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Link Exchanges Violate Google Guidelines – Relevance Doesn’t Matter

John Mueller discusses Google's policy on link exchanges and how its algorithm deals with them

Image of John Mueller discussing link exchanging

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about link exchanges. He was asked how much is okay. Mueller explained how Google’s algorithm and quality team deal with link exchanges between websites.

Background on Link Exchanges

A link exchange is a situation that comes from an agreement between two publishers to link to each other.

Sometimes two websites link to each other without an agreement or any contact between each other. That’s considered a natural reciprocal link.

Reciprocal link and link exchange are generally used interchangeably but the phrase link exchange is explicitly about an arrangement to link between two websites.

Variation on Link Exchange Tactic

On a side note there is also a variation of the link exchange called a three-way link exchange.

A three-way link exchange is where site A agrees to link to Site B with Site C. Site B agrees to link to Site A in exchange for the link from Site C.

The purpose of the three-way link exchange is to trick Google into seeing the interlinking as one-way links and not as reciprocal links.

When are Link Exchanges Considered Spam?

The person asking the question shared that in his link building outreach many website publishers ask for a link exchange, which is also known as a reciprocal link.

The concern was if exchanging links violated Google’s guidelines and if so, how much link exchanging was permissible until it is considered spam by Google.

The question:

“My question is related to link exchange. Up to what extent is it permissible to exchange the links or not considered as spam?

So what’s the best practices when it comes to… exchanging… backlinks?”

Google Says Link Exchanges Violate Google’s Guidelines

Google’s John Mueller didn’t have to think about his answer.

His response was quick and without ambiguity.

John Mueller said:

“So… a link exchange where both sides are kind of like you link to me and therefore I will link back to you, kind of thing, that is essentially against our webmaster guidelines.

So that’s something where our algorithms would look at that and try to understand what is happening here and try to ignore those links.

And if the web spam team were to look at it they would also say this is not okay.

And if this is the majority of the links to your website like this then they might apply manual action.

So that’s something I would avoid.”

Link Exchanges Between Relevant Sites?

The person asking the question next asked if Google’s negative view of link exchanges was also true for link exchanges between sites that are relevant to each other.

There is a longstanding myth that a spammy technique is not spammy if it’s done between relevant sites.

Link sellers in the not so distant past have erroneously claimed that because their link inventory consisted of high quality sites and because they only sold links to other high quality relevant sites that Google was okay with it. Which of course is wrong.

The “between relevant sites” justification is an oldie but it has never been a goldie.

The person asked:

“Even if it is topically relevant though?”

Mueller Reacts to Question About Link Exchange with Relevant Links

Google's John Mueller shaking his head no

John Mueller shook his head and answered:

“It doesn’t matter if it’s… like topically relevant or if it’s kind of like a useful link.

If you’re doing this systematically then we think that’s a bad idea because from our point of view those are not natural links to your website.

They’re only there because like you’re doing this deal with the other site.”

Link Exchange Loopholes

John Mueller mentioned that it’s a bad idea if a publisher engages in systematic reciprocal linking, which means when it’s a strategy that’s being executed.

He also said that it may be problematic if most of a site’s backlinks consisted of link exchanges.

Some may see that as loopholes to justify doing link exchanges at a smaller scale.

But Mueller also said that Google will try to find those and ignore them.

Rather than look for loopholes in what Mueller said it’s best to simply walk away from link exchanges and not engage in that. It’s clear that link exchanges violate Google’s guidelines.

For sites that aspire to avoid getting banned by Google it’s good to keep in mind that spammy link schemes are a short term solution for a long term problem.


Watch Google’s John Mueller answer the question about how much  link exchange is okay, clip is viewable at the 9:25 minute mark.

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Link Exchanges Violate Google Guidelines – Relevance Doesn’t Matter

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