 4 billion users worldwide, absolutely dwarfing OpenAI’s 180 million.

Assuming that all 180 million OpenAI users performed an average of 4 searches per day, the daily number of searches could reach 720 million searches per day.

Statista estimates that there are 6.3 million searches on Google per minute which equals over 9 billion searches per day.

If OpenAI is to compete they’re going to have to offer a useful product with a compelling reason to use it. For example, Google and Apple have a captive audience on mobile device ecosystem that embeds them into the daily lives of their users, both at work and at home. It’s fairly apparent that it’s not enough to create a search engine to compete.

Realistically, how can OpenAI achieve that level of ubiquity and usefulness?

OpenAI is facing an uphill battle against not just Google but Microsoft and Apple, too. If we count Internet of Things apps and appliances then add Amazon to that list of competitors that already have a presence in billions of users daily lives.

OpenAI does not have the momentum to launch a search engine to compete against Google because it doesn’t have the ecosystem to support integration into users lives.

3. OpenAI Lacks Information Retrieval Expertise

Search is formally referred to as Information Retrieval (IR) in research papers and patents. No amount of searching in the Arxiv.org repository of research papers will surface papers authored by OpenAI researchers related to information retrieval. The same can be said for searching for information retrieval (IR) related patents. OpenAI’s list of research papers also lacks IR related studies.

It’s not that OpenAI is being secretive. OpenAI has a long history of publishing research papers about the technologies they’re developing. The research into IR does not exist. So if OpenAI is indeed planning on launching a challenge to Google, where is the smoke from that fire?

It’s a fair guess that search is not something OpenAI is developing right now. There are no signs that it is even flirting with building a search engine, there’s nothing there.

4. Is The OpenAI Search Engine A Microsoft Project?

There is substantial evidence that Microsoft is furiously researching how to use LLMs as a part of a search engine.

All of the following research papers are classified as belonging to the fields of Information Retrieval (aka search), Artificial Intelligence, and Natural Language Computing.

Here are few research papers just from 2024:

Enhancing human annotation: Leveraging large language models and efficient batch processing
This is about using AI for classifying search queries.

Structured Entity Extraction Using Large Language Models
This research paper discovers a way to extracting structured information from unstructured text (like webpages). It’s like turning a webpage (unstructured data) into a machine understandable format (structured data).

Improving Text Embeddings with Large Language Models (PDF version here)
This research paper discusses a way to get high-quality text embeddings that can be used for information retrieval (IR). Text embeddings is a reference to creating a representation of text in a way that can be used by algorithms to understand the semantic meanings and relationships between the words.

The above research paper explains the use:

“Text embeddings are vector representations of natural language that encode its semantic information. They are widely used in various natural language processing (NLP) tasks, such as information retrieval (IR), question answering…etc. In the field of IR, the first-stage retrieval often relies on text embeddings to efficiently recall a small set of candidate documents from a large-scale corpus using approximate nearest neighbor search techniques.”

There’s more research by Microsoft that relates to search, but these are the ones that are specifically related to search together with large language models (like GPT-4.5).

Following the trail of breadcrumbs leads directly to Microsoft as the technology powering any search engine that OpenAI is supposed to be planning… if that rumor is true.

5. Is Rumor Meant To Steal Spotlight From Gemini?

The rumor that OpenAI is launching a competing search engine was published on February 14th. The next day on February 15th Google announced the launch of Gemini 1.5, after announcing Gemini Advanced on February 8th.

Is it a coincidence that OpenAI’s announcement completely overshadowed the Gemini announcement the next day? The timing is incredible.

At this point the OpenAI search engine is just a rumor.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/rafapress

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Warning: Unpopular SEO writing opinion

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Warning: Unpopular SEO writing opinion

Unpopular opinion alert: Adding new blog posts may not help your site.

(No matter what that content marketing company told you.) 🙄

So many of my new clients — especially subject matter experts — don’t need new content (immediately).

They HAVE content — scads of it scattered across various platforms.

(Maybe that sounds familiar.)

What they DO need is someone to review their content and customer persona, pinpoint opportunities, and develop a baby-step approach to leveraging those older content assets.

Because there are always opportunities. 🔥

Before writing another word, ask…

  • Are you repurposing the content you have? Or are you writing it once and forgetting about it (which is so common)?
  • Is your customer/reader persona still accurate, or has your target audience changed post-COVID?
  • Do your sales pages showcase your benefits and speak to your customers’ pain points? Or are they flat and dull?
  • Does your content sound like YOU with a point of view? Or is there a massive disconnect between how you talk to clients and the words you use on your site?
  • When did you last take a peek at your old sales emails and email welcome sequences? Could updating those assets make you more money?
  • Isn’t it time to save time (and budget) and leverage your existing content?

If you need help untangling your content and messaging, let me know. I love creating content order out of chaos.

After all…

 

Warning Unpopular SEO writing opinion

 

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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Google Bans Impersonation In Ads

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Google Bans Impersonation In Ads

Google bans impersonation and false affiliation in ads, enforcing policy changes in March.

  • Google bans impersonation and false affiliation in ads.
  • Policy enforcement starts in March.
  • Violators will be banned from Google Ads.

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