Should you exchange backlinks with other websites?
Building high-quality and contextual backlinks from relevant websites is not an easy job.
First, you need high-quality website content that is link-worthy. Then you need to execute a thorough outreach campaign. Even then, results can be underwhelming.
This often leads to many publishers and SEOs towards the easier method of exchanging backlinks with other websites.
The concept is simple: you make a deal with another website. You create a link to their website, and they reciprocate by linking to your website.
However, Google prohibits link exchange. It goes against their guidelines.
In this blog post, we take a look at whether or not you should exchange backlinks with other websites. Moreover, we will also look at some techniques that may fool Google into thinking a link is naturally built, but is this a method that you should put your trust in.
Link exchanges are prohibited
As we mentioned earlier, Google prohibits link exchanges. More importantly, link exchanges are prohibited regardless of the extent or circumstances.
“A link exchange where both sides are kind of like ‘you link to me and therefore I will link back to you’, kind of thing, that is essentially against our webmaster guidelines.
That’s something where our algorithms would look at that and try to understand what is happening here and try to ignore those links. And if the webspam team were to look at it, they would also say this is not okay.
Can link exchanges lead to manual actions?
Yes, too many link exchanges can lead to manual action against your website.
John Mueller mentioned that it happens when Google identifies the majority of the links on your website as a result of exchanging backlinks with other websites.
“If this [link built via link exchange] is the majority of the links to your website like this, then they might apply manual action. That’s something I would avoid,” says John Mueller.
This is very straightforward. However, it does lead to a few other questions, which we are going to answer next.
1. What if we build only a few links through exchanges?
If the majority of links on your website are built because of exchanges, it may lead to a Google penalty against your site. So does this mean you can exchange links at a smaller scale and stay out of Google’s sight?
Technically, it is possible, but we do not recommend it.
Google evaluates each link and identifies if it is built naturally or reciprocally. Even if Google identifies only a few links, you may still get in the bad books.
The best practice is, therefore, to stay away from exchanging links — even if the plan is to do it at a smaller scale.
2. What if the links are highly relevant?
But what if the link you got via an exchange is actually highly relevant and helpful for your users?
Can you do it then?
John says it does not matter. According to him, “it doesn’t matter if it’s topically relevant or if it’s kind of like a useful link.
If you’re doing this systematically, then we think that’s a bad idea because, from our point of view, those are not natural links to your website.
They’re only there because you’re doing this deal with the other site.”
3. What if it is between three websites?
You may not be familiar with this, but there is another way many websites exchange links that Google may overlook.
In this type of exchange, there are three websites involved, instead of two.
So, normally, website A links to website B. In return, website B links back to website A. This exchange is very easy to track for Google.
However, in this variation that we are discussing, there are three websites involved: A, B, and C.
Website A creates a link to website B. In return, website B creates a link to website C. Website C, in return, creates a link to website A, but it never links to website B.
It makes it trickier for Google to establish a connection between website A and website C.
And while this may work for the short term, we recommend staying away from this variation as well. Google is getting smarter, and there is more data than ever to explore and establish prohibited connections among websites.
Although link-building is a tedious and tough job, it is worth doing naturally and properly.
Taking shortcuts — such as exchanging links — is not worth the hassle, especially as it can eventually lead to a manual against your website.