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Old 12-14-2005   #1
linkstrategy
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Beware the Reciprocal Link Short Sellers

Beware the Reciprocal Link Short Sellers
by Dirk Johnson

There's a niche in stock market investing called "short selling". In a nutshell, they "borrow" stock today, sell it for the cash, and hope to sell it back later for a lower price, pocketing the difference. If the stock goes up and stays up, they eventually need to buy it back at a higher price, coming out of pocket.

It's a lively and dicey game. There are market analysts who advise their clients as to which stocks to short. Since the risk in short selling far exceeds that of straightforward investing, these advisors have a desperate need to be "right". If they are wrong, their disciples become quite disgruntled with having to cover their short positions.

There is strong drive on the part of short sellers to "talk down" a stock, using a variety of public relations gambits. Facts get twisted. The truth suffers. Anything that will reduce the public perception of the value of the stock is fair game. It can get ugly.

It recently occurred to me that, within the SEO realm, there are a number of high-profile "reciprocal link short sellers". Many of the most vocal have been doing it for several years, using their "expert" status and industry influence to disparage the practice of reciprocal linking, calling it ineffective, immoral, and worse.

They use every Google update as a reason to announce that reciprocal linking is dead. And much like their stock market counterparts being caught in a "short squeeze", they can begin to sound shrill, relying on flimsy evidence and emotional pleadings to make their case.

All of this noise from these SEO pundits would be of little consequence, except that, like the stock market, there are site owners who rely their advice. For those who have been listening to the reciprocal link short sellers for all these years, they may well have found themselves with a financial loss. It may take the form of a competitive disadvantage that widens every day. Even worse, in order to satisfy their "big name" advisors who despise reciprocal linking, they may have deployed alternative linking methods that were more costly, less stable, or carried higher risk.

Running a website presents a large number of decisions to the site owner/manager. As a business manager, whatever you decide to do for your own website has consequences. Taking that one step further, sometimes there are unintended consequences that result from what you DON'T do.

So it goes with reciprocal linking. Some sites do it. Other do not, for a variety of reasons. Reciprocal linking may not be appropriate for a site, or the site owner does not want to commit their limited resources to doing it. Choices must be made. There are legitimate reasons to not do it, and in these cases the site owner accepts in advance that their competitors may not be so constrained and their competitors may gain some form of an advantage.

In other cases, deciding against reciprocal linking may be solely due to the advice of the "experts" who have been pleading that it is not effective. Here, the site owner is also believing that they are yielding no advantage to a competitor. When they find out months or years down the road that the advice was flawed, they may well regret such a decision. Catching up may be very difficult, for a number of reasons.

Website marketing strategists who claim that legitimate reciprocal linking is ineffective are certainly entitled to their opinions, but the site owner who is looking to them for guidance must also realize that they are not being provided with any definitive proof of such statements. The pundit's can easily make these claims and sound convincing, but rarely do they suffer the consequences of their own advice. It is the site owner that follows their misguided advice that takes the financial hit, in the form of lost opportunity.

I appreciate that many sites don't reciprocate, and never will. That's what makes the world go round. If you decide to reciprocate with other sites, just do it properly, graciously, and limit it to other relevant sites. That's how it has been done correctly since the inception of the World Wide Web, long before there were any search engines. Reciprocal linking, when done right, is proper, legitimate, legal, and good for business.

The reciprocal link short sellers have a lot of reasons for making their claims, but are their claims based on facts? Or emotional pleadings? Will taking their advice help your own site, or simply leave the door wide open to a competitor who chooses to ignore them?

Best regards,

Dirk Johnson
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Old 12-14-2005   #2
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This is an interesting thought Dirk. Some believe that there are a number of high-profile SEOs who deliberately spread misinformation on forums, etc as a means to keep their competitors far behind. I don't personally have any knowledge of anybody who does this, I feel it ultimately will be counter productive, especially considering possibilities of being found out.

As for the reciprocal linking debate, I'm one who does not buy the theory that ALL reciprocal links are, or will be, worthless. I firmly believe that the context of the link matters more than just reciprocating a link.
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Old 12-14-2005   #3
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Quote:
Some believe that there are a number of high-profile SEOs who deliberately spread misinformation on forums
St0n3y,

maybe. I hadn't considered it from that angle. From what I have read, most just seem to be convinced of their positions. Dmn the facts.

