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Matt Cutts on Reciprocal Linking

at Pubcon 2007, Brett Tabke asks Matt to clarify linking...

     
6:11 pm on Dec 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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At Pubcon 2008, Brett Tabke asked Google's Matt Cutts:

Brett: People are all about links but then there's a concern about linking to bad neighborhoods. How do you identify bad neighborhoods? Should you nofollow them or stay away totally?

Matt: Use your gut. Trading links is natural and it's natural to have reciprocal links. At some level, natural reciprocal links happen, but if you do it way too often, it looks artificial. My advice is to go with your gut and if you're worried, you can use nofollow.

For those of you who have maybe been avoiding link exchange because of fears as to the search engines think about linking, how does this clarification affect your views on relevant link exchange?

I am not talking about full duplex networks but rather relevant editor based link exchange.

Does this clarification from Matt Cutts affect your stance on the subject which has been discussed here so often?

6:40 pm on Dec 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Not really a clarification. Reaffirms our current understanding. The statement against doing it "way too often" clearly indicates there is a limit to what will pass a Google hand check, while understandably being ambiguous about what that limit is.

What can you take away?

1. Heavy reciprocal linking won't pass a hand check.

2. Light reciprocal linking, both as naturally occurs between similar sites, and apparently the unnatural kind may pass a hand check if it's light.

3. The limits of reciprocal linking are purposely left ambiguous which means either there is no clear number by policy or algo to how many recips you can have, it is hard to put a number to it because it occurs naturally, and/or the limits are left to the judgement of individual hand checkers, i.e. Google reserves editorial discretion when performing a hand check.

As we all know, reciprocal linkage occurs naturally, when quality sites cite each other's content. So penalizing reciprocal linking may lead to too much collateral damage. Some people have reported penalties but I have no personal experience with those cases so I can't vouch for that one way or the other if those were a hand check or algo related.

There's nothing new there. I think the important thing for people to understand, and most webmasters today finally understand it, is that extensive reciprocal linking won't pass a hand check. So when planning your SEO, especially if you're planning for the long term, that's a consideration to know and understand.

I'm not saying heavy reciprocal linking will get you banned. I'm only saying that it's clear that it may not pass a hand check if your site suddenly comes under scrutiny- for instance by Google's quality checkers, or if your site is reported by a competitor. A large multipage reciprocal link directory won't likely pass a hand check either at Google or Yahoo- especially if it bears obvious footprints of having been software generated.

All in all, nothing new, just what we've known all along.

12:35 pm on Dec 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Use nofollow if you're worried about getting penalized by Google for too many recips - did he say that?

Nofollow, is there ANYTHING you can't do?

1:23 pm on Dec 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Sounds mad, I can see people will soon be nofollowing their natural reciprocals in an effort to keep the exchanged ones within the limits....
2:12 pm on Dec 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

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i think he meant creating old style link pages and trading link spots on these.
5:05 pm on Dec 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I'm more concerned with sitewide exchanges and their effects.

When you put links in your navigation menu (not just to exchange but because these are truly recommended sites and the owner returns the favor) and they appear sitewide. Even if there are only say... 4 or 5 of them. Would that fail a hand check?

6:01 pm on Dec 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>>>Would that fail a hand check?

Search your feelings. You know what Matt would say... :)

7:35 pm on Dec 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

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So there's nothing wrong with quality sites exchanging links with each other, but when your website actually gets *nothing* but exchanged links, that's the problem?

Obviously couldn't see search engines punishing anyone for linking to quality sites and them linking back to you...

Matt says: "if you do it way too often" - shouldn't this rather be "if you do it with most/everyone (including questionable/spammy websites)".

There can be a lot of quality sites about certain niches so naturally that would mean a bunch of link exchanges for your supposedly quality website?

8:11 pm on Dec 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

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when your website actually gets *nothing* but exchanged links, that's the problem?

Yes. That's a common condition for young sites, but over time a good site will get links from sources that are clearly independent. As that happens, Google will take the site more seriously.

The only way I know to speed up the process is old-fashioned promotion that gets your site seen by non-SE traffic.

10:31 pm on Dec 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

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In MCs' "Timeline" post which took a swipe at recip links the main factors he focused on was page position and irrelevance to page topic.

IMO these days links need to be "justified", and there's a subtle but telling difference between reciprocal and exchanged, the former tend to be to and from specific content and MAY just be coincidental, the latter rarely do and never are.

2:58 am on Dec 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Sure, but on the other hand when you talk about "artificial" reciprocal links they should be addressed as "exchanged links", don't you think?

Anyway, for a new site, do you think larger % of reciprocal links coming in is "more natural" than what it is later on? Do you think search engines will look at it that way?

2:28 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Nothing new here. Use common sense and don't spam. Seems pretty logical to me.