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Are Exchanged or Reciprocal Links Okay with Google?

Link exchanges are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can result in manual penalties. Learn how to navigate this when building links.

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Alexandra in Romania, who asks:

Are links from websites you haven’t linked to more valuable than backlinks from sites you have linked to?

Link exchange can be easily done and I was wondering if Google saw this as a bad practice.

There are many high-authority websites (see Forbes) that add nofollow tags to all the links they add in their posts. Maybe this is one of their strategies of making it look like they are being linked to more often than they actually offer a link.

Link exchanges are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

You can read more about that here.

Simply put, link exchanges can result in manual penalties from Google.

But more than likely, blatant link exchanges will be algorithmically ignored.

In other words, they won’t be worth your time unless they provide you with direct traffic.

Are Reciprocal Links Okay?

As is the case with many issues pertaining to SEO, it depends.

According to a study by Ahrefs, almost 43% of the links pointing to top-ranking sites were reciprocal links.

Reciprocal links happen naturally, and common sense dictates that sites with relationships will link to each other.

Google understands this.

Yet Google states that link exchanges are against the rules.

It stands to reason that Google can algorithmically detect most blatant link exchanges and either ignore the links from those exchanges or, in particularly obvious cases, penalize the participants.

So is it ok to participate in reciprocal link exchanges?

My opinion is that getting a one-off reciprocal link where it makes sense is perfectly okay.

For example, if you have a trusted vendor, and you want to link to each other for purposes beyond SEO, it’s perfectly acceptable to exchange links.

Where it’s not okay is when you are exchanging links with sites you have no connection with, either professionally or vertically.

When you link to sites that you don’t know, you could end up getting linked to a bad neighborhood.

This could result in a ranking decrease or even a manual penalty.

A good rule of thumb on reciprocal links is that if you are getting the link solely for SEO purposes, it’s probably not a great idea.

Why Do Sites Nofollow Links?

Google understands that sometimes links that would typically violate their guidelines are necessary.

For example, if you are paying to advertise on a site, they are most likely going to link to your site.

Technically, since this link is paid for, it is against Google’s guidelines.

So a few years back, Google implemented the Nofollow attribute for links that are desirable but might be against its rules.

Recently, Google expanded upon the nofollow attribute, adding two new attributes: sponsored links and user-generated content links.

Sponsored links indicate that a link was paid for as advertising.

It’s true speculation to assert how much benefit a sponsored link gives from an SEO perspective, but anecdotal evidence from the SEO community indicates that sponsored links provide more authority than nofollowed links.

User-generated content links come from places like forums and comments. It’s unknown how well links labeled as UGC pass value – but anecdotal evidence suggests they are about the same as nofollowed links.

It is a common perception in the SEO community that nofollowed links do provide some authoritative value to the site but I suggest taking that with a grain of salt.

In Conclusion

Link exchanges are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, but reciprocal links are not if they are done in a natural way.

Sites that want to follow Google’s guidelines use Nofollow, Sponsored and UGC attributes to make sure they are in compliance.

But links labeled with these attributes can still be valuable in both SEO and for direct traffic.

More Resources:

Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

Category Ask an SEO

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I’ve ...

Are Exchanged or Reciprocal Links Okay with Google?

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