I'd bet that some SEOs disparage the practice publicly, yet do it privately, and selectively for some clients. It may be a posturing thing for them, as a way to attract F2000 level cleints who would never reciprocate and who do not want an SEO consultant that might even consider it. I have no proof, but I do suspect a couple of this.

Reciprocal linking pre-dates every search engine, at least the proper definition of it. If Google nullifies it, they begin to alter the very foundation of the WWW, while punishing a lot of innocent sites and causing people to avoid doing what they would naturally do. Unfortunately, that already happens with PR-focused (misguided) linking. Slippery slope, there.
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Old 12-15-2005   #4
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best post I have read in a while, Dirk

Dirk,

I am a firm believer in reciprocal linking as well... but you definately need to approach it properly to derive any success. As with anything you need to try it, learn what you did wrong, study the subject and approach it again with your new knowledge and experience.

Reciprocal links are not dead... and they will never be dead. They have been around since the net began and it will be here until it's called something else working on different technology.

It makes sense to me for a Search Engine to deep six a links page that is just uncategorized SPAM... and hence any rankings you may get from trading links with that page.

But, if you are diligent in maintaining your links directory ie. make it a useful resource AND you only link to sites your website visitors would also be interested in with the same philosophy then reciprocal linking makes sense to me in a big way.

People are going to leave your site no matter what you do so either monetize the click on their way out, or give them something really useful that boosts your credibility to click on to leave. In the case of reciprocal linking as an exit mechanism you "give a little" and you "get a little back" as long as you choose your link partners wisely and maintain a resource on your site they want to be listed in... or better yet an "in context" link trade. You will get higher quality trades offering in context links if you have high quality website content.

People trade things... that's how the world goes around. To say that a search engine is going to flatly "discount reciprocal linking" doesn't give search engine programmers very much credit. In my opinion they are just asking you to "smarten up" about how you get links to your site and STOP WORRYING ABOUT PAGE RANK MONGERING.

Does anyone have a quote from Google's website with a "reciprocal linking policy"? I know they hate paid links but that's trying to stop the PR crud.

If I can get a link from a high traffic information resource in my industry I am going to take it especially if they rank for a "keyword space" I would like to be in.

If you are not on the first page for a high traffic keyword and another site is at least you have a chance to get that visitor by having a link on this other site... probably worth trading a link with the site IMO.
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Old 12-16-2005   #5
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bdnseo,

Thanks. Agreed. The web is built on links, and reciprocal linking is simply gracious conduct between to sites that have a common interest. It's a private exchange.

I do think that reciprocal linking may evolve in some ways that add value to both the site owner and the site users. We'll see what those are. I have thought about it for years, and still come up with little.

Right now, common recip linking protocol and the "directory-to-directory" exchange mechanism is pretty well understood by most participants. Moving beyond to somehting new would take active participation on the part of the site owners. They'd have to see a substantial benefit to adding to their "linking workload".

Some are proposing "article swaps" (blending content and linking), but I predict a lot of resistance to that. It's very complicated, mechanically, and it has "seo gaming" written all over it. Unless it is done right, all that duplicate content would send out warning sirens. In other words, it is not very natural at all.

That's a hard sell to site owners who like to play the game straightforward.
I'd have real reservations about proposing something like that to my own clients. I can see the where some like-minded people might try it among themselves, on their own sites or for cleints who like to push the envelope, using seom kind of "clearinghouse" site to arrange it. But I don't see article swaps and other contrived mechanisms becoming very mainstream or "main street", for a lot of reasons.

Whatever evolves, it has to be legitimate and natural.
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Old 12-16-2005   #6
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Dirk, I don't think the analogy to selling short is really valid here. The motive for talking down a stock that's been sold short is obvious - personal financial gain. If the price comes down the short-seller makes money. The motive for talking down reciprocal links is ambiguous at best. I don't see any selfish motivation to talking down links.

