Link Exchange: The Mixed Blessing of Link Building - Digital Olympus

Link Exchange: The Mixed Blessing of Link Building

Alexandra Tachalova
Founder of Digital Olympus
Does link exchange help website owners drive their site’s domain authority? Yes, it does. But to diversify link building tactics, explore five alternative methods beyond direct link exchanges.
Link Exchange: The Mixed Blessing of Link Building

Google says that link exchange violates their policies, while an Ahrefs study shows that around 40% of backlinks are reciprocal. Our 6-year link-building experience also suggests that reciprocal links help webmasters bolster search engine rankings — when done correctly.

Read on how to ethically incorporate link swaps in your link building strategy and grow in the SERPs.

Table of Contents

  • What is Link Exchange?
  • How Does Link Exchange Affect SEO?
  • Link Schemes and Their Role in Link Building
  • 5 Link Exchange Alternatives to Consider

What is Link Exchange?

Link exchange, also known as cross-linking or reciprocal linking, is the process of site A getting a backlink from site B, and site B getting one from site A. These one-way links are the simplest and tiresome tactic to attract high-quality backlinks.

However, if search engines detect excessive link exchanges on a website, like over 60−80%, there is a high chance the site could be penalized. The number of reciprocal links that might fly under the radar varies depending on the industry.

For instance, if you’re building links solely from artificially inflated high-DR websites with link farms or PBNs (Private Blog Networks), then you indeed endanger your main site by getting devalued in search engine results.

Conversely, if your backlink profile looks natural with different types of links, you’re good to go with cross-linking.

The illustration of one-way link exchanges.

How Does Link Exchange Affect SEO?

Back in the day, reciprocal linking used to be a widespread SEO technique, as manipulating SERPs with backlinks was as easy as breathing. In 2023, we have Google’s algorithm Penguin that is on the lookout for any link schemes. Yet, backlink exchanges are a common practice among SEO pros.

Is it safe? Yes, it is.

43.7% of the 112,440 top-ranking pages Ahrefs studied have some reciprocal links, which makes them a byproduct of your network, great content, your high rankings in the SERPs, and your company’s brand.

Does link exchange help website owners drive their site’s domain authority? Yes, it does.

No matter how links are acquired, they pass link juice until they point from relevant sites and have natural anchor text. Google, in fact, cannot distinguish a reciprocal link if it’s in the right context.

Moreover, a 3-way link exchange strategy helps you attract lots of high-quality backlinks in a short period of time. We’ll touch upon this tactic later.

Link Schemes and Their Role in Link Building

Let’s make it clear. We don’t advocate link schemes or other «black-hat» tactics like link farms. So, if you aim to go all-in with reciprocal linking, you’re playing with fire.

According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, some cases that qualify as link schemes are:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
  • Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
  • Exchanging goods or services for links
  • Excessive link exchanges («Link to me and I’ll link to you»)
  • Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service
  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links

While Google bans cross-linking, let’s hone in on the language here. Spam Policies highlight the word «excessive.» Meaning you’re likely to get penalized if your link profile consists predominantly of backlink swaps.

And if you diversify link building tactics, chances are high, your site will grow in the SERPs. Leastwise, we haven’t seen Google penalizing websites with naturally looking, diverse inbound links for link swaps.

?Recommended reading: Your Link Building Strategy Hurts Your Brand. Here’s Why.

5 Link Exchange Alternatives to Consider

As you have to vary link building tactics, here you’ll get acquainted with five alternative methods to direct link exchanges.

Alternative #1: Fix broken backlinks.

The majority of SEO professionals meet broken link building with a fair bit of skepticism, finding it to be a rather dubious method given its time demands and uncertain outcomes. However, when executed properly, it brings a decent number of backlinks.

Broken link building is a tactic where you find a broken (dead) link, recreate the dead content, then tell anyone linking to the dead resource to instead link to your recreated content.


  • Provides value by fixing resources and improving user experience.
  • Has the potential to earn high-quality backlinks.


  • Can be time-consuming as it involves finding broken links, creating similar or better content, and reaching out to the right people.
  • Not always successful, as only a handful of webmasters are willing or quick to update their links.

Examine niche-relevant sites and find web pages that point to broken links. Write your content and reach out to webmasters to offer them a replacement.

Use Ahrefs' Broken Backlinks report to find those broken pages. Sort them by DR — Descending. Now, you’re looking at the report with broken links of your competitor or just another relevant business and know what sites refer to the broken pages.

How to find broken links with Ahrefs.

