Do Reciprocal Links Hurt Your SEO? (Link Building Study)

Do Reciprocal Links Hurt Your SEO? (Link Building Study)


Reciprocal link building is one of the oldest
tricks in the bag. You link to me, and I’ll link to you. But this is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, they list “excessive link exchanges”
as an example of a link scheme. So the question is, how many websites have
reciprocal links, and more importantly… are they hurting their organic rankings? Well, we studied 140,000 websites and came
up with some very interesting results. Stay tuned. [music] What’s up SEOs? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that
helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche. In our study on reciprocal links we wanted
to learn two things: #1. How common are reciprocal links; and #2, do they negatively affect your SEO? So let’s first dig into the data, and then
touch on how you can apply this in an actionable way for your search engine optimization efforts. First, we wanted to find how many websites
actually have reciprocal links. So we took a sample of 140,000 websites that get
at least 10,000 search visits per month from Google. We then looked at the domains they were linking to and the number of domains linking back to them. And it’s important to note that we were only
looking at “dofollow” links here. Finally, we plotted the results on a graph
to visualize how common reciprocal links are. And here are the results. 26.4% of our sample domains had no reciprocal links, meaning that the vast majority, 73.6% to be exact, had outgoing links to at least one domain
where that website was linking back to them. Quick sidenote: since Ahrefs blog doesn’t participate
in any kind of link exchanges, we wanted to see what the overlap was like
for the domains we’ve linked to. And we found that we had 19.25% reciprocal
links that just happened naturally. So now this comes down to a “chicken or
the egg” situation. Are these websites linking back to each other
because they’re friends, in a small niche without many resources or are
they just blatant link exchanges? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Now, the second part of our study was to check
if the top ranking pages for different queries had reciprocal links. So we selected 10,000 random non-branded queries
with a keyword difficulty score between 40-60 to ensure the majority of top pages actually had links. Then we looked for reciprocal links between
the websites ranking in the top 10 and the websites linking to those in the search results. And this is the pie-chart we came up with. 43.7% of top ranking pages had some kind of
reciprocal link. So that means on average, 4 to 5 of the top 10
organic results in Google have some sort of reciprocal link. This makes me conclude that reciprocal links
are just a natural byproduct of the web. So the question now is should you be doing
link exchanges? The answer is yes and no. The “no” is pretty straightforward. It’s against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
and it’s just annoying getting emails from people begging for links. Now, the reason why I say “yes” is because you
don’t need to avoid linking to sites that have previously linked to you. If their page is the best fit as a reference, then I think it’s safe to say that you can
link to them freely. So what can you learn from this and more importantly,
how can you apply this data to your SEO strategy? The key is to build relationships through outreach. Asking someone for a favor without value or
giving first usually won’t work. This goes against the rule of reciprocity,
which tells us that people naturally want to respond to a positive action with another
positive action. Not something that’s conditional or charity
without a cause. So in my opinion, this automatically excludes
emails that I’m sure you’ve gotten before or maybe even sent. Here are a couple of examples of bad ways
to try and “build a relationship.” “We mentioned you, so can you link to us?” “You linked to them, so you should link to me?” If you still don’t get it, let me drill this in with a super-
real example that I’m sure you’ve experienced. Think back to as early as grade school. I’m sure you had that person in your class that
would never bring a pencil, pen, or paper to class. So they asked you for one. And being the nice person you are, you probably
lent it to them. But as they kept asking, day after day, week
after week, you probably got annoyed. They asked for something, never offered anything
of value in return, and sometimes, I’m sure you never even got your pen back. These are the majority of outreach emails
I get in my inbox. Now in adulthood, the same holds true. Someone refers a new business client to you,
so you give them a kickback or you send them any referrals that you can’t serve. And there’s no written agreement here,
you just do it for each other. Again, we’re all people and we all want to
return kind actions to one another. You just have to take matters into your own hands because you can’t wait and expect people
to come to you. Now, as an SEO, you probably want some kind
of data-driven way to do this for links. Well, I’ve got one for you. The first thing you should do is look for
people that you link to a lot. Now, if you’re perpetually linking to someone, it’s
pretty clear that you genuinely enjoy their content. Meaning, you’d probably want to get to know them. To find these websites, go to Ahrefs’ Site
Explorer and enter in your own domain. Let’s pretend that I’m with smartblogger.com. Next, go to the Linked domains report, which will
show you all of the unique websites you’re linking to and the number of times you’ve linked to them. From here, it’s just a matter of skimming
through the list for familiar domain names, where you haven’t spoken to the website owners,
you’ve linked to them at least a few times, and you want to network with them. So a couple that pop out to me are CopyBlogger,
ProBlogger, and SmartPassiveIncome who are all relevant and not direct competitors. Next, go to the Referring domains report,
which will show you all of the unique websites that are linking to you. Now, just enter those domains into the
search box one by one, and you’ll see if they’ve linked to you before
and the number of times they’ve linked. Assuming, we don’t know any of these websites,
the common ground we have is that we both appreciate each other’s content. So it would definitely be worth reaching out
with an intro and you can be quite confident that they’ll know who you are since a silent
relationship has already been built by this point. The next thing you should do is email these people. Again, you don’t want to send spammy emails
asking them to link to you. Instead, you want to give a lot of value since you know these people like you and
respect your work. So as an example, let’s say that you’re about
to launch a guest posting campaign for your own site. You might say something like: Hey Bobby, Sam here with SmartBlogger. This email is way overdue considering I’m
super familiar with your blog. Think I’ve linked to your posts like 50 times. I’m in the middle of writing a guest post for [site name] and was planning to link to your post on [topic]. My team and I plan to do guest posts on about
a dozen or so other sites this month so I was wondering if you have any other posts
that would be good resources on blogging for business and online marketing strategies. Feel free to send me a list of pages that would work and I’d be happy to link to you where it makes sense. Cheers, Sam Now, it’s important to note that when you’re
sending these kinds of emails, you shouldn’t go in with the mentality of getting something in return. Even if the person you’re contacting may not
be guest posting right now, but the feelings are mutual in terms of respect
for each other’s work, you can bet that they’ll want to return the favor
in whatever capacity they can. The key thing with any kind of outreach email
is to detemplatize your template and sound like a human being talking to
another human being. You might look at this as a “link building strategy,” but it’s literally just a way of building relationships. And based on our data, it is my firm belief
that things like reciprocal links happen because of relationships. So rather than trying to game someone with
a hack, go and build meaningful relationships with people in your industry and help each other out. Now, if you enjoyed this video, make sure to
like, share and subscribe, and let me know in the comments if you’re doing reciprocal link building and getting rankings as a result. So keep grinding away, build some solid relationships
with people in your industry, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial.

