Cross linking, just another link swap? Or is it something more?

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Written by Chris Hirst. Posted in Internet Marketing and Search on 12 May 2012.
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Strictly speaking, cross linking also known as "interlinking"  is simply another form of reciprocal linking but it does deserve a bit more consideration and discussion, mainly because it has got such a "bad reputation" which is totally wrong, If you develop a website that uses any kind of common navigation on the documents (pages) you ARE cross linking without even thinking about it or realising it.
 
The concept of cross linking is simple, a document at URL 'A' links to a document at URL 'B' and 'B' links back to 'A' in a 'X' formation. As you can see if your website uses a fully meshed navigation, where every document is interlinked to every other document you website is using 'cross linking'. The 'bad' reputation attached to cross linking comes from the mistaken idea that search engines rank "sites", which they do not, search engines find, index and rank documents at are located at  individual and unique URLs, the fact that those documents may be on a single parent location (domain name) does not enter into the discovery (find) part of the search equation.
In the early days of search (mid to late 1990's) site owners would artificially inflate their "link popularity" by interlinking large networks of sites often with thousands of URLs, that they owned or had access to and create what became known as link 'networks'. Now, quite rightly, search engines took action against such practices by devaluing the the links in these networks once they had identified them. This led to the incorrect conclusion that "cross linking" per se was BAD. It's another case of deductive reasoning getting it wrong.
 Cross linking generally is neither bad or good. As with all types of "spamming" for search, it is the intention behind the action that is "good" or "bad", just like any action in the "real" world is.

So, what does cross linking mean for the average website owner, is it something to avoid at all costs? Well, not if you want a website that is usable and fully accessible to real people and search engine crawlers alike, as long as that is your intention. Cross linking for the "popularity" will leave an identifiable 'foot print' and will get found and devalued, it may not actually BE a 'penalty' but it will seem like one when your URLs disappear from the index and any search referrals (traffic sent to your pages from a SERP) stop arriving.

Cross linking between pages on the same domain name is perfectly normal and  cross linking between pages on different domain names, or sub domains is not inherently "bad". You have probably read the "advice" of how having a "blog" is somehow essential for any online venture to succeed by linking to your "website" in blog posts and linking to the "blog" from your site, surely it's not stretching the imagination too far to work out that such a practice IS cross linking and/or reciprocal linking which the same people have said is 'bad' for your site, so don't do it right! Unless you are cross linking your "blog" and your "website" which then means cross linking is okay, right!

Make sense? No? Same here, yet people repeat this same stuff ad nauseam. without seemingly realising that it is contradictory and without getting into quantum theory, both conditions cannot be true.
The simple fact is that cross linking purely for the sake of it and for some perceived search engine rankings boost is the wrong way to go about it and because linking  in such a way is usually "disguised" by the people who are trying to pretend that it is NOT  there purely for search engine will leave a footprint as said earlier.

Now it may be that your website is not simply a collection of documents that are all located on a single domain name, but may be spread over several locations and subdomains, maybe you have a "blog" on blogger.com or wordpress.com that you want to be included in the overall site. The way to accomplish this is to treat those URLs the same as you would treat a URL that is on the same parent domain. Link to them in your navigation structure and in your content from ALL the documents and "sites" where it makes sense to do so, because you do this naturally, search engines will treat it as you mean it to be treated. They will "see" that the interlinking is there for the users of all the various location and therefore are less likely to become subject to closer scrutiny as artificial or unnatural links. A winner all round., and when all is said and done, the choice is yours to either follow the contradictory "wisdom" of "experts" or take a commonsense approach and do the  things that make sense for your (and search engine) users.
 


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