Natural SEO : Reciprocal Linking and Interlinking

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This is my second natural SEO post attempting to foster FUD-free approach to search engine optimization. This time it’s about two most overused (but still effective if done wisely) link building methods: reciprocal linking and interlinking.

Is reciprocal linking useless? Can it harm my site?

I would say, reciprocal links are natural. In today’s world of active online communication and idea sharing, it’s even inevitable. That’s the main reason (as I see it), they can’t be absolutely discounted. To look unnatural that should be:

  • excessive reciprocal linking;
  • simultaneous reciprocal linking (both links appear on the same day);
  • only reciprocal linking (no other backlinks except those);
  • brand new sites reciprocal linking;
  • absolutely irrelevant reciprocal linking.

The worst that you may expect with your good natural reciprocal links is that SEs will stop counting them when evaluating your authority. Per my observations, this hasn’t happened yet by the way. I have a little celebrity blog that has only been promoted by reciprocal linking, is no longer updated but still enjoys 700 uniques daily (and is ranked very well).

Anyway, if you are trying to figure if you need to waste time on building reciprocal links, stop thinking about SEs at all, view it as a powerful social tool (that helps you to build connections) and another traffic source (people that will click the link are few but they are most often really interested in the topic and will turn into your loyal readers).

Can I interlink my own websites? They say if I interlink my sites I look like a spammer.

My tactic of interlinking is simple: if I do nothing wrong, I will freely show SEs and people that I have many more websites. (On the other hand, if I am going to experiment with ‘gray’ tactics for some of my sites, I refrain from interlinking in order not to harm my other sites.)

Probably I won’t interlink brand new websites not to put them under suspicion – but that’s all that I agree to do for search engines. All official Google blogs are interlinked by the way (yeah, they probably enjoy some special treatment but still that’s an example of proper behavior Google itself sets).

I won’t nofollow the links like Google suggests just because I think that’s stupid (and moreover unnatural). While SEs claim they might frown upon networks, that’s not at all that easy to really ban interlinking. Many companies have several official sites, almost all of them have multiple international sites, there are plenty of official blog networks and umbrella projects.

Interlinking is natural (even when being irrelevant) and no matter how much SEs might want to keep people from overusing it, the worst they can do is to discount the links in terms of authority and ranking. Interlinking might look unnatural if:

  • you have too many sites (Matt Cutts once said that more than 2000 sites owned by one person may look unnatural);
  • you have many interlinked sites launched on the same day;
  • your sites share blacklisted IP address (i.e. the one often used by spammers);
  • your sites have no other backlinks except for the ones from your other sites (or all your sites have same backlinks);

If you want to look even more natural:

  • don’t use sitewide links (create a separate page “My other sites”);
  • don’t interlink your sites in a day;
  • don’t crosslink your sites (instead interlink by groups, based on relevancy) or just spontaneously.

Anyway, the less you are trying to hide from SEs, the more natural you look.

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
Ann Smarty
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  • phpLD

    You need to think in terms of what would happen if I were to take a list of all the links pointing to your site, and start going through them. Am I going to find quality? Or am I going to find a site that found an artificial method to inflate their links unnaturally? You can bet that if your site gets popular it may have to pass a human review one day, and getting too hung up in link building can be a hindrance. So be sure you make the primary goal to make a site that people love and will talk about for years.

  • Robocoder

    I was under the impression google also looks at whois data when looking at links between sites and will count off when the whois registrant is the same for the interlinked sites.

  • Ann Smarty

    @Robocoder – please note, I haven’t been speaking how to make it more effective but how to make it look natural…

  • Search Engine Optimization Journal

    Great detailed post. Some of these areas can be so unclear and we’re glad someone can lay them out for everyone. Gotta love the link exchange requests we receive from “Tanning Salons” and so forth — some people have a lot to learn!

  • WebSite Design Orange County

    Linking still works if it’s done right, if however, you are link blasting to anyone and everyone it won’t help your site and more than likely will harm it. Relative linking, relative linking, relative linking. Even though you may get caught up in trying obtain higher PR links it’s more important to garner links from industry related sites.

  • insert lots of keywords here

    not to overlook the obvious: If you have a site about gardening and have links from poker and mortgage sites this is unnatural. the links to you should relate to plants and flowers.

  • Mike Dammann

    You can always interlink where it makes sense. Don’t overdo it. Not only will it jeapordize your ranking, it will also make your site look spammy and confuse your visitors.

    ~ Mike Dammann

  • Loren Baker, Editor

    Reciprocal linking in your vartical industry is a good thing. Generating 500 links in a month from false reciprocal linking directories is obviously looking for trouble ūüôā

    Point is, if the link is natural, relevant and can result in converting traffic, the link is valuable.

