Link Exchange Best Practices

So what is link building?

Over the past few years links pages on websites have changed from being a list of useful links to an un-ordered database of junk – this is due to the popular belief that “link building” is contacting any site that has a links page, and is vaguely related to the genre of the site you are promoting, and asking to exchange links – the theory being that Google will see the additional link to your site and assume your site is popular and worth indexing.

There are hundreds of companies that offer SEO services branded as being “White Hat” Search Engine Optimisation that support this method of link-building and in fact, you can do this sort of link-building without the help of an SEO company.

Google doesn’t appreciate these methods of link-building – the general consensus is that Google will ignore links on websites that link to each other – because this would normally indicate self promotion or a link exchange specifically for that purpose.

This barrier that Google has thrown up has spawned another method of link-building – 3 way link exchanges (Which are also offered by a lot of SEO companies and often branded as “White Hat” SEO). This entails trading links between 3 sites (as the name suggests); for example: site A will link to site B, and in exchange, site B will link to site Ab. In theory, this will hide from Google the fact that the 3 sites are related and therefore it won’t ignore the links.

The immediate problem with this method is that people participating in underhand SEO create dummy sites whose sole purpose is to hold links from these link exchanges.

So what is wrong with these methods?

bad neighborhood

This is not the right way to build links to your website. At the most extreme level, this method can damage your websites online reputation – you may have heard the term “bad neighbourhoods” – this is a reference to sites that Google disfavours for various reasons (bad content, underhand SEO tactics etc) and by having a link to or from a site in a bad neighbourhood your online reputation will also become damaged.

However, there is a much more fundamental problem with these link exchange methods, its something that most people overlook, but it actually holds the key to effective link exchange – these techniques are making a mockery of links pages and are also detrimental to your website visitors. It wouldn’t be ridiculous, based on these issues, to assume that pretty soon Google will start ignoring the majority of link exchanges, or even scrap or completely re-design the PageRank system – similar to how Meta Keywords are now defunct.

So how should it be done?

Before PageRank and before the internet became such a competitive and accessible market place Links pages were a different beast – a links page was a place where you put links to sites that you thought were really good, or sites that contained information useful but beyond the scope of the containing website – not many links pages fit this description now, but they should.

If you want to work on link-building for your website, always bare the above in mind, forget about self promotion and forget about PageRank. Build your links page for your visitors – only put sites on there that you think are of use to them.

If you want to take a more active approach, look for interesting sites and ask them if they will exchange links – but as a measure of whether a site is really worth exchanging links with, consider this -  would you still add the link if they would not link back to you? If the answer to this question is no, then you probably shouldn’t exchange links.

If you implement this method of link building along side the many other SEO techniques (code validation, semantic layout, image inclusion, effective page titles etc) AND fill your website with good content, at some point you will find that sites will do a similar thing and start linking to you of there own accord – when that happens it’s a really nice feeling!

What about the “No-Follow” attribute?

I have to mention this here – the no follow attribute is an addition to the hyperlink tag that tells Google (and other search engines) not to follow the link – of course Google will follow the link, but it will not take the relationship into account (as far as PageRank is concerned). A lot of people implement the no follow tag when exchanging links – in the hope that Google will count the incoming link, but ignore the outgoing one – therefore making for a one-way-beneficial link exchange.

Using no follow in this context does not make sense – its like telling your visitors “take a look at this site, but actually we do not endorse this site and we want no relationship with it”.

In my opinion no follow should only be used in the following situations:

  • If you have content on your own site that you do not wish Google to index
  • If you have links being created by users (such as in a forum) that you cannot vouch for.

There is a good article that covers this subject in much more depth, available here:

8 Comments on "Link Exchange Best Practices"

  1. Joseph says:

    Good introduction summary to link building…but why the lions? You also said that sites linking to each other will have those links ignored, yet you endorsed link exchange. Could you clarify?

  2. Thanks for your comments Joseph! Firstly the lions – they were added by The Web Squeeze Admin team – probably some subtle reason for them but I don’t know it. As for the link exchange comments, What I meant to say was that generally it is ASSUMED that link exchanges will be ignored, but I personally don’t think this is ALWAYS the case – if we assume linking should hold two main goals – 1. to connect the Internet together (this is vital for things to work and its a fundamental concept of the Internet) and 2. for the benefit of a particular websites readers – so assuming Google of all people are astute enough to understand this, then I’m sure they would not NECESSARILY ignore a link because it went both ways – therefore I think in order to have the links recognized you just need to build links on the basis that really, you are giving your visitor a GOOD link to a GOOD site that will be of benefit for them to visit – if this requirement is fulfilled, then IF that site happens to link back to you, I don’t think it would be ignored.

  3. Joseph says:

    Alright, that makes sense.

    Say you link to a blog that you believe has really good content, but doesn’t have a lot of followers.

    The owner of the blog gets excited, appreciates your pingback, and decides to reciprocate the favor.

    Does this nullify the link since it’s an exchange?

  4. Good question – I think theres two different ways of looking at things – I think Google does take note of or ignore links depending on certain criteria – some of which will revolve around two way linking tactics, and I think if you look at it from a technical point of view, the situation you describe might well cause the link to be ignored by Google – or it might not, and if your always looking at it from a technical point of view, you can try three-way linking and you may crack the system – but then Google might change its algorithm slightly and reverse the effects.

    The other way of looking at it is to base your decisions on what Google is actually trying to achieve rather than how they are trying to achieve it – build links on an ethical basis and with the visitor in mind – so for your scenario above, linking to the blog is fine because it has really good content, and if they link back to you, that is also fine – and in fact its out of your hands anyway – as with the technical method, this could have good or bad effects depending on how Google tweaks its algorithm, but with this method you have the added bonus that you are providing a good and ethical service to your visitors – which goes along way, and also you can assume with this method you have the same long-term goals as Google and therefore it will more than likely pay off in the long term.

  5. logolitic says:

    Im totally agree here! A lot of blogs dont make link exchange if you dont have PR like them or bigger! But why should be that way? If the blog its really nice and with original posts, it should be promoted in this way!

    You have to be careful and analyze the blog content before you make link exchange.

  6. Dirk says:

    Thanks for the article! What about link exchange software? Is there one that trumps them all? what do the pros use? I agree with your article where you said you should ask yourself
    “would I link to this site even if they chose not to link back” the whole point is to educate your visitor and give them useful information as to whatever goals they’re trying to reach.

    I was using a program and was wondering if it was actually hurting my page rank. I only added sites that were relevant to my potential customers, but the sites I was adding seemed like alot of them were duplicate sites just with different domains. so I stopped using it.

  7. penny script says:

    Agree with you on this,well i have gone through the post and found it really interesting to read
    Thanks for such a wonderful post

  8. I wonder if it helps to link to a site that is a similar background. Or is it just the same if you link to anyone? Does page rank help?

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