Link Exchanges: Pros and Cons (+A Better Alternative)

Link Exchanges: Pros and Cons (+A Better Alternative)
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To exchange or not to exchange backlinks?
That’s a question most marketers and website owners would want a definitive answer to.
And yet, with experts divided on the subject and Google sending out mixed signals, there’s no telling whether link exchanges are good or bad for SEO.
In this post, we’ll address this question once and for all. We’ll explore:
  • What constitutes a link exchange, and what Google says about it?
  • The four most popular link exchange strategies, their pros and cons, and whether they remain viable in 2023.
  • And finally, a better, more futuristic alternative to exchanging backlinks.
So, let’s get to it quickly.
A link exchange occurs when two or more websites link back to each other to boost their organic traffic and search engine rankings. It allows participants to earn free/affordable backlinks and pass on link equity (or authority) to everyone involved.
Link exchanges can be quite rewarding when performed correctly. But they can also be risky – especially if Google catches wind of them.
What is Google’s stance on link exchanges?
According to the search giant, links are an “important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.” Therefore, backlinks intended to manipulate rankings “may be considered link spam.”
Here’s the thing, though: Google's stance on link exchanges isn’t that simple. It views “excessive link exchanges” as a link scheme. But it doesn't clarify what excessive really means. Is it 100, 1,000, or 1 million?
Then, there’s the 2020 Ahrefs study – which shows that almost 74% of websites have reciprocal links (“You link to me, and I’ll link to you”). In other words, link exchanges – authentic and intentional – are prevalent on the web.
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So, are link exchanges safe?
We all know that backlinks that are useful for readers and contextually relevant can improve your rankings. But the real question is: are they as effective if acquired intentionally? Or do they diminish your credibility and authority?
Let's examine some popular link exchange techniques to find some concrete answers.
P.S.: Looking for a safe, cost-effective way to earn backlinks? Try Smartlinks, a zero-outreach link-building tool that’s absolutely free.
Did you know that 51.6% of link builders use link exchanges as one of their main tactics?
While counterintuitive, link exchange can be a pretty effective strategy – until, of course, Google catches on. But that doesn’t deter link builders from trying. Instead, they use the following techniques to boost their search engine rankings:
A reciprocal link exchange involves two websites linking back to each other to improve their rankings. It can be deliberate (part of a link-building strategy) or organic (websites swapping links without knowing it).
Here are some pros and cons of this tactic:
  • Enhanced visibility and traffic: Since backlinks are one of Google's main ranking factors, they'll increase your website’s organic traffic and visibility.
  • Access to free links: Since reciprocal link swaps are mutually agreed upon, they’re usually free (or affordable).
  • Loss of credibility and rankings: Although they’re easy to obtain, reciprocal links from low-quality sites can hurt your website’s SEO in the long run.
Is it a viable SEO tactic in 2023?
Remember the Ahrefs study from earlier? According to it:
“Reciprocal links are a common byproduct of the web, so you probably shouldn’t be afraid to link to sites already linking to you.”
But what about sites that haven’t linked to you? Or those that approach you for a link exchange? Well, there are two things to consider:
  • Would you link to them if they hadn't approached you? Occasionally, you may stumble upon sites you’d have linked to anyway.
  • Are they extremely niche-relevant? Also, do you like their content?
These considerations will facilitate natural link exchanges, which, in moderation, can be a viable SEO tactic. However, you can’t use it alone to maintain a healthy link profile. That's something your white hat link-building campaigns should take care of.

2. Private Influencer Networks (PINs)

A private influencer network is a group of websites operating in similar niches that help each other build quality backlinks. PINs leverage various tactics to facilitate link-building, including link exchanges and guest posting.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this technique:
  • Access to relevant links: Since they host websites in similar industries, PINs offer relevant link-building opportunities to participants.
  • Varied link-building tactics: PIN members can build quality links using several means, including link swaps and guest post exchanges (more on that later).
  • Shared accountability among members: Most PINs require members to contribute actively to the network. This ensures that everyone gets equal opportunities and benefits.
  • Creating/joining exclusive PINs can be challenging: Finding networks that connect you to trusted websites can be difficult. And if you think you can avoid this by creating your own PIN, think again. It takes considerable time and effort to aggregate the right websites and convince them to join your network – especially if you’re starting from scratch.
Is it a viable SEO tactic in 2023?
Yes. PINs can be a viable SEO tactic if you find the right network or build one yourself. However, as with other techniques, you must use them along with white hat tactics to maintain a diverse link profile.

