You know, I've found lately I seem to have a lot of pet peeves. Maybe I'm just getting cranky in my old age. Here are a couple of big ones that have been getting on my nerves lately.
It seems any time there's a discussion of linking, at least one or two participants will automatically append the word "reciprocal," as though that's the only kind of link there is.
And at least one person will jump in to declare Google "frowns on" reciprocal linking.
So to carry this line of thinking to its logical conclusion: since apparently the only kinds of links that exist are reciprocal and Google hates reciprocal links, we all ought to give up and go home to our knitting?
Pardon my bluntness (it's that old age crankiness thing again) but... balderdash.
Hello, hello? Is anyone there?
Unfortunately for the poor business owner trying to make sense of it all, a lot of what goes on in the SEO industry is like a giant Internet-based game of "telephone." You know, where one person whispers something to the person standing next them, and the second person whispers what they think they heard to the third person, who in turn whispers what they think they heard to the fourth person, and so on down to the end of the line. When the message reaches the last person, you compare what the last person heard with what the first person said. The two messages are usually quite different, often amusingly so.
Just so in SEO. One person will attend a session at a conference and write up a blog post speculating on their misunderstanding of one of the rep's offhand comments. The blog post will get referenced by somebody else who concatenates the original misconception with several other totally unrelated topics and adds still more speculation in their own blog post. The second blog post will spark a new thread in a popular discussion forum where a number of ill-informed newbies will weigh in with their opinions (always expressed as absolute fact, of course), which in turn inspires an authoritative-sounding article that gets picked up by several syndication sites and so on and so forth until you have what seems to be half the Internet declaring some eternal, immutable truth of the search engine algorithm.
Except in a lot of cases if you bother to test it, you'll discover no search engine actually works the way "everybody" says they do.
Try thinking like a search engine
So, back to my linking pet peeves. What I've found useful in a lot of these situations is to apply the acid tests of logic and common sense.
I know, I know, actual independent thought. Oh, the humanity.
It may initially seem that thinking it through is not nearly as fun as lighting out across the landscape, shrieking and waving your hands over your head in a blind panic. But stick with me here. I promise, there's a measure of satisfaction in remaining calm and productive while the "sky is falling" Chicken Little doomsayers around you are collapsing in conniption fits.
Let's think about what the search engines want. At the most basic level, they want searchers to be happy -- that is, to find what they're looking for. Because searchers who find what they're looking for using a particular search engine are more likely to come back and use that search engine again the next time they're looking for something. That's how search engines make a lot of their money -- by delivering those "eyeballs" to advertisers in their paid ad programs.
When we think about whether something being declared an absolute truth of SEO makes sense, I've found it helpful to think in terms of how it impacts the search results.
For instance, if someone tells you search engines hate all reciprocal links, does that make sense? Well... not really.
See, in the Ideal World According To Google, webmasters "vote" on pages they think are valuable by linking out to them.
Now, if the owner of one valuable page decides to link to another valuable page, that's a good thing, right? That's exactly what Google says we should do. So why would it suddenly become a bad thing if the owner of the second valuable page also decided to "vote"for the first valuable page?
Are the pages now less important? Is the information contained on them suddenly less accurate? Have the sites become less usable? No. So why would Google penalize two useful, informative pages -- exactly the sort of pages they want to show to their searchers -- just because each of the site owners agree with Google and consider the other page to be a good resource for their site visitors?
A logical conclusion
Of course Google "frowns on" phony linking schemes designed to trick them into thinking a page is more popular or well-regarded than supported by the cold, hard facts. And they're totally justified in smiting spammy link-trading schemes whenever they find them. But those sorts of schemes are a very different animal from what I'm talking about here.
Don't confuse a link-scheme smackdown with some sort of vendetta against link exchanges in general. Because when you link out for the right reason -- because you want to recommend an interesting and useful resource to your site visitors -- you're giving Google just what they want: a legitimate vote for a valuable page. If the other webmaster links back to you, in my opinion there's nothing to worry about. I find it hard to believe Google would penalize a legitimate vote for a high-quality resource, even if the vote is "reciprocal."
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