    Most larger networks and businesses interlink. Google interlinks. Yahoo interlinks.

    Do it smartly and organically.

    Mike, you’re very right about too much linking confusing visitors. Same with links in the footer and navigation … makes the sites look spammy. And well, if they look spammy then someone may submit them to the Google spam team .. which would not be good.

  • Michelle

    For your keyword research try using – a keyword research technology that will help you know what keywords your competitors are using and how it generates money for them, you can use those keywords to drive traffic to your site and give your business the exposure it needs. It offers Free trials.-

  • Las Vegas Media

    …where am I?

  • Doug Heil

    “I haven’t been speaking how to make it more effective but how to make it look natural”

    You should not have to “make it look natural”. If it’s natural linking, hmm, it’s natural. No need to make it look that way.

    I find it hard to believe that recip links between two different owners can be natural. Consequently; making things look natural… no matter what we are talking about, .. is not the same thing as being natural.

    I highly doubt google is counting recip links for much of anything at all. Why should they?

    “The worst that you may expect with your good natural reciprocal links is that SEs will stop counting them when evaluating your authority.”

    Don’t get fooled by that; recip links or any kind of outgoing link can hurt you. If you are exchanging links or linking out to a site that is or becomes a bad neighborhood, oh yes it can hurt you…. big time.

    What is also missing in this post is the false notion that all sites are somehow equal. Yahoo and other big sites can do recip links and interlinking all they wish. That is quite different than joeandsally’s site. There is an authority issue at work and a hub issue at work, along with the many other parts to an algo at work. Just because “he” can do it doesn’t mean “you” can do it the same as well.

    If you want to link out to a site because it will help visitors to your site… great! Link out to them. If that site just happens to link back to your site…. then great. If not; that’s great as well. This business of trying to analyze recip linking and interlinking, etc has no right answers and is mostly all common sense.

  • Jon Clark

    Fantastic post! We always are getting fed information about what not to do (reciprocal linking, etc) it is refreshing to have someone take a step back and say – yes, you can do these things, just make sure you do them correctly.

    I’ll be looking forward to your follow up articles!

  • Ann Smarty

    “recip links or any kind of outgoing link can hurt you”
    That’s what fosters FUD I guess ūüôā natural linking out (that might be of interest to your readers and was not paid for and etc) is OK…

  • Doug Heil

    Hi Ann, I believe you should have quoted the full paragraph as the context you put it in is not right. Here is what I actually wrote:

    “Don’t get fooled by that; recip links or any kind of outgoing link can hurt you. If you are exchanging links or linking out to a site that is or becomes a bad neighborhood, oh yes it can hurt you…. big time.”

    And yes; that’s very true stuff. The actual FUD is making it seem like no outgoing links can hurt you because they certainly can.

  • Ann Smarty

    Just to make it clear: what do you call “bad neighborhood”? My point is that by using this term loosely without any explanation, you still might be promoting FUD – hence my asking… The term is a bit (a lot?) overused nowerdays…

  • Mike Dammann

    Times have changed, Doug. Bad is accepted if Matt blesses it.

  • Doug Heil

    No Mike; Times have not changed when it comes to linking out. It’s always been the same way since I can remember…. many years. If your site is linking out to bad sites, you run the risk of being associated with that bad site (bad neighborhood).

    A bad neighborhood Anne can be almost anything. You have to look at the site you are linking to and determine that yourself. A blackhat site could be. A site participating in the digitalcoop crap could be. A site that is among many other networked type sites could be. There are many reasons why a site can become bad… and a risk to link to.

    It’s simply a fact. It’s not something I am making up for you all. You can read any of the more useful forums out there with helpful and knowledgeable people in them to learn about bad neighborhoods. I’m not going to put on a clinic in here about what to look for. Anyone offering up link building or SEO services should school themselves on what a bad neighborhood might be. I don’t have to explain something you can find most anywhere.

    And nope; Not FUD at all. It’s real life stuff and it’s very true stuff.

  • Doug Heil

    I’ll just point you to the pertinent stuff about it:

    “In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.”

    There ya go. I actually thought this was all common knowledge among the SEO community? I guess not, huh?

  • Loren Baker, Editor

    Doug, in her article Anne says not to link to sites which practice spamming & have blacklisted IP’s due to spamming. She also says not to link to trade links with only your own site.

    I’m pretty sure that not linking out to sites which practice spamming is not linking with bad neighborhoods ūüôā

  • Valued Affiliates

    I agree with you completely about the interlinking of websites. If you do it right and not to look completely spammy it is a great strategy. As far as reciprocal linking, I try to stay away from it as much as I can.

  • Pocket SEO

    A couple of other things that search engines might look for with reciprocal linking:

    * “links pages” that are entirely reciprocal links (esp. to each others’ home pages). Make any “link lists” a combination of different types of links.

