Should I Avoid Link Exchange / Link Trading Hubs?

SEO Question: I have been considering joining a link exchange network to boost my Google PageRank. Is it a good idea?

SEO Answer: You have to know your goals before you can set a plan of attack.

Option #1:
Are your sites automated rubbish and junk content that can't get any legitimate linkage data? Are you just looking to spam MSN and Yahoo! for a few quick bucks of profit per site?

If so then it may make sense to push hard on the link exchange front. Outsource it though if you can. Once you get a system down that is profitable you can replicate it so long as you are paying someone from another country dirt cheap wages. If you are doing this to scale you won't have enough time to do it all yourself, at least not if you value your time, which eventually you will if you are doing this and it proves effective.

If you are doing spammy link exchanges yourself for months and months and months and are seeing no results it might be time to think about switching gears. Some people are good at this option. Others are good at option #2.

Option #2:
Do you spend hundreds of hours creating what you consider to be a useful original resource? Are your main problems that your site is new and you are still learning the web? Do you want your site to do well longterm?

If you fit more in this camp then I think it is probably going to be a waste of time to join reciprocal link spam networks.

Much is lost in polarization and pigeonholing groups of people. But in this case, I think it is an important distinction where you really only need to classify your sites as belonging to one group or the other.

My SEO mentor said he is partial to quality sites but spam can make great money too. Where people mess up is when they piss around in the middle.

Sure it is ok to have garbage sites. Sure it is ok to have good ones. But never the twine shall cross. With each site either spam hard or create good stuff. Don't make a site that has a foot in each pond.

The Illusion of Value:
When I first got on the web I thought it was oh so important to have a Yahoo! listed domain. Why? People taught me that so they could exploit me selling me shitty subscription based services that allowed me to look through a list of domains that already had all the good stuff pulled out.

Does it really help you if your online mortgage site is listed in the wiccan category of the Yahoo! Directory? Probably not much.

With these link exchange networks most people are doing the same thing. Hunting for some percieved magical value that is easy to automate, replicate, and easy for search engines to detect. In most cases it does not add much value for the time you waste looking through them.

More recently I have bought old domains and plan to develop some of them, but I did not get them via the crappy subscription software that was sold to me a few years back.

I had to get certain tips from a couple friends and a cool programmer to create my own custom tools for finding them. I would share them, but here I don't

  • I promised my friends I would not

  • if everyone accessed them the market would be hypersaturated and I wouldn't be doing any favors to anyone, not even the people using them

Reciprocal linking may still be a useful idea, and you should link out to some quality sites even if they don't link back, but typically most sites in link exchange networks are shit (option #1 above).

Autosurf Traffic Exchange Programs:
Posting this is going to make me sound rather ignorant, but I have no shame...

When I first got on the web I also tried autosurf programs a bit. I was dirt poor and knew little about the web or marketing, but it didn't take me long to realize I was wasting my time.

The only people that autosurf traffic exchange programs help are

  1. those who run automated software that spoofs them

  2. those who sell scammy fraudulent $5 submit your site to search engine programs (often people in group run automated software that spoofs the network)
  3. those who run the traffic exchange network (and thus get to sell, test, and refine automated impressions to targeted newbie webmasters)

I liken most link exchange networks to that analogy. A scam that promotes the network above all others.

The whole link exchange idea pushes the low end of the market, as Brett Tabke noted years before I entered the SEO market.

Search algorithms, the volume of legitimate content, and automated site generation have grown / evolved for over a half a decade (half of the WWW's lifetime) since Brett's article was wrote. That probably means there is quite a bit less value in the spammy link exchange networks.

Promoting Scams:
If there is market demand for an idea someone will sell it even if it is a scam. Search Google for [search engine submission].

If you look at Google's webmaster guidelines they will tell you about how to submit your site, but Google does not go out of their way to make sure that information is available on relevant search queries. They will gladly take some of your money selling ads for that query where likely over half of the ads probably promote some sort of scam or fraud.