3. Guest Post Exchange

A guest post exchange uses guest posting to facilitate a reciprocal link exchange. It occurs when two websites swap guest posts with each other with links to their own pages. So, basically:
  • Website A publishes a post on website B with a link to itself
  • In return, website B publishes a post on website A with a link to itself.
Pretty neat, right?
Well, not really. There are some benefits to using this tactic, but there are also some risks. Let's take a closer look at them:
  • Financially feasible: Since guest post exchanges are mutual agreements, they’re usually free to implement. This is especially helpful for websites that have a limited SEO budget.
  • Helps build relevant links: Like direct link swaps, guest post exchanges can help websites build relevant backlinks, but only if they look for opportunities in their niche.
  • Poor backlink profile: Excessive guest post exchanges could lead to a weaker link profile, making you more susceptible to future Google updates.
  • Low-quality links: If you’re not discerning enough about the websites you partner with (specifically their traffic, spam score, and domain authority), you may end up with several low-quality links.
Is it a viable SEO tactic in 2023?
Since a guest post swap is just a clever take on reciprocal link exchanges, the verdict’s the same: If practised in moderation and with relevant websites, then yes, it’s a viable SEO tactic. However, it won’t deliver optimal results on its own and will have to be paired with a more comprehensive strategy.
A 3-way link exchange introduces a third website to a reciprocal link exchange so that participants can swap backlinks without directly linking to each other. Let’s take a look at how this works:
  • Website A (you) receives a backlink from website B
  • In return for its link, website B gets a backlink from website C
  • Finally, website C receives a backlink from website A
As with any tactic, 3-way link exchanges have their benefits and disadvantages. Here are some of them:
  • Difficult to trace: By using a third-party website, participants ensure that no two websites are linked directly, making it difficult for search engines to track the exchange.
  • Free of cost: Like other link exchange techniques on this list, 3-way link swaps are free to implement.
  • Tracking and following pending requests: 3-way link exchanges require extensive tracking and follow-ups to be successful. This becomes especially tricky if you’re juggling multiple requests.
  • Dependence on third-party websites: This tactic relies heavily on third-party websites to provide an external link to a partner website. This isn’t an issue if you’re part of a community. But when you’re not, it can be very challenging.
Is it a viable SEO tactic in 2023?
Well, 3-way link exchanges are only feasible if you have sufficient resources for outreach and access to a link-building community. But If you don’t have either, you may not see the results you seek.
While link exchanges can be incredibly rewarding, they’re not always the best choice. Even if we ignore their inherent risks, there are other things to be concerned about, like:
  • Time requirements: Building relationships with credible websites and getting them to swap links with you takes time. Sadly, not everyone has that luxury.
  • Resource requirements: Link exchanges, like most link-building tactics, are resource-intensive. To execute them successfully, you need people who can bring in quality leads, follow up on current requests, and track the status of backlinks. Again, not everyone has the budget to hire these resources.
The truth is, link-swapping, when done correctly, is just as tedious and resource-intensive as traditional link-building.
That’s why we built Smartlinks – an innovative platform that accelerates outreach and facilitates quality link-building. Its credit-based system lets you focus on content quality while avoiding years of relationship cultivation.
Here’s how it works:
  • You register your website on Smartlinks and upload link-worthy content.
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  • Next, the platform scans your content (and keywords) and uses your preset criteria (DA, Traffic, Spam Score) to look for relevant opportunities within the ecosystem.
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  • Once the system fetches relevant articles for you, you target a website and send an inbound request for a link.
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  • If your request goes through, your credits are deducted. On the other hand, if you provide links to other websites, you gain credits.
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And that’s how Smartlinks provides a rapid, scalable link-building solution that doesn't require an exorbitant investment.
Don’t take our word for it, though. Check out Smartlinks for yourself and see if it's right for you.

Written by

 Divya Mathur
Divya Mathur

Senior Content marketer at and Passionate about B2B SaaS and Artificial Intelligence. I’ve been in the content space for over 6 years and have first-hand experience in how On-Page and Off-Page SEO affect a site's traffic. These articles enable me to share my learnings and help you achieve better search results.