7 Alternatives To Link Exchange

by Val Danylchuk February 2nd, 2011 


Link exchange is dead.

It's not that it doesn't work. It works perfectly well for those who already have their established link directories. But there are two things that kill link exchange as a viable link building tool for a new website:

  • The effort to get new quality link partners is now beyond reasonable
  • Even the best, high-quality link pages are a huge risk for you now

Why is that the case? We'll need to look at this from a historic perspective to understand this fully.

"Long ago" link exchange was one of the primary ways to promote a website. Search engines indexed a relatively small portion of the Internet, and did a poor job in ranking the search results. One of your best bets to get your site noticed was to take part in as many link exchanges, banner networks, directories, web rings and rating systems as possible.

Then Google appeared with its PageRank algorithm. All of a sudden those well-linked sites received a huge additional bonus in visibility and traffic, and their success was then certified with lots of search traffic.

Links became the hottest commodity on the Net, and PageRank the universal indicator of their worthiness. Have a PageRank 8? The world is yours. PageRank 1? I don't have the time to reply to your email. The level of manipulation to get the highest possible PageRank quickly grew out of hand. It was bought, swapped and stolen.

Link exchange underwent a huge boost in popularity at that time. It worked wonders for getting high rankings on Google. A huge set of problems developed:

  • PageRank greed. It became more complicated than the simple "link to me and I'll link to you". Who can stuff more listings deeper in their directory, who found more dirty tricks to fool their link partners out of their share of PageRank.
  • Generally low quality of link pages. These pages weren't created for people but for search engine bots. They contained a lot of garbage and most of the time were hardly usable for a human at all.
  • Quantity over quality. It was always hard to find really good link partners, so people were tempted to go for the sheer quantity of links. A great number of automated tools assisted and further encouraged that practice, no matter what they wrote in their official guidelines.

That could not last long. Google gave warnings and recommendations, but finally it had to go in an all-out war on link exchange farms. In 2008, thousands of websites were banned from Google results for excessive and unnatural linking. Forums were filled with questions, confusion and anger.

The fallout


Webmasters took their lesson. Now no-one wants to touch straight link exchange with a 10-foot pole. Even if you find a perfect linking match for your site, your chance to get a deal is next to nothing.

A small percentage of webmasters are still eager to get all the links they can, but they aren't exactly the ones you want to get associated with.

Overall, link exchange is no longer the easy, effective tool it once was. Your best approach to link exchange today is to exchange a few links with your genuine business partners. And then forget about link exchange as a promotion method.

So what are your alternatives for link building?

If you want relatively easy methods, comparable to link exchange, try these:

  • forum posting
  • blog commenting
  • article directory submission
  • social bookmarking

These are mostly useful to build a more diverse linking profile. If you decide to go high volume, many SEO outsoursing shops will be willing to help you with these. Consider the possibility that excessive linking in such obvious self-referencing ways may be the next target for Google's cleanup…

If you want more reliable methods that will bring you top quality links, consider these:

  • guest blogging
  • press releases
  • link baiting

These require more effort but they will also give you two huge advantages:

  • They bring a lot of targeted traffic
  • They are 100% natural and will work for you many years in future

Whatever methods you decide to use, don't trust others to judge their effectiveness.

Good luck with your link building! May it always be safe, ethical and productive for you.

Val Danylchuk

Val Danylchuk is the author of Web Tracking Guide - an easy, step-by-step tutorial on tracking and maximizing your online profits.

Web Tracking Blog

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9 Responses to “7 Alternatives To Link Exchange”

  1. Mike Monahan says:

    I have to agree and disagree with you on several points. #1 Links that Google finds authoritatively from sites they find relevant meaning (PR4+) absolutely help a fledgling website. I have many examples where a single PR4+ website link has pushed a website to a PR3 with a simple two way link. I have to disagree with blog commenting such as I am doing right now in fact. Google recently has gotten smarter and I with Blog Comment Demon in so many peoples hands, SPAMMING has gotten worse and in recent checking of links to a website less than 1% are left that were previously indexed. And those are from pages with a PR3+ ranking. As for the others here is my personal opinion and about the percentage of results.
    * forum posting – Great only if you use a high keyword density.
    * article directory submission – Great if you use an industry authority or an official news website
    * social bookmarking – You have to do this for the social media buzz but I have never seen a relevant link show up from say..Delicious.com.
    * guest blogging – Again only on relevant sites.
    * press releases – Companies are bombarding these with sometimes 50+ per day. If you get good keyword density and are in an unique industry this works.
    * link baiting – I have to agree. If you have a unique way of doing this you are the king of link juice.

    One that you left out is Profile links which again used to get about a 25-30% indexed by Google as a link and now is below a decimal point in terms of percentages that are now indexed. (Sorry all you link builders in India and Pakistan but it no longer works!)

    Mike Monahan
    SEO Author/Expert

    Read more: http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/link-exchange-alternatives.html#ixzz1CqXkxs39

    • Hi Mike,

      Thank you for such a detailed reply! It could have made a nice post by itself.

      I agree with you on most accounts. SEO and link building is not really an exact science, although you can measure some of the results and try to reverse-engineer some ranking effects. I think your best bet is to use a range of different methods, some for diversity and quantity, and some for quality links. I just pointed out some possibilities.

  2. Walid Janjua says:

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful insight Val and Mike. This is the first time i have heard of link baiting. I guess its only a google search away. But thanks again for pointing me in the right direction.

    • You're welcome! Link baiting is truly a very effective technique, but it is also very difficult. You may need several attempts before you have a successful one. Be advised that there are many types of link baits: articles, online tools, ratings, pictures, videos and other resources. When you research it in Google you'll notice that every author has his favorite type. You'll have to figure out what may work for you. The key is to create something really outstanding, so that people cannot resist linking to you.

  3. Pam Egan says:

    I recently signed up for a link-exchange program in which you create a listing for your site and other site-owners and bloggers can contact you about link-exchange proposals. Within a couple hours of signing up, I had roughly 100 emails in my spam folder requesting link exchanges. None of those that I opened are what I consider "high-quality" link partners.

    Most were spammers trying to get high-quality links to their sites in exchange for low-quality links from their sites.

    I agree with the authors premise that link-exchange is dead (for the most part anyway).

    I also agree with the alternatives suggested in the post.

    Also, @Mike, decent links can indeed be obtained through social bookmarking. Sites like Mixx.com for example don't use "nofollow" on all links, and PR2 and 3 links (with anchor text) can be obtained through these sites. Delicious is a complete waste of time, but such is not the case with all such sites.

    The real secret is finding out specifically which blogs, forums, social bookmarking sites and such offer opportunities for quality one-way links.

    Also, let us not forget that Google is now factoring in tweets, retweets and Facebook data into its respective algos, adding a new dimension to the importance of social search optimization.

    • Hi Pam,

      Thank you for sharing your experience and adding more value for other people who read this post.

      I agree that finding the right websites for every link building method is critical. Without this, any method can fail. Aside from PR-wise quality, it is preferable to find the most relevant websites in your field. That way, you will both build better links and attract more direct traffic.

  4. […] Link Building Tips: 7 Alternatives To Link Exchange. […]

  5. Well The post was quite impressive and confident enough to put the perspective of yours but only till the time I had not come to the comment made by MIKE and after going through all that comment I got confused a bit whether to go for Val Danylchuk's view or with Mike's view as I am using Blog commenting, forum posting, directory submissions and bookmarking right now.

    So VAl may you tell me that to which of Mike's comments do you agree??

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