Definition: Link exchanges are quid-pro-quo arrangements between websites to cross-link to each others' materials with the purpose of mutually increasing search engine rankings. Link exchanges can be cause for penalty and are discouraged for ecommerce merchants hoping to boost their SEO traffic.

In most cases, link exchanges are forbidden under Google's webmaster guidelines, which specifically forbid non-organic linking methods. Link exchanges were common practice before Google cracked down on links with the Penguin algorithm.

Link exchanges aren't necessarily bad — depending on intent

Google's webmaster guidelines specify that excessive use of link exchanges is forbidden, and are largely concerned with large commercial operations which would exchange links between dozens or hundreds of websites at once, even if they had very little to do with each other.

While the rules are not precisely defined, organic and collaborative link exchanging is acceptable when it genuinely offers something to users. For example, if two stores write expert blogs and guest post with each other, it is providing something for each audience. Likewise, websites in complementary fields of business often form partnerships to cross-promote products, which may involve an exchange of links.

In general, ecommerce retailers should never link to — or ask for links from — another website for the pure benefit of SEO.

How to improve organic link building without relying on exchanges

Google's focus is on quality of content, and that is still the best way to inspire links to a website. Materials on a website which are legitimately interesting, entertaining, and informative are most likely to garner links.

Further, link exchanges do not have to be 1:1. When an online retailer posts a blog post or writes an article that can serve the greater community, link outreach can significantly grow its audience. Then, if later on those other businesses post interesting materials, the original company is free to link to them in turn. The crucial point is that it should not be a quid-pro-quo arrangement where cross-linking is expected or demanded.

By focusing on precise keyword research, creating great content, and promoting it to the right audience, you can increase margins without resorting to tactics such as link exchanges.

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