The Reciprocity Link Building Method

by Melanie Nathan September 14th, 2009 

I know what you may be thinking, and no, this article isn’t all about reciprocal link building. It is however, about a simple technique to get backlinks to your site, by first reciprocating with a helping hand.

As an online business owner, if your content isn’t garnering any interest in your site, then you’re most likely not getting any natural links. And if you’re not getting any natural links (coupled with the fact that you’re probably not actively seeking and obtaining backlinks), then your presence in Google is probably non-existent. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.

If you’re willing to think outside of the box though and put in some time and effort - even giving a little when you may get nothing in return – then I’ll show you a simple method that can be used as part of an overall link building strategy. It works for me and, depending on your industry, may work for you too.

Free Links. Reciprocity Style!


I can’t stress enough, how much it helps to be a go-giver when it comes to manually building links for your website, and there are plenty of ways to do this if you consider how many websites out there need your help.

For example, there are an abundance of “links” or “resources” pages around; some of them are very helpful and authoritative, while others are completely useless. The really good ones try to provide links to other highly related websites that will actually be of value to their visitors (kudos to them!).

Yet sometimes they make mistakes, or slowly over time they just get too busy to keep updating. The result is that their once useful page has now become a page littered with broken links and, what’s worse, links to sites that have drastically changed and now offer no value what-so-ever to their visitors.

Now here comes that outside-of-the-box thinking…

These types of pages can be valuable link opportunities, if you can learn to spot the good ones and then set out to help them remember why they started a links page in the first place.

Reciprocity Method in Action

generosityConsider the following example:

The page is clean, well organized, themed and authoritative. It’s also well aged and has a PR of 5. This could be a great dofollow link for any site geared towards Law.

There’s no information on how to get listed though and it doesn’t appear as if they accept suggestions, so now what?

If you start to click on some of the sites they’re recommending, you’ll soon notice that they’re linking to a lot of 404 errors (I counted more than 6) and at least one parked ad site, which is devaluing their informative page.

This happens because large portions of sites, even though they’re trying to provide value to their visitors, either don’t have the time to update or they forget to monitor who they’re linking to. They simply haven’t noticed that the educational law related site they linked to back in 2005, is now an abandoned URL or worse yet, a parked domain for poker ads.

Therein lies your opportunity to get your own related site listed on the page.

By doing the homework for them and providing them with a list of each dead link you’ll not only be offering something of value, which will increase your chances of being listed, you’ll also be initiating the clean up of their page, which helps them and can result in even more link value to your site if you do in fact get listed.

Since they’re nice enough to offer their email address at the bottom of their page, why not use it? You’d be surprised at how many authoritative sites openly welcome comments from their visitors.

Pros, Cons and Limitations

pros and cons

Using some custom email templates I developed, I've been able to obtain some very authoritative links for my clients. This is because 95% of the sites I approach with this method (and there is definitely a technique to approaching them) are extremely grateful that I went through the trouble of trying to help them.

It also works because you’re emailing them with a purpose, rather than to just ask for a link, which naturally opens up the lines of communication. And now that you’ve helped them out, it provides an excellent opportunity for you to “suggest” that they add your highly related site to their newly edited links page as a reward. If you’ve been helpful, your site is decent, related to their industry and they already have a links page, why wouldn’t they consider adding you at this point?!

A real downside is that it does take some time to go through their page and click on every link, especially if it's a larger page. I suppose you could use an automated program, but keep in mind that the automated broken link checkers won’t catch the parked ad domains or reported attack sites and those are often the best errors to report.

The upside is, you don't need to locate every single bad link, just enough for the site owner to go "yikes!".

Remember though, the more errors you do locate and the less links the page includes, means more benefit to you if your site is added.

Granted, not everybody will reward you with a link. Sometimes you may just get a friendly “thank-you!”. Other times they’ll fix the errors and not even respond to your email. In this case, it’s definitely a good idea to follow up in a couple weeks as so many manual link building methods result in the link on the follow-up email.

In any case, you’ve at least brought your site to the attention of another site in your industry and plus you’ve done your good deed (or ten) for the day. Of course, the more you send out, the better your chances of success!

Make Good Things Happen for Yourself and Others


There are other ways to use the Reciprocity Link Building Method too. If you’ve got a flair for design, find and point out any design errors or things that could make their site better. If your talent is editing, locate and report some of their grammatical or spelling errors. If you’re good with images, clean up a few of their fuzzy product pictures for them (Tip: so many sites have pixilated images because they add a large image and then scale it with the <img> tag height and width properties).

Whatever your talent may be, use it for their gain and make good things happen for them… and in turn you.

When you think about it, ALL links, whether paid or natural, reciprocal or not, are obtained as a result of giving something of value. Even with linkbait, the link is only given if your content fulfills some ‘want’ or ‘need’ of the reader. Just as nothing in life is free, the same remains true for link acquisition. Instead of spending money buying links though, spend some time and effort and you might experience some awesome, risk free, rewards.

