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Google Discounting Reciprocal Link Exchanges?
Time to Reconsider Recips as a Promotional Strategy?

 11:55 pm on Dec 16, 2006 (gmt 0)

This is the most upfront statement from Google about their efforts to counter reciprocal link exchanges. The importance of this blog post to those who consider reciprocal linking as a viable strategy cannot be understated.

It's been a matter of debate whether or not Google discounted reciprocal links. Today it is safe to say that Google is not fond of reciprocal link exchange schemes. It doesn't get more explicit than this.

Within a recent Google Blog post [googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com] about bad linking practices, the author lumps reciprocal link exchange tactics alongside paid links. The author does not qualify the statement against recips by singling out non-relevant or aggressive exchanges. Neither does it make a distinction between relevant link exchange or free for all link exchange. The blog simply references the exchange of links.

To sum up, even though improved algorithms have promoted a transition away from paid or exchanged links towards earned organic links, there still seems to be some confusion within the market about what the most effective link strategy is.

It's fairly clear that Google's algorithms are targeting reciprocal link exchanges.

Has the day finally arrived when we can toss off Reciprocal Link Exchange tactics the way we ditched Netscape 4.7 and the "Web Safe" color palette?



 7:43 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

Most of those links have long been discounted. Blogs and myspace mean nothing - kudos to G for that.

And there is no difference between you posting on digg/forum and someone else doing it. The only way google can get real feedback from regular users is through the toolbar. And I will leave that one alone, for another discussion.

An average person - they have a blog and/or myspace - they cannot influence google in any way better than I can.


 8:09 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

Actually for a really small niche site I built that has nothing but MySpace promotional links I was indexed within two weeks of putting it together.

Granted the keyword I rank number one for is also the domain name and my DJ moniker, and there's only 173,000 results for it, but what I'm getting at I guess is that they're not totally discounted. But technically they are also one way links and that means I am getting off topic.

Shame on me.


 8:40 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

I use, have used, and will continue to use reciprocal links on all my sites as a method to bring in traffic. Same goes for paid links. G is by far my largest referrer, but they never outperform the sum of all my inbound traffic from related sites, some of which are paid, some recips, and some friendly 1 ways.

Here is the problem I see.
My largest site by far has a lot of reciprocal links. All of them are from related sites. All of them are hand coded and hand gotten. No link software, link helpers on my site at all although some pointing at my site are from linkhelpers' sites. My nearest competitor, who is tearing it up in google, also has thousands of reciprocals. The thing is, he sends his outbound links through a subdomain protected by robots.txt making it look to Google that he has thousands of 1 way inbounds.

Which one of us is the spammer? Evidently, google now thinks its me.


 9:24 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

And, if that's neither your bag nor your training preference, I know for certain that there are plenty of other good folks out there who'll gladly help online newbies leverage the power of communities online.

Yea, I hear lonelygirl15's available for a gig. And that "basement band" that wrote that Playstation song...

This is lovely. Now Google is encouraging people to swarm online communitities with URL drops which might or might not be sincere.

GREAT timing, Adam, given the Congressional investigation into viral marketing practicies.

If Google's smart (something I doubt) the baiting going on is Adam's. He's baiting the bad actors right into the next practice that Google will discount.

But what's good for Google isn't good for the rest of us. Now we will have to wade through even more phoney cr*p on message boards due to the misguided efforts of SEO practicioners.


 9:28 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

It's Official: Google Discounting Reciprocal Link Exchanges

It's not official. And nowhere in the original post did the words “reciprocal link exchange” appear.

The only official Google policies are those published under its corporate banner. Everything else is personal opinion.

In regard to linking, the Google Webmaster and Quality Guidelines have not changed, saying in part:

"Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links ... Keep in mind that our algorithms can distinguish natural links from unnatural links. Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines."

If anyone can find anything in the above OFFICIAL Google policy that defines reciprocal links between two sites with content valuable to each other's visitors as "unnatural", I'd sure like them to point it out to us blind people who can't see it.

