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.
Link exchange is a practice in SEO where two or more websites agree to link to each other. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to Ahrefs, a well-known SEO tool, 73.6% of websites have 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.
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.
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:
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:
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 (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:
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.
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:
Although metrics like DR and DA can be easily manipulated (I conducted a public experiment and demonstrated this), unfortunately, many partners still rely on them.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Follow this short checklist and you can easily determine if link exchange with the site is worth the effort and time spent.
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.