A link exchange is when two websites agree to trade links to boost their rankings and authority.
This type of agreement is also referred to as “reciprocal linking” or a “link swap.”
So, do reciprocal link exchanges still work in 2023?
In this article, we’ll examine the benefits, concerns, and risks of link exchanges.
How do Link Exchanges Work?
Link exchanges usually occur through cold email outreach, inside Facebook groups or Slack channels. They can also be facilitated by a link building service. Once initial contact has been made, both parties agree to swap links.
There are a few ways to exchange links:
- Direct Link Exchange: A website owner agrees to link to another site, and the other site reciprocates by agreeing to link back.
- 3-Way Link Exchange: A webmaster contacts a third party to establish a triangular linking structure.
- Guest Post Swap: Two bloggers agree to post content on each other with links back to their own pages included in each.
Some practices are safer than others, but they all involve the same principle: linking to another page to improve your site’s ranking.
Why Would Someone Want to Exchange Links?
Links are essentially the currency of the internet—they establish trust and authority between websites. As such, a solid link profile is critical for SEO.
And since Google is the most visited website on the internet and the first three organic search results account for more than half of organic traffic, businesses with good SEO standing enjoy more viewers, leads, sales, and, ultimately, revenue.
But when every website competes for organic search traffic, the competition is fierce. There are countless keywords, product niches, and industries that have an extremely high amount of competition.
With the incentive to grow and monetize as quickly as possible, trading links with others who share the same goals seems like a cheat code.
Because it is a relatively easy way to earn links, it has remained one of the most interesting trends in SEO.
Are Reciprocal Link Exchanges Safe for Getting Backlinks?
According to Google Webmaster guidelines, excessive link exchanges are considered a link scheme.
The key word here is “excessive”. The reality is that link exchanges naturally occur on the web almost every day, which we’ll explain more later.
Companies like Dotdash Meridith have dominated Google Search results by using link exchanges internally with their massive portfolios.
Dotdash Meridith owns Investopedia, The Balance, The Spruce Eats, Verywell fit and many more brands that you’ve probably seen in Google Searches.
Not just Dotdash Meredith but tons of other publicly traded digital companies are dominating Google with link exchanges and private link networks.
When you have a big link profile, there’s more leeway for link exchanges. However, they shouldn’t be your entire strategy and you should always make sure to diversify your profile with other types of links.
The Truth About Backlink Exchanges
Like we mentioned, backlink exchanges happen naturally across the web. But that’s where it gets tricky.
Picture two scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Website A loves the content on Website B, so it links to it in its new content. Website B also likes the content on Website A. Since they are in the same niche and Website B sees contextual relevance, it decides to link back. Aside from this, no relationship exists between the two web pages.
- Scenario 2: Website A and Website B are in the same niche. They both want to improve their link profiles, so they decide to work together and arrange a reciprocal link exchange agreement.
Scenario 1 happens all the time. When two web pages share relevant and valuable information on a topic, the idea that they would link to one another isn’t far-fetched.
An Ahrefs study even found that 73.6% of sites have reciprocal links.
Scenario 2 is a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which reference “link to me and I’ll link to you” and partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.”
The main difference here is the intent but can Google tell the difference?
As long as there are no alarming footprints or evidence that this has been done between the two sites in excess, then the answer is most likely no.
Direct Link Exchanges
Direct link exchanges are where you exchange links from the same exact pages.
You want to avoid doing this excessively.
If you and your link partner swap links from the same exact pages too many times this could leave footprints.
Instead, it’s safer to do indirect link swaps.
Indirect Link Swap
Indirect link swaps are when you exchange links from different pages.
For example, I’ll link to your web page and you link to me from another one.
While this still isn’t the safest way to exchange links, it’s possibly better than doing a direct link swap.
3-Way Link Exchanges
This is likely the safest way to exchange links.
A 3-way link exchange is a type of link building technique that involves three websites instead of just two.
