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Reciprocal Links: Do They Help or Hurt Your SEO?

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Using reciprocal links – sometimes referred to as “traded” or “exchanged” links – was a popular method of link building in the early 2000s but has decreased in popularity in recent years.

Reciprocal links are still a relatively common occurrence. They’re a natural byproduct of owning a website, after all.

However, the way reciprocal links appear on sites today is different from 20 years ago.

In my research for this article, I found an insightful link building study done by Ahrefs, which states – and I must agree! – that developing relationships through authentic outreach, and linking to sources without expecting anything in return, are the most proper and natural ways to build reciprocal links.

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

Reciprocal Links: Do They Help or Hurt Your SEO?

So, yes, reciprocal links are still quite common.

But the question still begs an answer: Do reciprocal links help or hurt your SEO?

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’re using reciprocal links on your site.

In the third paragraph of this article, we linked 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.

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

Here’s an example of a shady link exchange offer, found on a site that exclusively hosts link exchanges:

Reciprocal Links: Do They Help or Hurt Your SEO?

Not very appealing, is it?

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!)

One example of reciprocal linking that is almost always OK is the use of online directories.

Ensure that the directory is related to your industry or niche and include a link back to it on your own site.

Here’s an example of a link exchange between Feedspot, a popular directory for blogs, which are categorized by niche, and travel blogger Euro Travel Coach.

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.

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 Alexa ranking.

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 1-to-1 links
  • Your link’s anchor text is consistently suspicious, or unrelated to your content.

Developing Relationships Is Key

Building relationships in your industry is a crucial part of any effective link building strategy.

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

By linking to authority sites, your site has higher chances of being seen by those site owners, which could lead to links from them in the future.

Summary

Timeframe: Start at month 6

Results detected: 12 months

Average reciprocal links per month: 1-2, but this depends on the frequency of engagement

Tools: Alexa Site Info

Benefits of reciprocal links:

  • Enhances reader’s experience on your site
  • Establishes your site as a trusted authority
  • Increased site traffic
  • Relationship-building

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author, October 2019

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Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts

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Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts


Every year, we see new trends entering the world of email marketing.

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

Who doesn’t like to have a good experience consuming content?

I know I do. And isn’t that what we – as both a consumer of content and a marketer of content – all want?

What if you create such a good experience that your audience doesn’t even realize it’s an “experience?” Here’s a helpful mish-mash of easy-to-do things to make that possible.

1. Write with an inclusive heart

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who constantly talks about themselves. Check your text to see how often you write the words – I, me, we, and us. Now, count how often the word “you” is used. If the first-person uses are disproportionate to the second-person uses, edit to delete many first-person references and add more “you” to the text.

You want to let your audience know they are included in the conversation. I like this tip shared in Take Binary Bias Out of Your Content Conversations by Content Marketing World speaker Ruth Carter: Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns.

Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns, says @rbcarter via @Brandlovellc @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

2. Make your content shine brighter with an AI assist

Content published online should look different than the research papers and essays you wrote in school. While you should adhere to grammar rules and follow a style guide as best as possible, you also should prioritize readability. That requires scannable and easily digestible text – headings, bulleted text, short sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.

Use a text-polishing aid such as Hemingway Editor (free and paid versions) to cut the dead weight from your writing. Here’s how its color-coded review system works and the improvements to make:

  • Yellow – lengthy, complex sentences, and common errors
    • Fix: Shorten or split sentences.
  • Red – dense and complicated text
    • Fix: Remove hurdles and keep your readers on a simpler path.
  • Pink – lengthy words that could be shortened
    • Fix: Scroll the mouse over the problematic word to identify potential substitutes.
  • Blue – adverbs and weakening phrases
    • Fix: Delete them or find a better way to convey the thought.
  • Green – passive voice
    • Fix: Rewrite for active voice.

Grammarly’s paid version works well, too. The premium version includes an AI-powered writing assistant, readability reports, a plagiarism checker, citation suggestions, and more than 400 additional grammar checks.

In the image below, Grammarly suggests a way to rephrase the sentence from:

“It is not good enough any longer to simply produce content “like a media company would”.

To:

“It is no longer good enough to produce content “as a media company would”.

Much cleaner, right?

3. Ask questions

See what I did with the intro (and here)? I posed questions to try to engage with you. When someone asks a question – even in writing – the person hearing (or reading) it is likely to pause for a split second to consider their answer. The reader’s role changes from a passive participant to an active one. Using this technique also can encourage your readers to interact with the author, maybe in the form of an answer in the comments.

4. Include links

Many content marketers include internal and external links in their text for their SEO value. But you also should add links to help your readers. Consider including links to help a reader who wants to learn more about the topic. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • You can link the descriptive text in the article to content relevant to those words (as I did in this bullet point)
  • You can list the headlines of related articles as a standalone feature (see the gray box labeled Handpicked Related Content at the end of this article).

Add links to guide readers to more information on a topic – not just for SEO purposes says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

You also can include on-page links or bookmarks in the beginning (a table of contents, of sorts) in longer pieces to help the reader more quickly access the content they seek to help you learn more about a topic. This helps the reader and keeps visitors on your website longer.

5. Don’t forget the ‘invisible’ text

Alt text is often an afterthought – if you think about it all. Yet, it’s essential to have a great content experience for people who use text-to-speech readers. Though it doesn’t take too much time, I find that customizing the image description content instead of relying on the default technology works better for audience understanding.

First, ask if a listener would miss something if they didn’t have the image explained. If they wouldn’t, the image is decorative and probably doesn’t need alt text. You publish it for aesthetic reasons, such as to break up a text-heavy page. Or it may repeat information already appearing in the text (like I did in the Hemingway and Grammarly examples above).

If the listener would miss out if the image weren’t explained well, it is informative and requires alt text. General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text. That’s a short sentence or two to convey the image’s message. Don’t forget to include punctuation.

General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text, says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For both decorative and informative images, include the photo credits, permissions, and copyright information, in the caption section.

For example, if I were writing an article about Best Dogs for Families, I would include an image of a mini Bernedoodle as an example because they make great family pets. Let’s use this image of my adorable puppy, Henri, and I’ll show you both a good and bad example of alt text.

An almost useless alt-text version: “An image showing a dog.”

Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.

It wastes valuable characters with the phrase “an image showing.”

Use the available characters for a more descriptive alt text: “Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.”

It’s more descriptive, and I only used 112 characters, including spaces.

Want to learn more? Alexa Heinrich, an award-winning social media strategist, has a helpful article on writing effective image descriptions called The Art of Alt Text. @A11yAwareness on Twitter is also a great resource for accessibility tips.

Improve your content and better the experience

Do any of these suggestions feel too hard to execute? I hope not. They don’t need a bigger budget to execute. They don’t need a lengthy approval process to implement. And they don’t demand much more time in production.

They just need you to remember to execute them the next time you write (and the time after that, and the time after that, and the … well, you get the idea.)

If you have an easy-to-implement tip to improve the content experience, please leave it in the comments. I may include it in a future update.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

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