Link Exchange: What Does It Mean? Should You Do It?

Talking about link exchange, as it were, might come off as abstract. Let’s tell you a story instead!

Ever heard of Copyblogger and Problogger?

If you’re not into content marketing, you might even assume that Copyblogger and Problogger are subdomains to a domain. Well, they are not.

The two sites only have a root suffix: blogger.

However, the similarities go beyond the word “blogger.” The two sites talk about content writing and marketing.

But that’s not even the gist of the story. This is:

Copyblogger and Problogger guest posts on each others’ sites. Still, they promote each other’s products by sending traffic to their email lists.

In summary, Copyblogger and Problogger are buddies helping themselves gain traffic and sales.

That buddy relationship is what link exchange entails.

For specifics, Copyblogger and Problogger have exchanged over 350 backlinks amongst themselves [ViperChill]. But isn’t that against Google’s rule?

Is this technique not a grey or black hat link building? Is it safe? Should you use it for your money sites?

Let’s find it!

But first, let’s discuss what link exchange is and what Google thinks about it.

Like the name, link exchange means two or more sites exchanging links to promote their business and to PARTICULARLY improve each other’s rankings on search engines. 

The technique is somewhat new. Even at that, it has gained prominence among SEOs. So much so there are different types of link exchange.

There are 4 types of link exchange. But despite the variation, the goal is still the same:

Operate on mutual trust and network of partners helping each other with backlinks.

That said, here are the different types of link exchange:

  • Guest post swaps
  • Reciprocal links
  • Three-way link exchange
  • Private influencer networks

Guest Post Swaps

The strategy is as old as the entire concept of SEO. It is the usual guest post, but elaborate. How so?

The usual guest blogging stops at publishing your post and getting a backlink. That’s all.

Guest post swaps work on that basis too. However, this time, it’s not just you — but a band of friends.

In other words, a group of guest bloggers will write on several websites. Then, they will include a backlink to each other’s blog posts.

Depending on the arrangement, the bloggers can focus on a set of target sites first and go around until everyone is fed.

This technique is common among guest contributors on authority sites such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.

Wow, that seems simple. Right?

Not entirely. You still have to engage guest bloggers in your niche to discuss their interest in swapping. Then, you can sweeten the deal with the list of the top sites on which you’re already a guest contributor.

Note: for this technique to work, you must have something to offer the other guest bloggers. Remember, it’s an exchange.

Unlike guest post swaps, reciprocal links are straightforward. You don’t need a band of friends; one person is enough.

So, how does this reciprocal link exchange work?

You need a site with quality backlinks and an overall SEO game. Then, you’ll meet the owner for a swap.

You’ll link to the site in your posts. They (the site) will link back to you.

But doesn’t direct linking violate Google’s policies on link spam?

While the technique might seem shady, it is not. It is not grey or black hat SEO. The entire process is based on mutual trust and benefit.

In fact, over 70% of domains with 10K+ organic traffic use reciprocal links [Ahrefs]. Meaning: the technique is not “bad.” In contrast, it is a natural way to build backlinks.

In summary, reciprocal links are not violating spam policies. But remember that intentions matter.

Pro tip: don’t limit your partner to just established sites. Instead, reach out to actively growing websites; you can leverage that rapid growth for your websites.

The three-way link exchange is subtle, and there is no direct involvement from any parties involved.

How so?

Three-way link exchange uses an intermediary site to connect between two link exchangers (or more). Here is an illustration for easy comprehension:

  • Let’s say you are site “A” and your partner is site “B.”
  • You would link to an intermediary website: “C.”
  • Then, the intermediate site will then link to your friend’s site B.
  • Now, your friend’s website will link back to yours.

Ultimately, every site in the mix will receive a backlink. And it will look like a natural link building.

Warning: the three-way link exchange is often considered a black hat because it involves trickery.

If you must exchange links with someone’s site, do it directly. Trying to game the system can appear like a black hat. Unfortunately, that could serve your site up for penalty or a temporary ban from search results.

Private Influencer Networks

Private influencer networks work similarly to three-way link exchange. However, there are a few differences. 

  • More than 3 websites are involved in private influencer networks. You’ll need at least 4 different sites/companies.
  • Unlike three-way link exchange, private influencer networks are no black hats. In fact, they are like complex reciprocal links where every site receives backlinks from each other.

That said, how do private influencer networks work?

The process starts with a network ( at least 4) of high authority resources that pull resources together.

Then the sites send backlinks to each other’s money pages, guest posts, and blogs. They also use social mentions.

Despite the explanations, you are probably still on the fence about the morality of link exchange. Can you trust this method?

Remember the story we narrated from the beginning about Copyblogger and Problogger?

Well, those two companies are just the tip of the iceberg. Other companies like Mashable and TechCrunch also practice the technique.

Beyond the big shots that we know, SEOs generally practice link exchange. So much so that “link exchange” groups and communities are littered across Slack, Discord, and Facebook.

