For a long time, reciprocal links have remained at the forefront of most inbound linking strategies. It was a regular practice to extend the offer of backing up another webmaster if they back you up. That way you both get what you want and no one is the wiser that what you actually did was a skilled practice of quid pro quo.
However, the time has shown the need for a change. In 2014 Google started discounting all reciprocal links. The algorithms had been altered to identify the exchange of links by two parties for the sole purpose of increasing their number of inbound links and not actually praising quality content.
The reason for that was that the concept of reciprocal linking defied Google’s original intention with the algorithm.
Quality content should attract links.
Google didn’t take kindly to simple vote trade and mutual agreements of promotion (see Link Schemes), and so set about identifying three-way linking schemes (where website A links to website B who links to website C who then links back to website A).
Naturally, as the crooks get wiser, so does the sheriff. Therefore, it would be foolish not to expect Google to label sites with too many reciprocal links spammy and ultimately undermine such a marketing strategy. If you encounter a few e-commerce websites highly-ranked by the Google search engine all linking to each other (even though they should consider each other competition), then it is easy to assume they all have the same owner and that is the reason behind all the reciprocal links. Google algorithms have learned to recognize such indecent marketing strategies and punishment ensues.
However, if sites from the same niche, with similar content (about recipes for making spaghetti sauce, for instance), all link to each other, you (or Google algorithms) cannot jump to the conclusion of improper behavior. Webmasters are simply aware that people interested in the content published on both their and similar websites would be interesting to their readers without creating competitors out of them. What drives them toward creating such reciprocal links is simply content quality and relevance, which is exactly what Google had in mind for us marketers.
In that sense, we can conclude: Inbound linking strategies should NOT be centered around reciprocal linking. Instead of focusing on an artificial form of link creation which will ultimately result in wasted time, your efforts should lie in creating unique, high-quality content in a niche of your preference. Once you conquer that mountain, the links will come.
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