    * too many reciprocal links appearing in lists (“links page”) rather than in content (e.g., blog friends referring to each other).

  • Bobbink SEO

    Interlinking your own websites is no problem at all. Try to create relevant niche websites and take notice of the Google guidelines. Nothing to be afraid of.

  • Egyptian Mau Breeders

    I interlinked two dirffrent mortgage website and the rusults came out very nicely.

  • Jason

    I think a lot of people spend way too much time linking with sites that do little for them (low traffic and page authority).

    I see that the web environment is changing and is way different now than 2 years ago.

    Optimizing for the search engines is great but can be just a small part of your online marketing strategy…

  • Pocket SEO

    Optimizing for the search engines is great but can be just a small part of your online marketing strategy…

    I agree with that. I think “classic SEO” is maybe only about 25% – though it depends on the type of site.

  • Jason

    Today there are so many highly trafficked sites that you can reach easily with your content, it wasn’t like this 18 months ago!

  • Mercy

    As long as we do reciprocal in a more thematic passion, nothing going to sound Grey or black.

    Anyway very good post from Ann again.

  • Hotels in Inverness

    I do recipricol links but only if they are relevant and of a good quality, i think if you link to a site that has dozens of links pages its not a good idea.

    As for cross linking, i usually place one link on each site and i think as long as you dont abuse croass linking (ie 100’s of links) then you should be alright.

  • Laura Kilmurry

    Link exchange is alive and well.. it might not be the overnight magic wand to get a site ranked high in the search engines in a quick manner. If you look back at the history of link exchange, sites do it to brand their sites identity, and to get relevant traffic from other sites.

    I will keep exchanging links with sites relevant to my own and you fear mongers can waste time with your magic carpet overnight “solutions”.

  • Doug Heil

    Hi Laura, In history; sites did it because they actually thought the linked-to site was of quality to their visitors. These days; sadly that is not the case. If you can show me a “link exhange page” that is of quality I’d appreciate it. Further; exchanging links is one big waste of time these days as well.

    Loren wrote:
    “Doug, in her article Anne says not to link to sites which practice spamming & have blacklisted IP’s due to spamming. She also says not to link to trade links with only your own site.”

    If you could please show me exactly where Anne wrote that, I would appreciate it. I read it again and could not find that bit of information. As far as I can see; the article is making it sound like that all you have to do is exchange links with relevant sites and you are good to go.

    That is far from the truth.

  • Ann Smarty

    Doug – we can freely promote the fear of linking out using “bad neighborhood” term with not much knowledge what it actually means. Anything? – yes, you are completely correct, you can attribute anything to this term. Will you ever be able (if you are not Google :)) to tell if a website you are going to link out to was selling/buying links? Nope… How do you know if the site you are going to link out to is considered ‘bad neighborhood’ because it ever linked out to a spammy site (and thus became ‘bad neighborhood’ itself)? Nope… Even if you spend the whole day exploring the poor site to link out to it, you risk missing something that is making it ‘bad neighborhood’… This hysteria is never going to stop – and my ‘natural’ posts are aimed only to show what is natural…

    Natural is linking out to websites you and your readers find value in. Natural is linking out to your fellow bloggers telling your readers they might be interested in their websites because you are. If you stick to being natural, you are right; being right, you are on the safe side – that’s the purpose of the posts.

    Trust me, I did go through a bunch of ‘common knowledge’ you are citing – and the way you are citing it never helps. I did mention “blacklisted IPs” for the sake to touch upon this common knowledge but I didn’t want to go into details because that would have been against my initial intention – to show why these types of linking out (as well as linking out in general) will not harm you as soon as things are natural.

    I do understand that the post might be misinterpreted – and that’s also my fault (as I failed to clearly state my intentions) and partially that’s due to the FUD that stops people from linking at all at the fear of some vague terms…

  • Doug Heil

    Thank you for clarifying Anne. You are right; the way the article reads for me was as you just described. It could be interpreted as a free pass to linking out to anything. I just think we should be careful as many, many new people are reading things. I think this also fuels the email SEO crowd and why we all get many emails per day requesting link exchanges. Now I know exactly what you are trying to say.

    As far as bad neighborhoods go; I think it’s more of common sense when reviewing a site. I look at a sites sitemap page, it’s contact us page, it’s about us page, and all other similar type pages that a site just might try to hide some kind of link on. Many times you find crap stuff on those type pages. I also look at the nav bars… left, top, right and footer stuff. You can find stuff there as well. It’s important to note that a spammy site is not the only thing that matters. A site can be very clean with no spam, but still be associated with a bad neighborhood IE: digitalCoop network. IE: link exchange networks. IE: Link swap stuff IE: link partner stuff IE: any other type of link scheme thing. It can also be associated indirectly and without knowing it if it links out to a site who is itself involved with those types of networks.

