As the character Caesar once said in the War for the Planet of the Apes: “Apes strong together”. The same can be said for brands and websites.
You have a better chance of increasing your online presence and reach by working with other brands than against them.
One way to collaborate with other brands, content creators, and websites is through link exchanges—an indispensable part of the modern-day SEO landscape.
The following guide will explore what they are, how you can use them to improve your SEO ranking, and more. Without further ado, let’s jump into the nitty gritty.
What is a Link Exchange?
Link exchange (aka link swapping) is an agreement between two (or more) websites to link to each other’s content (cross-linking).
This is in contrast to one-way links where one website links to content on a high-authority website’s content without reciprocation.
A link exchange essentially creates a symbiotic relationship that helps both parties, allowing them to improve their engagement, boost their online authority, and advance their search engine rankings.
At least 73% of all websites use link exchanges in some capacity.
While the concept seems straightforward enough, it isn’t completely safe. As benign and well-meaning as it may seem (in some cases), link-sharing can backfire and potentially leave your website blacklisted. But why?
Google’s Stance on Link Swapping
Search Engine providers such as Google are well aware of black hat SEO tactics used to increase page rankings.
Overuse or misuse of link exchanges leaves you at a high risk of violating Google’s spam policies. This is a big no-no since Google still owns the largest search engine market share.
Considering this, your goal should be to rank as high as possible on Google more than any other search engine. Bing has certainly been on the rise, but it still pales in comparison to its competitors.
Thus, you want to avoid being caught in a link scheme at all costs. Link schemes are deemed as any black hat SEO strategies that attempt to manipulate search engine rankings through the unnatural use of links.
This includes tactics and offenses such as:
- Hidden links within the content
- Links to spammy or shady sites
- Excessive link swapping between two sites
- Too many content pieces with the same link
Google uses your web content’s links (including backlinks) as part of its assessment to determine where it should rank.
Search engines ultimately prefer content with organic and purposeful linking, which increases the likelihood of returning search results that are relevant or helpful to users.
Site owners and content creators need to avoid frivolous link exchanges now more than ever.
In December 2022, Google unleashed SpamBrain, an AI-powered spam detection system designed to identify content with unnatural links. This includes links created through link-building software and other blackhat trickery.
But fret not. AI-powered tools tend to overpromise and under-deliver. You can still purchase backlinks, use link-building software, and link exchanges to improve your rankings.
You just have to do it strategically. Let’s look at the different ways you can perform link exchanges.
Common Link Exchange Types
The concept of link exchanges seems simple enough, right? Just find a website that complements your content the best and partner up with them.
However, you want to avoid spammy links while maximizing your link exchange strategy as much as possible. This means employing the right technique. The most well-known link exchange types are as follows:
Reciprocal Link Exchanges
This is the most well-known type of link exchange. In fact, the term “reciprocal linking” is often used interchangeably with “link exchange” since it’s considered the simplest form. In a reciprocal link exchange, two websites enter into an agreement to swap links.
However, for reciprocal links to be considered effective, the site you’re collaborating with has to agree on a dofollow backlink exchange.
In essence, this doesn’t violate Google’s spam policies unless it’s done to manipulate rankings. It’s one thing to swap links because you enjoy another website or content creator’s work; it’s another to do it for the sole purpose of cross-linking. And besides, all the big sites do it:
Guest Post Exchange
Guest blogging describes creating content for other websites in an effort to increase your own website or brand’s engagement. Guest blogs typically link back to your website or mention/advertise your brand in some capacity.
Many high-authority sites sell guest blogging spots. However, paying a fee or begging them via isn’t the only way to secure a guest post spot.
You can also enter into a guest post exchange agreement where you publish another site’s content on your website and they return the favor.
Three-Way Link Exchange
Three-way link exchanges, commonly referred to as ABC linking (reciprocal links are called ABA), describe link exchanges where three parties are involved. It’s typically used as a way to disguise cross-linking.
Imagine a scenario where you have three domains (Domain A, Domain B, and Domain C). Domain A is linked to Domain B which is linked to Domain C (Domain A > Domain B > Domain C).
In this link exchange, domains A and C are usually owned by the same entity. Three-way link exchanges are primarily used to disguise direct link exchanges.
Private Influencer Link Exchange
So if three-way link exchanges have the potential to help you safely develop a healthy catalogue of backlinks, why not add more link exchange partners to your network? This is why Private Influencer Networks (PINs) exist.
A PIN requires you to enter into a partnership with other influencers and websites. You then share and exchange links. Generally, PINs tend to be clubs consisting of well-established and high-authority sites.
Ultimately, these types of arrangements can be seen as traffic-sharing schemes. Where the followers of one website or social media account are exposed to others in hopes that they’ll convert or begin following those websites/accounts too.
Both private influencer and three-way exchanges lower the risk of altering Google’s spam detection.
How to Perform a Link Exchange: Best Practices
Before you attempt to find and pitch to link exchange partners, you must consider the quality of your own content first. Is it link-worthy? Don’t stop there.
While your content may be high-quality, how does the rest of your website look? Is the look and feel outdated? Does it look like it should be a high-authority website?
Self-assessment is as important as finding and assessing link-exchange partners – maybe even more important. After all, you’re trying to build a healthy backlink portfolio.
Furthermore, as it is a backlink exchange, you need to deliver content that is on par or superior to your potential partners so it can be as helpful to their readers as their links are helpful to yours.