Capitalism, Social Networks and Value:
To some extent social networks (and the web is nothing but a big social network) aim to push the same financial reward systems that define capitalism.

Those at the top of the charts get a dispropotionate amount of exposure and can build more efficiency into their process because they get lower aggregated distribution costs or higher return for similar effort.

To put that into perspective, if I wrote this exact same post 2 years ago it probably would get no links or comments. Now some automated systems scrape my content and I am guaranteed those links. Some people read this site daily and I am guaranteed some exposure.

Some people will get more than they deserve while others get the shaft. I have really experienced a good bit of both extremes in the past 2 years.

Guestimating Value:
The stock market is hard for most people to win at because insiders have more value and can control their stock float (the number of shares publicly available).

The three things that helps level the playing field a bit are

  • there is always some market equlibrium for demand that gives consensus baseline for value (although that may be way off...see the US stock market for the last 6 years).

  • there is a lot of money involved and eventually the markets have to work toward correcting themselves
  • there is a ton of publicly available information about companies

With link exchanges and other internet marketing exchange programs there is no baseline. Sure saying 1 for 1 is a fair trade is a baseline, but it is an arbitrary one since you can't possibly quickly research the past and guestimate the future of the potential link partners.

If you are putting in that much effort to learn and evaluate sites then you probably don't need to be in the framework of a site which aims to promote easy-to-get low quality spammy link exchanges.

Misfocused Efforts:
The biggest loss for most new webmasters when they hunt for hidden gold is not the potential that their site may end up getting banned. The biggest loss is the misfocused effort.

Right now I probably own around a dozen Yahoo! listed sites. Many of them were accepted free. Instead of looking for a way to sneak into the directory I simply created sites that they liked enough to list.

Obviously the Yahoo! Directory does not have the same value as it did when I first started out, but I think it is a good example for this post.

If you like a topic enough and put in enough effort eventually competing sites will link at you. I now have links from webmaster who took time out of their day to email me about what an ignorant fool I was a few years ago.

Published: January 26, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


January 27, 2006 - 5:46pm

With one of my sites, it seems I am pissing in the middle. It is an affiliate site, but as this was my first foray into this area, I bit off a huge chunk - basically, all things related to 8 outdoor categories. Now, I am trying to build an information resource on a par with older, authority-bemedalled sites. And it aint easy.

My second site was an attempt to make cash. Pure and simple, and I am trying to bring attention to it by links through LinksManager. So far, what Ive got are over 30 OLs with few returns. And LinksManager has a hefty price tag - $20 monthly, I wonder if the return is worth it.

Steve Marcus
January 27, 2006 - 5:47pm

Linking with relevant like minded sites is a great way to enhance the end user's experience. When you link to relevant sites, it will also produce targeted inbound traffic to your own site.

Link exchange should never be done for the purpose of affecting rankings or PR. It should be done with the end user in mind. If you will focus on quality link exchange for the end user, it has great long term benefits.

If you link to junk sites with no regard for the end user, you are asking the search engines to downgrade your rankings.

January 27, 2006 - 6:35pm

Looking through a list of people in your industry willing to exchange links is a good starting point for new domains.

But even then typically most of them will not want to link out to other sites unless they are useful and/or have some link authority to parse back.

Linking with relevant like minded sites is a great way to enhance the end user's experience. When you link to relevant sites, it will also produce targeted inbound traffic to your own site.

Yep. And sometimes you get other random links in for linking out, even if it is not a direct link exchange partnership.

Link exchange should never be done for the purpose of affecting rankings or PR.

I have done a bunch of link exchanges in part to manipulate search relevancy. I don't think that really makes a site owner bad so long as they balance risk vs reward.

The point of my article was more that the stuff inside the link exchange networks is usually trash and one for one link exchanges with those types of sites add more risk than reward if you are building a legitimate site.

