What Are Exchange Links? (& How Do They Impact SEO?)

Adam Steele
Sep 12
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Link building is a time-consuming and challenging process, and it can take a long time for results to become evident. Exchange links promise to speed up the process by mutually benefiting both you and any sites you exchange links with.

But is it that simple? An exchange link is a backlink that is gained by agreeing to provide a link in return. The idea is that both parties benefit from the SEO boost and potential referral traffic.

In this article, we’ll explain exactly what exchange links are, discuss the benefits and potential risks of using them, and get to the bottom of how you can use them the correct way.

What Are Exchange Links?

Exchange links, also sometimes called reciprocal links are links that are essentially traded between two or more parties. The term reciprocal links implies two parties, while exchange links can potentially include multiple parties in a more complicated exchange.

Multi-website exchange links typically involve a chain of websites that link to each other in a loop. For example, website A links to website B, B links to C, C links to D, and D links back to A. Each link passes link juice to the next, so all should get a boost in PageRank, Google’s algorithm for determining search rankings.

Why would two or more websites agree to do this? In short, if they all belong to a similar niche with similar audiences but are not direct competitors, the idea is that they can each enjoy a boost in search engine rankings and exposure to new audiences without having to pay or otherwise spend time or resources to earn the backlinks.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of links online that may appear to be exchange links, but that aren’t actually part of any explicit coordination. It’s expected that websites in the same niche will occasionally mention one another and that this will result in reciprocal links without any formal exchange taking place.

Exchange Links and SEO

Backlinks are a powerful driver of search engine rankings. Google’s algorithm takes into account the various backlinks pointing to a website in order to gauge how relevant, informative, and high-quality that website is.

The more quality backlinks it has from other authoritative websites with high domain authority (DA), the more value people must find in it. Therefore, it is more likely to appear at the top of search results.

Exchange links should, in theory, provide a positive SEO impact for all parties in an exchange. This was the basis of many link exchanges that popped up in the past offering websites a place to find appropriate partner sites with which to exchange links.

These link exchange sites are viewed more skeptically today because of Google’s own explicit statement that link schemes, including “excessive link exchanges”, are in violation of their webmaster guidelines. They’re seen as inauthentic and therefore can lead to a demotion in rankings or even the deindexing of your site.

However, the word “excessive” does a lot of work in Google’s statement about link exchanges. Even they imply that some exchange links are normal, and it would be unrealistic to expect an internet with no reciprocal linking between websites.

Therefore, from an SEO perspective, exchange links can definitely play a role in your overall strategy.

Should they be the only part of your strategy? Definitely not. But appropriate use of exchange links can have plenty of perks. Let’s get into what those are, exactly.

Benefits of Exchange Links

Exchange links can give you all of the benefits generally associated with high-quality backlinks. In order to get the best results, try to limit any deliberate exchanges with websites that have a similar domain authority (DA) to your site (or, ideally, even higher).

You can use a DA checker to evaluate other sites’ DA. This is a third-party ranking that provides a very good indication of how likely a website is to rank highly in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher the DA ranking, the likelier that site is to rank.

Assuming you’re exchanging links with a website that’s a good match for you, here are some of the benefits you can generate:

  1. Higher rankings in Google – An interesting study from Ahrefs that aimed to uncover whether exchange links help or hurt SEO found that roughly half of the websites at the top of Google’s results contained reciprocal links with other sites. This is an interesting finding because it indicated that while you can reach the top of the SERPs without exchange links, plenty of websites contain at least some. If used appropriately, they can be part of a winning strategy to help you meet your SEO goals.
  2. Improved UX for both sites – With any SEO efforts, it can be easy to get distracted by algorithmic considerations and to forget that the ultimate goal is to create the best possible experience for your users. That’s what Google’s algorithm is trying to approximate, too: they want to deliver the most useful information through their search algorithm. Well-placed exchange links can provide a user experience boost for both websites, as long as the links genuinely enhance the content in which they appear.
  3. A bump in referral traffic – Not only can you potentially see some increased traffic directly from Google, but if you wisely exchange links with websites in your niche, you should also get some traffic directly from the link.
  4. Build trust and brand recognition – If you can secure mentions on popular, trusted sites, it can help you establish trust and increase recognition of your brand. The more this happens, the more organic links you’re like to secure without as much effort.

