Reciprocal linking is one of the most used methods to obtain links to a site to the point that it has lost some of its sheen due to excessive abuse. The web is still an untamed jungle in many ways and automotive sites linking to bridal wear sites can still be found.
There is not much logic in a scenario described above where two totally unrelated irrelevant spheres of activity are exchanging links. Most times, site owners are tantalised by the page rank of a site and make it the be all end all unit of measurement that would deliver them the magical rankings at the top of the SERPs of the major search engines. Sadly, this is not the case. The link factor is just one of the signals out of the several hundreds that search engines use to rank websites.
1) Obtain links naturally:
As a site owner, you have to be really careful when adopting strategies to build links, reciprocal in this case. If the search engines perceive your exchange of links as manipulative by nature, your site is going to be penalised. The key here is to exchange links with sites that are of topical relevance to your site.
The site you are linking to could be a leader in your industry with a trusted and well established domain. You can link to the latest developments in your industry highlighted on that site’s blog. The articles you write on your own site will provide value to your readers and by linking to authoritative sources, you are enhancing your stature in the eyes of your readers as a thought leader in your vertical.
If you are enterprising enough, you can request the other site’s owner to give you a chance as a guest blogger. At the end of your post, you can talk briefly about yourself and get a link back to your site with the appropriate anchor text. This reciprocal linking is an extremely natural association and is viewed with great respect by Google. It takes some effort on your part to gain a link if you are not already a well established site in your vertical.
With such an established symbiotic relationship, reciprocal links in future between your sites will not be viewed suspiciously by the search engines. Your readers will appreciate the dissemination of valuable information and the relevance of your topically aligned sites.
2) The Role of Anchor Text:
Most times, when you gain a backlink to your site, you have no way of controlling the anchor text. It is upto the person linking to your site that coins the link text. You cannot stop spammy sites from linking to you either. But your site linking to bad neighbourhood will be a big negative for the search engines.
Imagine you have a page of great quality content on evolution of rock’n’roll. If the site linking to that page has a mention of rock n roll in its anchor text, Google can clearly see that it is a vote of confidence from an external unbiased source providing confirmation that your page is indeed about rock n roll.
These votes from external sites play a major role in conveying the intent of content on your site. As a site owner, you have total control over your site and your internal linking architecture can be adjusted the way you want it to be. It is the external referencing that adds weight to your own internal link anchor text. The more votes you have coming into a page on your site, the brighter the chances of ranking high for that specific keyword (or anchor text).
If you want specific anchor text for your link on your compatriots site, it is only natural to give back a link with the anchor text requested by the owner of the other site. This is in cases where you find the anchor text applied misleading or not so relevant. What you get is what you give.
Using the same anchor text for every site that you link to is another no-no. If you have the luxury of asking the other site owners to vary the anchor text of links pointing to your site, that is another win in your quest for top rankings.
3) Reciprocal Links from One Links Page to Another:
If you have a page of links on your site and you exchange links with another site owner on a page of links on her site, topical relevance notwithstanding, the links are not considered valuable. All links are not created equal. The strength of a link depends on the domain on which it resides, the context in which the linking takes place and the intent behind the linking.
Though site owners in the past have successfully increased their backlinks by exchanging links with thousands of sites, today, it is a hard ask to gain top rankings using such methods. Use of link farms, three way linking, excessive reciprocal linking are a sure recipe to disastrous results.
If your site has a page of links or resources, linking to appropriate government agencies in your region, local city councils, relevant important industry information sites etc, you will not be a candidate for penalty from the search engines.
4) Build relationships and links will follow:
If you use social media properties like Facebook and Twitter, build a good personal rapport with your friends and followers first. Take time to know them as much as you can. The important point here is to have similar likes and tastes. Once everything is in place, it is only a matter of time when you post a blog on your site and tweet about it. Depending on the interest generated, you could have a horde of incoming links to your post.
In summary, reciprocal linking is still effective and relevant today if it is done in a natural manner and does not indicate spam to the search engines. It is more the quality of the links than sheer quantity that matters a lot to aid your site in topping the SERPs.