The original post from the rep from Google did not say all reciprocal links are bad. The original post referred twice to "non-earned" links. It's safe to assume "non-earned" means no editorial discretion took place to earn that link. Why blow this up into more than what was originally stated?

There is a big difference between what is defined as a non-earned reciprocal link and a reciprocal link earned with editorial discretion. What Google is -- rightly -- penalizing are bad linking practices, webmasters who obtain links using full duplex software’s or services that make links without editorial discretion. And the people who are crying and whining about it are primarily con artists who have been getting rich off promoting bad linking practices and phony SE-spamming schemes and, of course, the webmasters who have been gulled into buying into those schemes.

Link exchange can be abused or link exchange can benefit the end user. Thankfully, it seems that Google is working diligently to discern between the two.


 10:20 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

jtara, I think you missed the thrust of my message, or perhaps I wasn't clear enough:

be helpful, be entertaining, be informative
thoughtfully contribute.

Though I thought it was obvious when I recommended that folks include their URL in their site or sig (gaining credit for and assuming responsibility for their participation)... let me further clarify by adding "Be transparent."

That shouldn't be a reaction to any legislation or external guidance. That's just good ethics, good long-term policy, and responsible community participation.


 10:38 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

Ok, let me get this straight: The company which can't determine MFA sites from legit sites is saying they can determine the difference between reciprical links and exchanged links?



 11:11 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

Adam, are you sure you are doing good in finding link sellers and buyers?

why the big, well known brandname sites are where they are in your search results?

cheers :)

[edited by: idolw at 11:29 pm (utc) on Dec. 18, 2006]


 11:24 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm glad some people are finding amusement (no doubt it is NOT the people doing just fine with their rankings), but frankly I for one hate to see any member at all treated disrespectfully or abusively here, even if it is someone from a search engine who is spending their own time trying to give some rational, helpful input.

Said OP may be a gentleman, but I'm not. If anyone is looking for a pissing match (which is what it's starting to look like) - try me; it's reputed that I'm pretty good a pissing matches and have a lot of experience at it.

If anyone is not satisfied with their rankings currently, how about dealing with the world as it really is, like businesspeople and try to come up with some creative realistic solutions. I think it's called dealing with the issues like adults.


 11:26 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)



Adam ..I think you need to go back to the head of G ..PR and tell s/he..

"they are taking the yellow stuff" ..

and point out "they know" ( as you do )...that G started it ( taking the yellow stuff )..

no hard feelings ..corp PR is a job like any other ..it gets embarrassing at times ..like now :))..is part of the gig ..and anyway it's better than having to call Ballmer "boss" ..;-)

Marcia ..sorry to disagree ( respects and all ) but I'm doing just fine ..and a PR man is a PR man ..and isn't taking their own time to do anything ..except spin the company line ( and posting here is included in Adams salary ..or should be ..and if it isn't he is being jerked around by G even more than they are trying to do with us ..via him ..I come from PR and double speak ..from way back ..dont think it changed none in the last 30 years )..so lets call it like it is ..they can do their own shuck and jive without you need to go to bat for their PR folks ..you never did 'til now? ..

I'm allergic to fud and near spam ( you used to be too )..and recently G 's reps here have been posting what is definately the former ..and IMO ..also the latter ..
edit ..clarity..and spelling

[edited by: Leosghost at 11:36 pm (utc) on Dec. 18, 2006]


 11:34 pm on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

Marcia, I guess it is not about current rankings and yelling webmasters I think.
Rather ideas the major search player has.
Soon we will go to a situation where only content will count and we will be all stuffing keywords.


 12:05 am on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

It's just crazy, and if G comes with an official statement that they will disregard link exchanges - dumbest thing ever!

Do they honestly think that webmasters will say "Ok, then I'll be sitting around waiting for natural links"?

No - there will be the biggest spam-fest held ever. I proud myself of being "whitehat", but if this happens - I WILL spam. You can call it "baiting", "participating in social networks", "building content for my visitors" or whatever, at the end of the day is nothing but spam.

