Are exchanged or reciprocal links okay with Google?
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Are exchanged or reciprocal links okay with Google?

Are exchanged or reciprocal links okay with Google?

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Alexandra in Romania who asks:

Are links from sites you have not linked to more valuable than backlinks from sites you have linked to?

Link exchange can be easily done and I was wondering if Google saw this as a bad practice.

There are many high authority sites (see Forbes) that add nofollow tags to all the links they add in their posts. Perhaps this is one of their strategies for making it appear that they are being linked to more often than they are actually offering a link.

Link exchange violates Google’s webmaster guidelines.

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You can read more about it here.

In short, link exchanges can result in manual penalties from Google.

But more than likely, obvious link exchanges will be ignored algorithmically.

In other words, they will not be worth your time unless they give you direct traffic.

Are reciprocal links okay?

As is the case with many SEO issues, it depends.

According to a survey conducted by Ahrefs, almost 43% of the links pointing to top-ranked sites were reciprocal links.

Reciprocal links happen naturally, and common sense dictates that sites with relationships will link to each other.

Google understands this.

Still, Google says link exchange is against the rules.

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It is obvious that Google can algorithmically detect most obvious link exchanges and either ignore the links from these exchanges or in particularly obvious cases punish the participants.

So is it ok to participate in reciprocal link exchanges?

My opinion is that it is perfectly okay to get a one-time reciprocal link where it makes sense.

For example, if you have a trusted provider and you want to link to each other for purposes beyond SEO, it is perfectly acceptable to exchange links.

Where it’s not okay is when you exchange links with unrelated sites, neither professionally nor vertically.

When you link to sites that you do not know, you may end up being linked to a bad neighborhood.

This can result in a drop in ranking or even a manual penalty.

A good rule of thumb on reciprocal links is that if you only get the link for SEO purposes, it is probably not a good idea.

Why Nofollow links to sites?

Google understands that sometimes links that typically violate their guidelines are necessary.

For example, if you pay to advertise on a site, they will likely link to your site.

Technically, this is against Google’s guidelines, as this link is paid for.

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So a few years back, Google implemented the Nofollow attribute for links that are desirable but may be in conflict with its rules.

Google recently expanded with the nofollow attribute and added two new attributes: sponsored links and user-generated content links.

Sponsored links indicate that a link was paid for as advertising.

It is true speculation to claim how much benefit a sponsored link provides from an SEO perspective, but anecdotal evidence from the SEO community indicates that sponsored links provide more authority than nofollowed links.

User-generated content links come from sites like forums and comments. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.

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It is a common belief in the SEO community that unlinked links provide some authoritative value to the site, but I suggest taking it with a grain of salt.

Finally

Link exchange is against Google’s guidelines for webmasters, but reciprocal links are not if performed in a natural way.

Sites that want to follow Google’s guidelines use the Nofollow, Sponsored, and UGC attributes to ensure compliance.

But links tagged with these attributes can still be valuable in both SEO and direct traffic.

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Editor’s Note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO consulting column written by some of the industry’s best SEO experts that has been hand-picked by the Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You may see your answer in the next # AskanSEO post!

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