While it may not be possible to totally discount reciprocal linking as links form the weave of the web. Given the recent comments by some of the search engine people one can only deduce that the way linking is done between sites is being addressed. Since Google can’t toss out the baby with the bath water, Google and other search engines must try to find a way to deal with this, their mess. Some direct information would be beneficial but seeing as none seems to be forthcoming, then it is left to us, the people who constantly run various tests, to offer up our interpretations on what appears to be happening with the engines. Generally, we preface our findings with some kind of qualifier that suggests that the results could also be affected by things beyond our control and should be taken as such, a report on an experiment. How other’s take this information and perhaps generate articles is also beyond the control of the test originators. Rest assured that in most cases the testers are usually offering up their findings in an effort to be helpful and not to discredit anybody’s business model.
How can Google or any other search engine for that matter discern if websites are involved in a reciprocal link building program or not? To my mind there could be a few ways to be discovered as a reciprocal link builder with perhaps the easiest way being the involvement of third party web sites that facilitate the reciprocal link trading or RLT. Every free RLT site I ever joined had as part of their agreement to join, the mandatory link back to the RLT site which in my opinion, would give the search engines a third point for examination to help in the determination on whether a site is involved in a linking scheme or not.
For myself, I will be re-evaluating my participation with free RLT sites as I, like others, try to deal with an issue that really shouldn’t be one.