Because getting indexed in G means nothing to me, and to most if us - we want to be at least in the top 10 results. So dont tell me how to get my site indexed - tell me how to get it in the top 10 WITHOUT link exchange, buying links or baiting/spamming?

And this "If your website is good people will link to it" is also a bunch of BS. We all know how things work, there is no reason to patronize me. And this thing about getting your friends to link to you - does Google picture us as a bunch of nerds in a room, just sitting around cropping images all day? I dont have a single friend that knows what HTML stands for. Sorry, maybe I am not the typical webmaster or such.


 2:44 am on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Hello Adam... Good to hear from you mate...

Lately you've been working at the groups, coming here posting and generally trying to show clean intentions which is part of your company's strategy (it seems) at the moment.

When a big corporation is involved there is a lot of criticism which is normal.

I think Adam has put the facts down in the best possible (and allowable) way... He does not speak about link exchange in general, rather than obvious patterns. The types which hit you in the eye...

When you visit a site and click on a nav link which takes you to a stupid directory with possibly 100 unrelated categories of sites including your related ones, and this directory is identical to all the sites in that directory (maybe in a different filename), then that is something which will create suspicions of link manipulation.

He does not speak about a few small widgets sites which have been involved in what some may consider an "innocent" link exchange.

That is not a scheme.

He is a member of the Spam team (if I am not mistaken) at Google and comes here and says that the site that is involved won't be penalised, just the links will be discredited, then what else do you need to understand that he is not plotting a conspiracy here. (speaking in general here for all those who are suspicious of him).

Why should I believe you and not believe someone who actually works there and is involved in improving Google's SERPs?

Adam, I hope your new linking pattern matching algo(s), which I assume will be incorporated in the main index, does not create another tsunami like last year... People will think again that you are trying to make people click on adverts by degrading your SERPs :)

Personally I've been critical of you (google reps) keeping your mouths shut on important issues (like 302 redirects and scrapping) which are clearly your field of expertise (particularly yours and Matt's expertise Adam). However I really congradulate you on coming here and providing some insight and I do recognise the efforts you are doing to create a communications channel with webmasters. So well done to you (google in general).


 5:34 am on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

We have more people working on Google's link-weighting for quality control

Google has an enormously large team of people checking the quality of searches manually. Most of them work remotely. I spoke with one two weeks ago and he told me that he was trained to look for spam sites.


 5:44 am on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)


Digg continues to crack down on users who plant phony stories on behalf of marketers, recently deleting a user who posted a story about a company that offered to compensate him.

Digg recently deleted the user account belonging to one of it's top-rated users for violating their rules regarding promotional postings. It later re-instated the user after he acknowledged the infraction and promised not to do it again.



 9:33 am on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

In my opinion, a website usually uses one of the following three link exchange strategies.

1. Link Whore
If Google changes the algorithm by devaluating link exchanges, they will suffer a major hammering, and they should. Linking out to just about everything online isn't of any benefit to your visitors.

2. Link Trader
Trades links with other websites, but not with just about everybody. They keep their visitors in mind. They may notice some shifts in results. The bad links are being devaluated, which will result in (often small) drops in the SERPS.

3. Link Reciprocator
Links out to others, in some cases these links are being reciprocated. Will not notice a drop in rankings and may even see some higher rankings (because of the Link Whores dropping from the top results).

It's nice to see an official quote that Google's working on this issue. I don't see anything unethical in this, I'm sure Google isn't devaluating all links that are being reciprocated. Google's just trying to separate the good from the bad.
But that's just my 2 cents.


 12:10 pm on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)


Thanks for the clarification. After the dust settles, some people reading this thread will seriously start to consider other avenues of self-promotion besides (or at least in addition to) exchanging and buying links.

If every site linked out as much as Wikipedia did, I doubt we'd be having this discussion.