The main benefit of a 3-way link exchange is that it allows each of the three websites to benefit from increased link authority without having to link directly to each other.
Since it removes the evidence of one website linking to another and makes it seem more natural. It’s likely, search engines can’t pick up on 3-way link exchanges as easily as they can with a typical reciprocal link exchange.
Guest Post Swaps
Guest post swaps are another great way to build relationships with other websites and benefit from increased link authority. You can either do them via indirect link exchanges or via 3 way link exchanges.
Essentially, two websites will agree to swap content by having each other’s writers contribute articles to their respective sites. This way, both websites can get fresh and valuable content for their readers while increasing the quantity of inbound links pointing back to their site.
Guest post swaps are another way to boost your SEO value without coming off as spammy. But it’s important to remember that content quality always comes first.
If your guest post author isn’t writing high-quality content for your site, it will reflect poorly on your brand. And if your product, service, or site content has no relevancy on the placement site, there’s no point in doing a guest post swap in the first place.
Are Link Swaps Good For SEO Rankings?
Link swaps can be good for SEO. Getting backlinks is usually a process that takes time and effort, so link swaps can be an effective shortcut. Reciprocal link building can sometimes double or triple the number of backlinks you have in a short amount of time.
But not all links are created equal. In order to ensure you’re getting quality backlinks from your link swaps, follow these best practices:
- Vet your placement sites for quality and relevancy. Look at all of their content, each site metric (e.g, user engagement, DA, etc.), and their link profiles before agreeing to anything.
- Make sure you’re offering quality content in return. If you’re participating in guest post swaps, make sure that the content you offer is of good quality and topical relevance.
- Focus on building relationships with other websites. Don’t just focus on the links you get out of the swap—focus on developing a real connection.
- Make sure that the exchange is beneficial to both parties. Quality backlinks should be offered in exchange for quality content or services, not just to help you build links.
- Avoid swapping links with sites that are direct competitors. If both sites compete for the same keywords, it won’t make sense to link to each other.
- Be strategic in your outreach. Simply asking for links probably won’t get you far. But if you have something valuable to offer in return, you’ll be more likely to find link exchange opportunities.
What to Look for When Considering a Link Exchange
If you want to maximize the amount of link juice you get from a link swap, you’ll need to pay attention to the following criteria:
- Relevance and Authority: Ensure the sites you swap backlinks with are relevant to your niche and have good domain authority. If you aren’t linking with related sites, they might not be providing much value.
- Anchor Text: Pay attention to the anchor text you use for your backlinks. Others will need to read the content, so your link should make grammatical and logical sense in the body text.
- Dofollow/Nofollow Links: Dofollow links pass link juice and are important for SEO, while no-follow links don’t. Make sure that you’re exchanging dofollow links with quality sites in order to get the most out of your link exchanges. However, some quality sites might use nofollow links, so it’s important to check before agreeing to an exchange.
- Content Quality: Before considering a link exchange with another website, conduct quality checks that examine the content of the linked page. If it’s low-quality, chances are it won’t provide much SEO value.
- Link Placement: Some outbound links are placed in a header, footer, or sidebar. While these may still provide some SEO benefit, they won’t be as valuable as contextual links placed within content.
Where to Find Link Exchanges
If you want to use link exchanges as a part of your online marketing strategy, there are several places you can find them.
Private link building groups (i.e., communication channels where everyone conducts outreach and link swaps) are a great place to start. As you employ other link building tactics like guest posting, content marketing, and broken link building, you’ll naturally find potential link partners in your industry.
You can also build an influencer network of your own by reaching out to partners and influencers in your industry. Ask them if they’re interested in exchanging links, or if they have any recommendations for other sites where you can do so.
In any case, the most essential thing to remember is that link exchanges should be mutually beneficial. Don’t bother participating in an exchange unless it will provide real value to both parties (and the people who inevitably land on your content).