John Mueller: Link Exchanges Violate Google Guidelines
The best SEO specialists wonder if link exchanges are an effective way to build links. Google’s John Mueller explained to SEO specialists how their search engine’s algorithm and quality team handle link exchanges between websites.
What Are Link Exchanges?
Link exchanges happen when two publishers agree to link to each other. Sometimes, two websites may link to each other without contacting each other or settling on an agreement to do so, and this is referred to as a natural reciprocal link.
The SEO community uses the terms link exchange and reciprocal link interchangeably, but the former explicitly refers to an arrangement to link between two sites.
Moreover, there is a variation of the link exchange method called the three-way link exchange. This tactic occurs when website A agrees to link to websites B and C. Website B then agrees to link back to website A in exchange for the link from website C. Some publishers use the three-way link exchange to make the search engines think that what’s happening is one-way interlinking and not reciprocal links.
History Of Link Exchanges
In the past, link exchange was one of the main ways to promote one’s site, alongside other methods like participating in rating systems, web rings, directories, banner networks, and more.
Google then introduced its PageRank algorithm, and all websites with good links enjoyed a boost in their traffic and search visibility. As a result, links became the most popular commodity on the Internet. People manipulated their SEO to get to the highest possible PageRank, going as far as buying, swapping, and stealing links.
Link exchanges were so popular that they had gotten out of hand. Moreover, several problems developed. Many websites were driven by greed to get higher PageRank and turned to dirty tricks to fool their link partners by stealing their share of PageRank. There were also many low-quality link pages not created for the users but for Googlebot. Moreover, people focused on quantity over quality.
In 2008, Google went all-out on link exchange farms, banning thousands of sites from their search results due to excessive and unnatural linking.
When Does Google Consider Link Exchanges Spam?
Mueller was recently asked how much link exchange is okay. The person who asked the question shared that many content publishers ask for a link exchange, but they were worried that this type of link building method would violate Google’s guidelines. If so, they wanted to know how much link exchanging is permissible until Google sees it as spam. The person also asked Mueller about the best practices when it comes to exchanging backlinks.
Mueller did not hesitate about his answer. He quickly replied without ambiguity, saying that link exchanges violate Google’s guidelines. According to him, Google’s algorithms would investigate and understand link exchanges, and once confirmed, they ignore those links.
Even if the link exchanging gets past Google’s algorithm system, the web spam team would also take a look at it and flag it as a site that violated the guidelines. Moreover, if most of the links to the website are like this, Google might apply manual action. Therefore, SEOs should avoid link exchanging at all costs.
The same person then asked another follow-up question, wondering if the search engine also sees link exchanges between relevant websites as spam. This question came from the myth that Google does not consider spammy techniques as spammy if done between relevant websites.
Many link sellers in the past have claimed that Google did not see their methods as spammy because they only offer links from high-quality websites. They also add that they only find high-quality, relevant websites as customers.
Nevertheless, Mueller shook his head and said that it does not matter if the two websites are relevant or exchanging valuable links. From Google’s perspective, these are not natural links; they are only there due to an agreement with another site. Moreover, link exchanges put websites in a bad light if they systematically exchange links with other sites.
Reasons To Avoid Link Exchanges
There are a lot of reasons to not vouch for link exchange. Here are some of them.
- The website asking for a link exchange is not relevant to the site niche.
- The website asking for a link exchange does not provide any valuable information. Many people create a website to use as a third wheel for a three-way link exchange request.
- The website asking for a link exchange contains many outbound links because they have agreed to numerous link exchanges. Websites with a few natural links should not agree to exchange links because theirs are highly valuable while the former is a commodity.
- The website is new, without any blog posts or on-page content. Such websites do not have anything useful to offer.
- The website gives out nofollow links, which do not tell search engine rankings of the destination URL because Google does not transfer anchor text or PageRank across them. Moreover, Googlebot does not crawl nofollow links.
- The website asking for a link exchange has a horrible design with lousy navigation, making it look unprofessional.
These are plenty of reasons to avoid link exchanges. However, there are some rare cases when an SEO specialist may decide to link to another website.
- The website can boost one’s site traffic.
- Their archives and other blog posts are informative and relevant to one’s site topic or niche.
- The website is not a competitor.
- They are a high-quality website.
- They rank for the same key phrases in search results.
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