What Is Considered Link Exchange, And Can It Harm My Site?

By Daniel Scocco

questions and answersThis post is part of the Friday Q&A section. If you want to ask a question just send it via the contact form.

Destination Infinity asks:

If a blog/website has linked to a particular page of my blog, is it ok with search engines if I link back from the same page or from another page on my blog? Or should I not link back at all, as search engines may consider it as link exchange?

Link exchanges were very popular some years ago. In fact they represented one of the main methods webmasters used to improve their search rankings. Then one day Google’s algorithm became more sophisticated, and link exchanges stopped working so well. On some cases it even harmed the sites involved.

This change gave link exchanges a bad reputation, and today most bloggers and website owners see them as an evil practice that might get you in trouble with Google (as the question itself illustrates). But, that is not entirely true.

What Google frowns upon are artificial or manipulative link exchanges. That is, link exchanges that have the sole purpose of artificially inflating the search rankings of the websites involved.

For example, suppose I have an online store that sells car parts, and then I decide to do a link exchange with my friend that has a weight loss blog. I put a link to his blog with the keyword “weight loss” on my sidebar, and he does the same for me with the keyword “car parts.” This link exchange is clearly artificial and intended to manipulate search rankings. As a result it could get both of our sites in trouble with Google.

Natural link exchanges, on the other hand, are fine with Google, because those are created to help users in the first place. For example, suppose I have a cooking blog. I could create a section in the sidebar called “Blogs I Read”, and then link to several cooking blogs I think have great content. After that I could contact the blog owners and ask if they wanted to partner and link to my blog as well. The main goal of these link exchanges is to help the users discover new and relevant resources, and not to manipulate search rankings. Sure, they might have a positive effect on the rankings, but that is a consequence.

Answering to the main question now: as long as you are linking back to that page for a reason (e.g., because you want to let your readers know about it, or because you want to add counter-argument to the discussion), Google won’t have a problem with that.

Here is a rule of thumb you can use in the future for any SEO related issue: if you are doing something because it makes sense either for your website or for your users (i.e., something to improve your navigation, to give more content to your readers, to let them know about a new section of your site) then Google is probably fine with that. If you are doing it mainly because you think it will improve your search rankings (e.g., adding keywords where they are not supposed to be, creating tags and tag clouds, getting links with optimized anchors), on the other hand, Google might not like it that much.



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16 Responses to “What Is Considered Link Exchange, And Can It Harm My Site?”

  • FitnessScrolls

    I find it hard to believe Google has people auditing links, that’s million of hours worth of work…

  • BlogTechOnline

    I have got some request for link exchanges and I have avoided them.

  • Toby

    really like the post, your rule of thumb is great and I too will bear it in mind. Its scary that if you get an element of this wrong what it can do to your traffic stats as the guy above illustrates – need to get it right

  • Harshad Sonaje

    Thats really great information. Thats kind of a myth buster. I have couple of questions..
    1. Are BackLinks and LinkBacks same.
    2. Almost all blogging platforms provide comments which accept web address. Is it harmful to leave a comment with your website address attached?
    3. Are links in comments given less importance than those on the home page of a website by Google?

  • Umesh

    Do you think pingback links are also considered as a bad link? Should we allow this or not?

  • Destination Infinity

    Also, sometimes I guess its better to ‘nofollow’ such links. I had a very relevant link from my sidebar to another site. But this link is crucial as it explains about the basics of what I have written. And it has to be kept on the sidebar so that its visible to everyone reading individual posts. So, I no-followed it.

    Destination Infinity

  • Destination Infinity

    I had a footer link from one site to another (both mine), the second one was relatively new, but unrelated. The traffic came down (on the new site) by almost 65-70%! After I took it off, its now increasing gradually buy visibly.

    It seems the footer link is considered as a link from every page of ones blog, and perhaps google thought the number of links were artificially inflated suddenly. Actually I did it because it was the most comfortable position to link!

    But what about footer links? Are they bad? My theme developer has footer links to his site from every site that uses his theme. Will he be penalized similarly or only new sites are?

    BTW thanks for not linking my site from this post Daniel, lest google considers the last one and this one as some kind of link exchange 😀

    Destination Infinity

  • Mike

    I actually haven’t done any link exchanges with my blog yet. I will definitely ask other fantasy sports and video game websites if they want to link-up. Thanks for the Advice.

  • John Sherry

    Actually I’m a fan of the honest linking practice – I prefer links based on liking and following rather than pretending and inflating. For once Google get an A+ on this one. But unfortunately soon someone will find a way round it….

  • Rightmove

    Daniel, another great article my friend. I used to do link exchanges on internet marketing forums, first i thought it was effective. However, it slowly decreased, hardly anyone mentions anything to do with link exchanging. Except for directories, some of the directories ask you for a link back to their directory.

    In my point of view, keep the link exchange low. Don’t have 10 websites on your page linking to other websites. If you can, keep the links in your niche. Google might take it as friendly links!

    Thanks!

  • Pumama

    I only exchange link for all site in my network :D.

  • Fiona

    Completely sound and sensible advice.

    I do believe you can get away with some ‘strategic’ linking, however!

    But in the main, as with crafting good content, crafting good links for your readers is a win for everyone.

  • Sujith

    Yes Daniel, that’s why I neglect link exchange and link sale requests.

  • Vivek Parmar

    sometimes link exchange will harm you and Google Penalize you for this

  • Geet | HobbyPainting

    Will definitely remember your “rule of thumb”. A human being can easily make out if a link is genuine… But still wondering how Google will distinguish between a natural link & a considered link.

    • Daniel Scocco

      Remember that Google has human editors too. When the algorithm can not figure things out it will just raise a red flag, and then a human editor will see what is going on.

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