Reciprocal links are not dead. Weren't dead before. Aren't dead now. I know it and you know it. But for just a second let's pretend otherwise.

A while back there was quite a bit of scare mongering going around the SEO industry about how reciprocal links were dead. I had a potential client once tell me that so-and-so-big-name-in-the-SEO-industry told them that reciprocal links were dead. I've said this before and I'll say it here again. There is nothing wrong with reciprocal links. It's all about how you use/implement them that matters. No, reciprocal links are not dead and now I have the proof.

Last year I decided to run my own test so I could refute what I already knew to be true. Yeah, I know who cares about reciprocal links now, right? The fear tactics have run their course and, frankly, nobody is engaged in old-school mass reciprocal link swapping (for the love of God people, if you're still doing that, knock it off!) But for the sake of science and posterity, I now, over a year later, present the results of my (almost forgotten) reciprocal link test.

The Set-Up

On one of my sites I created a master testing page. From this page I linked to eight new pages created specifically for this test. Each of those pages contained a few paragraphs of content with the word "reciprocallinksarenotdead" linked to an external web site. The goal was to watch the search results to see what sites appeared in the SERPs for our test term.

For the sake of creating a good testing ground, we linked to four sites that linked back and four sites that didn't. From here we split things up even further by linking to two sites in each group to that we considered to be "high authority" for their industry, and two that we considered to be "lower authority" for their industry. We then split this again using one to link using the target site's keyword in the link and the other not. Got all that? No? OK, let me put it to you this way (the links below take you to the test pages):

Links to reciprocal linking sites

  • Link to a low authority site using keyword
  • Link to a low authority site
  • Link to a high authority site using keyword
  • Link to a high authority site

Link to non-reciprocal linking sites

  • Link to a low authority site using keyword
  • Link to a low authority site
  • Link to a high authority site using keyword
  • Link to a high authority site

The Sting

I started out checking up on this daily seeing if Google, Yahoo or MSN cached the pages linking out and then watching if/when they showed up in the SERPs. The result was quite a roller coaster ride. One day the test pages would be cached and the next day the cache date was from several days prior. This happened frequently. The same thing with the SERPs. One day all the test pages would show up and the next day gone and then the next day just some of the test pages showed up and the next others, but not necessarily the ones from the previous day. It was interesting to watch.

After about several weeks of daily monitoring I started to cut back to every few days, then weekly then, well I kind of forgot about it with the occasional thought "Hey, I wonder how that test is going", in which I'd take a quick look and forget all about it again. Here we are now, over a year later and I think I can confidently display the results as definitive.

The Results

Note: These were the results as of Friday, July 12, 2007, I notice that there has been some shifting in results since then, so your mileage may vary. Google results

  1. Low authority, non reciprocating site
  2. Low authority, non reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  3. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  4. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  5. Test page linking to #9 below
  6. Test page linking to #2 above
  7. Low authority, reciprocating site
  8. High authority, reciprocating site
  9. High authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)

Google supplemental results show the remainder of the testing pages. Missing from SERPs: High authority, non-reciprocating site Yahoo Results

  1. Low authority, reciprocating site
  2. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  3. High authority, reciprocating site
  4. Test page linking to #8 below
  5. Test page linking to #2 above
  6. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  7. Low authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  8. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  9. Link to a blog post that uses keyword as part of the URL

Missing from SERPs:

  • Low authority, reciprocating site
  • High authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)

MSN Results

  1. High authority, reciprocating site
  2. Test page linking to #10 below
  3. Test page linking to #1 above
  4. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  5. Low authority, non reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  6. Low authority, non reciprocating site
  7. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  8. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  9. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  10. Low authority, reciprocating site

The Happy Ending

We can conclude from that that, all things being equal, reciprocating links have no more or less value than one-way links. Yeah, I know, we all read Matt Cutt's post about how excessive reciprocal linking can hurt, and I'm sure Matt is right. But the key word there is "excessive". If all you do is look for low-quality reciprocal links that ad no value to any user's experience then, yes, that can, and should do you some harm. But don't be afraid of reciprocation. If someone links to you out of kindness, feel free to link back to them out of gratitude. It's not going to hurt you one bit and the link to you won't be devalued. Just be sure you're adding value, not reciprocating for the sake of reciprocating.

So what do you think? Is this test conclusive or an exercise in futility?

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

October 4, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Often I'll have the request to link to a completely unrelated business... I don't. But once in a while someone in a related yet different industry/business will want to link. I believe that these links are beneficial on 2 fronts. firstly they bring REAL traffic to my site, quite often qualified traffic. Secondly I'm sure that when the search engines pick up that the sites are related it does give you a bit more weight with them.

I think reciprocating (like you said) have their ups and downs.

I think they put the message out there that one way links were better then reciprocating links..but i think they got that the wrong way around. One way links to sites that match your theme/market would have a good impact on your site BUT a site based on say "pet food" and yours based on "web design" will just be the same as if you linked to them.

What i mean is this - simple if you can get one way links to your site based on the same market you are in then yes they are better however, it is very hard to find say "web design comapnies" to link to other web design companies - because why would you help the enemy?

So in the end if you can trade links to a site that is within the same theme/market then it will help both sides...

Some SEO companies put out there "one way links are better" and one main reason fvor that is so their clients spand $$$ on links etc

I am might be wrong but just my views on it.

Hi Adrian,

You are absolutely right :)

thanks for really important article on reciprocal link.

Have a nice day

I've been participating in link exchange for six years.. my hobby site where I sell craft making supplies is in the top ten results for my keywords. I have over 400 reciprocal links and they are all producing traffic to my site.

I manage my link exchange campaign with software and I have never been more happier. Folks who link in high volume to junk sites but if you maintain low and natural volume with quality sites, you too will see that link exchange is alive and well.

For me (currently 3 inbound links)I would have to say when I had lots of links in it did help traffic but not enquiries.

We currently link out to many related sites ..even competitors and have enjoyed tremendous growth thanks to marketing ...

We have two main competitors for the future 1 has over 700,000 inbound links, most are broken non existant or the sort of sites you would normally not like to see your business on.

I need more links but I would say it is the quality not the quantity that I will try to find

I agree with Asif. Reciprocal linking is like all other types of marketing. If not done correctly it can be a disaster,but if done correctly it can be a success.

I believe that you should have some kind of software to handle the aspects of for instance checking the links to see if it is broken links.To handle hordes of links manually would be madness. The type of software I am thinking of also handles things like PR and relevancy in linking.

Guys like Michael Cheney also still believe in reciprocal linking. For some interesting reading you can download a free ebook at

This blog Is very informative , I am really pleased to post my comment on this blog . It helped me with ocean of knowledge so I really belive you will do much better in the future . Good job web master .

Really interesting experiment. I like it when there is some evidence proving a point and not just speculations and wish thinking.

I think if you have any more than 50% of your links reciprocal on a single page then you're in for some potential trouble with the engines.

I noticed some of the people are confused still on the reciprical linking. I have always found as long as they are related and of high quality it is fine. The biggest key however is related. If your blog is about blogging tips then find others that do blogging tips, if your site is about skin care then do other skin care websites. Then focus on if these websites will help your readers and are they good for them (quality) rather than go for quantity.

If they do help, are quality and related then yeah the relation can only be positive in any persons or robots view.. This is where i think reciprocal linking is not dead.

Reciprocal linking is of course inferior to one way links but it is better than nothing.

If reciprocal linking is relevant and of high quality, I see no reason for Google to penalize this practice though.

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