We've all heard about SEO and all of the benefits that come with a smart strategy, but most people come into contact with the term "link exchange" without fully understanding what it entails.
On the surface, it simply appears as a shoutout to a friendly site in return for getting a shoutout ourselves. When put under the microscope, however, we find there is more going on than we might be aware at first. The destination site of your link could end up doing the opposite, pulling your site further down the gutter instead of elevating it.
The idea behind link exchange lies in the gamble that each site will help the other's visibility by creating links leading to each other. In truth, this was an outdated practice utilized at the very start of SEO and even then functioned on a pretty standard hit or miss basis. The gamble here is linking to a site that potentially has nothing to do with your content or the interests of your visitors waves a giant red flag to anyone taking notice. Likewise, due to how site ranking works nowadays, a lower-tier site hosting your links could lower your score.
What to look out for
When possibly musing over the idea, there a couple of red flags that everyone should look out for before engaging in anything like this. First and foremost, examine the site the offer came from if it looks like it was pieced together with the sole intention of rehosting links - get out of there. This encompasses everything from site design to some outbound links, just like dating - why settle for less? Another obvious red flag would be the small issue of the site being completely unrelated to your own content whatsoever. If your site deals exclusively in car tires, who in the right mind would put an outbound link leading to realistic doll hair?
Despite the drawbacks, there are several instances when this practice could pay off. One benefit would be an increase in traffic if your site got the better deal in that exchange. This traffic usually comes when the site you linked to deals in the particular niche you've been working in as well and isn't a competitor. This makes both valuable sites assets to each other as they appear in similar keyword searches and lead back to one another without stealing away potential business. The biological term for this is
symbiosis, and it perfectly describes the relationship that can be achieved if, and that's a big IF, this works.
Amount of bang for your buck
The truth is, all of these benefits can be accomplished by simply working on our site and developing its UX, its SEO parameters and working alongside with what the metrics tell us. The benefits would hugely outweigh anything link exchange could bring to the table and comes with no risks on your part. The only thing needed here is to put in some actual work instead of lazily attempting to boost rank without lifting a finger. In the long-run, it simply isn't worth it and has a higher probability of tanking your site now more than ever.
With the ever-evolving algorithm that Google and industry watchers are so cheerfully naming after various small critters comes a terrible truth - they can crack down and locate link exchange schemes. Google does not approve of these shady methods of cheesing their system to rank higher, who would've thought. This is why SEO experts outright shun these practices and consider them a minefield, never knowing when Google might come down and give out a strike or a ban.
You be the judge
There you have it, the good, the bad and the outright ugly - link exchange is the equivalent of a hasty bargain. Sure, you might get some benefits out of it, but is it worth tarnishing your reputation, or worse - tanking your entire site? In today's online environment, the risks are simply too high, and the options for even finding people willing to exchange links is becoming more and more scarce. However, if you still aren't convinced and are dead set on proceeding, take special care and make sure you're getting the better deal - otherwise, you're just asking for trouble.
About the Author
Ronald Wolf is a business consultant at a small Australian company called MediaGurus. He has also worked with SEO experts from G