Link Exchange is Dead - or is It...?
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Link Exchange is Dead - or is It...?

This article is trying to explain some pros and cons related to link exchange and to conclude an arrangement if that link building technique is still valuable or not. It also gives insights and thoughts from relevant people about this subject and it emphasize some facts stated from Google within their webmaster guidelines.

Considering all the changes Google’s algorithm has gone through during the last couple of years and the fact that back when link exchange was at its peak the search engine algorithms weren’t as “intelligent” as they are now, it would seem safe to conclude that link exchange is dead. Completely. However, it is still being talked about on some major SEO forums and discussed in different articles. So what’s with that? SEO is always changing, so is there a possibility link exchange is back in the game?

Introducing Link Exchange

What is link exchange in the first place? It involves reciprocal linking, and here is what reciprocal linking is:

So, I give you a link on my website, you do the same, and we increase our traffic. If it only were that simple! Once upon a time, any link had a value which helped websites rank. Google has brought many changes to the way links are perceived by the search engines. If you just do a link exchange with a bunch of random websites, you are out of the picture.

Here’s an excerpt from Webmaster guidelines by Google:

“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank . This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

  • Excessive link exchanging ("Link to me and I'll link to you")

  • Linking to web spammers or unrelated sites with the intent to manipulate PageRank

  • Building partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking”

So there you have it. As I said, random link exchange will not do you any good.

Random? Who said anything about random?

If you ended up reading this article, the most likely scenario is that you were planning to exchange some links and you were wondering if that was ok. You may not have been considering this, but if you have, then you were probably way over random, and well aware that exchanging a link with a car sales website would not do you any good if you were in the business of selling flowers. However, I am not quite sure this is widely understood. Hence, I needed to clear it up, since link exchange websites still exist and are alive and kicking.

What do other experts say?

Well, wherever I looked, the recommendations boiled down to: “Stay away from link exchange.” Namely, at some point, different authors who post on well-known SEO blogs all recommended using other link building techniques, and placing link exchange in the category of outdated. For example, Lindsay Wassell posted the article 32 SEO Tactics to Avoid in 2011 on SEOMoz’s blog.That article was published in 2011. Even back then, these tactics were considered detrimental.

The article 25 Ways to Get Penalized in 2012, written bySujan Patel and published in Search Engine Journal, was published more recently, but it said the same thing.

Many people understand that link exchange will not bring them anything great, because they want to provide to their readers valuable content in the first place, so they will link to valuable resources instead to those who want link exchange. An example of this is James Huggins, who actually, among other things, offers SEO services to small businesses through his company, and he got sick of link exchange requests, so he wrote an article addressing link exchange requests.

Rand Fishkin, the CEO of SEOMoz, also speaks about linking to what will be useful to the readers. Having a linking partner is useful, but no unnatural links should occur. Linking should happen only when the material being linked is useful to the readers, and this type of linking is what should replace link exchange.

So, what is to be done?

Google will tolerate reciprocal links if their number is lower than 30% of the total number of links. However, we would recommend finding more appropriate link building techniques, which are considered completely acceptable by Google.

However, the Webmaster guidelines say excessive link exchanging is forbidden, which means that if you are careful about the way you exchange links and the websites you exchange them with, it could be beneficial. The websites you exchange links with have to be reliable and relevant to the topic of your website, and links have to be placed naturally, inside the text, when and only when they are useful to the readers. In this sense, link exchange is not really dead, as long as you keep it under control, and it forms a minor part of your link building strategy.

But, you can definitely forget about link exchange websites, automated link exchange, and special pages with a long list of websites you exchanged links with.

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Image Source: Dejan SEO blog

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