 9:36 pm on Dec 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am mostly with Google regarding the matter.
However as usual, some innocent may be hit too.
Now for a kind of shocking revealation to support this:

The very same Google blog post linked from OP does some reciprocal linking as a blogspot feature; they find (syndicated?) pages linking to the articles and list them under "Links to this post" section.
Now, if you copy any link title (anchor text) from those links, wrap it into quotation marks and do a Google search for that phrase, the chance is great you will not find the linked page at all!
Sometimes supplemental results, sometimes linked domains but another copy of the article (not the linked one) and very few, if any, exact linked pages you expected.
Try some older posts too, to be sure of time delay.
As an extra stuff, the searched anchored phrase could not be found on original blogspot article page either (in G results). I couldn't find any robots exclusions on the articles' site.

It seems that pages linking to other articles shot themselves in the foot, as they were being picked up in the reciprocal linking scheme, without any request.


 3:30 am on Dec 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

The very same Google blog post linked from OP does some reciprocal linking as a blogspot feature; they find (syndicated?) pages linking to the articles and list them under "Links to this post" section.

As a few people pointed out to me, those are Javascript links.


 8:00 am on Dec 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

A different topic, but maybe we should start looking differently to the "Google and the javascript" question.


 7:32 pm on Dec 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am going to make one post here about this subject, since the anti-reciprocation crowd never reads what anyone else says anyhow.

It amazes me to no end how people who don't do this work (reciprocation) can make so many blanket statements about the subject that just fail miserably under close inspection and analysis of real search results.

I do reciprocation work all day, every day, and have done it for years.

Here are the facts, take them or leave them:

- Reciprocation (done properly and relevantly) still works, on old domains, new domains, big domains, small domains, whatever. We see it all the time.

- Reciprocation works for sites that use it as the only means to get links. Even in competitive situations.

- Reciprocation opens a site up to a lot of one way links that they'd not otherwise get, from a lot of sources. Reciprocation is the catalyst.

- Most people who talk about this subject as if they know, but don't actually do it, are almost always quite clueless. If they had a clue about the facts, they'd not make such ridiculous statements that are easy to refute just by looking at serps and the link profiles of sites that rank well. Among them you will find lots of actively reciprocating sites.

- People can take their advice about reciprocation from people who don't do it at all, but make up goofy stuff out of thin air, or from people who do it and understand it. It does not matter, because, for those who do not reciprocate, their competitors likely WILL reciprocate successfully. Someone, somewhere will benefit from it if they do it right.

- This argument is about 8 years old, and very very boring.

Over and out.

[edited by: DomainDrivers at 7:34 pm (utc) on Dec. 20, 2006]


 7:46 pm on Dec 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

easy to refute just by looking at serps and the link profiles of sites that rank well. Amnong them you will find lots of actively reciprocating sites.

Have to admit you have a point there.

When looking at the google backlinks of my competition I find a good percentage of them are cheesy reciprocal link networks, paid for links in cookie cutter directories and off topic blogs with a long list of outbound links in the navigation.


 11:01 pm on Dec 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

they'd not make such ridiculous statements that are easy to refute just by looking at serps and the link profiles of sites that rank well. Among them you will find lots of actively reciprocating sites.

That merely proves that the sites aren't being penalized for link exchanges. It doesn't prove that they owe their rankings to recipricol links.


 4:07 am on Dec 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

So the relatively tiny amount of backlinks that google lists to my site has nothing to do with my rankings? It is just a small random sampling of backlinks to my site?
I guess I don't understand how google backlinks listings work then.
I have approx 5000 backlinks listed in Yahoo and Alta Vista, all of them natural, one way links, and only 250 listed in google, some of them from my reciprocal link directory.
You're saying these 250 backlinks have no bearing on my rankings?


 4:08 am on Dec 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

"When looking at the google backlinks of my competition I find a good percentage of them are cheesy reciprocal link networks, paid for links in cookie cutter directories and off topic blogs with a long list of outbound links in the navigation"

You forgot the dozens or hundreds of backlinks gained from BS articles submitted to BS article submission sites.

This is exactly the point I've been trying to make. When sites climb to the top of a niche fueled by links like this, its a bit difficult to believe that google has any real skill in spotting spam. Yes, they can spot link farms and massive interlinking within networks and really overt schemes. But these other techniques are in full bloom and are essentially SPAM since they are generated by the OPERATORS of websites versus the USERS of websites.

