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White Hat SEO for Real Estate Blogging and the Reciprocal Link

Chris Hotz, the director of our education division is back with some insight on a topic that has turning up quite regularly lately: Reciprocal Linking and it’s effect on Search Engine results.

White Hat SEO For Real Estate Blogging
By Chris Hotz

Whitehat_seo_reciprocal_linksI never played on a baseball team growing up, but I loved when the little league baseball season started.  I loved baseball games because of the easy access to candy.

Every year when baseball season arrived I would hop on my bike, ride to the fields for the opening day pitch and dart straight for the club house to use up all my allowance on Big League Chew, Bottle Caps and Fun Dips.  I loved the sugar candy!  But by the last pitch of the season I was so sick (sometimes literally) of candy that I could not look at another Fun Dip bag full of red sugar.  I had eaten too much.

When many real estate agents purchase their first website, they too fall into the same trap of eating too much of a good thing.  And I can't blame them.

One of the first things a new real estate website owner does after purchasing their site is educate themselves on how to obtain good Search Engine Placement.  Realistic or not, the expectation is very common that they are going to be instantly be able to make the front page for the search terms they desire.

After doing some research and/or talking to a 'marketing consultant' they learn that one of the easiest and fastest ways of getting competitive placement in search engines is through reciprocal linking.  The routine is always the same: Set up a page on your template website (you know who you are) and just start a link exchange with other Realtors online (commonly  using the same template website company).  Another related quick fix is to get added to every web-directory that they can find.  Directories are useful, right?

What are their results?

  • Months 1 through 6 - The website moves up quickly month by month.  First on MSN, then Yahoo and lastly receives at least long-tail placement on Google.
  • Months 6 through 12 - Depending on how aggressive the Realtor is on creating reciprocal links, they slowly watch as their search engine placement dissipates while they scratch their head wondering what went wrong; they only did what they were told.

Reciprocal_linking_guidelineWhy did this occur?

Listen up!

You get rankings by building a quality site.  Period.

The rule of thumb is: You will earn a good search engine placement by ignoring rankings jumps and concentrating on quality.  All of the advice webmasters give about SEO (and I give a lot!) is only to make you aware of some of the qualities search engines look for in a site.   

If you are reading this post, you most likely already have a blog or are interested in developing and maintaining a blog. An active blog (as opposed to a static blog) has powerful SEO naturally built into itself through:

Regular posting of unique content
Regular participation with others on your blog and in your blogging community.
Proper organization of your content
Rich keyword headlines, titles and articles.

Reciprocal linking (like candy) is not a terrible thing.  But do not create reciprocal links for the act of creating them.  The guideline should be that you are only doing so when the relationship you are building with the other business or site is real and beneficial for your visitors.

Too much of (what tastes like) a good thing can cause you harm in the long-run.

Bonus What is White Hat?

Other Articles By Chris Hotz

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I'll confess I fell into the reciprocal link sea on my website.. I've kept my blog links to a minimum and only put in links to blogs I really like and read..

Thanks Chris, great information. It's tough to just write and not look for way to get notoriety with the search engines. You feel like wind in the wilderness. You know you're there but nobody else does.

Some specifics? What about blogrolls? Are they out? Are they now considered to be like to old states pages on Advanced Access?

How unique must the content be? I'm not talking plagarism, but multiple sites for an agent? I duplicate my posts on AR and on SaltLakeSpeaks. Will that penalize me on Google? Something has, I've got 750 backlinks from yahoo and 2 from google? What about multiple categories in by blog? Do the search engines see a single post put in 10 categories on a blog as duplicate content?

Again, thanks for the post. When all else fails....Write! Oh yeah, we're in a marathon.

Hey Keith,

BlogRolls are definately not out. In the article I was referring to "Link Exchange" which are very similar to BlogRolls but are usually found on template websites whose providers control all their clients sites from one server. What happens in this case is the website owner blindly links to only Advance Access websites (which are all on the same server). This sets off a red light to search engines that the links may not be created for quality but rather quantity. Keep your Blogroll filled with quality links and you will be fine.

I would not be concerned with posting an article on both your blog and AR. Search engines can most likely tell the origin of the article by the time stamp and will perhaps give better ranking to the original posting. When SEO people discuss 'duplicate' content that hurts a sites position, what they are referring to is websites that pull information regularly from top ranked sites in hopes of earning a similar ranking in order to increase ad revenue. These are spam sites. I would not be concerned with posting your article on two sites that you own and operate. Also to not be concerned about adding to multiple categories. Search engines aren't trying to screw you. If it's legit then they'll recognize it as such.

PS - Google will not show you all the backlinks they have indexed. They do not want to provide you too much info about what they do in their factory. Yahoo does show a lot more information.

