12 min read

Backlinks Exchange: Are Link Swapping Safe for SEO in 2024?

Dmytro Sokhach, CEO of Admix Global
Backlink Exchange. Does It Work in 2024?

Link exchange is a topic for vigorous debate. Some are very critical of it while others get results from this strategy. With years of experience, I am on the latter team. In this article, I will tell you why I believe link exchange is a practice that is worthy of your focus.

What is Link Exchange?

Backlink exchange is a practice in SEO where two or more websites agree to link to each other. It consists of site A linking to site B, which, in exchange, makes a backlink to this site A. This strategy is often used to increase the visibility and search engine rankings of the participating websites.

According to a study by Authority Hacker, 51.6% of link-building specialists use link exchanges as one of their main tactics.

At the same time, Link exchange causes a lot of debate in the SEO community. If you consult an SEO specialist not directly involved in link building about link exchanges, they're likely to advise against it. This recommendation stems from Google's guidelines on reciprocal link exchanges.

As an SEO specialist since 2007, I've seen the evolution of practices like link exchange, also known as link trading or link swapping.

Approaches in link exchanges have evolved from reciprocal link exchanges to 3-Way Link Exchanges, now used by large companies like Monday, HubSpot, G2, and Venngage to achieve outstanding SEO results today.

Are link exchanges bad for SEO?

Link exchanges are a really touchy subject in the SEO world. Most traditional SEO consultants who don't live and breathe link building usually tell their clients to steer clear of any kind of link swapping arrangement.

It's a super divisive and controversial tactic - you'll find the link building community pretty split on whether it's a legitimate strategy or just a spammy shortcut. At the end of the day, most respected experts advise focusing your efforts on other, more sustainable link acquisition methods instead of link exchanges.

There are just too many potential downsides and risks involved with exchanging links that turn a lot of people off from the practice.

However, from personal experience, I've observed that the terrain is evolving, and even seasoned SEO professionals are striving to seize any advantageous opportunities available.

In reality, employing this strategy can assist you in acquiring exceptionally authoritative backlinks.

What Are the Types of Link Exchange?

When we talk about this strategy most people think of direct trade of links right away. But in fact, there are several tactics that can all be quite widely used. The types of link exchange include reciprocal link exchange, 3-way link exchange, and guest posting 3-way link exchange.

  • Reciprocal Link Exchange.This is a direct trade of links between two sites. For instance, Site A links to Site B, and Site B links back to Site A. It's an outdated practice and can lead to Google penalties if detected, as it's often seen as an attempt to manipulate search rankings.
  • 3-Way Link Exchange (ABC). This method involves three different websites. For example, Site A links to Site B, Site B links to Site C, and Site C links back to Site A. This creates a non-linear pattern of linking, which is less obvious as a link exchange.
  • Guest Posting 3-Way Link Exchange. This method involves writing guest posts for other sites. For instance, you (Site A) write a guest post for Site B, including a link to Site C. Then, Site C links back to Site A in a separate arrangement. This method incorporates content contribution to mask the link exchange.

As you can see, it's not as simple as it may seem at first glance because it can involve quite complex link exchange schemes.

Can Link Exchange Be Beneficial?

Many are wondering if link swaps can be beneficial. Yes, this strategy can be beneficial if it involves high-authority, relevant sites, and real business websites that maintain high-quality content. Links from such sites are likely to gain more value over time, as they come from credible and respected sources within their respective industries. This type of link exchange can support SEO efforts when executed properly and in moderation.

And here is one of the successful examples:

Jakub Rudnik, Director of Content Marketing at ActiveCampaign, shares a successful example of link exchange. He states that during his time at Scribe, they traded nearly 1,000 links, resulting in blog traffic growth from 0 to 50k, and later reaching 75k.

example of link exchange

Does Google penalize Link Exchanges?

You must be worried that backlink exchanges are against Google's Webmaster Guidelines, aren't you? To answer briefly and formally, yes, it is indeed true. Google's algorithms are designed to identify link schemes, which include excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.

These outdated practices include creating pages specifically for reciprocal backlink requests. In this way, sites received a significant percentage of reciprocal backlinks not from content, but in the form of image links or from a special links page filled with dozens or even hundreds of backlinks.