Once again, I don't think website operators should be penalized for self-promotion, even using these techniques. BUT---google should be better at devaluing these self-promotion techniques so that content "voted on" by users has a chance to surface in the rankings.

I've been to Matt's blog and I've read Adam's commentary and all of it is helpful and gratefully appreciated. But I never hear anything about these issues.


 4:35 am on Dec 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

You're saying these 250 backlinks have no bearing on my rankings?

Don't get me wrong. I am totally willing to believe that this is true. My friend's site is just a year old and he already has 2800 backlinks listed in google, an astounding acheivement, but when you look at the links they are all from his own site, just pages within his site pointing back to the home page.
Why would google list these as backlinks?


 5:58 am on Dec 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

The list of backlinks given by Google is always only a small sample, and in many cases, the sample includes the weakest of the links. This seems to be done in order to make it harder for seos to simply go see who's ranking number 1 and trade links with all that site's link partners. So, the lesson is that you should not trust Google to tell you how certain backlinks or types of backlinks affect your rankings.
In other words, you should discount what Google says about discounting reciprocal links, especially if they didn't say it.
Lets not lose sight of Adam's post (about the 51st in this thread).
This is a lot of speculation about reciprocal linking in response to an official blog entry, when there's not even one mention of "reciprocal" on the entire page ;-). Take a step back, look at the bigger picture, take a deep breath!

Yes! If it's good for your users, link to it; if, by chance, the link is not given the *full* weight of a "vote," by Google or MSN or Yahoo or Ask or whatever... that shouldn't be a huge deal. These things tend to work themselves out in the aggregate.

If a Webmaster is engaging in reciprocal linking in a way that clearly indicates to us that he or she is doing so to garner PageRank, not out of a genuine interest for that other site... well, that's the sort of linking scheme we don't see as very user-friendly. Are we apt to ban that Webmaster's site? I highly doubt it. Are we likely to value those links less? Quite possibly.

Anyway, I hope this has put some fears to rest. I link to friends who link to me; we like each others' sites, we think that folks who visit our sites might like them, too. And that's fine! And also, as Sugarrae pointed out, it's only natural that someone may want to link to an article that links to them. Reciprocal linking happens, and it's very often done in a natural, innocent way.

Over time and with lots and lots of data (and very handy tools for crunching it :-), it becomes more clear to us at Google what is "natural" (or organic) on the Web and what is not. We aim to reward the former, discount the latter. Take that as a broader SEO strategy statement if you will... it's not just about links, and it's DEFINITELY not all about reciprocal linking.


 7:59 am on Dec 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

So, the lesson is that you should not trust Google to tell you how certain backlinks or types of backlinks affect your rankings.

Thanks for this. It explains a lot.


 11:09 pm on Dec 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am doing SEO from 2003. Did, doing and will do reciprocal linking. Cause it works! Yea, I've got sites in top 10 just by that.

If you are so worry about that, combine this with other methods like paid links, article submissions, directories, baiting, communites, n-way , etc.

Cause if someone have small e-commerce shop, what strategy you will reccomend?:) Some that I said above? Yea, but with reciprocals it will give you much more power cause it's really hard to gain one-ways for average Joe. All that BS about "good content and don't exchange links" and other bla bla bla pronounced by:

1) BIG! SEO/SEM companies and freelancers cause of nature of their business (they are public persons and don't need that reciprocals). Also they provide so called "link baiting". Sure they just spread the world using THEIR ALREADY ESTABLISHED ONLINE PRESENCE. That's it.
And they work with only good and big sites (and with big budgets) which already GAINED some good one-way links. So it's not even real work here. They just do what works and help it become better:) Will be very interesting to track incoming links after SEO job of such companies:)

2) Google in inderect way. Sure they will need to force people to use their Adwords (and that brings them money) to drive traffic to simple commerce sites. It's just common sense.

So it's bloody business:)

Thanks for interesting conversation.

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