What is Link Exchange in SEO, and When to Avoid it?

The recent link spam update was introduced by Google to fight link spam and encourage linking best practice. With Google keen to reward high quality content, it considers the amount of links coming into a website in an attempt to understand what content users will find useful. But those links needs to be well-deserved and legitimate otherwise Google will penalise the website with dropped rankings.

Link exchange

Link building strategies that go against Google’s best practice guidelines include low quality guest posts, buying or selling links, automated back linking programs, large scale article marketing or guest posting with keyword-rich anchor text links, and excessive link exchanges that refer back to your website exclusively for the purpose of cross-linking.

Google is quite clear on the fact that link exchange, when done excessively, will be considered as manipulating PageRank, which will risk a penalty. And that could be devastating for your online visibility, resulting in lost opportunities and a drop in traffic.

What is link exchange in SEO?

Link exchanges, otherwise known as reciprocal backlinks or backlink swapping, involves just that. Swapping a link from one website to another.

The purpose of the link exchange is to gain an advantage on Google, based on the premise that receiving a quality backlink will give you a ‘trust’ signal that could set you above the competition.

Most SEO agencies will strongly advise against any form of excessive link exchange. Of course, Google will understand that it is natural for websites to link to each other in certain circumstances.

There are all sorts of scenarios where link exchanges are normal. You may be supporting a charity for example, and want to link their website, and they may wish to link back to you by way of a thank you on their sponsors page. In some situations, exchanging links is good for business relations.

Reciprocal linking is common across the web. 43.7 per cent of top ranking pages contain some reciprocal links. Around four or five out of every top 10 organic Google ranked website has some too. This would suggest that link exchanges are a natural by-product of the web.

The issue arises when reciprocal links become excessive, and when the links bear no relevance.

This is why it is important to employ common sense when considering any link exchange. Keep your mind on relevancy. If the website you’re exchanging links with has content, products or other features that your own visitors may genuinely find useful, then the link exchange could be considered legitimate.

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When is link exchange NOT a good idea?

But there are times when for Google, link exchange just won’t wash. Here are some situations where reciprocal backlinks are a no-go:

  • When the website you are linking to is not related to yours. Your site is about travel, and theirs is about plumbing. It’s just not relevant.
  • When the website that wants to link to yours is poor quality. It’s badly written, has a terrible layout, looks shoddy, and contains nothing of value to visitors whatsoever. In fact, it’s probably been set up solely for the purpose of link exchange.
  • When the other website is packed to the rafters with outbound links. This will be because the site has exchanged links with numerous others. It’s a commodity site, and Google won’t like it.
  • When the site offering a link exchange is new. It’s been around five minutes, has no PageRank, no authority, no nothing. It’s worthless to you.
  • When the site gives out ‘nofollow’ links. These are links that do not count in the eyes of Google. They do not boost PageRank, and they will never help your website climb the search engine results pages.
  • When you’ve received a link exchange email that’s impersonal and spammy, usually starting, “Dear Webmaster”.

These are just some of the reasons why you should give an exchange of link a wide berth. But there are some situations where you might want to consider it.

When might you consider an exchange of link?

You’ll need to proceed with caution here, but there could be times when a link exchange might well work for you:

  • When the other website could potentially drive a lot of traffic to yours
  • When the reciprocating site is brimming with useful information that is directly related to your niche
  • Where you are linking back to a site that is not in competition with your own
  • Where the other website is of high quality and has good authority and PageRank
  • When the other site appears in the search results for the same or similar keywords are you are looking to rank for

What’s the alternative to link exchange?

Whilst link exchanges can work in some situations, the fact remains that one-way links are way more valuable. An exchanged link delivers a lot less ‘link juice’ than a one-way link. Link juice is the power a backlink passes onto another website. The more link juice, the stronger the effects on the SEO campaign.

Linking is a vital element of SEO. But the best strategy, hands-down, has to be spending time creating a user-friendly website, with exceptional, highly valuable content that people will naturally want to link to and share. This is absolutely where you should be investing your time, in an ethical, best practice strategy, rather than trying to exchange links. Because whilst link exchanges are against Google’s best practice guidelines, reciprocal links are not if they are done naturally.

What if you’ve already participated in a link exchange program?

If your website has been involved in an excessive link exchange program, perhaps dating back to those dubious black hat times in the world of SEO, or because you were inadvertently subject to an unethical SEO campaign, you’ll need to take steps to remove the offending links.

If you are linking out to websites that are not relevant to yours, are poor quality or that give out nofollow links, then you should just go right ahead and remove the links. They’re just not worth having on your site.

When it comes to getting rid of questionable inbound links, we’ve provided some advice in our post on what to do about spammy links, but you’ll need to prepare yourself for what might be a time consuming process. It’s worth it though, because following the Google link spam update, your site could suffer dropped rankings otherwise.

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Best practice link building, from an SEO agency trusted by local businesses London and Surrey wide

Looking to build good quality links into your website as part of a wider SEO campaign? At Figment, our expert team has been achieving exceptional results for local businesses for several years courtesy of fully managed SEO campaigns.

All our strategies follow Google’s best practice guidelines, including our link building tactics. We also focus on creating quality, highly shareable content and improving the user-friendliness and authority of websites for SEO.

To learn how we could help YOUR business achieve the online visibility it needs to increase sales, you are welcome to get in touch.

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