So far, what Ive got are over 30 OLs with few returns. And LinksManager has a hefty price tag - $20 monthly, I wonder if the return is worth it.

If you are serious about making money on the web $20 a month is not much money.

Depending on link quality and how competitive your field is 30 links might be all you need to do well, but I wouldn't expect links with LinksManager footprints in them to carry much weight.

May 3, 2006 - 10:09am

Hello Aaron,

A good post but you've taken a more extreme position on link exchange than necessary - or can be regarded as true. Certainly outsource it (what a horrid waste of time it is), but careful link exchange can be absolutely great for building acres of anchor text, which, combined with some quality incoming links, can push a site up very high in very competitive SERPs.

But you know that as well as I do Aaron.

And we both know it takes years.

May 3, 2006 - 12:12pm

I don't actually agree that it has to take years. I still think you can do well in a matter of months. Days for MSN. :)

I started doing well when I stopped doing too many this for that link exchanges and spent more time focusing on getting quality links and creating content around linking opportunities.

May 3, 2006 - 12:19pm

I also do not like outsourcing link development unless I do it with a trusted friend, because if a person is a bit spammy with the requests that could cut into your brand value in a big way.

August 23, 2007 - 4:57am

Hi there Aaron,
I bought your book and have learned a ton. Thank you!! I have a question about exchanging links. In your book you mention that recripricol linking is not that effective because of Google getting better at detecting recipricols. You also say that you do not ALWAYS need to give a link back, making it seem like you still may most of the time. I am just wondering what would be most effective. Is it best to ask for a link with a good request email while offering that they have already been added to my resource page? Or is it better to just offer up my suggested link with no offer of a return link? I am just wondering if the recripricol just cancels out the hard work of obtaining the link in the first place.
Thanks in advance!

August 23, 2007 - 5:18am

Hi Eric
The best thing to do is create information that people will be willing to link at without requiring a link back. If that is a bit hard you can also interview experts or do things to share touchpoints with other trusted names and brands to help build your brand.

March 3, 2007 - 5:47pm

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
I believe I have a quality site, and when I looked through the options on the link exchange websites I was very disappointed. Low end garbage for the most part.
If you put time into a quality product, you should be just as conscience of who you link to.


January 26, 2006 - 10:42pm

Aaron, great post,i know ive seen this question posted quite a big in the forums and it also cleared up some questions for me. this is what i pretty much had thought.

January 27, 2006 - 1:24am

I tried a few link exchange sites out when I was new to marketing. Most sites in there are of low quality but you can get 10-20 quality links by going through the directory and choosing the "best" partners from your industry to contact.

I would not suggest joining, but looking through a list of people in your industry willing to exchange links is a good starting point for new domains.

September 24, 2007 - 1:52am

if my site has a pr0 then, is link exchange the best thing for me to go up to PR3 or $

September 25, 2007 - 6:15am

If you have no PageRank you have no leverage for link exchanges unless you have high quality content, which means that the only sites that would be likely to exchange links with you for SEO value are sites that are not worth trading links with.

November 26, 2007 - 4:44am

Hi Aaron,If you please,how are email subscriptions and newsletter subscriptions concidered in the link building realm ? Thanks Aaron,Captain Pat

November 26, 2007 - 5:26am

Hi Captain Pat
If you have something exceptionally remarkable to announce and have thousands of subscribers then announcing it to your list means that thousands of people see it at the same time, which should help the idea spread if it is a linkworthy idea.

November 26, 2007 - 10:32am


I'm working on couples of new domain is directory submission is good for link building since it's difficult to linkexchange with good P.R sites.. so iam focusing on directory submission is this fine..?

November 26, 2007 - 10:47am

As one strategy out of a group of strategies used together certainly directory submission can be helpful for marketing new websites.

baju muslim zahra
December 4, 2010 - 5:43pm

I think that link exchange can help our website

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