25 comments

  • I am the First Commentor. Awesome Video Sam, Can I know how many more backlinks are required to outrank 90+ DA Blog from New blog? Thanks

  • Your the first person I've seen reference Googles guide lines so that tells me your telling me the truth. Whenever I make links iget obsessive and I make a half day out of it. I'm serious I'm about to launch a small affiliate site for solar panels and I created over 100 links and combinations of words without a generator or research. I'll try them all and pick the best ones from my results. After I created the links then I go to Googles free tool and try the words and phrases and most of the time they rank high far as combinations and single words. Speed urling has got me more great results than playing with different types of expensive softwares or tools designed to only take your input and populate their database for a customers output. Anyway this might not seem relevant but sometimes your rank is connected to the configuration in the http header. A sites speed is important because it gives the customer a great expereinec especially your selling stuff. An SSL certificate goes hand to hand with everything you just said. Anyway thanks this helped.

  • I have been asking myself wether it smart getting links this way or not, because I know it is against the G policy. And most marketers didn't recommended using this tactic when acquiring links. But looking from your perspective it totally normal in a way. If I like the content I will link to it, and if the person on the other side likes my content – why not link to me!? Thanks for opening my eyes! Also I think we will see more of this in the future!

  • I am in a selective process for a job at the moment. How I wish I had seen this video before.

    In the questionnaires they sent, there were some questions about Link Building, after watching this video I think I could have elaborated in a more assertive way.

  • is it OK to have backlinks from press portals? Always unique content per backlink per portal, or that does not matter also, just avoid it in any case?

  • Travel & Business

    Sam Oh is the man 💪 following your videos and it helped me a lot. Thanks

  • Sam, Can you tell me from where to get the first high quality links to increase Domain authority?

  • Your videos have been a huge help, sir! I was wondering what you thought about reciprocal links from one site that is directly related to another. For instance, if someone is putting excerpts or even full blog posts on Medium, or in a Shopify blog with an associated store, or something similar, is that beneficial, harmful, of no matter…? Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

  • you forgot to answer the question from the title

  • Kamil Siddiqui

    Hey sam, nice info mate I am following you and waiting for more quality info. Can you please share some info related to google latest algo update which they released on 3rd june 2019?
    Love from Pakistan

  • I'm receiving link opportunities with tour or transfer companies from International countries which is a great fit for me and relevant to my niche – but I have a much higher DA than them, what would you recommend?

  • Hey Sam, Nice video!! One question How to take position back of rich snippet for a ranking keyword? Do you a solution for this?

  • Daniel Richardson

    Makes sense, I avoid reciprocal link building as much as possible. However it would be interesting to see if a site built exclusively with blatant link exchanges could work, maybe one for Ahrefs to try in the future?

  • Thanks you very much for your valuable information.

  • Thank you very much for the valuable information. Hiring the link service for SEO is very expensive for small and medium businesses. 🙂

  • Very interesting results. Thanks for sharing Sam 👍 yeah…. I never got my pen back

  • Alston Antony - Web Marketing & Growth Hacks

    Hi Sam, This is Alston from Ahrefs Insider Group. Again a great insightful video with awesome animation. Keep it Up !!!

  • Barton Interactive

    Question: As a web design agency, is it problematic to have “Site by Barton Interactive” in some of our clients’ websites’ footers that link back to us?

  • You mentioned that 19% of your links were reciprocal. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of Google's algorithm, but I wonder if Google looks at different niches and sees what the average is. If I have far more reciprocal links than the average site in my niche, do you think this could be where Google starts to algorithmically scale down the value of those links?

  • Fantastic video. The entire SEO community would be better if everyone watched this and followed the advice.

  • Thanks sam for this!!

  • Michele Ingelido

    Is it still against Google guidelines to reciprocal link one year after (or more)? Or reciprocal linking just means linking a short time after you get linked?

  • seomarketer. gr

    This was a serious introduction. Thanks.

  • Giobel Koi Center

    Hello Sam, do you have sample link building worksheet report? I need it to send to my clients, thanks

  • Kagura TheWindSorcerer

    Hi Sam, can you help explain in more detail under what condition reciprocal links are considered violation of Google's ToS? Short interval of linking? For example today A links to B and tomorrow B links to A as promised will be considered violation? or number of mutual links? i.e. if number of A linking to B = number of B linking to A will be considered violation? Many thanks as always!

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