You hear it almost every day now. Reciprocal links are no good. Google penalizes reciprocal links. They’ll kill your SEO. They’ll murder your website. You’ll get de-listed. Yada yada yada. None of it’s true.
First, Google’s mantra has always been make your links natural. Period.
So this is where you have to ask, “Are reciprocal links natural?” Sometimes, yes. Sometimes no.
So when it is natural to link reciprocally? Well, let’s say you own a body shop in Wayzata Michigan and you have a friend who does detail work down the road. Off line you’ve agreed to send each other business for non-competing services. As a gesture of friendship you link to each other’s websites stating that those services where you do not compete are available at the other guy’s shop.
When you create such a “reciprocal” link you don’t have to discuss anchor text, link-to specific pages, link-from specific pages, etc. You’re both just linking out to a like business in the same geographic area. That’s a natural link.
An unnatural link, and one that might draw red flags, is when you say to your detailing friend, “I’ll link to your painting page using the anchor text ‘paint your car’ and you link to my bumper page with the anchor text ‘fix your bumper’. And by the way, we’re agreeing to link from the page on our site with the highest PR. These kinds of links are usually detected as unnatural. It becomes obvious that you are trying to increase each other’s PR and search rankings and that rarely works.
Reciprocal linking isn’t bad. It’s how you do it that makes it bad.