I still get link requests from realtors I've never met, so clearly some still think that this type of link exchange is still a "good thing". Members of the Active Rain community are doing this as well, only they're attempting to justify it by writing posts about how "wonderful" a fellow realtor's standard-issue unmodified template website is. AAAGGGGHHHH!!!!

Oh well... maybe it's good that some of these people are still eating too much "candy" (or is it Kool Aid?), since it helps Google to weed out these sham link-exchange schemes.

Link building is the cornerstone of off site optimization so many are interested in knowing what makes a good link, what they should strive for, and etc that will provide the biggest impact on their site optimization. More and more, google is moving away from anchor text and moving towards domain authority and number of quality citations. As an Search Marketing agency, we are changing directions and moving away from reciprocal link campaigns and offering one-way link campaigns. Our older contracts need to be resigned and clients need to be reeducated but we feel that this process is must for the clients. We have seen sites with cheesy reciprocal link directories not rank until after site owner pull the reciprocal link list off their site...

My advise if you don't want to purchase links or submit articles... Start blogging and add good content to the site. No pain, no gain!

This is a great post. I've had a couple of heated debates on Active Rain about reciprocal linking. Usually it's arguing against a company that offers automated link exchange programs for agents. They claim it works, I claim that there are better and faster ways to get links without the fear of getting penalized or de-placed. It's worth noting that search engines like NATURAL linking, a forced reciprocal link is about the furthest thing from natural as you can get. Thanks again!

I've been posting just the first few sentences of my blog posts on AR and then a if-you'd-like-to-read-more-link to my website. This way I am "luring" (see Jim's article "Your Blog is Bait") interested readers to my site (where my stats show they often stick around for a while). Sure all my contact info is on AR, but I hate many a tomato slaving over a computer to create my website, and I don't want it to go to waste. This avoids the whole duplicate material issue and my site usually shows up higher in the search engines because it is more keyword rich.

Another informative article!
When talking to a beginning blogger the "Bait" of blogging is always the quick and easy rise in search engine rankings.

The hard task is getting the blogger to learn the value of quality over quantity. Blogging isn't a short cut. Blogging is a medium. The message is the thing.

You say it well, "You will earn a good search engine placement by ignoring rankings jumps and concentrating on quality."

Real estate link directories seem like a good thing. I built my own directory and encourage real estate agents to exchange links and hopefully use a referral source. Has it generated mcuh? Not really. Peaple that have referred business to me through my Website have said that they felt I had "good local information about Ann Arbor" or a "good relcoation page" - content! At the end of the day, it is clearly not as effective as just having good content, but I still like the idea of building links to other real estate sites through a directory.

Directories are a good thing. If adding yourself to a public directory be sure the directory is well respected by search engines. You can their page rank for an idea of their quality.

Great comment Andy. Building your own directory can help. If you click on the link in the article under "Directories are useful, right?" their is a great articel about Elite Directories.

Visit to view the Tomato's elite directory built with hard work and much love.

Last year, I was pageranked as "3" and did not care too much about it until Google re-ranked me as "0". I did notice that I had many exchange linked directory sites, so I did a test and pretty much eliminated them. Within a couple of months, I was back as PageRank 3.

Good post and discussion here. My wife's a real estate agent, and I know there's a lot of interest in SEO these days amongst agents and agencies, which I think is great. She pointed me to this post, actually.

I hope it's not too bold of me to say a couple things from the perspective of someone who's been doing SEO for about 7 years now.

Reciprocal linking in and of itself isn't evil (as Chris said) and won't get you banned, penalized, whatever. The problem occurs when you do too much of it.

There's a bigger issue to think about: TRUST. Google, in particular, is built very heavily these days on the idea of TrustRank. TrustRank is done at the domain level, unlike PageRank which is done at the page level. Your goal is to build up as much trust in your domain as possible. Apologies for the link drop, but I wrote about the importance of trust in my first post of the year:

Google has a profile of your domain. They know how often you add new content, they know how often you get new links, etc. You may have read SEOs talk about "temporal analysis" -- that's what they mean, analysis of data over time. If you tend to get about 5 new links per month and then all of a sudden you get 100 the next month, that's a red flag. It's not natural. It's not necessarily bad -- you may have been on digg or featured on CNN or whatever, so no penalty for that. But if you suddenly have a 1,000% increase in links and they're all reciprocal ... well, those links will likely be discounted.

Google also knows how many links you have, how many of those links are unique and how many are traded, etc. So reciprocal linking is only a bad thing when traded links make up the vast majority of your profile. Natural link development involves SOME traded links, but it also involves plenty of one-way links. And if those one-way links are from trusted domains, you're on your way.