    YES. Google is the ultimate naysayer about what a bad neighborhood is, but it’s the site’s responsibility if or when it does get involved because it tripped some bad neighborhood filter. All I wanted to make clear was the fact that who you link to says a whole bunch about who you are associated with.

    Thanks for your post.

  • Mike Dammann

    Condemning link exchange in general would be giving in to spammers. There is nothing wrong with link exchange. Link exchange is natural unless the strategy and intention behind it is spam.

  • Doug Heil

    Hi Mike, I strongly disagree, sorry. Link exchanges are neither spam nor are they natural, although they could be spam. They are simply a total waste of time for all the reasons given in this thread.

  • Laura Kilmurry

    Doug, You appear to be delusional and should consider serious therapy to devoid yourself of your paranoia.

    Can you explain to the rest of us why you think relevant link exchange is a “total waste of time”?

    Please enlighten us with specifics.

  • Mike Dammann

    Doug, there is nothing wrong with link exchange, unless it is done for the wrong purpose. Agreed?

  • Las Vegas Media

    I subscribed to this post hoping to see a majority rule on how people view natural linking. It looks as though it’s a divided issue. Question, what would happen if there were absolutely no link exchanges and webmasters and the sites they maintain for clients and they’re own sites would have to take a proactive step in finding other relevant sites to link out too… who’s links to their sites if they’re doing all of the outbound links? What if the other sites didn’t have anyone maintaining their sites so receiving a link in return without asking for one would not be possible, so, clearly when people say that link exchanges are dead or it’s not worth anything I believe are wrong and have to view in the context of establishing link exchanges for the benefit of the viewers.

    I ran a test on this particular issue 3 months ago and link exchanges didn’t hurt the new sites being tested but 1) helped the search engines find it faster (pro) then if no link exchange was established 2) reinforced the industry I had optimized the site for by linking from within the same industry. Clearly those two things would should be enough to show that valid link exchanges can benefit your sites but more importantly your viewers.

    To sum it up, if anyones telling you to stop doing link exchanges I think you need to run your own tests instead of relying on every seo blog to tell you what to do.

  • Doug Heil

    Hi Laura, I did not call you any names for having the opinion you have, right? If you are going to throw around that kind of stuff you need to put your site in your profile. I highly doubt most think I am delusional but I respect your opinion. Further; you can start reading at any “quality” search engine forums out there to help you with link exchanges and how much of a waste of time they truly are. This is not only my opinion but the opinion of many.

    Mike; There is so much more to it than that.

    Anne; This is what I mean by general type articles such as this. I agree with you that you cannot be specific and write every little detail about this stuff, but it’s clear that not writing enough of the details gives an impression that link exchanges are just dandy and we see more link exchange forums out there with members saying this:

    “Will trade links with relevant sites.”

    Every time I see a post like that I think of this:

    “Will trade work for food.”

    I feel sorry for both of those types of people. It gives you a sad feeling.

  • Deepak khantwal

    Reciprocal linking increases the traffic through a website and it also helps in increasing the popularity of a website.

    I found it very important to increase the number of viewver for a website

  • SEO Consultant UK

    If I get a request for a reciprocal link on a website first thing I do some seo background research on it… if I think it would be a good idea – rather than say yes and link from a links page. I’d request we draw up articles or blog posts and feature them on our site and they do the same with deep links. Those that agree are usually the sites worth working with..

  • SEO Melbourne

    Reciprocal linking is in fact the same thing is link exchange that so many people are discussing the value of it and if it is considered spamming (which is not). Why shouldn’t web owners, SEO’s and webmaster attempt to get link to their website? The whole Idea about the internet is: The Internet is a worldwide communications network and that is the essence of it all. Networking and getting connected through networking. It will be more beneficial to connect to a site which is related to your own industry as that is the place searchers will be looking to find information, services and products they require. Linking to unrelated website will probably provide a less advantage at the long run and will look unnatural to the searcher an therefore probably to the spiders. My opinion about this all is link internally (not excessively), link to other site that relate to you and preferably ones that have a good page rank, after all you in real life you will not like to be recommended by someone with no experience or value (same with page ranking for websites). Participate in link exchange but be very selective with whom you exchange your links and how it is done on your website and their website.

  • sublimation

    Ok I want to ask. In order to build up some sort of link authority i would like to include link pages. Will these affect the ranking of other pages in the site? I am talking about business directories specifically.

  • Ann Smarty

    I see no problem with link pages as long as you keep it relevant and refrain from linking to crappy sites. Also be sure to check regularly all site you are linking to are still live