For a technique widely used, the moral can’t be wrong.

But if we are going by that logic, how about PBNs? Several SEOs use them, yet Google counts them as the bad hats.

Does Google think link exchanges are also bad hats?

What Does Google Think?

Below is an excerpt from Google’s Search Essentials — link spam:

“Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking”

Now, compare that statement to what Google says about buying links:

“Buying or selling links for ranking purposes”

Can you spot the difference?

In one rule, there is room for violation of any sort. In the other rule, the emphasis was the “excessive use” of link exchange.


Google never CATEGORICALLY stated that you can’t exchange links with other sites.

Now, let’s answer the most critical question.

Remember that we highlighted that over 70% of sites use reciprocal links. The study was carried out by Ahrefs.

Here is what’s funny:

While the head of content of Ahrefs doesn’t “exactly” advise SEOs to use link exchange, the site has a different story.

Ahrefs found that some of the sites (19%) they linked to also sent some backlinks to them. 

Imagine that!

And mind you, Ahrefs was not actively creating reciprocal links!

So, what is the way forward?

No one will categorically advise you to use or not use link exchange. Using Google’s words, the “excessive use” of the method is what you should frown at.

That said, if you’d use link exchange, there are ways to do it right. We have some tips about that below.

There are 5 steps to follow to get safe link exchanges. Each of them is crucial to your site avoiding bans.

Let’s get to the details!

To start, you must know the aims of your link exchange campaign. What do you hope to achieve?

Do you want a method that is clean and natural?

If yes, you can never work with a three-way link exchange. The method is extra shady for a technique that comes with its baggage.

Now, you’re left with three other techniques.

Next, look at your capacity. How many capable hands are on your team? Can you supply several partners?

Do you even have enough pages for, say, 4 partners?

If your answer is no, stick to reciprocal links. Fortunately, it is the most used type of link exchange.

What if you have enough resources and can feed several partners?

In that case, answer this question:

Do you own a business, or do you ONLY help other businesses?

If you are the former, stick to private influencer networks. Otherwise, use guest post swaps.

Know Where To Look For Partners

If guest post swaps are your preferred link exchange type, you might not experience issues of finding partners. Naturally, you will get backlinks.

The best part: if you create top-notch, link-worthy guest posts, other bloggers will reach out for a collaboration.

But for methods like reciprocal links and private influencer networks, finding the right partners can be quite tasking.

Even at that, there is still a way out:

Explore your social networks!

  • Start with Facebook: do a random search for groups (private and public) around your niche that talks about link building.

Join the groups and do a random in-group search to get a feel of the usual requests. If they match your interest, you’ll find what you seek.

  • Productivity/management tools — especially Slack and Discord: you’ll find communities and channels for link exchange partners.

Some workspaces primarily created channels for link exchange purposes. Find the one for your workspace; take note of keywords such as “promotion” and “content-collab.”

  • Skype: search for names of people you’d like to collaborate with and engage them. You can also type in keywords in the search box. Join the “interesting” chat groups in the results.

Choose The Right Partners

You should have a list of desired partners for your link exchange already. But don’t be in haste. Vet the candidates first. How?

Here are a few guiding rules:

  • Never work with spammy sites that look new or are built primarily to exchange links. Such websites will make your entire campaign a black hat.
  • Perhaps the phrase “spammy site” is too technical; check for the inbound and outbound links. If the former outstrips the latter or is the same, that will be a high-quality partner.

Otherwise, such a site is likely a PBN or link farm. Run!

  • If you find that a network of sites has several overlaps and poor content, don’t join. The network probably didn’t put in the work. Your efforts won’t be appreciated if you join. So, don’t waste your time.
  • If several backlinks point to a recently published article on a potential partner’s site, don’t collaborate. That’s too obvious and can be shady.
  • Don’t waste your time on unrelated niches or partners in your exact sub-niche. The latter is a direct competitor; a collaboration won’t work.

Ask The Right Questions

You likely feel like you have asked enough questions. But don’t stop; ask more.

Specifically, ask questions about the intention of your potential partners. Why do they want to join a link exchange network?

Is the intention helping people and making some bucks as a result?

Or do they (the potential partners) focus on gaming Google Search Essentials to rank faster?

You can also ask more questions as you see fit. Don’t stop until you eliminate all shreds of doubt.

Never Cross The Line

Frankly, link exchange can be tricky. If you are not careful, you can start paying to get links.

And at that stage, you’ve crossed the line to black hat link building.

So, be conscious. Remember the rule; link to valuable content and help each other grow. If that’s not on the plate, don’t participate.

Link exchanging is not bad. In contrast, it can boost your organic traffic and rankings.

But, as stated by Google, the excessive use of this technique can be the bane to your SEO campaigns.

Furthermore, about SEO campaigns, don’t make link exchanges the foundation. Start with white hat and natural methods of link building.

Link exchanges are only complementary techniques.

Want a 100% safe way to build links to your site?