There has long been a misconception that the more external links to your website the better. However, not all backlinks are the same, and one authoritative, topically relevant link is almost certainly worth more than all the irrelevant ones put together.
Getting links to your website is not particularly hard… you only have to answer one of the many emails offering you DA 30 links for £50. What is difficult, however, is gaining quality links from reputable sources that add value and increase your search rankings through the keywords they are already ranking for in search.
Once it became apparent links were valuable, it didn’t take long for webmasters to adopt a ‘you scratch my back’ approach to building them for each other. However, as search engines continued to become more advance, this spammy approach to gaming the system was never going to last.
In this article we’ll cover why reciprocal linking is not a bad thing, in moderation. Though, you probably shouldn’t have it as a core pillar of your linking strategy.
What is a link exchange?
Link exchanges (otherwise known as reciprocal links) are when you link to a website in exchange for said website to link back to yours. It’s a ‘do something for me, and I’ll do something for you’ type deal and can be an easy way for both parties to receive links to their site with the potential to boost rankings, increase traffic, and build authority.
However, reciprocal linking is considered a link building scheme and violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This is because link exchanges aren’t gained naturally, but rather through a pre-arranged agreement.
Of course, there are instances where you would link to each other without improved rankings in mind. It’s a fine line for search engines to It’s a fine line for search engines to navigate and understand. A partnership, a shared event or a mutual love of a subject… But if it’s purely to get your numbers up, it will likely result in the sort of low quality, off topic links that reduce trust and sit atop your next disavow.
Exchanging links: Should you do it?
As we all know, search engines have evolved to understand context better than ever before. Why is a link there? Who is it benefitting? If it isn’t a way to help the reader or an honest recommendation for a website, its intentions probably aren’t worth rewarding.
So, why do websites still do it?
Well, as discussed there are many natural instances where two companies might announce their arrangement. A supplier and a wholesaler, for instance. The speaker who is listed on the function’s website announcing the event on their own website. The vast majority of website users don’t understand the intricate values of the backlink profile, and link in a completely natural way to benefit the reader.
That’s the good side of it (the minority). Unsurprisingly, the black hat side of it still exists… because, well, for the same reason PBN (Private Blog Networks) still exist. Less scrupulous SEOs preying on those who don’t know and making a quick buck by ‘building links’.
In a study conducted by Ahrefs, for example, 26.4% of the 140,592 domains used in their sample were shown to have no reciprocal links, while 73.6% did. Moreover, 27.4% of the sites studied showed at least a 15% overlap between the sites they have a pre-arranged relationship with.
If you choose to dabble in the world of reciprocal link building, do so wisely. It’s certainly not a method we’d advise employing, but as part of a natural link profile growing over time – it’s not unnatural to have some. It should only be a small portion, mind, and only to / from reputable, relevant resources.
Remember, a link out of your website is a vote of trust from you – and would you want the vote in return? If yes, go for it. If no… don’t.
Are link exchanges good for SEO?
Link building should always be about relevancy. Why would this website link to yours in a natural context? It should be that the user on that website will benefit from also seeing your site. A resource, a credit, a special offer… whatever the context, so long as there is a context. Linking for linking sake is a no. If the website that is linking to you is authoritative, relevant and is receiving good levels of traffic itself, well, your linked website is going to benefit, and potentially start attracting more local, relevant search traffic than ever before.
If you want to grow your online authority and increase your rankings, focus on acquiring natural links by providing E-E-A-T and value to your industry. The first question to ask is – is it relevant to what I am doing? Put simply, focusing on natural links will let you enhance the customer experience.
Linking to high quality sites that are relevant to your content enhance the reader’s overall experience on your website, providing value, offering additional resources to further educate your audience, commending your services, and increasing the likelihood of conversion.
So, how can you exchange links naturally? Well, below are some tips from us to make the most of your link exchange efforts.
Your links should add value
Don’t add links into your content just for the sake of adding links – the links you include should always add value.
Linking to high quality resources related to the subject you are discussing will provide your readers with more information. This, in turn, will demonstrate your dedication towards supplying your audience with the best content, the highest quality resources, and links to valuable sources of information.
Don’t exchange links with low quality sites
If Google discovers that you are linking out to a lot of low quality websites, the trust value assigned to your website will be negatively affected. Therefore, always choose high quality sites to link to. And, if you are unsure about how trustworthy a site is, don’t link to it.
You should also review the sites you’re linking to every couple of months because some sites can reduce in quality over time, potentially dragging your trust score down as well. With regular backlink checking, you can disavow low quality links to keep your backlink profile healthy..
How to link safely to relevant companies
The more relevant links you have from quality sites pointing to your website, the better your rankings, traffic, and topical authority. But how can you gain links from relevant companies in a natural but mutually beneficial way? Through content exchange.
If you want to exchange valuable links with relevant (non-competing) companies in your industry, offer to write an article for their website and link back to your own. Many businesses prefer this method of link building as it provides free content and naturally embedded links that offer true value to the publishing website.
And if they want you to also link back to them, then see if they are willing to write an article for you in exchange for a link. This way, you receive a piece of free content for your website as well as links, providing more authority, more referral traffic, than a standalone link, or even worse an unnatural link insertion added into a blog from 10 years ago that receives low traffic.
Is the link contextually relevant?
If you want to build a backlink profile of high quality links, consider the context.
If you are trying to earn a link from a website that has high authority but nothing to do with your niche, you are – in effect – manipulating the search results (a big no-no, according to Google’s guidelines and worth penalising).
To avoid any trouble, focus on link exchanges with sites that are related to what you do.
If you run a plumbing service, for example, you should work to gain links from home improvement websites or through help and advice articles. Those are just a few examples, but do you see the link between the two?
While not exactly the same, home improvement sites will talk about how to improve your property and one of the ways you can do this is by hiring a plumber (add your link here). Help and advice articles would work in the same way. Have you got a blocked sink? Don’t know who to call about a gurgling kitchen drain?
It’s all about context.
Reciprocal links should be non-competing
Don’t link to your competitors. Just don’t do it.
This is a big no-no as it sends potential customers away from your website, straight into the arms of your competitors.
Link exchanges work best when sites talk about similar subjects but are targeting different audiences.
So, are link exchanges risky?
All link building strategies come with an element of risk. It all comes down to how carefully you prospect and execute potential link swaps to reduce this risk.
For example, if you opt to swap links with poor quality websites, it’s probably not going to work out well. However, if you follow the advice we have outlined in this article, such as avoiding excessive link exchanges by opting only for good/relevant opportunities, then you can benefit from this approach both now and in the future.
If you are still cautious about reciprocal link building, that’s probably a good thing. It should be used sparingly. Too much and it will ruin all your effort.
At Hive19, we deliver the highest quality backlink profiles for clients. Things that have worked in the past may not work in the future, but one thing that will always win: quality and relevance.
A balanced approach that is focused around quality, relevancy and user experience will always be king. If you are interested in learning more, check out our guides and resources in our link building hub, or contact us today to find out more.