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13 min read

Reciprocal Links: Key To SEO Success Or A Risky Strategy?

Stewart Dunlop


Chief Link Building Strategist

Link building is key for getting your brand to the top of search engine results. But not all links are created equal, and among them, reciprocal links are often controversial.

Reciprocal links involve a mutual exchange of links between websites. The idea is simple: by linking to each other, both sites can improve their search engine rankings.

But, like many aspects of digital marketing, the reality is a little more complex.

SEO specialists have long worried about how Google and other search engines see reciprocal links and whether obtaining them could lead to penalties. Despite the apprehension, almost 50% of top-ranking pages contain reciprocal links.

So, are reciprocal links the golden ticket to SEO success, or are they a slippery slope to search engine penalties?

This article explores what reciprocal links are, whether they’re safe, and how to build a reciprocal link-building strategy without raising red flags with Google.

Let's dive in and separate fact from fiction.

💡Key Takeaways

  • Reciprocal links involve a mutual agreement between two websites to link to each other.

  • They often occur naturally through relationship-building and recognizing valuable content, but can sometimes be paid for.

  • Reciprocal links can violate Google’s guidelines if they’re used solely to manipulate rankings.

  • Reciprocal links are safe if you avoid doing it excessively, and focus on quality over quantity.

What Is a Reciprocal Link?

A reciprocal link is a mutual agreement between two sites that link to each other: Site A links to Site B, and Site B returns the favor by linking back to Site A.

There are three types of reciprocal links:

✅ Natural reciprocal links: These happen organically without any formal agreement between site owners. For example, if you link to an article, the site owner might notice your link and later link back to your website when they need a relevant source. Often, this happens coincidentally—both sites cover similar topics, and so they eventually end up linking to one another.

✅ Reciprocal links: These are the result of an agreement between site owners. The exchange is primarily based on providing value for both sites’ audiences. For example, a website owner might send you an outreach email after linking to your content and suggest a link exchange.

❌ Link exchanges: Also known as “link schemes,” this is when links are exchanged purely in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. Often viewed as a black hat SEO tactic, it involves linking to each other's sites with no interest in providing value for users. Participating in a link scheme can lead to search engine penalties.

An Ahrefs study of over 140,000 domains revealed that 73.6% of websites contained reciprocal links. This highlights how common reciprocal links are, and shows it’s a standard practice among successful websites—as long as it’s done right.

Here’s an example where Country Living, the home decor blog, posted a link to DIY Mommy:

Country Living


When DIY Mommy noticed the link, she posted on her own blog that her content was featured in Country Living. This is a natural reaction because site owners are often excited that their content has been shared:

Country Living


When we have a look at Country Living’s backlink profile on Ahrefs, we see that DIY Mommy has linked to them a number of times:


And Country Living has also linked to DIY Mommy:


This indicates that the two websites have a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship.

Both websites are primarily aimed at women who are interested in family, home decor, DIY projects, and lifestyle. By sharing each other's content, the two websites not only enhance their own site's authority, but also provide valuable resources to their readers.

Is It Safe to Build Reciprocal Links?

Although Google states that obtaining reciprocal links may be a violation of its guidelines, the reality is that Google doesn’t actually know whether you’re exchanging reciprocal links or whether it’s happening organically—provided you do it correctly.

This is because Google and other search engines rely on patterns and algorithms to detect unnatural link-building practices.

Remember, reciprocal links are a natural part of link building, so they do not automatically raise red flags. Here’s what Google says:

💬Google Search Central

Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages. Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam.

This includes excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you").

If you don’t exchange links excessively and focus on delivering value to your audience, reciprocal links are perfectly safe and beneficial for your SEO strategy.

But how do you know when reciprocal link building crosses the line into a link exchange?

Here are some factors that differentiate high-quality reciprocal links from low-quality link exchanges:

🚀 Target relevant websites

You should only exchange reciprocal links with websites that are relevant to your niche and offer genuine value to your audience.

For example, if you run a blog about healthy eating, linking to and receiving links from fitness or nutrition blogs can be mutually beneficial and relevant for your readers​​.

🚀 Create high-quality content

High-quality content naturally attracts links.

When your content is valuable, informative, and engaging, other websites will be more inclined to link to it, often leading to reciprocal linking opportunities.

🚀 Focus on building relationships

Link schemes place very little emphasis on building relationships, and links are shared between websites indiscriminately.

Focus on building genuine, organic relationships with other site owners and use organic link-building strategies such as guest blogging, creating shareable content, and networking.

🚀 Don't overdo it

While they can be part of a healthy link profile, excessive reciprocal links can raise red flags with search engines.

This is because it may look as if you’re participating in a link scheme to manipulate search results.

Make sure you maintain a diverse mix of backlinks (including one-way links) to keep your website’s backlink profile looking natural.

The Benefits of Reciprocal Links

When used wisely, reciprocal links can be a powerful tool in your SEO strategy. Here’s a look at the advantages:

✅ They’re often free

Reciprocal links don’t usually involve money changing hands. Unlike buying backlinks, which can be expensive and sometimes risky, reciprocal linking is often free.

✅ They help you build relationships

Some reciprocal links are organic, but the process often involves reaching out to other website owners to add value to each other’s sites.

This fosters relationships within your industry, which can lead to further opportunities for guest blogging.

✅ They can boost organic traffic

When a user visits a site that has linked to your content, they may follow the link to your site. This influx of relevant traffic can be particularly beneficial for websites that want to grow their audience.

✅ They increase your brand awareness

Because reciprocal links should only be shared between websites that are relevant to one another, they can expose your brand to new audiences.

✅ They can improve your performance in Google’s SERPs

Reciprocal links from relevant websites can improve your website’s SEO by increasing its visibility and authority.