I agree that there are a lot of people out there who are talking down the value of reciprocal links and usually with little or no evidence. But IMO they are typically search engine purists who balk at search marketing techniques. Reciprocal linking is a way to try to raise the ranking of a site without raising its quality. The people who write about seach engines tend to have this idealistic hope that some day search engines will be able to serve up exactly what every searcher is looking for every time, so they are always hoping search engines will find ways to "crack down" on search marketing techniques. This bias often causes them to speculate about what changes search engines make in their ranking algorythms rather than base their analysis on evidence.
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Old 12-16-2005   #7
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See it from the SE perspective

If I am a search engine, the only thing I am interested in doing, ppc aside for the moment, is providing the most relevant results to the search engine user. If I stop doing that, I'm dead. So, as a search engine, should I give much credibility to recips? Probably not. Chances are, it's simply an exchange between site A and site B, with nothing of real value added. This is not always the case, of course. There are plenty of really valid recips. But as a search engine, I have to protect my users, not website owners. So, I would err on the side of caution. I would assume that a lot of recips are merely seo exchanges. I would give a lot of credit (in terms of ranking) to one-way links from authority sites, and rather little to recip links.

Here's another tactic I have to question, as we move forward. Why should a search engine give much credit to directory links, which can be easily purchased? I think that will be the next arena to take a big "devaluation."

WB
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Old 12-16-2005   #8
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Recip thoughts from net vet

To generalize about recips is a real danger. To say they
are bad is just plain negligence. There is nothing wrong
with reciprocal linking from a business stnadpoint if the sites
in question share a common target audience or have a logical
and natural reason to reciprocate.

Example: Why the heck wouldn't a boat builder like
sea ray or boston whaler have a link to the evinrude or
mecury outboad motor site? Of course they would.
This type of recip is not about SEO or pagerank. It's
a recip based on the natural audience each site reaches
and the natural need for a boat info seeker to
learn about motors as well.

I personally do not choose to offer recip linking services,
but it's because everyone seeking them right now is
after them for the wrong reasons, and I wont get into
that game. But recips are not evil. Some can get
you burned, but frankly those are the ones you shouldn't
have gone after in the first place. Recip strategy driven
by subject and affinity is and always will be the way to
to it.

Eric Ward

Link Building Realist | Content Publicist

Last edited by Chris Boggs : 12-16-2005 at 04:17 PM. Reason: hate to do it to you, Eric, but no live sig links per forum FAQ. :)
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Old 12-16-2005   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EricWard-LinkMensch
To generalize about recips is a real danger. To say they
are bad is just plain negligence. There is nothing wrong
with reciprocal linking from a business stnadpoint if the sites
in question share a common target audience or have a logical
and natural reason to reciprocate.

Example: Why the heck wouldn't a boat builder like
sea ray or boston whaler have a link to the evinrude or
mecury outboad motor site? Of course they would.
This type of recip is not about SEO or pagerank. It's
a recip based on the natural audience each site reaches
and the natural need for a boat info seeker to
learn about motors as well.
Thanks for joining us again Eric...great points. It is so difficult, it seems, to get it through people's heads that if you build links to relevant content for your visitors, the search engines will most likely take kindly to it. Your point at SES about going overboard on reciprocal linking is the key...naturally earned links will get you further from a ranking point of view, probably, but reciprocal links probably won't hurt unless overdone.
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Old 12-16-2005   #10
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quick responses to several posts

Quote:
Pdstein: I don't think the analogy to selling short is really valid here. I don't see any selfish motivation to talking down links.
Thanks for the feedback. Since I look at a lot of "recips are dead" articles, they come in many flaovrs and shades. I actually see some people do this as a means to say "hire us, we don't do that nasty stuff..." . So yes, some of it is self-motivated talk. You have to read the stuff closely. Some is just taking sides.

Quote:
Wiltonbiz:I would assume that a lot of recips are merely seo exchanges.
WB, there are plenty of reasons why engines would not nullify recip links.

1) It drives people to ever more devious and expensive paid link schemes. You touched on that with your other note:

Quote:
Why should a search engine give much credit to directory links, which can be easily purchased?
2) Because of item 1), they'd start to favor the well-capitalized site over the niche sites that serve a marketplace on a shoestring budget, since a lot of niche sites rely heavily on reciprocals, going back long before Google existed. They are the kind of sites that the proponents of "natural" SEO results love to cite as examples.

Yes, I realize that someone will post here that "content is king"....for the one millionth time. If you sell area rugs, who is going to cite your content? That same example can be applied to hundreds of thousands of commercial sites. Sites with limited ability to get their content cited need links, too.

