From Patrick Gavin and Andy Hagans’ Link Building Blog comes this interesting hypothesis. Backed up with Patrick’s personal statistics showing 2600 sites approached with 133 reciprocal links accomplished, one is bound to suspect that reciprocal links are a dying custom.

And good riddance.

Patrick says that he’ll take any link he can get; and I’ll agree with that. But I certainly won’t give a link just to receive the exchange.

Why don’t I like reciprocal links?

Reciprocity is an admirable quality. If somebody has done you a favor, then it is entirely reasonable that you should do that person a favor. But this really isn’t the way reciprocal links work. Rather than being an indication of trust, friendship, or a commendation for work well done they have become a barter system to attempt to make both business more successful in search results. Linking is a corrupt currency.

Too many people go out begging for links to exchange because they are unwilling to give a link if they have not received one. I have worked on projects where clients insisted on having a page of resources to link to – but wouldn’t allow me to add any resources who hadn’t already linked to the site. This is hardly a list of resources. Instead, it’s a list of "people who’ve done me a favor".

On the plus side, at least this list of links was all relevant. However, for a very long time the page was also completely useless.

The fact is, it’s not the idea of trading links that I dislike, but the term "reciprocal link" has come to leave me feeling dirty.

So what do I do instead?

Bluntly, I link to whatever sites I feel merit a link. I link freely, with no expectations or requirements that I receive a link back. The only requirement I maintain is that a site be link-worthy. If I want a link from a site, I will email them, and request a link. I will let them know that I’ve linked to their site, and tell them why. I’ll suggest a page in specific that they may find interesting on my site. And then I’ll let it go. If they respond and give me a link, that’s great. If not; oh well. My site wasn’t good enough. I’ll need to write more content to make certain that people can find something unique and worthwhile to link to.

First and foremost, I’m concerned with making certain the content of sites I work on is of the best quality. This means that I’m not going to link to anything that falls short of my standards. I’m not interested in "reciprocal linking" – instead, I’m interested in sharing value.