Backlinks from other websites to your website can boost your search engine rankings. So why not trade links with other websites? In other words, “I’ll put a link to your website on our website, if you reciprocate.” We call this a ‘link exchange.’ Some may call it ‘reciprocal linking.’ And there may be other similar terms used.
So is it OK to trade links with other websites?
The short answer is “yes, if done fairly and properly.”
Google Webmaster Guidelines discourages any link building solely for the benefit of improving search engine rankings. In other words, if the only reason you’re trading links is to manipulate search engine rankings, then don’t do it. Google considers excessive link exchanges as a link scheme. Thus, Google’s ranking algorithm has a process to actively identify link schemes in order to demote or punish sites in the rankings.
What Are Excessive Link Exchanges?
What’s the threshold for ‘excessive link exchanges?’
It’s not clear. Google does not provide a clear number or percentage. But certainly some links exchanges must be OK. There are countless of major organizations that operate a family of websites that all link to each other. They may even have links in the site global footer. This creates links to the other websites on every page of the website. That creates a LOT of backlinks between the sites.
However, in recent years, site-wide footer links have been significantly devalued by Google. It’s not likely these sites are demoted or penalized by Google’s algorithm. The site-wide footer links just aren’t as valuable. It’s more likely Google is more so looking for the number of website domains, not pages, that link to each other.
How Valuable Are Link Exchanges?
Google uses backlinks as a heavy factor to calculate PageRank. But they are purposefully vague about the subject. So, how well to link exchanges work? Do they help boost PageRank? How much do they boost rankings?
The short answer is, today, they have “low value” … but not “no value.”
Five to seven years ago, they worked very well. In fact, a local SEO competitor used link exchanges profusely. Their client sites ranked very well even if the sites had poor content and quality. And it didn’t seem to matter if most of the link exchanges didn’t make sense. Why would an orthopedics group in Colorado Springs trade links with a roofing company in Katy, TX? Or a fencing company in Katy, TX? Or an Alaskan fishing company? They even exchanged links with a 5-on-5 Flag Football Playbook website?
So, how did they get all these link exchanges?
It’s possible they knew SEOs across the country and directly traded links. They also linked between all the client websites they managed (not sure if their clients were aware of the link exchanges or not). They also participated in link partner networks: websites where you can browse a massive link partner directory and request link exchanges.
Link exchanges were easy and effective for quite some time. However, Google eventually programmed the algorithm to detect and significantly devalue link exchanges. It didn’t take long for SEOs to figure this out. What worked before no longer worked as well. So, what did SEOs do next?
What Is 3-Way Linking?
To avoid demotion or penalty for excessive link exchanges, SEOs employ 3-way linking … link exchanges in disguise, you could say. In a 3-way link scheme (or 4-way, or 5-way, etc), link partners still trade links, but no two websites link to each other. For example, website A links to website B. Website B links to website C. But website C does not link to website A. In this scheme, website A receives no SERP benefit, but websites B and C do.
Some call this a link wheel, but as long as you don’t close the loop, you avoid the penalty/demotion of a link exchange.
Is There Really A Penalty For Link Exchanges?
A few years ago, Google’s Penguin algorithm penalized websites with detectable link schemes. This causes sites to drop in the rankings, sometimes severely. Thus, excessive link exchanges was a risky SEO tactic.
However, recently, Google no longer penalizes sites with spammy links. They now simply ignore the spammy links; the links won’t help your site rank. Some SEOs might think then, that it’s now safe to practice old link schemes. Such thinking may be flawed for several reasons. One, there’s no certainty that Google won’t change their mind and revert back to penalizing link schemes. Two, Google can still detect if you’re violating their Guidelines – do you really want to be on Google’s ‘watch list?’ You don’t know what other possible repercussions they’re not mentioning to the public.
Therefore, if you’re going to exchange links, do so fairly and properly and you’ll be just fine.
How Can I Fairly and Properly Trade Links?
Google’s golden rule is “don’t link to another website unless it creates value for your website visitor.”
If you want to adhere to best practices SEO, this is a good rule to follow. Thus, if you have business friends or partners, it’s appropriate to exchange links. But do so in a manner that makes sense, is useful, and relevant. Several tips:
- The link should make sense and add value for your website visitor
- Do NOT link to SPAMMY or low-quality websites
- Do NOT link to websites/companies you don’t know or trust
- Let your link partner know you link to their website
- Use the business name, website URL, and/or an image (e.g., logo) as the link
- Do NOT use ‘keywords’ as the anchor text for your link
- Include a unique, professionally written description, 1-3 concise sentences should suffice
- Do NOT repeat the same description with all your link partners, change it up for each one
- Do NOT use site-wide footer or sidebar links
- The description should be located with the link anchor text or image, not somewhere else on the page
- Avoid more than 20 outbound links on a single web page
- Preferably, have other meaningful content (200-300 words) on your links page, not just links. Adding partner links to your About page is often a better option than a single page called “Links” or “Partners”
- Ask for links to internal pages on your website, not just your home page. Mix it up
- Check for and fix broken links regularly (on your site and their sites), at least once a year
- Make sure you and your link partner’s links are NOT ‘rel=nofollow’ … this is a technical term your SEO company should know about. This could be considered cheating as ‘nofollow’ tells the search engine to not count the link
Here’s an example of what this could look like:
[LOGO GOES HERE and IS A LINK]
Summit Landscaping [THIS IS A LINK]
The best part about Summit Landscaping is that no project is too big or too small. You always get a fair price, no matter what. And estimates are always free of charge.
www.summitlandscaping.com [THIS IS A LINK]
There are supposedly more than 200 factors to Google’s search engine algorithm. So, don’t expect your link exchanges to rocket you to the top of the search engines employing one SEO technique. But, every little bit counts. And, if it creates value for your website visitors (and their website visitors), then exchanging links with good business partners and friends is worth your while.