A link exchange is an agreement between two sites to share and exchange links with each other for mutual benefit.
While it was once a common practice of even the most sophisticated link building campaign, it now is considered a link scheme.
Reciprocal links include benefits, concerns, and flat-out risks.
Here we’ll discuss:
- Google policies surrounding link exchanges
- Link exchange best practices
- Risks of reciprocal links or excessive link exchanges
- Some benefits
Table of Contents
The Link Exchange in Practice
When building links for your site, the goal is to seek out reputable and authenticated sites to backlink to in order to share your content with them and theirs with you. This helps to organically generate traffic to your site, improve your ranking on Google, as referral traffic is a valuable metric, and improve your reputation as a business.
This can be done in quite a few ways, from sourcing content on social media to having guest posts done that are then shared by others, to finding broken links and replacing them with new and fresh ones.
Link exchange requests to other webmasters or website owners is one of many link building strategies. It is essentially an agreement between your site and another party to share with each other. Sounds great right, mutual benefit for all?
The truth is that these agreements function much like any other agreement out there. They are reliant on both parties to fulfill their end of the bargain. This can be a problem when one site is merely attempting to piggyback off of another’s work.
If you think of it like getting a roommate, you expect the roommate to pay their portion of the rent, respect your boundaries, and clean up after themselves. Only, after the first couple of months, the common areas are a mess, they keep stealing your stuff, and they never pay their half of the rent and always claim “I’m good for it.”
This is the problem with link exchanges, if you enter into one for the sole purpose of link building, you may find the relationship to not only, not be beneficial, but downright detrimental to your site in the first place.
There are also issues with Google and policies on link abusing and other issues that we’ll go into, but for now, let’s talk about how to prevent a bad link exchange.
Google Is Anti-Reciprocal Link Building
This is one of the most important points you need to remember if you’re thinking seriously about reciprocal link agreements:
According to Google’s webmaster guidelines, Google considers excessively exchanging links with others to be a type of “link scheme.” Too much reciprocal linking is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it could be seen as a form of unfairly manipulating Google’s ranking system. If you get caught violating Google’s policies, your site may be penalized, potentially rendering your links as useless as your old Hotmail account.
This is the most important statement in this entire post! Per Google’s webmaster guidelines, reciprocal linking is highly risky. Period!
To avoid Google’s wrath, start small when deciding how many weekly or monthly reciprocal links you and another site owner will include in your content. You can increase the number over time if you find there are no significant consequences.
More importantly, make sure your reciprocal link building strategy is based on sharing links when it makes sense to do so. When you link to someone else’s site (and vice versa), it should be because there’s a practical reason to do so in that context. Don’t randomly link to an article on “10 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Raised in Orphanages” in a blog entry about “10 Kitchen Hacks You MUST TRY.”
All that said, this isn’t meant to discourage you from giving reciprocal linking a try. Those who’ve researched the topic have found that many high-ranking sites across a range of topics feature at least some reciprocal links. While this doesn’t necessarily confirm that reciprocal links will help a site grow, it does give some reason to believe reciprocal links aren’t inherently harmful to a site’s ranking.
But, you may find the opposite to be the case and that Google could eventually end up punishing reciprocal links in the future (and not just ignoring them).
Avoiding a Bad Link Exchange
As we talked about at the beginning, all link-building efforts should be done with the intent to improve the traffic to your site. Simply adding backlinks willy nilly will do nothing but overpopulate your web pages and eventually send up red flags to Google.
Even though we were talking about bad agreements between exchange partners, there are other things to look out for as well. There are millions of sites on the web and forming a link exchange with lots of them would likely be as simple as containing the domain admin and asking, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you should do.
The first thing to consider is that whatever you want to backlink to is relevant, informative, and beneficial to your users. Linking to a list of your favorite restaurants in Denver isn’t going to help your business when you sell boating accessories (maybe if your customers are hungry and live in Denver, but we doubt that much of your traffic fits that description).
Instead, focus on relevancy first. There are many ways to do this. Using indexes, RSS Feeds, social media, Q&A forums, and other spaces to find information and links that are relevant to your business will help you with getting the link-building part of the process rolling.
Once you have loads of relevant links, use a content management system to get and keep it all organized. Having subdividers that specify content niche and other factors can help as well. You’ll want to keep this list updated as you go along because link building in SEO is an ongoing process.
Out of all the hundreds or even thousands of links, your next goal is to determine which ones are the most relevant and the most reputable. Being off on either of these factors means a link that is no good to you or your business.
The purpose of link building is to share your content and link to other content that has a reputation for being high-quality, useful, and factual content that helps with user engagement. Linking to irrelevant content is bad, but linking to low-quality content that can’t be trusted, no matter how relevant, is even worse.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list even further by doing this, you now have a list of viable link exchange candidates. Highly respectable sites that produce great content are the ideal link exchange candidates. There are no guarantees in life, but it’s easier to trust someone with a good reputation, who has things together, than one who doesn’t and is known for not being on the up and up.
Picking a Partner
We’ve talked a lot about how to avoid a bad link exchange, but that leaves us with what to look for in a good exchange. Just like we talked about, the first things to consider are reputation and trustworthiness. These are things you can find out by visiting the site and looking at user feedback.
