Weekly SEO news: 30 October 2007
Welcome to the latest issue of the Search Engine Facts newsletter.

This week, we're taking a look at reciprocal links. Are they really less valuable than one way links? A test reveals the surprising answer.

In the news: Google confirms that websites that sell links have been penalized, Ask.com might have a bigger market share than reported, Google makes it more difficult to use negative keywords and more.

Table of contents:

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Best regards,
Andre Voget, Johannes Selbach, Axandra CEO

1. Reciprocal links are (still) not dead

Reciprocal links are not dead. Weren't dead before. Aren't dead now. I know it and you know it. But for just a second let's pretend otherwise.

A while back there was quite a bit of scare mongering going around the SEO industry about how reciprocal links were dead. I had a potential client once tell me that so-and-so-big-name-in-the-SEO-industry told them that reciprocal links were dead. I've said this before and I'll say it here again.

There is nothing wrong with reciprocal links. It's all about how you use/implement them that matters. No, reciprocal links are not dead and now I have the proof.

Last year I decided to run my own test so I could refute what I already knew to be true. Yeah, I know who cares about reciprocal links now, right?

The fear tactics have run their course and, frankly, nobody is engaged in old-school mass reciprocal link swapping (for the love of God people, if you're still doing that, knock it off!) But for the sake of science and posterity, I now, over a year later, present the results of my (almost forgotten) reciprocal link test.

The Set-Up

On one of my sites I created a master testing page. From this page I linked to eight new pages created specifically for this test. Each of those pages contained a few paragraphs of content with the word "reciprocallinksarenotdead" linked to an external web site. The goal was to watch the search results to see what sites appeared in the SERPs for our test term.

For the sake of creating a good testing ground, we linked to four sites that linked back and four sites that didn't. From here we split things up even further by linking to two sites in each group to that we considered to be "high authority" for their industry, and two that we considered to be "lower authority" for their industry. We then split this again using one to link using the target site's keyword in the link and the other not.

The Sting

I started out checking up on this daily seeing if Google, Yahoo or MSN cached the pages linking out and then watching if/when they showed up in the SERPs. The result was quite a roller coaster ride. One day the test pages would be cached and the next day the cache date was from several days prior. This happened frequently. The same thing with the SERPs. One day all the test pages would show up and the next day gone and then the next day just some of the test pages showed up and the next others, but not necessarily the ones from the previous day. It was interesting to watch.

After about several weeks of daily monitoring I started to cut back to every few days, then weekly then, well I kind of forgot about it with the occasional thought "Hey, I wonder how that test is going", in which I'd take a quick look and forget all about it again. Here we are now, over a year later and I think I can confidently display the results as definitive.

The Results

Google's result page:

  1. Low authority, non reciprocating site
  2. Low authority, non reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  3. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  4. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  5. Test page linking to #9 below
  6. Test page linking to #2 above
  7. Low authority, reciprocating site
  8. High authority, reciprocating site
  9. High authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)

Google supplemental results show the remainder of the testing pages. Missing from SERPs: High authority, non-reciprocating site.

Yahoo's result page:

  1. Low authority, reciprocating site
  2. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  3. High authority, reciprocating site
  4. Test page linking to #8 below
  5. Test page linking to #2 above
  6. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  7. Low authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  8. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  9. Link to a blog post that uses keyword as part of the URL

Missing from SERPs: Low authority, reciprocating site, High authority, non-reciprocating site (keyword in link)

MSN's Result page:

  1. High authority, reciprocating site
  2. Test page linking to #10 below
  3. Test page linking to #1 above
  4. Low authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  5. Low authority, non reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  6. Low authority, non reciprocating site
  7. High authority, reciprocating site (keyword in link)
  8. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  9. High authority, non-reciprocating site
  10. Low authority, reciprocating site

The Happy Ending

We can conclude from that that, all things being equal, reciprocating links have no more or less value than one-way links.

Yeah, I know, we all read Matt Cutt's post about how excessive reciprocal linking can hurt, and I'm sure Matt is right. But the key word there is "excessive".

If all you do is look for low-quality reciprocal links that ad no value to any user's experience then, yes, that can, and should do you some harm. But don't be afraid of reciprocation. If someone links to you out of kindness, feel free to link back to them out of gratitude. It's not going to hurt you one bit and the link to you won't be devalued. Just be sure you're adding value, not reciprocating for the sake of reciprocating.

Guest author: Stoney deGeyter, Pole Position Marketing

2. Search engine news of the week

Google's Matt Cutts confirms paid links & Google PageRank update

"The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site.

Going forward, I expect that Google will be looking at additional sites that appear to be buying or selling PageRank."


Ask.com market share larger than reported?

"There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. [...] No doubt that Google owns (restatement: “monopolizes”) the number one position. But after Yahoo’s second place position, it seems that the rankings start to break down. [...]

What I find troubling is how Ask.com shows on comScore and Hitwise at or around 4% yet under their own data (that accurately includes their network of sites) as 11.4%. Are comScore and Hitwise leaving out Ask.com’s network in their calculations?"

Yahoo Site Explorer update

"Recently, some of you noticed changes in counts for Site Explorer results, where the counts were different for logged-in users versus logged-out users.

While the counts have been incorrect in some cases, the actual returned results have been correct. However, we did roll out a product fix yesterday and will be rolling out a couple more over the next few days to resolve this difference in counts some of you have observed."

Search engine newslets
  • Ask.com to launch shopping portal.
  • AOL launches Swedish web portal.
  • Google's keyword suggestion tool was down for several hours.
  • AdSense disallowed on URLs containing "Google".
  • Google director sells shares.
  • MSN updates AdCenter.
3. Articles of the week
How this blog’s move went with Google

"This is a sample case which might give you some ideas for when you want to move domains yourself but are worried about losing visitors, rankings and so on. [...]

As a conclusion, all in all, except for the PR drop, I think the domain move went rather smoothly."

Negative keyword tool gone. Is Google becoming a search marketing agency?

"But now that tool is gone. It disappeared after Google’s most recent system upgrade. Adding negative keywords is still possible, just a lot more painful. [...]

In other words, removing an easy-to-use filtering tool will only end up negatively impacting novice AdWords advertisers, who don’t know the alternative ways to get the same effect."

Thoughts on the world's obsession with Google

"What would it be like working for a company's whose stock price is flirting with $700 a share? What about all those Google perks, like the free hot lunches and the subsidized masseuse services? How often do those staff ski trips to Squaw Valley come up?"

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4. Recommended resources

How to get high quality links

Inbound links are the key to high rankings on Google, Yahoo and other important search engines.

It doesn't matter if the links are one-way, reciprocal or three-way. It's important that you get links from the right websites.

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IBP helps you to get these links. If you haven't done it yet, download the free IBP trial version now and see for yourself.

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