Seven Deadly Reciprocal Linking Sins
After every major Google update, it seems, someone will come out with a new obituary, announcing the death of reciprocal linking. And it’s true that in recent years, Google seems to have downplayed reciprocal linking in their algorithm. Yet for all of that, reciprocal linking is alive and well. There are several reasons why reciprocal linking survives. First, though they are the biggest game in town, Google is certainly not the only game, and Yahoo and MSN continue to put significant weight on reciprocal links. Secondly, the search engines aren’t the only reason to link – you can also expect some traffic directly from the link itself. Finally, even in the case of Google, all is not lost. Though they have downplayed reciprocal linking, there doesn’t seem to be too much evidence to suggest that Google actively penalizes them. (That said, you should read their webmaster guidelines for specific advice.)
As with anything else related to your web site traffic, however, it’s important to have some guidelines before setting out. Too often we see Realtors® doing reciprocal linking in a way that will give them less benefit, or no benefit at all. Here are specific mistakes we think you should avoid when you set out to include a link directory on your site:
Having all your links on one page, or too few pages. Google recommends that you keep your links to a “reasonable” number, fewer than 100 per page. Unfortunately many of the link directories set up on Z57 and Advanced Access sites that have linked to us violate that very rule. It may be that those sites can be configured differently. The custom sites we offer solve this problem by automatically limiting the number of links per page.
Linking to all comers, part I: “bad neighborhoods”. Google suggests you should avoid links to web spammers and bad neighborhoods. At the very least, it’s worthwhile to see if the site has been banned by Google. Go to Google and type in “site:www.potentialpartner.com” (substituting the real main web site address for your potential partner, of course). You should see something like “Results 1 - 10 of about [some number] from www.potentiallinkpartner.com”. If Google isn’t indexing anything at all, then either the site is brand new and not indexed yet (wait), or it has been banned (don’t reciprocate).
Linking to all comers, part II: no theme. Your goal in linking to other sites is partially to get other sites linking back, but also you want to establish – both for the search engines and your users – a reputation as an authority on real estate. Yes, that texas holdem site may link back to you, but so what? How is that related to your theme, and what does it say about your site that you link to it? Your focus should be first and foremost on real estate, and secondarily on related topics (local resources, real estate finance, lenders, etc.) Ask yourself: would a user of my site (someone moving or an investor) potentially find this of interest? If the answer is no, don’t swap links.
Linking to all comers, part III: no quality control. A site can be indexed by the search engines and be related to real estate, and still fail to be a site you should link to. I’m not talking about becoming the ultimate web site critic, but you should have a few basic standards in place. I personally want to see some sort of unique content, not just a link directory, and especially not just a link directory with a bunch of affiliate marketing / adsense ads. Again, would a user of your site be interested in a bunch of links and some advertising? If not, why are you linking to it? I prefer sites that are established. If they’re new, I at least like them to look like they’re not under construction. I definitely don’t mind cosmetically unusual sites from fellow Realtors® – often these home grown sites have the most real interesting content, even if some look a bit odd.
Paying no attention to search engines. I often copy the page the webmaster offers to link to me from into Google, Yahoo, and MSN. I like to see that my link will appear on a page that’s indexed by at least one of the major engines, or if the quality of the site is borderline, I like it to be indexed by two or more.
Paying too much attention to search engines. On the other extreme from being oblivious to search are those link partners who approach me with something like “I have a PR6 site and will link from a PR4 page in exchange for a link on your PR3 page here and your PR2 page here”. Forget page rank – focus on quality links to and from quality sites.
Ignoring link text. Link text is the text that appears underlined when the link is published, and tells users whether they’re linking to Peggy Sue McFeelgood or South Carolina Real Estate. We feel that – in general – the text of the link should match the title text of the page you’re linking to, and this should match the keyword you want to target. At the other extreme, however, having every single site that links to you link to the same page with the same keyword text may appear like an attempt to spam the engine, so don’t overdo it. We will sometimes alternate betweeen keyword phrases, and if a webmaster uses URLs for link text instead of keyword phrases, we’ll ask for those links, too. Also, if a webmaster gets the link text “wrong”, we frequently will let it go.