While Google may get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to SEO strategy because of its massive market share, online publishers should take into account how other search engines evaluate their websites.

A new patent application filed by Yahoo provides some hints as to how the search engine may deal with reciprocal linking in the future.

The patent application, entitled “Identifying excessively reciprocal links among web entities“, lists Yahoo search engineers Priyank Garg and Tim Converse as inventors and states:

A method for identifying reciprocal links is provided. At a particular
host, the set of hosts which link to the particular host and the set of
hosts to which the particular host links are determined. The
intersection and union of the two sets of hosts are also determined,
and the sizes of the intersection and union are calculated. The
concentration of reciprocal links at the particular host is calculated
based on the sizes of the intersection and union. A ratio of the
intersection size to the union size is used to determine the
concentration of reciprocal links. The particular host’s rank in a list
of ranked search results may be changed as a result of identification
of a high concentration of reciprocal links.

It goes on:

…there is a need for an automated way of identifying web pages that are likely to have been manipulated in a manner that artificially inflates the rankings of those web pages within lists of search results. Specifically, there is a need for an automated way of identifying web pages whose numbers of inlinks have been artificially boosted by reciprocal links in an effort to achieve higher rankings for those web pages.David Harry of HuoMah.com has an excellent review of the patent application. As he states, “Are reciprocal links now synonymous with spam? Well not entirely, but the folks at Yahoo aren’t thrilled about it.” The implications:

  • Be careful who you link to.
  • Avoid reciprocal link schemes.
  • Pay attention to your link profiles.

Of course, the fact that reciprocal linking is not one of the best SEO techniques is not news. In our SEO Best Practice Guide, we note that reciprocal linking has a “negligible, if any” positive effect on SEO and point out that the biggest bang for your buck is achieved by getting others to link to you without giving a link in return.

We advise that any reciprocal linking should be managed ”carefully‘, with requests being made personally and in a targeted fashion (i.e. requesting high-value links from quality websites). We recommend against the use of link networks altogether because of the risk.

So while the need to tread carefully when dealing with reciprocal links is long-established, the Yahoo patent application is yet another reminder that search engines are continuing to wage war on techniques that spammers often employ and the risk for online publishers who engage in these techniques is that they’ll get caught in the cross-fire.

Related Research: Link Building Strategies