Reciprocal Links in SEO? Don’t go FUD: Social Link Exchange is Legit

This post is about Link-based Visibility, Other Search Engines / 3 minutes

This post was previously written in June 2011. Now undergoing updates as of February 2020.

Since Google added link exchange to banned practices in its Guidelines for Webmasters, bloggers have developed a fear of adding people to their blogroll in return of the same favour.

Now, while Google clearly discourages Link Exchange as a link building practice, it’s made clear that online relationships are encouraged and rewarded on the notorious search engine.

SEO is safe when reciprocal links are authentic

Social Link exchange will NOT result in penalty if it’s genuine – done out of honest motivations like a friendship or a business relationship, not for the mere PageRank juice and hits.

In 2009 I asked Google to explain their decision further, and even though their response was rather vague, but I felt it as positive. Look at how the Guidelines put it too:

Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)

The verdict is that Link Exchange as a link building practice *alone* gets penalized, especially when it’s “excessive”, whilst social relationships built through blog commenting, guest posting and (yes!) blogroll link exchange are not, since they are not spammy in nature (aka, link schemes).

Social relationships are never “excessive”: they are only fair.

Blogrolls are legit and nice to have

If you seek link building when adding a friend to your blogroll, don’t worry: that’s fine, as long as a real relationship takes place between the two parties.

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It’s not rare to find blogs that link to each other on their blogrolls BUT they never comment on each other’s posts, they are not connected to each other on social networks, they never mention each other in their blog posts.

Google is not dumb: this kind of link exchange is clearly done to affect PageRank, not to build relationships.

Link building should always be genuine, encouraged with honest discussion, friendship, appreciation and by keeping your blog readers in mind in everything you do and write.

Blogroll links may help that, but only marginally: remember that your Blogroll is a place for your family members and your buddies, not your SEO techniques.

To avoid any troubles, I suggest applying XFN microformats to your links. For instance, if you’re linking to a friend on your Blogroll, add a rel=friend to the link: it will tell both people and search engines that the site you’re linking to is your friend’s.

Of course, don’t stop to this small practice: link back to your friend sometimes in your posts, mentioning something you did together.

One last tip

When you tell people on your site that you’re willing to reciprocate their links, make it a rule that you need to build a relationship first. There will be no linking back and forth if they are not willing to communicate. Would you exchange cellphone numbers with someone who’s not a buddy? Think of that.

Originally posted on: Written on June 24, 2011, Friday

Luana Spinetti is a B2B blogger and artist for hire based in Italy. She has been in business since 2009. When she's not busy writing or drawing for herself or her clients, you may find her reading a Sci-Fi book or scientific articles on robotics and Computer Science. Get in touch with Luana on Twitter (@LuanaSpinetti), Instagram (@luanaspinetti) or Goodreads.

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