Examine the content of the dead pages with the Wayback machine to understand what the dead pages were about. Following this step is crucial since your task is to write similar but better content to get webmasters to link back to you.

Explore more than 826 billion web pages saved over time.

Alternative #2: Create shareable content.

Linkable assets are pieces of content or resources on a website that have the potential to attract backlinks from other websites. These assets are typically valuable, informative, and engaging, making them desirable for other website owners, bloggers, or journalists to reference and link to.

With shareable content, you can trigger an avalanche of editorial DR60−90+ backlinks. For example, Brian Dean amassed 5,660 backlinks in 30 days with a single article.

This is my favourite tactic for link building for a new website. The issue new websites have is that they need backlinks to rank their content and get more backlinks that way, it’s a catch-22 situation.

But sharable content is the key to unlocking the bottleneck. When you write statistics articles and you become the source of information for others, your chances of getting a link and a mention increase exponentially.

Example: one article, 120 links — Luca Tagliaferro, SEO Consultant

10 types of content to attract passive links:

  1. Animated or interactive infographics
  2. Original research and case studies with graphs, charts, and unique data/findings
  3. Experiments
  4. Influencer round-ups
  5. Calculators and other free tools
  6. A library of free templates and checklists
  7. Glossary
  8. Surveys
  9. Free browser extensions
  10. Extremely detailed and value-packed «how-to» guides and tutorials

For example, Creative Trends 2023, the annual interactive project by Depositphotos, has already secured 128+ referring domains, according to Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Interactive infographics — linkable assets.

Likewise, Prowly has attracted over 390 referring domains to an article with media pitch templates. Worth to notice that the piece earned backlinks from top-notch outlets like WikiHow, Entrepreneur, Semrush, G2, Business2comunnity, and more. All of them have a DR of 90+.

Create articles with free templates to get backlinks passively.

?Tip: Devise a distributional strategy to deliver your linkable assets to the right media. Build links to your piece to advance it in rankings by the primary keyword. Without a distributional strategy in place, your shareable asset is merely another blog post.


  • When your content is shared naturally, it results in organic, passive backlinks.
  • Shareable content can significantly enhance your brand visibility as it reaches new audiences.
  • By producing high-quality, informative content, you can position yourself as an expert in your field, enhancing your credibility.
  • Shareable content often encourages more interaction from your audience, such as comments, likes, and further shares, which can improve your online presence and visibility.


  • Creating linkable assets takes a great deal of time and resources.
  • No guarantee of shares even if you produce excellent content.
  • Requires an additional promotion strategy.
  • While not common, there is a risk that someone may copy your content without giving you proper credit, which might rob you of potential backlinks.

Shareable content acts as a double-edged sword in the realm of link building. It’s not just about creating something that resonates; it’s about strategically crafting content that broadens your brand’s reach and cements its position as an industry thought leader. As your content gets shared across various platforms, it does more than just spread your message — it creates valuable backlinks to your website. These backlinks are essential for enhancing your visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), directly contributing to improved website traffic and SEO.

Moreover, the power of shareable content extends to fostering enhanced engagement and social proof. When people interact with and share your content, it not only demonstrates its value but also amplifies your brand’s voice in the digital conversation. This engagement builds a community around your brand, turning passive viewers into active participants and advocates. In essence, shareable content is a key driver in not just reaching a wider audience, but in building a more connected and engaged one. — Veronika Höller, Global SEO Lead at CompuGroup Medical SE & Co. KGaA

Alternative #3: Start ABC guest posting.

Unlike typical guest posting aiming at publishing a blog post on a niche-relevant blog (aka A → B), ABC guest posting (also a 3-way link exchange) is about site A making agreement with site B, so site B links back to site A from site C. This tactic is also known as relationship-based link building.

Put it simply, you create a private influencer network where every content marketer and link builder helps each other grow in the SERPs by placing links in their guest posts.

The strategy attracts 5−6 outgoing links from a single post. How?

Imagine you’ve got friends with 5 SEO pros who also work on backlinks through guest posting. So, when you write an article, you link back to your friends — and vice versa.

?We at Digital Olympus attract hundreds of high-quality, natural links through ABC guest posting. Over 6 years in link building, we’ve established relationships with top blogs like Monday, HubSpot, G2, Semrush, and others in non-marketing niches.

