Avoiding What Appears To Be A Link Exchange

Brendan Egan

Avoiding What Appears To Be A Link Exchange

Anyone who has been involved in SEO for several years remembers the age of the link exchange.  Back around 2004-2006 or so, link exchanges were the hottest way to game search engine results.  What would happen is one website owner would contact another, usually via email, and request that they exchange links with one another.  Website A would point a link with a proper anchor text to website B, and website B would then point a link with the proper anchor text back to website A.  Both websites would benefit from the link, even though it was artificially placed and really provided no benefit to the website visitors.
But like all link schemes, Google caught on and got smart to this setup.  They introduced a new algorithm that would discount the value of links obtained by link exchanges.  They then went on to scale this up to apply to link wheels, or complex webs of websites that are all interlinking to one another.

That’s Great, But I Don’t Do That…

While many website owners today link to other websites (and sometimes those websites link back), there’s nothing you can do about a “natural” link exchange between two websites.  That’s actually quite normal, and as long as it isn’t happening way too frequently Google won’t hurt you for it.
But just the other day, I was working with one of our SEO clients and we came across a practice they’ve been engaged in for years that is a link exchange and they didn’t even know it.
This client receives a good amount of press coverage from sites like The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, MSNBC, and other large national media outlets.  Every time one of these media outlets would link to their website, they would be excited to see the link and want to share it with their followers in their blog.  So they would write a blog post and then link back to that article, mentioning that they were mentioned on MSNBC  for example.
While the website owners weren’t aware of it, this is a perfect example of a link exchange.  Now how badly Google would discount these links is unclear to anyone, however there definitely would be some sort of discount applied to these links since it’s a clear two way link exchange between the same pages on two websites.  And this process continued over and over and over for hundreds of times over the last several years simply because the client didn’t know it was a bad practice.

The Easy Solution

There’s at least a dozen solutions we thought up for our client (and past clients in similar situations), however I’ll share just two of them in this post to outline easy ways to prevent these types of high quality links from being discounted:
1) No Follow Them: It’s so easy to no follow a link, all you have to do is add a rel=”nofollow” tag to the HTML code.  This will tell search engines not to follow the link from your site to the other site, but they will still follow the link from the other site to your site (provided the other site isn’t using a no follow tag as well).
2) Get Social: Instead of posting all these mentions on your own website, use a 3rd party medium to buffer the link exchange.  Post on Twitter and Facebook, for example, that you were mentioned in the press rather than posting it on your own site.  This will completely prevent any sort of problems arising from what looks like a link exchange, and its easy!
There’s literally thousands of other types of exchanges that could look to search engines like a link exchange, and hundreds of thousands of other pits small business owners fall into when performing innocent day to day tasks on their websites.  Unfortunately search engines have to fight spammers, and sometimes innocent business owners end up harming their search engine rankings if they aren’t working with a good SEO consultant or SEO team to assist them in basic site changes.