The short answer to the above question is no. Reciprocal links are not all that horrible. The key to doing it is moderation and relevance. When you keep those two ideas in mind, you are able to use reciprocal links to your advantage rather than making them into something which can get you penalized by Google. Here’s what you need to know:
What are Reciprocal Links Anyway?
In essence, reciprocal links means a situation where you link to me and I link to you. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for doing this – for example, if you happen to run a locksmith company in New York City and you know someone who runs a locksmith company in Las Vegas, you can exchange links with each other because someone may show up at either of your websites by accident.
The Problem with Reciprocal Links
However, the problem with reciprocal links is that Google doesn’t like them since it looks like you are trying to game the system by creating extra backlinks to your website in order to boost your rank. This is why most good link packages are made up of one way links, not reciprocal links. Now, that said, there are ways to do this which won’t affect your SEO efforts:
Make It Obvious
Google’s engineers know that there are legit reasons for reciprocal links, so if you want to make it clear that your intentions are above board, then you want to put your links into a place where they will be obvious. A page titled “links” for example will generally alert Google to the fact that you are simply offering useful links on your website, some or all of which may be reciprocal.
Don’t Overdo it
Another thing to keep in mind with reciprocal links is that you don’t want to overdo it. A page with 10 or so links to other sites which you think your visitors will find interesting is going to look perfectly natural, even if all ten of those sites link back to you as well. A page with hundreds of such links though smacks of spam and black hat SEO tricks.
Keep it Relevant
Is the link to the local plumber something that really belongs on your website about how to position a satellite dish? Probably not. Then why on earth are you putting up such reciprocal links on your website? Remember, reciprocal links look bad when they are obviously intended to game the system. So if you want them to look innocent, put up links which would naturally appear on your site anyway (for example, you satellite dish site might include a link to Dish Network).
Consider No Follow
This isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you want to make it clear to Google that you are putting up reciprocal links which are on the up and up, considering making them no follow links. This will tell Google and the other search engines that they shouldn’t index the link, thus it won’t count against you at all.
Remember, They Probably Won’t Help You
Finally, remember that reciprocal links probably won’t be much use to you as far as getting yourself additional link juice. So treat them as something which involves direct traffic rather than SEO and you’ll do fine.