When that’s done you can use the following steps to secure partnerships and perform link exchanges as safely as possible:
Find Relevant Websites/Link Exchange Partners
SEO is a mixture of competition and collaboration. You need to identify your competitors as well as potential partners. Typically, your competition is made up of websites with higher domain authority than yours.
At times, you can only really identify who your competition is after you send that first outreach email. It may sound a bit Sun Tzu-ish but those who reject your invite for a link exchange should be viewed as potential rivals.
Nevertheless, both partners and competitors can be found by searching for websites whose content is as closely related to your own niche as possible. You can use Google’s `related:` operator for this.
However, it isn’t always reliable – especially if your site is low ranking or isn’t well optimized for search engines. So you might have to do some manual searching.
You can use simple queries such as “Top [niche] sites” or “Top [niche] blogs” (eg. “Top Tech Sites”).
Once you’ve found potential competitors or partners, take some time to analyze and study their content. While they may rank highly, your website’s followers may not appreciate their content’s quality.
If you’re trying to make your link exchanges feel as organic as possible, your backlinks should connect them to helpful content.
As such, you should consider compiling a content portfolio for each potential partner, highlighting which pieces spark your interest the most.
It’s also important to study their backlink and SEO strategies. If they’re high authority sites, what patterns are making them rank so highly? What should you be adding to your own list of white hat back link-building tactics?
Once you’ve created a shortlist of potential partners (and competitors), you need to contact them.
Perform Link Exchange Outreach
Most websites’ contact information can be found on their About/About Us page. In addition to containing mission statements or the purpose of the website, it should contain contact information.
If not email addresses and/or phone numbers, it should feature a link to a contact form where you can either schedule a phone/video conference call or leave a message.
Searching every About or Contact page can be tedious and time-consuming. You can use a tool like Uplead to help you find all the contact details.
Craft a Personalized Approach to Outreach for Link Exchange
This is the part that many people get wrong – their approach. Communication can make or break you. When devising your approach, do not try to be overly friendly or familiar.
Keep it professional and respectful but do not be too cold. Focus on emphasizing the mutual benefits of entering into a link exchange partnership or building PIN. If you want to write a killer proposal, you’ll need to learn how to do outreach marketing.
You should avoid using a single template for your outreach. Each message or communication you send should be personalized. You should be familiar with your potential link exchange partner by studying their content.
Thus, you should be able to identify the writing style they like and personalize your messages accordingly. The best way to perform outreach is through email messages. It makes it easier to gauge your success rates.
For example, a study by Experian has found personalized emails to achieve 41% higher click rates.
You’ll also be able to analyze open and response rates. In turn, this will allow you to gain insight into how successful your outreach campaign is.
Remember to validate each email address on your shortlist. You can use Hunter.io’s Email Verifier to perform this task.
Hire Someone Else to Do It
If you find the entire link exchange process daunting or too time-consuming, you can always hire a specialized agency to handle it for you.
These agencies come with the advantage of having pre-established relationships with high-authority websites, saving you the initial hustle of outreach and negotiation.
Beyond just the exchange of high-authority backlinks, these agencies often provide comprehensive SEO services that include content analysis, SEO auditing, and ongoing performance tracking.
By contacting BlueTree, you tap into their wealth of experience, ensuring that the links you get are not just numerous, but also high-quality and highly relevant to your content.
Most of the time, pricing for backlink services varies depending on the agency’s reputation and the scale of the project. While this may seem like like another additional expense, consider it an investment into the long-term health and authority of your website.
The potential ROI from increased traffic and higher search engine rankings often justifies the upfront cost.
Placing Your Link Exchanges
So you’ve successfully secured a link exchange. How do you integrate into your content? It’s best to integrate links as naturally as possible.
Avoid using naked URLs unless it makes sense. Using naked URLs does add some diversity and makes for less spammy-looking links, though.
However, the best way to integrate links is by using anchor text. Not all anchor text should match the contents of the primary keyword or resource identifier (the end part of a URL).
Instead, vary your anchor texts. You can use secondary keywords or point to certain key information that the content the link points to holds.
Whatever the approach, you use, make sure it feels organic and necessary to avoid alerting Google’s spam features. It’s best to place links in the body of the content, not in the introduction or conclusion.
How Many Backlinks Should There Be on a Page?
In the past, Google’s guidelines stated that websites should have fewer than 100 links per page. Google never enforced this as a codified restriction.
Regardless, it has since removed the suggestion in its Webmaster Guidelines (now called Google Search Essentials).
In a 2021 English Google SEO office-hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller mentioned that the number of links on the page is irrelevant. One high-quality backlink is better than bombarding your entire page with low-quality links.
You can follow old conventional SEO wisdom, and disperse 3-4 outbound links across every piece of long-form content you produce. It’s still a good rule of thumb to follow.
Ultimately, you should consider the readability of your content when deciding on your linking strategy.
Too many links may be distracting for many of your readers. You don’t want them to constantly click out of your web page as it has the potential to increase the risk of screen fatigue. Additionally, it may interfere with the usability and accessibility of your website.
Likewise, our content should be screen reader-friendly. This means that you should avoid placing two links in the same sentence – especially if they link to the same domain or destination.
In this guide, we explored how to do a link exchange safely. We investigated the various types of link exchanges and what steps you should follow to secure a link exchange. When approached correctly, link exchanges are a sure-fire way to improve your SEO rankings.
They’re extremely easy to perform but they should be looked at as a supplementary strategy – not one you should rely on. If all else fails and you can’t find a partner, you can consider buying backlinks.