Understanding Reciprocal Links and How to Use Them Properly On Your Website

Get the dos and don'ts of using reciprocal links on your website. Find out what makes reciprocal links bad and how to use them the right way.

links of a rusty chain

Reciprocal linking happens when two sites link back and forth to each other. This happens when friends who both have websites link to each other — Joe links to Sally’s website and Sally reciprocates by linking back to Joe’s website.

This dynamic is seen often in groups of business owners who are in a leads group or mastermind group together. One person in the group typically reads a blog post stating that you need lots of inbound links to get good search engine rankings, and without really understanding what that means, they get everyone in the group to link to each others’ websites.

Years ago, this simple SEO strategy was popular and widely used because search was less sophisticated and it worked. By getting others to link to your website, you could quickly increase your search engine results page rank. So friends linked to each other just for the link, not for any specific purpose or with any relevance in mind.

The Problem With Reciprocal Linking

Humans searching online are looking for the most relevant information and search engines want to deliver the most relevant information. Links from one site to a totally irrelevant site provide no value for humans or search engines because they make no sense.

What’s important to understand is that all links are not created equal. Off-topic, irrelevant links are bad links. Neither external links from your site to an irrelevant site, nor inbound links from an irrelevant site to your site, work in your favor to enhance user experience or add value.

So Joe the Dog Groomer linking to Sally the CPA’s website and Sally linking back to Joe’s website became a bad thing because the topics of their websites have nothing to do with each other. The unfortunate thing is that people tend to freak out about anything related to SEO that’s deemed bad, which is exactly what happened with reciprocal links.

People got nervous and scared about using reciprocal links and bloggers that didn’t fully understand the concept began warning everyone to stay away from reciprocal links. In fact, several websites still warn site owners of the “dangers” associated with reciprocal linking.

When Reciprocal Linking Works

Here’s what you need to understand: Reciprocal links are still valuable when done right.

There are still instances when reciprocal linking is a smart business move — especially when it’s used as an online business strategy to gain visibility in front of new audiences that align with your ideal client profile.

If done right, just one well-planned inbound link from a strategic partner can yield an increase in website traffic, a surge in opt-ins, and new paying clients. With the right partner, a reciprocal link from you has the opportunity to do the same for them.

The key is to find a strategic partner who:

  • Serves the same ideal client or target market that you do
  • Offers service, product, or program adjacent to or related to your offer
  • Has a website with content that is directly relevant to the content found on your website

This approach works because the links are to relevant sites and relevant content, which is what both consumers and search engines are looking for. By linking to each other, you’re sharing each others’ resources, content, and offerings with a pre-qualified audience that is already a great fit.

Examples of when reciprocal linking may be beneficial:

  • A hairstylist and makeup artist who often refer clients back and forth should link to each other
  • A designer and a copywriter who serve the same market may want to link to each other
  • A financial planner and CPA who work with the same clients and market to the same ideal clients should link to each other
  • A car wash and windshield repair or dent repair company in the same city may want to link to each other

These examples are natural and they make sense. It’s very easy to see why they would be linking to each other, and the links would be considered helpful resources by visitors to those websites.

Examples of when reciprocal linking may be damaging:

  • An orthodontist and a copywriter decide to link to each other because they are both local Chamber of Commerce members
  • A roofer and a print publisher link to each other simply because they are in the same networking leads group or referral group
  • A florist and a tire repair shop link to each other because they are in the same shopping center or city
  • A public relations consultant and a financial planner link to each other because they are friends and want to support each other

The Reciprocal Link Bottom Line

This isn’t one of those easy SEO tactics you can use to quickly build a lot of inbound links from friends and contacts. If the link seems forced, unnatural, or out of place, it probably is and shouldn’t be used.

Reciprocal linking is a strategy to use to gain visibility for your brand and business in a new group of ideal clients and customers and help your audience connect with and benefit from other relevant service providers, businesses, and retailers.

Think of it this way: If it helps people who visit your website find more information on the topic they are specifically interested in and get closer to achieving their goals, then the link makes sense. If it is a detour or distraction, skip it.

If you really, really want to link to and support a peer or friend who has a totally irrelevant business or site, add the link to your site and set it to “nofollow” so search engines know that it isn’t a link they should follow and consider relevant to your content. While the link won’t help with their SEO, it may bring them some traffic.