To Link Exchange Or Not To Link Exchange

By Max Thomas

I thought by now most everyone was in agreement not to spend too much time and energy on straight-up link exchanges. Google has made it clear that random outbound links on a page aren’t really that helpful as the page probably (i) doesn’t have great content (since when did links count as content?) and (ii) has so many links about different topics that the page really isn’t relevant or authoritative for any topic.

Even so, like direct-mailers and phone solicitors (have you gotten one of those automated cell phone calls…ugh! They really motivate me to buy…not!), it seems that link exchange emailers have NOT gotten the message. While my snazzy “Google Priority Inbox” keeps these pesky emails out of my sight, we still have clients who receive one and ask what it is. This leads to the question, “to link exchange, or not to link exchange?”.

So with the intent of addressing (once again) the deal behind link exchanges and (hopefully) explaining why they’re usually not really worth your time (in the majority of cases and industries) and when they are, following is a review of a classic link exchange letter and why it really doesn’t work.

To Recap: Link Exchanges USED to work for getting quality links that Google would recognize…and then increase your site’s rankings. NOW this doesn’t work as well.

Rule of Thumb: The ONLY litmus test for doing a link exchange is whether you think it would be helpful to your users (aka “human beings”). If there are online resources that you think your users will find helpful, then include a list of those and call them “Links” or “Resources.” BUT don’t do it just for links. It won’t help with rankings. In addition, they’re not generally viewed as professional, unless the resources are highly relevant like links to gov, association or similar sites — in effect, sites that probably will never ask for a link exchange.

That point aside…let’s say you’re okay with link exchanges…then the question becomes “is this a good link?”

How do we assess that? The primary factors are if the page is about your industry (or relevant) and if the other links are similar to your site or about your industry.

Let’s take a look at a recent email requesting a link exchange…

1) From – Overall, this letter is of high quality because it’s well written, no mispellings, the intent is clear, and it’s from a (potentially) real person, Kelly Morris. Even so, Kelly’s email is a little suspicious: Kelly’s name is not in her email AND the email domain is not the same as the website ( This is an immediate clue that it’s most likely a third-party who’s finding link exchange opportunities for their client.

2) Site – Kelly does a nice job of sounding positive about the website (“Ive [typo] greatly enjoyed looking through your site”) and s/he includes the site url (which is blacked out here).

3) Relate Submit – Here, Kelly explains that her website is of “related subject.” Okay, we know Google looks closely at relevant an inbound linking site is. Let’s look at the site:

Looks like LRGlenn is a property management and services firm, that also handles real estate transactions. As for onpage content, there’s not much other than a general description and lots of links (see below). Not good.

The site Kelly emailed is a high-end wealth management firm in Silicon Valley. They don’t do property management or real estate transactions, but they do include real estate as part of their overall financial planning services (hence the possible outreach). Even so, these two companies are in very different industries with different services. They really aren’t relevant to each other and, as such, probably won’t be seen as valuable link partners (at least based on content) for Google.

4) Homepage Link – Kelly is trying to offer something unique by offering a link from the homepage, rather than from a general “links” page. Let’s look at the links on the homepage:

Wow! That’s a lot of links all crammed in together! First blush is that this is not a good neighborhood to be in: There are too many links about various topics at the bottom of a page. Even so, let’s dig a little deeper. There’s lots of real estate sites, but they’re mostly in Florida, India, etc. They also have some for fencing, roofing and garage services. While these are broadly “real estate” related, they’re not really relevant for wealth management.

Geography matters too. The sites itself is based in Texarkana, TX. This is not geographically relevant as the site they contacted is in Silicon Valley, CA.

5) “…my related websites all in google cache and backlinks” – I’m not quite sure what Kelly means here. My guess is that s/he slipped in writing “websites” (meaning, they probably have many websites they target for links) and that by “google cache” she meant that they’re all indexed by Google (so that ostensibly Google will crawl a link from to your website) and that the websites also have backlinks (which give them some authority). If fact, to this last point of authority, s/he indicates has a Pagerank of 4, which we know is useless information since the Pagerank we see in Google bar is outdated and/or incorrect.

6) Title/URL – Possibly Kelly tells us exactly what information s/he needs to put up a link, as well as the time frame to take action. This is straightforward and actually very helpful if the recipient decides to pursue this link.

7) Spammy – Kelly has a footnote on the email explaining that it’s not spam. I’d have to agree that the request is not spammy. The email is above board, Kelly gave clear contact information, and the site is very much about real estate services. The issue is it’s a link exchange…there’s just not much value there.

Again, the ultimate litmus test with link exchanges is if the link is helfpul to your users. In the case of this wealth management site, they decided it was not helpful and, as such, the link was not pursued. In general, now that link exchanges aren’t that valuable to ranking, we’re seeing fewer of them. One of the up-sides to this is better development of linkable resources so that they’re not just a laundry list of links, but helpful information for a site’s customer or visitor.

So, to link exchange or not to link exchange? That is the question, and if you ask me, you’ll usually get a “no.”

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Max Thomas

By Max Thomas

Max is a nationally recognized digital marketing specialist who is an expert on search engine optimization and data-driven digital marketing who has spoken at SMX and SMX Advanced, LMA Southeast, LMA Tech in San Francisco, WordCamp and other industry recognized conferences. As the founder and CEO of ThunderActive, Max has lead his team (with offices in San Diego and New York City) to success for clients in legal, real estate, life sciences, consumer goods and new tech. A Columbia undergraduate with a Yale MBA, Max is an Impact Circle Member for The Trevor Project and is an advisor to start-up companies and angel investment networks, including Gaingels and Serval Ventures in New York.

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