What helped us is certain groups for link exchanges and building genuine connections on LinkedIn. Here’s a list of link building communities to help you get started:


  • You target only high-authority websites, so you significantly boost your own site’s domain authority.
  • Guest posting helps get your name out there, letting you reach a wider audience that might have yet to be aware of your brand.
  • Regular guest posting fosters relationships with other industry leaders and influencers. These relationships can lead to further collaboration, mutual promotion, and increased brand reputation.
  • Once you build your «backlink team,» it’s becoming much easier to earn quality links.


  • Writing high-quality, engaging content consistently requires significant time and resources.

Alternative #4: Claim unlinked mentions.

Unlinked brand mentions refer to instances where your brand or website is mentioned on another website or online platform but without a clickable hyperlink back to your website.

Seize the moment: reach out to the website and request a link back to you through the mention.

The higher your brand recognition, the more unlinked backlinks you receive.

Open Ahrefs' Content Explorer to spot and monitor your unlinked brand mentions.

  1. Type in your brand name.
  2. Set up filters: Published (e.g., Last 30 days), Language, Only live.
  3. Click on «Highlight unlinked» and enter your domain name.
  4. Now, vet the link prospects regarding domain authority (DR), organic traffic, credibility, and relevancy.
How to find unlinked brand mentions with Ahrefs.

You can also use Google Alerts (free and cumbersome) and social media monitoring tools like Brand24 or Mention to monitor brand mentions. However, you must manually vet every mention to check if it’s unlinked.


  • Requesting a link from someone who’s already mentioned your brand or content is generally simpler. They are clearly aware of your business, and in many cases, they’ve already given you a positive endorsement.
  • Since your brand is already mentioned, the webmaster or author is likely to be more receptive to your request to add a link.
  • It’s easy to offer the webmaster further backlink collaboration and popularization of your product.


  • Not effective for small brands.
  • It’s a relatively time-consuming tactic. You must continually monitor the web for your brand, evaluate the quality of potential linking sites, and then reach out to each site individually.
  • You need to use specialized software, which involves an additional cost.

Leveraging your partnerships — For companies in the SaaS space that participate in a wide partnerships and integrations ecosystem, this could be leveraged into a brilliant link building and brand-building strategy. In a SaaS business you’ll typically be looking at 2 types of partners: agencies and technology.

Partnering with agencies to create content is easy. You can create case studies that link back to your site or offer to create content that’s relevant for their audience for them.
When it comes to technology partners, you can offer to create or co-create an integration guide on their site. This will not only provide you with a backlink, it will also help you dominate the SERPs with your brand, by showing up on more than one domain.

Outside of SaaS, this could be applied to partnering with your suppliers, clients or big customer advocates. — — Lidia Infante, SEO Consultant & speaker

Alternative #5: Build links from resource pages.

Resource page link building is building backlinks from pages with curated lists of links to external websites. To build links through this method, you approach the owners or webmasters of these pages and request your website, blog, or resource to be added to their curated list.

For example, if you sell handmade pottery and have written a series of blogs on the art of pottery-making, you could pitch your content to arts and crafts resource pages.

Likewise, suppose you have a platform offering free online coding tutorials. Your site could be a great fit for resource pages dedicated to providing free education resources.

An example of a curated list.

?Tip: Denote your primary and secondary keywords and compile a list of web pages ranking in the top 20. This way, not only do you secure backlinks but also increase your brand recognition and referral traffic, as your product appears in the majority of blog posts.


  • Resource pages are inherently topic-specific, so the links you gain are contextually relevant.
  • Links from a reputable resource page can enhance your site’s trust factor.
  • Once your link is on a resource page, it could naturally attract more links from other websites.
  • Increased share of voice and referral traffic.


  • Finding relevant resource pages and convincing webmasters to include your link takes time and patience.
  • Not all webmasters will agree to include your link. The success rate can often be lower compared to other link-building strategies.

?Tip: Try reverse link building from resource pages. Write your own listicles or allocate an H2 for a list of tools/products relevant to the post. Reach out to companies from that list and offer them an inclusion for a backlink.

Bonus tip: Monitoring HARO and QWOTED requests for expert commentary: by participating in these platforms, you not only contribute to media stories but also increase your visibility among journalists, potentially leading to more opportunities for coverage and interviews. It’s important to approach these platforms professionally and focus on delivering value to journalists and their audiences. - Ioana Ciobanu, PR Coordinator at Creatopy

Now Over to You

Link exchange is a tactic that stands the test of time. While direct swaps aren’t scalable and may put your site at risk of getting penalized, relationship-based link building is your must.

Looking for a savvy link building service provider? We’ve been building links for companies like Shopify, G2, Respona, and other renowned brands.

Contact our Digital Olympus team to discuss your link building needs.

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