It's really important to keep this profile idea in mind as you develop your sites, your blogs, your links, etc. If I may also link to one other post:

That should answer almost any question about link building, but if not I'd invite folks to contact me directly and I'll be glad to help.

Sorry for taking up so much space. And sorry for the links... I tried to "nofollow" them but got an error message for using HTML. Whoops!

Great advice Matt. Temporal analysis is a great method used by Google to help determine whether a webmaster is "creat[ing] reciprocal links for the act of creating them".

Like I said -

"Reciprocal linking (like candy) is not a terrible thing. But do not create reciprocal links for the act of creating them."

In short, just keep it real and Google will not penalize you.

Great advice Matt! I too was sucked in by the abundance of page rank information. It wasn't until recently that I became aware of the importance of website quality. I have left my reciprocal links on there for now, but the quality is slowing improving when I can find the time.

I have to agree with you about the white-hat SEO and don't think you have to use any black hat tricks to obtain proper search engine optimization.

Like you said, just write and don't worry about any of it. I know it works for me.


Tina Kelly
P.S. visit my site at

I found with a lot of blogs that the intial obstacle to overcome is to learn how to get in backend and sort out the code so that the site is decently optimised onsite. I'm only just getting to grips with this for blogger at the moment.

Good onsite optimisation is a must and even a lot of big property websites fall a long way short on this. Onsite optimisation is the ground work that needs doing in order to build the foundations of a good search marketing campaign and your link building will go a lot further if you get this right. For instance, on my first property website (just a small affair selling one house) it only took me about a week to kick the asses of a lot of property sites that have been around for years for my chosen key phrases. Still less than 250 inbound links to the site and onsite op is doing about 50% of the work.

Interesting stuff, thanks Chris! Being a new blogger I'm learning all I can. I am certainly writing quality posts (every other day) and doing my best to build traffic and SE recognition.

Chris, what's your view on posting (quality) comments on other blogs and the "nofollow" tag? Thanks

-- Rob --

Hey Rob,

Thanks for the comment.

I definitely recommend visiting other blogs and leaving value oriented comments; similar to the comment you just left hear. Leaving a comment that adds value, asks good questions or even creates a bit of 'good' controversy will attract readers to your blog wanting to learn more about you.

Regarding the 'no follow' tag I see a lot of bloggers removing these from their website. Some links deserve a 'no follow' tag and some don't. Here is why...

What's a 'no follow' tag:

A 'no follow' tag prevents search engines from following a link to their location (whether it's 3rd party or internal link).

Why remove it?

I guess bloggers are removing their 'no follow' tags as an act of good faith hoping others will remove their 'no follow' tag, thereby allowing search engine to follow the links within comments going to the commentors site. This does not help the blog with out the 'no follow' tag but the commentors leaving comments on that site. Make sense?

Why Keep the 'No Follow' tag?

Some pages on your site are more important than other pages. You want search engine's to find those important pages more quickly and often than less important pages. Using a 'no follow' tag for links pointing to the less important pages and removing the 'no follow' tag from links pointing to more useful pages will help SE's find the more useful pages on your sites quickly without distracting them with less important pages. This will help those more important pages visibility on SE's.

Also helps prevent comment spam. Read Google's Official comment on 'No Follow' tags -

Matt Cutts opinion -

Very informative article. The article opens our eyes and show what the different features of Search Engine Optimization are. The very important feature "no follow" tag is discussed in the article. It's use makes the user enable to find less or more important pages in the web site withing a short time. SEO also helps to prevent spam mails. Such an article will surely help web designer to make an excellent site.

Very useful information. Especially this part:
"Reciprocal linking (like candy) is not a terrible thing. But do not create reciprocal links for the act of creating them. The guideline should be that you are only doing so when the relationship you are building with the other business or site is real and beneficial for your visitors.

Too much of (what tastes like) a good thing can cause you harm in the long-run."

based on this article then I've made a mistake by building too much recpirocal link on one of my niche site.

hhmm gotta go and fix it right away.

Thanks for sharing the info.

Recently, there's so many competition and we need optimized our SEO aspect of our website. Imagine thousands site and blog created everyday, so think and applied all SEO techniques that might bring ours searchable.

I practice SEO and provide services related, this is the first time I have run into info on real estate SEO SEM content like this. Most material out there is about generating leads in general.

It's great to see someone take on this particular niche, realtors should know about SEM SEO and PPC to flourish online.

Great share, thanks


Very good point. I have been spending time making sure that the visitors are getting an easy, pretty, and informational visit to my website. Trying to please Google the whole time would not necessarily make me a nice website that my clients will feel comfortable using.

Very nice information. Thanks for this. You really have a very informative site, thank you for sharing!

Thanks for the sharing of such information. we will pass it on to our readers. This is a great reading. Thanking you. seo news

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