Is a Link Exchange “Legal”?


  • Link exchanges, also known as reciprocal link building, have been under strict scrutiny as link builders and SEOs attempt to game search results by quickly securing links.
  • One reason SEOs don’t like link exchanges is that Google flat out lists “excessive link exchanges” as a violation of their Webmaster Guidelines. 
  • The experts here at Redefine feel that link exchanges, if done at all, should be completed in moderation and only when it makes sense.
  • There is no clear answer. It ultimately depends on how closely you’d like to follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and how strict you’d like to be with your own link building guidelines. 

Exchanges, in all shapes and sizes, occur every day. For the most part, the world is based upon exchanges between people, businesses, governments, and beyond. “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours” is a foundational aspect of relationships large and small. In the world of SEO, it’s no different, especially when it comes to off-page SEO. 

Link exchanges are embedded within the DNA of link building. However, the tactic has been under strict scrutiny as link builders and SEOs attempt to game search results by quickly securing links. The “legality” of link exchanges, also known as reciprocal link building, is a frequent debate between link builders across the world. Many divided on whether or not it falls within Google’s guidelines. 

So, is reciprocal link building a black hat tactic, or a natural occurrence on the internet? The following will touch on the definition of link exchanges, the “legality” of link exchanges, and our expert advice when it comes to link exchanges. 

What is a link exchange?

Link exchanges are a link building tactic where site A and site B exchange links. A link exchange occurs when site owner A links to site owner B’s webpage; then site owner B links to site owner A’s webpage. However, link exchanges can also occur when the site owners link to and from entirely different pages. Ultimately what makes a link exchange is the mutual agreement between the two site owner’s to link to each other’s pages for the benefit of search rankings.

The State of Link Exchanges

Many SEOs are divisive on the tactic because it can be seen as a very unnatural method for building backlinks. You are technically turning the act of link building into a mutually beneficial exchange when it should be webmasters linking to your content because they believe in it. Another reason SEOs don’t like link exchanges is that Google flat out lists “excessive link exchanges” as a violation of their Webmaster Guidelines. Here’s their exact wording:

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

If we take a look at the other side, the SEOs who consider link exchanges to be more of a grey- or white-hat tactic, then you’ll understand that link exchanges are a natural byproduct of the internet. People all throughout the internet link to content they find awesome, every day. And, if two writers are frequently writing about the same topics, they’ll eventually link to each other. A frequently cited study from Ahrefs found that nearly 74% of the 140,592 domains they studied contained reciprocal links. In other words, nearly three-fourths of the sites they reviewed linked to one another. 

Another reason one might consider link exchanges to be perfectly fine is that if it makes sense then why not sprinkle it into your link building campaign every now and then. If the goal is to get more users to your site and the other party shares those same users then why not leverage the opportunity for referral traffic. 

So, are link exchanges “legal”?

The answer, as with all things in SEO, is it depends. If you are strictly following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines then your answer might lean more towards “OF COURSE, link exchanges are illegal.” The fact that Google’s guidelines even mention link exchanges can be a cause for concern. However, Google uses the word “excessive” so, does that mean it’s OK as long as it’s done in moderation? Only you can answer that question.

In a tweet from earlier this year, Google’s John Mueller stated that “reciprocal links aren’t necessarily bad.” He then says avoid “all of the link schemes and similar games that are sometimes played in that space” as it’s obvious to Google’s algorithm. 

The answer to this question really falls on how strict you’d like to be with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and how strict you’d like to be with your own link building guidelines. 

What we think about link exchanges (& a tid-bit of advice)

Curious about our take on the subject? The experts here at Redefine feel that link exchanges, if done, should be completed in moderation and only when it makes sense. It’s clear that reciprocal links are a natural occurrence on the internet. However, link exchanges should never make up more than 20% of your acquired links. You should be actively seeking links in which your link prospects genuinely want to link out to you

If the site you’re exchanging links with isn’t within your same niche, or is a competitor, or isn’t talking about the same topics as you, then you shouldn’t do it. It’s important that the link appears to be as naturally placed as possible. As link builders, we always have to remember the value of links. Obviously, they’re valuable for our search rankings but they’re also a valuable source for referral traffic. So, if you are getting links to your Juicy Steaks blog from the Strictly Vegan blog, is it really worth it? It’s quite likely those visiting the vegan site are not going to be interested in your steak blog.

Overall, the point we are trying to drive home is the goal of link building is not to manipulate search results, it’s to build a strong backlink profile that supports your overall SEO goals. Always resort to your link building guidelines when coming across reciprocal link building opportunities. 

If you do decide to exchange links, here’s something to keep in mind…

When you do come across a link exchange opportunity, always see if there is an opportunity to exchange something else. Maybe the other webmaster will be okay with a few social media shares. If not, make sure your links are not directly pointed towards each other’s page. You don’t want to link to the same page you are getting a link from. You’ll want to link to them via completely different pages. 

Talk to the link building experts!

So, as you can see, there’s no one clear answer to this question. It ultimately depends on how closely you’d like to follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and how strict you’d like to be with your own link building guidelines. You should always remember that reciprocal links are a natural byproduct of the internet, studies show this, and it seems as though Google is aware. Nonetheless, you should always proceed with caution and keep white hat SEO in mind at all times!

What do you think about link exchanges? Do you use them in your link building campaigns? Share your answers in the comments! 

If you have any questions about link exchanges or how link building can help your site, feel free to reach out to the link building specialists here at Redefine! 

Share :
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason is a Cal Poly Pomona Alum, an extreme fan of marketing, and social media advocate. As a Marketing Coordinator at Redefine Marketing Group, he is responsible for the development and execution of strategy for both off-page SEO and social media marketing.
Related Posts

Leave Your Comment