Here’s a question I get asked quite frequently: “Should I respond to that emailed request from some website owner to put a link to his site on mine, in exchange for a link back?” The answer is “almost certainly not”. But that doesn’t mean that “reciprocal” links are a bad thing. Let me explain.
There are two reasons to get links: the traffic they generate directly, and the incremental boost they give you in the search engine rankings. Now, the amount of boost each one gives you in the search engines is related to the “quality” of that link, and the “quality” is actually an external, machine-calculated estimate of …how much traffic that link ought to give you. What sort of a link do you think would send you the most traffic? One on a website related to your area of business, or one on an irrelevant website? A link hidden in the middle of a long list of other links, or a highlighted one in the middle of a paragraph someone’s reading, like this? A link from a long-established, well-known website, or one from a blog launched yesterday?
The answer as to which links will send you the most traffic are obvious …and they’re also what the search engines are looking for. Quality links, within the text, on well-regarded, relevant sites. So to return to the original question, if I was offered a link from the home page of microsoft.com, would it somehow be valueless because I already have a link to Microsoft on this website? Of course not. It would be fantastic. There is nothing wrong with “reciprocal” links if they’re useful to the visitor on both sites. Where you don’t want to waste time is on reciprocal links which would never generate traffic between the sites. And an exchanged link between you and some estate agent in Brazil is never going to generate traffic, and it’s not going to help you in the search engines either.
Can poor exchanged links adversely affect your search engine rankings? Unlikely. But use your own instinct: if you think a link on the other site you want to “exchange” with will actually send you real traffic, it’s a good one to have, and well worth the “trade”. There are plenty of websites out there relevant to your business. Go out and exchange links with them, if you don’t mind having the links on your own website.