This post is part of the Friday Q&A section. If you want to ask a question just send it via the contact form.
Destination Infinity asks:
If a blog/website has linked to a particular page of my blog, is it ok with search engines if I link back from the same page or from another page on my blog? Or should I not link back at all, as search engines may consider it as link exchange?
Link exchanges were very popular some years ago. In fact they represented one of the main methods webmasters used to improve their search rankings. Then one day Google’s algorithm became more sophisticated, and link exchanges stopped working so well. On some cases it even harmed the sites involved.
This change gave link exchanges a bad reputation, and today most bloggers and website owners see them as an evil practice that might get you in trouble with Google (as the question itself illustrates). But, that is not entirely true.
What Google frowns upon are artificial or manipulative link exchanges. That is, link exchanges that have the sole purpose of artificially inflating the search rankings of the websites involved.
For example, suppose I have an online store that sells car parts, and then I decide to do a link exchange with my friend that has a weight loss blog. I put a link to his blog with the keyword “weight loss” on my sidebar, and he does the same for me with the keyword “car parts.” This link exchange is clearly artificial and intended to manipulate search rankings. As a result it could get both of our sites in trouble with Google.
Natural link exchanges, on the other hand, are fine with Google, because those are created to help users in the first place. For example, suppose I have a cooking blog. I could create a section in the sidebar called “Blogs I Read”, and then link to several cooking blogs I think have great content. After that I could contact the blog owners and ask if they wanted to partner and link to my blog as well. The main goal of these link exchanges is to help the users discover new and relevant resources, and not to manipulate search rankings. Sure, they might have a positive effect on the rankings, but that is a consequence.
Answering to the main question now: as long as you are linking back to that page for a reason (e.g., because you want to let your readers know about it, or because you want to add counter-argument to the discussion), Google won’t have a problem with that.
Here is a rule of thumb you can use in the future for any SEO related issue: if you are doing something because it makes sense either for your website or for your users (i.e., something to improve your navigation, to give more content to your readers, to let them know about a new section of your site) then Google is probably fine with that. If you are doing it mainly because you think it will improve your search rankings (e.g., adding keywords where they are not supposed to be, creating tags and tag clouds, getting links with optimized anchors), on the other hand, Google might not like it that much.
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