If used in a limited way that appears natural to Google, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about getting in trouble with Google.

However, there are potential risks to this technique. Let’s take a look at them so that you can avoid them.

Are Exchange Links Risky?

Google does advise against excessive link exchanges, and there is no shortage of reports online over the years from websites that appear to have been punished by Google for trying to artificially inflate their rankings with tons of exchange links.

The risk generally comes from excessive, artificial manipulation rather than from the occasional well-placed, natural exchange link that enhances the content in which it appears.

Here are some things that might happen if you’re too liberal with your use of exchange links or if you use them in ways that are clearly only for SEO purposes, with no consideration for the reader:

  1. Reduce your DA – This can happen if you exchange links with low-quality, low-DA websites. Being connected to those websites, especially through many links, will make your website appear to have low-quality information on it. Keep in mind that when it comes to backlinks of any kind, including exchange links, quality is far more important than quantity.
  2. Help the competition – If you exchange links with websites that are competitors in some way, you might end up elevating their SEO rankings without getting much of a boost yourself. It’s hard to know exactly what the impact of each link will be, so you may tip the balance towards them. That’s why it’s best to avoid exchanging links with competitors.
  3. Site de-indexing – This is the worst-case scenario and is unlikely to happen, but if you abuse any kind of link scheme including excessive exchange links, Google could potentially either push you further down the SERPs or, in serious cases, de-index your site so it isn’t discoverable through search at all.

For these reasons, it’s probably best to avoid using link exchanges that promise quick SEO results. Instead, focus on developing meaningful relationships with websites you can occasionally link to and expect to get links from. This keeps the appearance of your exchange links natural and authentic.

Exchange Links Best Practices

There are things you can do to avoid encountering any of these risks. Here’s how to get exchange links the right way, boosting your SEO and providing a positive experience for your readers and site visitors in the process.

Focus on quality and relevancy

If your exchange links enhance your content and are with websites that you can be reasonably expected occasionally share reciprocal links with, it’s unlikely that you’ll raise any red flags for Google.

As long as the websites you exchange links with also have plenty of other kinds of links such as organic links on their site, you’re unlikely to become guilty by association.

Consider location

This comes down to whether your business is local or not. If you’re trying to market locally, this will change how you go about your SEO strategy. Local SEO is a different game than traditional SEO, and having links from other local businesses in your geography will help. This is also referred to as geo-relevant linking.

Look for other websites or businesses in your niche that aren’t direct competitors that you can share reciprocal links with locally. Exchange links with sites that aren’t in your area may help your overall SEO, but won’t be as impactful for your business as local links.

Content matters

The best way to get backlinks is with fantastic content, and even if you’re trying to land some exchange links, the websites you approach will be more interested if they see great content on your site. Creating interesting, original blog posts and other forms of content can help you attract the attention of high-DA sites with which you may want to exchange links.

Evaluate the number of outbound links

If you can see the page on which your link will appear, make sure there aren’t too many outbound links. While there isn’t a firm number you need to be concerned about, know that a high number of outbound links might suggest to Google that the website is selling links. This can damage your rankings by association since a link on that page would imply you paid for it.

Diversify your tactics

Some exchange links are not okay, but your backlink portfolio should include all kinds of links from different sources, using different link text, and pointing to various pages on your site. This will help your overall link profile look natural, authentic, and trustworthy to Google, giving them a good reason to elevate your website ranking.

Summary

While relying on link exchanges isn’t a recommended strategy today, some exchange links can be a part of an effective SEO strategy. It’s clear that exchange links are still used and accepted by Google as long as they aren’t used excessively,  since many top websites appear to have some.

Avoid lots of explicit exchange links in favor of developing relationships with websites in your niche that you can link to from time to time when it helps your content, and have them do the same.

If all this talk of link building has you a little overwhelmed, not to worry. Loganix can take the time-consuming task of link building off your plate, so you can focus on building your business.

Written by Adam Steele on September 12, 2022

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.

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