There seems to be a lot of bad-mouthing about reciprocal linking nowadays by SEO "gurus" and amateurs alike, most notably in the various internet forums.
Reciprocal links, according to the naysayers, are virtually worthless because they supposedly do not help your search rankings or pass Google PageRanks to your site.
While no one really knows how search engines factor reciprocal links with a pet link exchange into search ranking calculations, let's suppose that the naysayers are right-- that is, reciprocal links provide no SEO benefits whatsoever. Should we then abandon the practice of reciprocal linking altogether?
Not a chance!
Reciprocal linking is a perfectly natural and legitimate traffic-building technique that predates the search engines themselves. To abandon the practice simply to satisfy certain fears or assumptions about how a search engine works is unnatural and potentially unethical. That search engines cannot handle reciprocal links properly reveals a shortcoming in their algorithms, not in the practice of reciprocal linking itself.
From my years of internet marketing experience, reciprocal links are an invaluable source of highly targeted direct traffic. Some of my sites are receiving hundreds of visitors a month through my link partners. Best of all, the traffic is all free. While I could have bought these clicks through various pay-per-click campaigns, which I do heavily anyway, I save hundreds of dollars a month just by the exchange of links with relevant sites.
The keyword here is relevant. You'll get clicks to your site only if your link is displayed prominently on your partners' sites and that they are related to yours in some way. By the same token, you must be prepared to trade links with your partners in good faith, which includes devoting premium space to your pet link partners and limiting the number of outbound links on your site.
Here are some important points to keep in mind when swapping pet links with another site:
* Is the site in question relevant to yours in some way? Traffic is one thing, but high-quality, targeted traffic traffic is another. While you can get clicks by exchanging links with an unrelated site, you can get more relevant traffic at higher click-through rates from sites are related to yours.
* Is the site complementary to yours, or is it a direct competitor? It's not always true that linking to a direct competitor will be detrimental to your business. No two sites are exactly identical. There must be something different that the other site offers that yours doesn't. Ask yourself whether or not the benefits from exchanging links with a competitor will outweigh the potential harms.
* Get an idea of your potential pet link partner's traffic before trading links with them. Ideally, you'd want to trade links with sites that have comparable or higher traffic than yours. Don't exchange links with low-traffic sites as you could gain more by exchanging links with high-traffic ones. One exception to this rule is if the site under consideration is new and looks promising, in which case, the immediate liability in linking to the site is outweighed by the potential future benefits.
You could look at various analytical parameters, such as PageRank, Alexa ranking, link popularity, search ranking, to gauge a potential linking partner's traffic. But none of these measurements are definitive, so there is an art to deciding whether or not a site is worth swapping pet links with.
* Where will your pet link appear on your partner's site? Will your pet link appear in a highly visible spot or in the footer? Footer links will not get you many direct clicks and may not even help you in the search engine rankings.
* How many outbound links does your potential linking exchange partner have? The fewer the number of competing links, the greater the chance that your pet link will be clicked on.
* Will your link be placed on only a single page or site-wide on your partner's site? Site-wide links provide the greatest exposure as visitors may exit from any page on your partner's site to your site. If your link partner does not do site-wides for any reason, make sure they link to your site from a prominent place on their home page. Links from "Links" or "Resources" pages will not get you much traffic.
The worst possible way to exchange links with another site is to have your link appear on a dangling " Pet Links" page to which a visitor cannot reach from the site's home page. Reciprocal link exchanging set up in this way is usually done in bad faith and serve no other purpose than to manipulate the search engines and/or cheat pet linking partners.