An example of this practice is having a page on a website for mutual link exchanges.

Link Exchange on website example

After you place a link to this website, they will reciprocate by linking back to you from a page containing dozens or even hundreds of other links.

This Link Section Contains links to Relevant

Such methods are considered manipulative and against the natural, content-driven approach to link building that search engines advocate and can lead to penalties from search engines like Google, which view them as attempts to artificially inflate search rankings.

Should You Avoid Reciprocal Link Exchanges?

According to Ahrefs, a well-known SEO tool, 73.6% of websites have reciprocal links.

How common are reciprocal links?

This indicates that mutual linking is a common practice across the web, often occurring naturally as websites with similar content or within the same industry reference each other.

The more popular your website is, the higher the likelihood of having mutual (reciprocal) links with other websites. At the same time, reciprocal link exchanges are a topic of concern often discussed on SEO forums.

Here’s an example: The user on Reddit is facing a situation where a high Domain Authority (DA) site has requested a link to their related article. They mention that the site is well-known, ranks well, has a high DA, and relevant backlinks in the same niche.

example from Reddit with link exchange proposal

Considering a link exchange, which would be their first, they're concerned about the possibility of receiving a Google penalty if they proceed. They seek advice on the potential risk of facing penalties from Google if they move forward with the link exchange.

Could Such a Link Exchange Lead to a Penalty?

According to Google's guidelines, they are mainly targeted against excessive link exchanges, not genuine, editorially given links that add value for users.

In my practice, and even in the public domain, I have not yet encountered cases of penalties from Google for link exchanges.

Linking to other websites is a natural practice. It's an integral part of the web's interconnected nature, allowing for the sharing of information and resources.

Modern practices like ABC link building are widely utilized by many companies, especially in the SaaS (Software as a Service) sector. This approach is more nuanced and typically involves organic, content-driven linking rather than the direct exchange of links.

At Editorial.Link, we see two advantages in using Guest Post Swap:

  1. Organic Link Building. Guest Post Swap strategy allows us to build links organically. In these posts, we include links to our own site as well as to other sites we have agreements with for exchanging posts.  This method allows us to steer clear of direct link exchanges. Instead of simply swapping links, we provide value through content, making the process more organic and favorable for SEO.
  2. Scaling Link Acquisition. Guest Post Swap enables us to significantly increase the number of backlinks. For example, you write 10 guest posts in a month, inserting one link to your site and another four to your partners. If you had placed links only to your site in these guest posts, you would have received only 10 links. In the case of exchanging guest posts, you will receive an additional 40 links from your partners' guest posts. Therefore, 10 guest posts will yield you a total of +50 links.

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    Where To Find Link Exchanges

    Finding opportunities for link swaps is oftentimes a real challenge. Let's take a look at a few options on how and where to find the right contacts and opportunities:

    Link Exchange Group
    • Facebook Groups. There are numerous groups related to SEO and digital marketing on Facebook, where members often engage in discussions about link exchanges.
    • Slack Channels. Slack channels focused on SEO and digital marketing can be great places to connect with like-minded professionals and explore link exchange opportunities.
    • LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn, you can network with other professionals in your industry. Joining relevant groups or directly connecting with individuals can lead to link exchange discussions.
    Example Of Collaboration (White Hat Link Exchanges)

    These platforms help you find good partners for link exchange. Just make sure to build relationships that benefit both parties and follow the best practices for SEO.

    Private Influencer Networks

    Private Influencer Networks (PINs) for link building involve a group of people from similar but non-competitive industries collaborating to enhance their website rankings on Google. These networks facilitate the sharing of guest posts and link opportunities among members.

    Learning how to effectively pitch guest posts to high-value publishers and finding potential PIN partners to include in your guest posts are critical steps​​​​.