Want some help with this link building method? Join me on twitter.

If you found this article useful, please watch for my follow-up articles at CanadianSEO including; How to Find Reciprocity Link Prospects Using Custom Search Operators & Reciprocity Method Email Templates.

Melanie Nathan

Melanie Nathan is a veteran SEO consultant and founder of CanadianSEO. She has a particular passion for authority link building and the use of authoritative content to attract links.

SEO Canada

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48 Responses to “The Reciprocity Link Building Method”

  1. […] The Reciprocity Link Building Method – 404 Link Building Technique in Reverse […]

  2. […] The Reciprocity Link Building Method, Search Engine People […]

  3. Tom Harvey says:


    Great post, all too often people are looking for a quick fix, selfish gain or a fast buck and not adding genuine value.

    Its so understated that you could and should provide value to subscribers and fellow online communities and entrepreneurs as it helps build trust, loyalty and integrity which are beneficial to both your reputation and brand. This is particularly the case online where content changes and it can be a faceless business.
    Some great tips which I hadn't considered and will use. Thanks


  4. ian says:

    Well, after that Tweet I have to say SOMETHING :)

    While this is indeed a great method, it depends heavily on the webmaster you're contacting, and whether they even receive your e-mails.

    Before you put a lot of time into carefully preparing an e-mail with a list of busted links, send 'em 1 or 2 and make sure they respond, even if it's just a 'thank you'.

    How about a few samples of well-written e-mails of this ilk, too?

  5. Melanie, I'm in Ian's court and commenting post Twitter…amazed that your super article has so many tweets and few comments!

    Got samples of those emails? :-)

    Wanted to share that you are spot on. When I ran a web dev firm, we used to let other sites know of their errors, need for optimized images, etc. Little did we know that we were linkbuilding; however, the result was that we ended up getting a "thank you" link from appreciative webmasters. Our Creative Directory used to say we spent too much time giving away advice for free; however, it always pays to pay it forward. Enjoyed your pay-it-forward advice!!

  6. Excellent points Ian. You are correct in that you don't want to just email them a big list of dead links as it'll most likely get caught in their spam filter. This is why I find that it helps to send an initial email first telling them that you encountered some broken links and then asking if this is where you email so that you may notify someone. It's all in the technique.

    Sample emails are a great idea and I *will* be sharing them, just wanted to introduce people to the idea that links could actually be obtained this way first.

    Thanks btw for being the first to comment. I guess you could say you took twitty on me? lol :)

  7. jaamit says:

    This is a great post Melanie, and a very welcome read when every linkbuilding post at the moment seems to focus on linkbait, which to me is only one part of linkbuilding. The rest is about hunting down opportunities like these and chasing them up, with an email or phone call.

    The 'finding 404s' tip is a good one but the real value of this post is, like you say, that the tactic can be scaled up to offering the target site any kind of help that will genuinely help them improve their site – it could even be including SEO advice (eg why and how they need to set up a non-www/www canonical redirect). There's no trickery in this approach, its very upfront and you're genuinely giving the webmaster something useful, and then asking for something in return. Even if the link doesn't come out of it straight away you're making a connection with that person which could prove useful in future (eg if you have a specific campaign they can help you promote).

    It would be great to see some examples of the email templates that you might use to help with this. Often the execution of linkbuilding work is the crucial part of getting that link or hitting a brick wall.

  8. I learned a thing or two here, thanks :) I usually don't mind letting the webmaster know if I found a bug on their site if I already have a line of communication established, but I rarely take the time to notify them unless I *need* it to work in order to accomplish something.

    Maybe I should consider giving a little more…

  9. Splinter09 says:

    I use a similar method, first I send a feedback about the site, normally good things, like I like the design and usability of your site, etc…
    If I get a reply, great, I started a conversation and my next move is to send an email asking for them to consider adding my site to theirs.
    Success rate is around 20%, is to say that out of 10 emails I send I get two replies that generate links. Not bad, because normally those links will have great valeu.

  10. Milan says:

    You are right

  11. I use this same method and try to concentrate on sites, which have high PR, because the success rate is not sky high and this requires quite much work.

    Internet Business Ideas

  12. MaryAnn says:

    I thought I had most of the link building ideas down pat, but I missed this one. Thank you so much for a very useful post. My other A+ one is writing articles for special sites — that's a one way link when you are the only link on the page. I suspect you have covered that one by now.

  13. More effective than putting links on crowded resource pages with nothing but outgoing links is to exchange links between relevant internal pages of your sites and blogs.

  14. Acne info says:

    It feels great to be a 'good samaritan', helping others out. It's not easy either to find people of such nature these days. You reap what you sow. Your post is very encouraging.

  15. Great idea here. But this tip really comes back to the roots of good cherry picking – the ability to build and cultivate relationships (just IMO). There is always a right way, and a right person, to ask for a link. Sometimes it's a blogger, a webmaster, other times it's a marketing manager or ad rep, still other times it's a business owner. But through that entire process, you need to build a relationship with that person. You can offer good info to a links page owner, but they won't link to you if they don't like you or believe you are a genuine person. This is often why the approach of "your page has broken links, so fix it and add mine" usually doesn't work.

