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2007-03-15 18:50:00

Reciprocal Linking -- Is It a Valid Form of Web Marketing?

By Dirk Johnson

Is the practice of reciprocating links with other web sites still a viable means of establishing your brand in the World Wide Web? There is a raging debate about just that in various search engine optimization (SEO) circles.
Unfortunately, this discussion has become almost a religious issue. The anti-reciprocation side of the debate desperately wants to believe that the practice has no merit. Yet it is very easy to find example after example of real world situations that refute that argument, especially in real estate, where cooperation and networking are ingrained business concepts. With pervasive evidence against their case, the anti-reciprocation admonishments begin to take on a moral tone against a legitimate web marketing practice that pre-dates the launch of every search engine.
It's all very curious. I fail to see any need at all for such division and discussion, and I think the whole pro/con argument is a huge distraction that keeps people from seeing the "big picture." Reciprocation is just one method of many to establish links to a web site. Savvy site owners deploy many methods, often using reciprocation as their foundation.

History of Web Marketing with Links
Reciprocation was the original web marketing method for a niche site.

Before the advent of search engines, how did the public navigate the World Wide Web to find other sites of similar interest? Primarily, they used directories built by the early site owners. Inclusion in those directories was often based on gracious reciprocation. I know this first-hand, because I built one of those niche sites. The anti-reciprocation crowd seems to have no historical perspective on the practice of link reciprocation.
I have been doing reciprocation work since the 1990s. We are business pragmatists, not zealots. If link reciprocity was not an effective marketing tool, we'd stop using it. Our repeat clients would have no reason to bring us new domains to market if it did not work. Unlike a lot of the non-believers who have never seen proper reciprocation in action, but make all kinds of assumptions about the practice, we have hundreds of case studies under our belt, and we can also review the success of the sites that we link with.
So we have considerable direct experience with this work. Less experienced people can be swayed by the emotional pleadings of the anti-reciprocation crowd. Here, we just look at results, and those results completely refute the claims of the anti-reciprocation folks.
Reciprocation can be time consuming. All link building that matters requires time and/or money. Some of the prescriptions for link building coming from the anti-reciprocation side require even more time and/or money than simply reciprocating. Some are simply outright gamesmanship, or they are based on empty promises that "great content" will automatically earn links.

Web Marketers Want Good Content AND Links
It is a fallacy when people claim that good content equates to a lot of links. Good content is certainly a requirement for a site, but that alone will not foster links. These days, good content must be marketed, or else nobody will ever see it or link to it. One way to put the foundation in place is with reciprocation, which then often leads to other links. In some cases, it's a substantial windfall of links. But reciprocation can be the catalyst that gets things moving.
For those who want to manage their reciprocation work in-house, do-it-yourself tools like Links Manager can really help cut the workload for the DIY site owner with a single site. Reciprocal link management for multiple sites is a full-time endeavor. My advice is to hire a pro, or decide to become one yourself. There are no shortcuts.
The anti-reciprocation crowd sneers and calls reciprocal links "easy" links. That's amusing. Earning 500 or 1000 valid and relevant reciprocal links to a site is a real challenge. It's not easy at all.

Once done, it is a powerful competitive advantage. In real estate, a large percentage of the top ranking local real estate agent sites in the most competitive metro areas have achieved their rankings, in large part, due to substantial reciprocation efforts.

All one has to do to prove it to look at a lot of real search results, and the sites that rank well. It is pervasive. As it should be.
Reciprocation implies that a site is willing to cooperate with other sites in its community. The World Wide Web is a network of links, so it is very hard to be an island in that environment and be successful. For decades, in the real estate industry, agents have been taught that networking and cooperating with everyone around them is their key to success. Reciprocal link exchange is a manifestation of that same concept, applied to the medium of the World Wide Web.

(Dirk Johnson is Partner for Operations, DomainDrivers LLC.) 

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