The Case Against Link Exchanges

May 13th, 2008 by Chris

I have never liked link exchanges, you won’t find a “links” page on any of my sites, nor have I ever recommended doing traditional ones, in fact I have often said I can count the number of traditional link exchanges I have done on one hand.

There are a few reasons I do not like traditional link exchanges. I don’t like links pages, I prefer to focus on getting one-way links, and I have always felt the context available for the links gained in a traditional link exchange is on the poor side.

However, untraditional link exchanges I do find attractive. By those I mean in content features or swaps. You write an article about me, I write a review about you. You link to me in this article, I link to you in that one. Links made with trusted people where each link is carefully placed on both sites in a way that makes it appear as natural as possible.

That being said, I did have one normal site-wide link exchange for quite a few years, no longer though.

My wilderness survival site was launched in May of 2001 and ended up getting to the #1 position on “wilderness survival” in Google (and all major search engines) after only 4 or so months, it has held that position since. It got ranked decently on “survival” as well, but not #1, eventually setting to 3 or 4 and staying constant there for a couple years.

Then I did a site-wide footer link exchange with my friend Kyle, whom many of you know, who runs Survive Outdoors. This seemed like a perfect idea. Our sites were related, though with different focuses, and both had good link weight to share. The first update after we instituted the link exchange I went up to #1 on survival and stayed there for a few years, dominant, entrenched.

This was until a year or so ago, when I started dropping, hard. Even down to the second page eventually. I didn’t know what was going on, to be #1 for 3 or 4 years, stable, and then to drop so suddenly.

My first suspects were my other related sites I had cross linked with my survival site. So I made all those links “nofollow” to see if that helped, nothing.

So then I asked Kyle about suspending our link exchange and shortly after we did that I recovered half way, then about 6 weeks later I was back up to #2, where I am now.

So it would seem the link exchange is what was doing it.

I’m not sure why Google would have penalized that behavior. It could be that Kyle’s site had some negative baggage associated with it and I was being penalized for linking to it on every page. Or it could be that they merely frowned on the every page linking we were doing. Regardless, my positions improved after we removed the links, and that is the important thing.

11 Responses to “The Case Against Link Exchanges”

  1. Kyle  Says:

    Great post Chris… it really shows the mysteries of Google. The dramatic ranking changes really help in this example. Its so interesting how originally the link partnership may have quickly boosted you to #1, which stayed for a couple years. Then you started to drop. Whats great is that you were ranked low for a VERY long time… and within a couple weeks of ending the link partnership, your rank started to slowly climb. It is nice that there are multiple pieces of “evidence” in this example.

    Survive Outdoors has been receiving much more traffic lately as well…shockingly so given our lack of updating, and not just because its seasonal and the warmer months are here.

    Who knows…

  2. Kyle  Says:

    I think the most logical feeling I get is that things change. The original link partnership was quite a while ago in Google years.

    Whats interesting about link partnerships, is a lot of huge companies are starting to do this. And not just within their own properties.

    the ebay/ other network is one that stands out the most. And their methods are pretty shady on most sites (with variation). Look at the footers on,, and the bottom left nav of

  3. leon  Says:

    kyle mentioned that the bottom left nav. near the footers of , looks abit shady … but those are their own website .. thats what i’ve being doing at my own site also ..

    do you think google will penalize people for doin it like that ?

  4. Chris Bowyer  Says:

    Great post. Just goes to show that so much of SEO is still utter witchcraft. Some core principles have stayed true, but I’m amazed at how much time and effort some people put into certain aspects of it, given how fickle and counterintuitive search results can be at times.

  5. Mike Seddon  Says:


    Great post.

    What’s you view on linking out to sites from your website?

    I don’t have a link page either but I do link out to authoritive articles, sites etc.

    Since most of us do backward link checks I’ve actually found that on a number of occassions the site owner has contacted me to thank me for the link. Sometimes that leads to a link from them, sometimes it leads to other interesting joint ventures.


  6. Kevin Boss  Says:

    Did the link exchange effect Kyle’s rankings the same way?

  7. Tina  Says:

    Hello Chris:

    I thank you for bringing this post online. Very useful indeed and I agree to your post above. However, I believe, The one-way-links (The quality relevant) link are far more beneficial (round way).

    Anyway..You are to be congratuled for being active again and hoping to see the updated posts and comments in this regard.

    Regards – Tina

  8. Kyle  Says:

    Kevin, my rankings have always fluctuated but never so dramatically.

    Some top rankings I have are bouncing #2/#3 for ‘bee stings’, and #6 on ‘brown recluse spider’ which is a more recent major jump..

  9. Plaveb  Says:

    Nice post, usually i do not prefer reciprocal link exchange as i have experienced that Google is not giving more weight to such link promotion. I have done article marketing and got many back links which help a lot. i always prefer to get links from content which must be relevant to my products and services. natural link building will take more time but help a lot with compare to other traditional link building techniques.

    nice article dude, thanks for sharing

  10. T Shirt Guy  Says:

    I’m wondering how you would of fared if it wasn’t a link exchange. If you are a quality site and you linked to his site (without a link exchange) that was a quality site how much would he benefit from all those inlinks, and how much would you benifit by actually linking TO a quality site.
    I’ve been doing alot of “nofollow” expriments and I find that linking to any website with a PR 3 or better gets better results without the nofollow tag. I now only use no follows tags to point to low pr sites

  11. Chris  Says:

    You don’t get any benefit from outlinking. But by all means… link to my sites if you think you do.

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