  16. Hey Melanie, I'm curious… what about the risk of pissing off a webmaster by pointing out errors? Is this ever an issue with this method?

  17. Bill Cook says:

    Good article, i like this idea. In fact, I went ahead and contacted the owner of the resource page you referenced in the article. I'll post another comment here if/when anything happens.

  18. Matt Dunlap says:

    @Lyndsay, I was thinking the same thing, that's why she says it's risky because you can get nothing out of it. I've had people email me because of a broken link, but they were trying to sell top google placement…made me mad. Much different then finding an error and just telling them about it

  19. Rob Woods says:

    Great article! I'm looking forward to being able to put this in action. I've actually already experienced this phenomenon. I helped someone find some info they didn't have access to and ended up getting a backlink from a very authoritative site. I didn't ask for the link as I was just trying to help the person out. The bottom line is make your site or company useful, help people wherever you can and good things will happen.

  20. Bryan says:

    Melanie you are a genius. Thanks for this info… I'm going to try it out. I have always believed that kindness will get you far

  21. Darryl says:


    I've got to say this is a great idea, it seems so simple too but I've never read this anywhere else before. Making the internet a better place, whilst also garnering a link out of it! With the amount of time that I'm sure we all put into acquiring links I'm not sure this method will even take much longer, and I do like the fact that you're doing a good deed too!


  22. What about making a list or resource yourself and linking out to quality sites that can be useful to your readers. I'm sure there will be people willing to link back to such pages as well. That's another way of giving, I guess?

    What you've suggested seems like a very time consuming process but of course, good links are hard to come by.

  23. Mark Montoya says:

    I like how you thought outside the box for link building. I get way too many formatted and standard link exchange emails every day, and this is a good lesson as to how to approach someone and to stand out.

  24. kim says:

    Sounds like the old “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” idiom. A simple and effective solution that is often overlooked. Time to start scouring the internet for sites that need help! :)

  25. @georgebounacos Oops. I should have

  26. […] on blogs. You can include the money incentive as part of your normal approach to 'the reciprocity method' (no, it's not about reciprocal […]

  27. […] on blogs. You can include the money incentive as part of your normal approach to 'the reciprocity method' (no, it's not about reciprocal […]

  28. […] The Reciprocity Link Building Method by Melanie Nathan […]

  29. Great article we were just discussing reciprocate linking tonight, and the significance of outbound links to the right sites.

  30. Outstanding idea for picking up high Page Rank links! Thanks for the tip.
    .-= Jhoe @ Internet Income Opportunity recently posted: Facebook Advertising Is A Legitimate Business Opportunity =-.

  31. […] The Reciprocity Link Building Method | Search Engine People | Toronto – Melanie Nathan shares a guide to link building using her custom Reciprocity Method. […]

  32. […] was given some inspiration by Melanie Nathan who also mentions the reciprocity link building method. She says that sometimes these site owners “make mistakes, or slowly over time they just get too […]

  33. Napoleon Suarez says:

    Hey, Melanie. I just wanted to say once again that this was an awesome post and at it inspired me to write a similar one for my company's blog. I also gave you a shoutout.

  34. Thanks Melanie. Your article has caused me to dig out the book The Go-Giver, I'm looking forward to reading it again over the next few days, it is so easy to forget the value of giving, and get caught and tangled up in trying to get.
    .-= Davida Yemi-Akanle recently posted: Personal Development Coach =-.

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  36. […] SEO, Melanie Nathan, recently wrote an interesting guest post for Search Engine People on the reciprocity approach to link building. This method is the traditional approach of pointing out 404s, links going to malware-infected […]

  37. […] post that influenced me the most was this one by Melanie Nathan – The Reciprocity Building Method. It birthed my broken link building idea that many people have said was my best […]

  38. […] If you’re new to link building, get your feet wet with the Reciprocity method. It’s a good way to get used to looking for prospects, examining sites for link suitability and […]

  39. […] she pointed to another article form two years ago on Reciprocity Linking. I really like this approach and I generally do this myself. Note this is not just *reciprocal […]

  40. […] on August 25th, 2011. Written by Nick LeRoy. Garrett French has been digging deep into the reciprocity link building method written by Melanie Nathan (Check out my interview with Melanie here!).  Garrett has conducted […]

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  43. […] known for being a link building ninja and a pioneer of the Broken Link Building method (aka the Reciprocity Method). Follow Melanie on Twitter to learn […]

  44. […] publish it on other peoples' sites as guest content with links back to your site. Finally, explore methods for discovering broken how-to pages on your competitors' sites, and then chase down links from people who have dead links to this […]

  45. […] French has been digging deep into the reciprocity link building method written by Melanie Nathan (Check out my interview with Melanie here!).  Garrett has conducted […]