WMW Google Bashing Over Reciprocal Links
Some people over at WMW are going ballistic over Stephanie’s recent article on Google Webmaster Central Blog about “non-earned” links, titled Building link-based popularity. These guys who, I guess, pay their bills by swapping and buying links are miffed over the thought of losing their Google ranking and are shooting the messanger. A big chunk of the thread is pure anti-Google noise, but here’s a few “note-to-self” kinda quotes I found interesting.
For example, Adam Lasnik steps in to clear up the confusion in a thread inaptly titled It’s Official: Google Discounting Reciprocal Link Exchanges , started by martinibuster, a mod for the WMW link building forum:
This is a lot of speculation about reciprocal linking in response to an official blog entry, when there’s not even one mention of “reciprocal” on the entire page ;-). Take a step back, look at the bigger picture, take a deep breath!
He continues, debunking a claim that the blogspot post was just a Googler’s opinion:
What part of “Official” in the title didn’t resonate with you? :). The people who write on our Webmaster blog are either engineers or product managers — or those who work directly with them — in Search Quality and Webmaster Tools.
Ok, so it’s official. Got it.
Then he elaborates on the difference between a reciprocal link intended as a genuine citation versus a reciprocal link intended to increase PageRank:
If a Webmaster is engaging in reciprocal linking in a way that clearly indicates to us that he or she is doing so to garner PageRank, not out of a genuine interest for that other site… well, that’s the sort of linking scheme we don’t see as very user-friendly. Are we apt to ban that Webmaster’s site? I highly doubt it. Are we likely to value those links less? Quite possibly.
Glengara, a senior WMW member, makes a good distinction:
A reciprocal link can just be coincidental, an exchanged one denotes some deliberation, and it’s the deliberate targeting of the PR algo through linkage that the blogpost is all about.
Note to self: From now on, I’m not going to use the term “reciprocal” links to refer to traded links. I’m going to say “exchanged” or “traded” links instead.
In regards to Google penalizing sites for exchanged links, Adam calms all fears:
“I hope not. That isn’t reality. Our aim isn’t to penalize sites, it’s to deftly determine when and to what extent a link is indeed a “vote” for a site.”
Marcia, another Senior WMW member, also reminds people of an Adam Lasnik quote posted in that long-ass Supplemental Thread in Google Groups:
The key here is, indeed, moderation :). If, say, 90% of your backlinks are reciprocal, that’s probably not going to improve how our algorithms view your site. Or worse, if 90% of your backlinks are reciprocal and not likely to be of interest to your user.
But exchanging links here and there — *especially* when
done with clear editorial judgement (e.g., you’re not just
accepting dozens of link exchanges willy-nilly) — that’s
not the sort of thing Google looks down upon.
To sum up, reciprocal linking isn’t dead. To what extent Google devalues those types of links depends, based on what we’ve heard from Googlers so far, on a few factors, including 1) intent, 2) topical relevance, 3) percentage of reciprocal links to the total number of inbound links, and 4) most likely the level of trust Google has with the sites you’re linking out to / linked from (number of pages a site has in Google’s main index versus number of actual pages is one indicator).
UPDATE: I just read Rand’s take on the whole issue (Yeah I nofollowed it - it feels like he’s baiting). To be frank, I’m a little surprised by his attempt at working the tired “there’s nothing wrong with paid links” angle. Like I posted over at SEOmoz, buying links is gaming the system. “I admit paying for links skews search results in my favor, but as long as I don’t get caught, I’ll keep doing it.” - a statement like that I’d had no problems with.