    Here’s how it typically works:

    1. Identifying and Joining PINs. After identifying potential PIN partners, usually frequent guest post contributors on major blogs, you reach out with a pitch. Tools like Hunter can be used to find their contact details​​​​.
    2. Leveraging Guest Posts. The initial guest post serves as an entry point into PINs. High-quality posts on well-known, relevant websites with strong SEO metrics and a history of allowing guest posters are ideal. This strategy requires identifying websites that allow guest posts and pitching them with unique, personalized ideas, often based on gap analysis for long-tail keywords​​​​​​.
    3. Building Relationships with PIN Partners. Once you include links from these partners in your guest posts and submit them to the publishers, the partners are expected to offer you similar opportunities in return, creating a mutually beneficial relationship​.

    My advice is to first become a contributor on 3-5 popular websites, and only then look for partners for PIN or already existing PINs. This way, you can demonstrate to partners that you have something valuable to offer in return.

    Link Exchange Challenges

    While link swaps can yield positive results in SEO, there are several complexities to consider, especially if you lack a coordinated team of outreach specialists and writers:

    • Rejection Based on Low Domain Authority (DA): Websites with a higher DA or Domain Rating (DR) may refuse link swaps if your site has a lower DA or DR. These metrics, which indicate a website's strength and credibility, are crucial in the decision-making process for many site owners.
    Question on link exchange request - example from reddit
    • Difficulty in Creating PINs. Establishing a network of partners for link swaps can be difficult. Building relationships requires enhancing your activity on social media, interacting with partners, meeting at conferences, and a lot of communication.

    The most challenging part of creating PINs is reaching out to top-tier websites and writing guest posts for them.

    If you don't have access to top-tier websites, then apart from links from your own site, you won't be able to offer much value to your partners.

    • Preference for Similar DA/DR Sites. Sites with high DA or DR often prefer to exchange links with other sites having comparable metrics. This can make it difficult for sites with lower DA/DR to engage in beneficial link swaps with these higher authority sites.
    • Extended Timeframe for Link Acquisition. The process of acquiring links can be prolonged. Some sites might agree to place your link only after they see their link live. This reciprocal approach can delay the overall timeline for effective link building.
    • Need for Ongoing Contact Maintenance. It's essential to continually maintain and update your contact database, as some websites may not be trustworthy partners. They might remove your links after some time or change them to nofollow links.

    Regularly monitoring and working only with verified, reliable partners is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of your link swap strategy.

    At our company, Editorial.Link, we have established PINs and built connections with over 2000 website owners. We leverage top-tier SEO tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Hunter, for which we invest approximately $100,000 annually.

    Editorial.Links pay 42,490 USD for Ahrefs

    Our team of 25 includes outreach specialists, researchers, writers, and guest posters, enabling us to acquire links from reputable sites such as HubSpot, Monday, ClickUp, Envato, among others.

    Thanks to our well-coordinated efforts, we are able to offer competitive pricing to our clients and, importantly, ensure the fulfillment of link-building plans with the desired momentum.

    Additionally, the average Domain Rating (DR) of the links we build for our clients is 67, reflecting the high quality of our link-building strategies. This approach significantly enhances the online presence and search engine rankings of our clients.

    A Simple Checklist for Link Exchange

    As you've already figured out, I wouldn't recommend relying entirely on metrics like DA and DR. Here's what I would pay attention to if you are thinking about whether you should exchange links with this or that site:

    • A Website Should Look Like a Real Business. The website should look like it's a real, functioning business or organization, not a link farm. Signs of a legitimate website include regular updates, professional design, and content relevant to its purported industry or niche. Avoiding sites like Medium where links are easily accessible. This ensures that the backlinks we gain are exclusive and of high value.
    • Growing Traffic. Check that the website shows signs of growing or consistent traffic. This indicates that the site is active, well-regarded, and likely to bring value through the link exchange.
    • Outbound Links Ratio. Ensure that the website you're exchanging links with maintains a healthy ratio of outbound links. Too many outbound links, especially if they're not relevant to the content, can signal a low-quality site to search engines.

    Follow this short checklist and you can easily determine if link exchange with the site is worth the effort and time spent.

    Final Words about Link Swaps

    In summary, while link swaps can be a valuable tool in an SEO strategy, they require careful planning, a well-coordinated outreach effort, and ongoing management to be truly effective and to avoid potential pitfalls. You shouldn't be daunted by this tactic and avoid it, especially if you're open to developing the right approach to link exchange.

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