When high-quality, relevant websites link to your content, it signals that your site is a trusted source of information, which can help improve your rankings in the SERPs.

Checklist: How to Choose Sites to Build Reciprocal Links with

Remember, reciprocal links are technically against Google's guidelines if they’re used solely for SEO manipulation.

You need to be smart about how you approach them. It’s not about volume or building links with just any website owner who asks—it’s about being strategic and providing real value for your audience.

Here’s a checklist to help you choose the right sites to build reciprocal links with:

✔️ Relevance

The website you choose should be relevant to your niche. If your site is about fitness, look for sites related to health, wellness, or nutrition.

This ensures that the link provides value to your audience and aligns with their interests​.

✔️ High-quality content

The website should have high-quality content that is well-written, informative, and regularly updated.

This indicates that the site is trustworthy and reputable, and it increases the likelihood that the backlink will be valuable to your audience.

✔️ Audience overlap

Consider the overlap between your audience and the potential partner's audience. The more closely aligned your audiences are, the more valuable the reciprocal link will be for both sites.

✔️ A similar (or better) domain rating to yours

Use tools like Moz or Ahrefs to check the domain authority of the site you want to share a reciprocal link with.

ℹ️ Domain Rating

Domain rating (DR) is a metric developed by Ahrefs to evaluate the strength and authority of a website's backlink profile.

The DR score ranges from 0 to 100, with a higher rating indicating the site is more authoritative.

If you get a backlink from a site with a high domain rating, it can help boost your site’s credibility and have a positive impact on your performance in the SERPs.

✔️ Good organic traffic

Use tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, or SimilarWeb to assess the site's traffic levels.

A site with substantial organic traffic is more valuable as a linking partner​ because it has the potential to drive more users to your site.

Below is an example of a website that has seen an incredible increase in traffic since 2020, with over 10 million visitors per month in 2024.

Any website that built a reciprocal linking relationship with this website owner in 2020 would be reaping the rewards today:


❌ Direct competitors

You should avoid sharing reciprocal links with direct competitors.

When you link to a competitor, you effectively endorse their content and authority. This can dilute your own brand's message and authority.

By sharing link juice with competitors, you might also unintentionally improve their search engine rankings—which can make it harder for your own website to stand out in the SERPs.

❌ Spammy websites

A reputable brand should not be associated with questionable websites.

If search engines and users notice that you have a high number of reciprocal links with low-quality, spammy sites, it can harm your site's credibility and the user experience.

💡Be Realistic About Your Targets

Remember, other site owners will analyze your website in much the same way before they agree to a reciprocal link.

While it would be fantastic to get a link from a website with 20 million visitors a month, keep in mind that you need to provide value to them, too. If your website gets 1,000 unique visits a month, a website with extremely high traffic is unlikely to reciprocate.

Focus on building relationships with sites where your link can genuinely add value in order to increase your chances of success.

📩 The importance of outreach

When you’ve identified a website you want to link to, the next step is outreach. This involves contacting site owners to discuss a potential link exchange.

Effective outreach is critical if you want to build reciprocal links, and it’s a key part of building relationships in your niche.

However, site owners are often busy. If it’s someone you don’t know, your outreach email needs to be compelling to ensure you get their attention:

✅ Research: Start by understanding the website and use the name of the person you are reaching out to. To personalize your message, mention specific content or achievements on their site to show that you’re not sending out a generic email.

✅ Get to the point: Mention who you are and the purpose of your email. Clearly state why you are reaching out and how both parties can benefit from the reciprocal links.

✅ Share the link: Include mention of where you’ve linked to their content on your site. You don’t have to keep the link if they don’t reciprocate, but sharing it up-front helps build goodwill and trust.

💡 Outreach Email Example

Hi Jane,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Sarah and I’m the owner of the blog Wellness Bites.

I’m an avid reader of your blog, and really enjoyed your recent article, Fuel Your Workout: The Power of Carbohydrates. Your insights on carbs for pre-workout nutrition were incredibly valuable and perfectly align with the content I share with my readers.

I’m reaching out because I think there’s a great opportunity for us to collaborate! I’ve recently written an article titled Top Pre-Workout Snacks for Optimal Energy and I’ve included a link to your post on the benefits of carbs before working out.

If you find my article valuable, I’d be thrilled if you could consider linking back to it from your site. I think this can benefit both our audiences by providing them with comprehensive information on nutrition and fitness.

I’m looking forward to your response and am happy to discuss this further if you have any questions!

💰 What if the other site asks for payment?

Reciprocal link building is often free, but only if both websites see mutual value in the exchange.

If the other website doesn’t see as much value in receiving a link from your website, they might ask for payment—but this isn’t necessarily a red flag.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether to pay for a link:

  • Does it fit into your budget?

  • Is the website authoritative enough for it to be worth the investment?

  • Will paying for this link help build a relationship that could lead to future collaborations?

  • Can this link help you reach a broader audience?

If you can’t answer yes to at least two of the above questions, it probably isn’t worth paying for the link. In this case, consider suggesting another avenue for collaboration (such as a guest post).

Don’t get discouraged if you receive requests for payment. Instead, use it as motivation to work on increasing your own site’s traffic, domain rating, and content quality to make future reciprocal links more attractive!

Master Reciprocal Link Building with Linkbuilder

Reciprocal links, while valuable, come with risks if they’re not managed correctly.

Too many reciprocal links can set off red flags with search engines and potentially lead to penalties. The process also requires a significant time investment to research suitable reciprocal sites and maintain a natural backlink profile.

When you partner with Linkbuilder, you gain access to industry-leading insights. Our strategic approach prioritizes relevance, high-quality content, and genuine relationships to help drive your website to the top of search results.

Ready to build a stronger online presence? Get in touch with us!