Users will tell you straight away if a site is trustworthy or not by their comments and reactions to posts. Once this is established, you can begin to move on to other SEO metrics.
Site rating and traffic are next on the list of considerations. You want to partner with a site that has a similar rating to yours and has similar traffic expectations. If these numbers are close or slightly greater, then you can accurately predict how much traffic to expect to get from the link exchange.
Exchanging with a site that has a lower authority rating, site rank, or poor traffic will not benefit you as much as they. None of these numbers are set in stone mind you, but it gives you a baseline metric to go off of when experimenting with link exchanges and trying to build outbound links.
The next thing to look at before entering into an exchange is what they’re offering you. This includes the placement of your links, how many, and whether they have good content quality when you land on their site. Authoritative and trustworthy doesn’t always mean that everything is high-quality or that where your links will go will be as high quality.
You may also want to consider whether they advertise link exchanges. This can be a difficult thing to get a read on. Some sites may advertise link exchanges due to their high volume of traffic and high-quality content. Others, though, may be advertising in an attempt to shirk the responsibility of their site off on others. Be cautious if a site advertises link exchanges a little too heavily.
Another indicator of exchange success is the number of outbound links a site has and whether or not those links are to trusted and authoritative sites. If they are employing dozens of links to other sites and many of them are of poor or average quality, then it may be a good idea to steer clear, no matter how promising the partnership sounds.
Your ideal partner will feature your link in a good spot, where it will likely be seen, on a high-quality page that gets good traffic. They will also not have so many outbound links that yours is likely to get lost in a sea of other content. The reverse is also true, being a good partner means providing good visibility on high-quality content that people will actually gravitate towards.
Types of Link Exchanges and Their Benefits
When considering link exchanges, there are a few reasons to do so outside of the basics of link building. Link building is mostly about generating organic traffic, but that doesn’t mean you just want people coming to your site. You want site visitors that take an interest in what you do and what your brand is.
Building Your Reputation Through Link Exchanges
You want referral traffic that says “yes this is a good link to go to when I want…” That way Google values your site’s authority higher and sees high referral traffic as a sign that your site is valuable. Of the millions of sites that Google crawls and indexes every day, it values them by a number of factors and then ranks them accordingly.
If Google has tons of people telling it through measurable metric data that your site has value and is important to whatever niche you are in, then it will rank higher as a result.
This also applies to brand recognition and your reputation on the web. If it becomes clear to both users and Google that your site is the one to go to for information or products in a particular space, that reputation will grow, your brand will grow as a result and your organic traffic will increase accordingly.
Contrary to popular belief, word of mouth exists in one form or another, even on the web. Taking advantage of it the right way can do wonders for your business.
SEO and Link Exchanges
We’ve mentioned link exchanges and page ranking a lot, but what we haven’t talked about is the benefit to your direct SEO. For instance, local businesses that share links may not see loads of organic traffic generated from a link exchange due to their relatively low traffic volume in general, but the link exchange actually benefits both parties in terms of their search engine optimization.
Just because a link doesn’t get a lot of clicks doesn’t take away from its value as an SEO element. Being relevant to your location and market makes it a search engine relevant link, which improves SEO.
To give an example, say you sell shoes, in a blog on one of your shoes you have a link with a site that does shoe repairs. Both of you are local businesses out of Lima Ohio (sorry Lima, we’re just using you for reference). Now when someone searches “shoe sales in Lima Ohio,” they are likely to find you and on your site the link to the shoe repair store. The same thing happens if someone searches “shoe repair in Lima Ohio,” they get the shoe repair site and your link will be there on the site as well.
This tells Google “hey, both these things are relevant to shoes in Lima Ohio and both of them are related, that’s a good thing!” In this way, both parties still benefit from the link exchange, even if overall traffic doesn’t go up that much. Sometimes the partnership is beneficial even if the benefits aren’t immediately known.
Other Tips and Advice
Our first additional tip is to seek out the resources available to you to help with building links and finding good exchanges. Navigating the world of link building can be tricky, even for experts. Using a link-building agency or SEO manager can help to facilitate growth without loads of complications. Having a content manager is a great choice as well to manage all of the links you use.
Another thing to remember is to always choose quality over quantity, we can’t stress this enough that it’s better to have a few authoritative and trustworthy links than to have hundreds of average or poor ones. It’s not only about traffic, your brand and reputation matter too.
Lastly, the more you dive into link exchanges, the more you may find that it can get very complicated. There are sometimes multi-layered exchanges where one site links to another that links to another and then back to the first. While these can have their benefits, staying on top of all the content and multiple links can be a trying task. Always study up and get help if you’re going for this type of approach.
Reciprocal Links: Right for Some, Wrong for Others
Again, reciprocal links aren’t inherently “good” or “bad.” They serve a genuine purpose in some circumstances. In others, they can actually hurt your site’s rankings.
You need to evaluate the major pros and cons to determine if the benefits of a reciprocal link scheme (vs. guest post authoring or any other link building strategy) outweigh the potential consequences for your specific site. If you’re on a tight budget, you trust your linking partners, and you’re cautious to avoid excessive and unnatural links, you may want to experiment with this way of driving growth. If you have the money and bandwidth to focus on “safer” ways of getting the attention of users, perhaps you should consider other options.
If you’re looking for a premium, quality and white hat link building service, you’ve come to the right place. Get in touch with us!
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