Link Exchanges – When they Make Sense and 3 Ways to Avoid Penalties

Link Building

Link trading and link buying were once the accepted norm. Like keyword stuffing, it was just something “everyone” did to get their site URL out there, hoping to get more traffic, and high search engine page ranks. Links were links and it didn’t matter whose links they were. An auto parts manufacturer might exchange links with a bookseller; a bookseller might exchange links with a furniture business. The more links, the higher the ranking. It didn’t matter that such trades did not serve the customer well at all. It was all about the search rankings and how fast a business could get to the top.

Of course, that has all changed. Exploding traffic and link building strategies are no longer so easy. And if you make it easy, then you may be engaged in behavior that will result in penalties, mostly algorithmic, but occasionally manual – and this you definitely don’t want. One of the ways you may be making some of your link-building easy but taking a big risk is through link exchanges.

Before you say yes to link exchanges or pursue them yourself, you will want to understand how search engine algorithms view them and the kinds of exchanges that could result in penalties for you.

Devaluing Vs. Penalty Vs. Referral Traffic

This is not to say that you should not engage in link exchanges. There are times when it is appropriate and quite valuable and thus makes good sense. And while reciprocal linking devalues those links, there are no penalties involved, as long as the exchange makes sense to search engines. Even though they may be devalued, there is another huge benefit of link exchanges, and that is referral traffic. Each link to your site that sits on another site is a method by which someone can come over to your site. And while there are other ways to generate more traffic, some traffic from a link exchange is still a good thing. If you sell bathing suits, a link from a cruise line might be pretty valuable and vice versa. If you sell hunting gear, a business that sells camping equipment would be a good prospect for a link exchange. You are probably seeing a bit of a pattern here.

When Link Exchanges Make Sense

If your brother is a lawyer with a website and you own an interior design business, there is no logic in a link exchange. If on the other hand, you are in the interior design business and your brother sells furniture, there’s a link that is rational. Here’s are two general guidelines when considering a link exchange:

1. Do you and the other business share any audience(s)? If one ecommerce site is selling a totally different product but they share the same audiences because there is some relationship between the people who buy his product and yours, then a link exchange will make sense. If I sell luxury jewelry to high-end customers and you have an online magazine that caters to high-end consumers, then a link exchange will benefit us both.

2. Link exchanges are sometimes appropriate when both businesses can provide more education to their audiences by that exchange. If I own a garden and nursery website, for example, and your business is patios and decks, then our audiences might appreciate having the additional education that they can get about their outdoor space through reciprocal links. We are at least somewhat related. And if you and I both write articles every day on our blogs that are of high quality, both of our audiences will benefit.

When Link Exchanges Do Not Make Sense

Link trading should be done carefully and thoughtfully. Here are situations in which link trading is not a good idea:

1. When you get a request for an exchange, always check out the site. If it looks sleazy, spammy, badly maintained and has content that is not good quality, walk away.

2. If the site requesting an exchange is not even remotely related to your business, say no. You know what is relevant and what is not. Use your good judgement.

3. When you visit a site that has requested an exchange, and you see that it is exchanging links with many other unrelated sites, this is a bad sign. This person is on a collision course with penalties, and you do not want on that racetrack when they hit.

Avoiding Those Penalties

Even when you follow the guidelines listed above, and you determine that a link exchange would be beneficial both to you and your audience, there are some other considerations if you want to ensure no penalties.

1. Do not do site-wide exchanges. Footer links will appear on every page of your site and are considered suspicious.

2. Don’t use keywords in the anchor text of your link. This looks unnatural and could be penalized. Make the link flow naturally within your text. You will only want three types of anchors in link exchanges:

  • The site’s web address
  • The site’s company name
  • Some type of “neutral” word or phrase such as “this company,” “this site,” or “click here.”

3. Only link out from the most relevant page of your site to the most related page on the other site. For example, you might have a blog post that logically could be relevant to a post on the other site. Those links are definitely complementary. The same goes for products. You would link your product page to the other’s product page if the products are complementary. Linking homepages is bad business – don’t do it.

Link exchanges can be beneficial, of course. If done right and well, they can increase traffic by potential customers. The question that search engine algorithms are asking about link exchanges is this: Are they unusual? If your gut tells you a link exchange is “unusual,” it probably is, and you should decline to do it. Plus, there are so many other ways to build links that are logical and effective, you should use link exchanges for only a small part of your total link-building strategy.

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