3) They'd start to affect negatively what sites would do naturally. Exactly what Eric said...nullifying links would put a wet blanket on that.

That's just my specualtion on all of that.

Those who oppose recip links and want them nullified get plenty of air time for their opinion. Rarely is the counterpoint of that logic exposed. WB, we'll have to agree to disagree.

Over the years, we've all seen a lot of people advising the search engines as to how to develop their algos. Reward this, nullify that, and penalize those folks over there. I'm guilty, too. Trouble is, none of us who write such stuff work there.

The engines should deal with the web the way it occurs naturally. Since reciprocal linking is valid, natural, legal and worthwhile, and has been since the inception of the web, it has a place.

Some people just pursue it with more effort than others. Maybe that is the problem? Some people take it seriously as a genuine marketing tool, regardless of the search engines. If they keep it relevant, and appropriate, where's the harm?

Last edited by linkstrategy : 12-16-2005 at 06:04 PM.
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Old 12-16-2005   #11
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Bias behind the threadstarter

Dirk Johnson, at the start of this thread, said
Quote:
It recently occurred to me that, within the SEO realm, there are a number of high-profile "reciprocal link short sellers". Many of the most vocal have been doing it for several years, using their "expert" status and industry influence to disparage the practice of reciprocal linking, calling it ineffective, immoral, and worse.
Dirk, who just joined SEW last month, is actually a seller of reciprocal link building services. Nothing wrong with that. But since he started this thread by criticizing those who sneer at recip links, isn't he just doing the same thing? Setting himself up as an expert, trying to make the case for recip links? Yet obviously, he is not an unbiased expert at all.

Makes me laugh. Actually, what makes me laugh, is that we all spend so much time debating this stuff (myself included) when so much of it is self-serving pap.

WB
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Old 12-17-2005   #12
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Quote:
Yet obviously, he is not an unbiased expert at all
I never said I was unbiased. I make my living doing this. Like a lot of other people in here. I am just making some points and observations, ones that are rarely presented in most SEO forums.

Site owners need to make decisions about their websites. All sides of an issue need to be aired, not just one. Site owners need to determine if reciprocal linking is the right thing to do for their own sites. It may or may not be. They need a full discussion of the facts to do that, or at least a wide variety of opinion to consider.

People who say that reciprocal linking is dead (or nullified or ineffective, or improper, and there are plenty within the SEO community), should prove it, convincingly. So far, that's not happened, because the facts on the ground do not support such a position, at all.

I have been doing this work since 1997. When the first whispers of "reciprocal linking is dead" started to be put forward by the "experts", I learned to stay out of these forums. Those who disagreed with those experts were labled as biased spammers and worse. It can get personal and ugly, fast. I am really not into spending my time that way.

Several years ago, I had a private exchange about this issue with the moderator of a rather well-known, but now defunct, search engine disscussion forum. He became so hostile, beligerent and foul-mouthed about it that I should have reported him to his employer, the list publisher, but I decided against it.

That person is still considered a big name "expert" in this business, and has other well-known allies. Who needs such abuse? Those who oppose reciprocal linking are rather vocal on some forums. So I tend to stay away from them. Which explains my recent membership here.

But the last Google update seems to have brought them all out of the woodwork again. It's an old routine.

Seems that things haven't changed much.
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Old 12-18-2005   #13
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Most of the post-Jagger posts on recips I saw came from individual site owners rather than "Gurus", and those "please delete our link" e-mails some people sent/got showed a clear edge of panic.

I've never used recips as a promotional method as they seemed to fall within the "links scheme designed to improve PR or rankings" guideline, but they have no doubt been effective, and AFAIK it's only recently that G/MC have started mentioning the negative aspects of "link exchanges".
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Old 12-19-2005   #14
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I really like this forum

I have frequented a number of forums over the last few months just to see if I might find anything new on the seo front. I have been surprised at the hype in other forums over subjects like reciprocal link building.

