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What are Reciprocal Links and What do Search Engines Think of Them?

Linking is one of the biggest factors in any search engine marketing strategy. In fact, you are better off spending your time acquiring inbound links than submitting your site. The quality and quantity of inbound links play an important part of how a search engine ranks your website. But, before you go off joining a link exchange, read more because quality is definitely the most important ingrediant.  Also, remember that your main goal is to provide useful information to Internet surfers.  If you make your goal to simply gain link popularity, this can backfire and hurt you.
To help you decide which link requests to accept and which to discard, read "Choosing Link Partners" in Chris' Position website promotion articles.

What are reciprocal links?

Reciprocal links are links exchanged between two or more websites. Of course, one-way links are a better deal if you can get them (Getting websites to link to you without linking back.) Get one link to your website from someone who is already listed with Google™ and the spider will follow that link to your site. This may get you into Google™ but your ranking will probably be so low it won't matter. Links are a very important component for your placement in search engines like Google™. It's a popularity contest... so getting good quality links to your website is an ongoing will never be done!
Google™ and other search engines use linking analysis to weigh your websites overall importance and thereby determine your Google™ PageRank™ for specific keywords. By analyzing how pages link to each other, they assign a rank to your page based on the quantity and quality of others linking to you. Before you run off and join a link farm, yes, they do use techniques to exclude obvious attempts to boost your pagerank. Getting a high quantity of incoming links is not enough. You want links from sites that have a high pagerank themselves. These are deemed to be a higher “quality” reciprocal links.

What are quality links?

By quality links I mean links from outside websites that have a high pagerank themselves AND they must be relevant to your industry or topic. For example, if you sell electronics on your website and acquire a link from a big website like Sony - search engines perceive this link as a recommendation. Here is a high ranking and popular website pointing to you and in essence saying your website is important in this industry.

How do I get other websites to link to me?

There are several ways to get links. I'll list them in order of importance.

1. One-Way Free Links. Offer valuable information or other content that compells other websites to link to you.
2. One-Way Paid Links. A good example would be paying the fee to be considered for inclusion in the Yahoo Directory.
3. Reciprocal Links. If you give, you will receive. Find others in your industry and exchange links with them.
One way free links are your best bet - although harder to acquire. Search engines can see links pointing to you with none or few pointing outbound. This is the best way to gain pagerank and top positions, however, it is also a very slow process and requires expertise on your part to provide content.
One way paid links can be as good as free ones in the eyes of the search engines. But, you must choose wisely. You should seek out websites that are related (and highly ranked) and spend money on a regular basis to keep your inbound links in place.
Reciprocal Links. It is a time consuming task to build a good quality reciprocal links campaign but the rewards are worth it. Find other sites that are similar or complementary in content to your site. Put a link on your site pointing to them. Email the site and ask for a link back to your site. Yes, this will be the time consuming part. (This is where your time is better spent rather than obsessing about meta-tags and other search engine optimization elements - although they are important - linking is by far the most important.)

Requesting the Link

Try to personalize the email request as much as possible. Tell them you have put a link to their site and give the URL where it can be viewed. Ask them to link back to you and don’t forget to give them your description and URL.
Don't overdo it!  Get links in a "natural" manner.  If you suddenly have 10 new links to your site after only a month, Google™ and others may raise their eyebrows.  Remember not to seem like you are purposefully trying to inflate your link popularity.
Don't assume that having a huge links page is all you need. You need to exercise quality control.
Choose wisely. Visit the website you want to link to and make certain it is relevant to your topic. Also, check the page rank of the site and make sure they are important to Google™. Download the Google™ toolbar for your browser and when you visit websites, the toolbar will tell you how high Google™ ranks a page. Make a rule to only choose websites that have a pagerank of “xx” or above. Remember, quality is more important than quantity. If these websites agree to link back to you, it only takes a few highly ranked sites to boost your pagerank.
Keep it short. Put up additional links pages if you need to but don't put hundreds of links on one page. Use a system to categorize the links. You should link the page from your home page but it can be a small text link that the spiders can follow.
Track your link partners. After you request a link from one of the websites you selected, wait a week. If you don't get a response, email them again. Be polite, but if they don't link back after a second request - then move on and find someone else. Remove the link and add a new prospect. When a site does agree to link back to you, make sure you record this information so you don't accidentally remove their link. You should periodically check to make sure they do the same.