This forum is by far the most level-headed, mature forum I've been in. Thank you for good solid comments based on experience. I hate hearing from "experts" that don't really get their hands dirty doing it day in and day out.
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Old 12-19-2005   #15
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Reciprocal Link building – The Saga Continues

While it may not be possible to totally discount reciprocal linking as links form the weave of the web. Given the recent comments by some of the search engine people one can only deduce that the way linking is done between sites is being addressed. Since Google can’t toss out the baby with the bath water, Google and other search engines must try to find a way to deal with this, their mess. Some direct information would be beneficial but seeing as none seems to be forthcoming, then it is left to us, the people who constantly run various tests, to offer up our interpretations on what appears to be happening with the engines. Generally, we preface our findings with some kind of qualifier that suggests that the results could also be affected by things beyond our control and should be taken as such, a report on an experiment. How other’s take this information and perhaps generate articles is also beyond the control of the test originators. Rest assured that in most cases the testers are usually offering up their findings in an effort to be helpful and not to discredit anybody’s business model.

How can Google or any other search engine for that matter discern if websites are involved in a reciprocal link building program or not? To my mind there could be a few ways to be discovered as a reciprocal link builder with perhaps the easiest way being the involvement of third party web sites that facilitate the reciprocal link trading or RLT. Every free RLT site I ever joined had as part of their agreement to join, the mandatory link back to the RLT site which in my opinion, would give the search engines a third point for examination to help in the determination on whether a site is involved in a linking scheme or not.

For myself, I will be re-evaluating my participation with free RLT sites as I, like others, try to deal with an issue that really shouldn’t be one.
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Old 12-19-2005   #16
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Quote:
I have been surprised at the hype in other forums over subjects like reciprocal link building.
Yes, some are really bad. I don't even go there. I think that Danny and Chris Boggs keep it sane here.
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Old 12-19-2005   #17
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Big Juice,

From what I have seen, most of the poeple who discredit recip linking as ineffective from an SEO perspective base their conclusions on a handful of sites. It's flawed sampling and flawed analysis, but looks real to them.

Then they go to the SEO forums and find similar individuals. Assemble ten or twelve of them, and you have arrived at "common wisdom". Someone then uses it to publish an widely-distributed article or two, claiming that large numbers of SEO specialists now feel that reciprocal linking is ineffective. The published articles really give it legs.

The trouble is, if any of them stood back and looked at real SERPs, in a structured manner and with eyes wide open, they'd see that recip linking, when done properly, has held up quite well in SERPs. Pervasively so.

But a lot of SEO theory is based on "opinion shapers". Sometimes, those are simply the people who have plenty of time to sit around and post some nonsense that they made up. But once that ball gets rolling, there is no stopping it. A lot of the long-discredited linking myths that they've developed over the years still have some pockets of disciples, even after the originators of those myths have abandoned them.

Sites who ignore all of the self-appointed linking gurus who cook up the latest link gaming theories tend to do just fine, regardless of what swirls around on the SEO boards. That includes all the sites who do their reciprocal linking with an eye toward branding their business, and not just SEO results. There's plenty of them, so there is actually a more sane recip linking environment that operates outside of the SEO forums.

That's why I bascially ignore all of this, and stay away from SEO linking forums, until it becomes to hard to take all the BS. The last Google update brought it all to the forefront, again, and their BS is starting to affect the more sane players.


Quote:
Every free RLT site I ever joined had as part of their agreement to join, the mandatory link back to the RLT site
Big red flag, there...

Last edited by linkstrategy : 12-19-2005 at 03:37 PM.
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Old 12-19-2005   #18
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Well said...

The bottom line should be... use common sense and don't link to anything that you wouldn't actually spend time viewing yourself.
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Old 12-20-2005   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by linkstrategy
Yes, some are really bad. I don't even go there. I think that Danny and Chris Boggs keep it sane here.
Thanks Dirk that's very kind of you. Now I'll just have to buy some links from you.
I guess I am fortunate to call this my "home" forum, as I rarely see any topics "get out of hand" here without Moderator action which is most often very diplomatic in nature.

Last edited by Chris Boggs : 12-20-2005 at 12:11 PM.
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Old 05-02-2006   #20
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My experience shows that reciprocal linking "works" with Google ... and I have no indication that Google is penalizing or downgrading recips at all ...

The inter-net was founded on the concept of interlinking ... it is, indeed, the very structure that underlies the entire world we are discussing. No matter how Google or any other SE views or treats (relevant) reciprocal links, they will always be a valid source of traffic.

I seek (relevant) reciprocal and one way links for my clients .. no, I seek relevant links, period. And, yes, I do it to boost position in Google, and to tell Google what a site is about ... and I do it to drive traffic.
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