Why I Don’t Do Link Exchange

For years, I’ve received email requests to engage in link exchanges with other sites. Because Google and other search engines base a site’s PageRank in large part on the number of incoming links to that site, many webmasters and SEO types see pre-meditated link exchange as an easy way to build rank.

I refuse nearly all link exchange requests, to this or any other site I manage. On occasion, webmasters have taken umbrage at my refusal. Because I’m tired of explaining why I don’t do link exchange, this page exists to explain why I think the practice is wrong.

PageRank is based on the number of incoming links to a site for good reason – it’s a wonderful organic measure of the usefulness of a site to the internet at large. Remember when Google turned search inside out? Most of us had never seen search results so clean and useful. The “link love” formula was the secret sauce that made the service so useful. Link love works because it makes every link on the internet a vote. (Read John Battelle’s The Search for an excellent history and explanation of the process that lead to the development of PageRank.)

I believe there are both sincere and insincere reasons for creating a link between two sites. A sincere reason is that the webmaster or author feels the external site would be of value to his/her readers.

An insincere reason is that the the linker stands to gain (financially or otherwise) from placing the link. An insincere link is an attempt to “game the system” — to take a brilliant system where “links equal public votes of confidence” and turn it to their personal (usually financial) advantage.

A sincere link serves the public. An insincere link is self-serving. Every sincere link strengthens the quality of search for every user of the internet. Every insincere link accomplishes exactly the opposite, because it pushes sites higher up in search rankings not because the internet public at large found them useful, but because two webmasters decided to scratch each others’ backs. Insincere links are bad for the health of the internet.

I value the organic usefulness of the internet. I don’t do link exchange for the same reason I try not to litter or do other things that are bad for society. It’s just bad juju.

I understand that not everyone looking for link exchange is insincere. Some link exchange requests are written by humble, everyday webmasters who aren’t trying to “game the system.” The problem is that even seemingly sincere mutual links ultimately have the same effect as insincere links. Because they’re pre-meditated, they’re not organic, and they ultimately weaken the system. Think of politicians doing each other mutually self-serving favors — the favors may be small, and the politicians might not be corrupt, but ultimately, the favors are for the benefit of the politicians’ careers, not for the public they’re supposed to serve.

So my response to link exchange requests that seem basically sincere is this: Link to my site if you think your readers would find it useful, interesting, etc., and do it without hoping that you or your site will benefit from the link. If you think my readers would find your site useful, by all means drop me a note and let me know you exist. But if you ask me to engage in link exchange, understand that I’m highly predisposed to refuse. The fact that you asked for a link exchange to begin with means I didn’t find your site organically.

That doesn’t mean I categorically won’t link to you in the right context, at the right time, if I find your site interesting. But none of my sites are link farms. Except within clear advertising areas, I don’t — and won’t — treat links like currency.

A final note: Link exchange is no longer considered to be a very effective technique. Google and other search engines are always on the lookout for ways to weed out those who would game the system, and now devalue sites found to be involved in the process.

11 Replies to “Why I Don’t Do Link Exchange”

  1. I receive such requests, as well. What always strikes me as funny are the people that are obviously not mere spammers or Google-whackers, but individuals that say, “I really like your site. I’ve read it a lot, and I always find your opinions to be valuable and funny. Would you mind exchanging links?”

    And then a search of my site turns up no user account for them, no comments by them, nothing.

    If you find me so damned witty, please don’t treat me like I’m an idiot. :)

  2. I used to design/maintain the website of fantasy artist (and now children’s author) Tony DiTerlizzi.

    We received link exchange requests all the time – most from fans. In that case, I think it was two things driving the request:

    1) Link Ego. Not trying to game the googlejuice, but simply wanting the ego boost of seeing lots of results on a search for inbound links to your site.

    2) Fan Ego. “See? Tony DiTerlizzi linked to my site!”

    We rarely received commercial requests (even though the site, in 2000, was getting more hits than the UW College of Engineering), although the few links we did make (such as a font studio that made a typeface used in one of Tony’s books) were quite thankful.

  3. My understanding is that link exchanges are about Peer Review. Google looks at their users as customers. Google wants the best web sites in the top spots in order to please their customers. Since Google can’t review them all, they use Peer Review.

    If you want to be at the top, you have to get reviewed and approved by ALOT of your peers. I have turned down many sites that have approached me, and vice versa.

  4. Google wants the best web sites in the top spots in order to please their customers.

    Luis – Wouldn’t you agree that premeditated or arranged link exchange accomplishes the opposite of that goal?

    Peer review is great. But link exchange is in NO WAY similar to peer review.

  5. Like some others, i am interested in link exchange. If there is somebody, please contact me. martin

  6. Hi,

    I visited your site and liked the contents so would like to propose link exchange partnership with your site.
    As you probably already know, link popularity is a major factor in getting a site noticed by the search engines
    and getting traffic onto that site.
    An additional link would help both you and us to get more traffic.

    If you accept this link exchange partnership then place the under mentioned details in your link page:

    URL: http://removed
    Title – Duelpass
    Description – Buy a YuGiOh Online Duel pass now from [removed]. Phases 1 to 6, Lost
    Guardian, EHero and Spellcasters Unity duelpasses all in stock to buy now.

    Reciprocal link:-http://removed

    And Let me know when our links are live, send over your information and I’ll gladly place your link to our above site within 48 hrs.

    Looking forward to hear from you soon.

    Thanking You!

    Best Regards,
    Web Development Team

  7. LOL – Check out the spam comment received on this entry, above. Usually I don’t allow any spam at all onto the site, but this one cracked me up, since the idiot is asking me for link exchange — in a comment on a post about the evils of link exchange. I removed the URLs from the comment to deprive it of any Google love. Un-freaking-believable.

  8. I have no idea what link exchange is, but then Google is not a popular search engine in Korea and I gather from this page that these two (Google and link exchange) are somehow related. Frankly I have no idea why a Mondegreen site would direct me to this blog either. However, I do find that you people are really humorous in your remarks. o_o Especially this Shacker person reminds me of Chandler in the Friends sitcom.

    But what struck me, really, was the phrase “I value the organic usefulness of the internet.” It’s not a sentiment that one encounters often. I mean, that of standing fast to one’s principles and rooting for what benefits the whole society instead of what benefits oneself. Being principled on the matter of technology is not easy, too, it was actually the subjet of my ethics composition class, because of some psychological theory or other. I mean, it’s easy to care for others when they are face-to-face with you, but to care for the nameless and faceless entities who scan the internet pages worldwide… That’s harder.

    I always wondered through whose work I am able to access all the useful information on the internet, standing out like precious gems amid the junk, when everyone was just out for themselves and used internet for what they can glean out of it, not what they can give back. That includes me, I’m afraid. And now I think I know.

    Or I’m missing the point and reading too much into it. I’m just a girl, so I don’t know much about anything anyway.

    Hm. Maybe it’s Western soil that does it. I mean, breed ethical individualists who have an opinion and stand fast to it.

  9. Hiya Dasol –

    Thanks for the great comment. I never thought my attitude on this was all that altruistic – I just care about the internet and had greedy bastards, that’s all!

    Link exchange is not a company or a product – it’s the practice of webmasters agreeing to link to each other. “If you link to me I’ll link to you.” That’s not organic linking, that’s planned linking, intended only to mutually benefit one another’s page rank. Most webmasters get requests for links all the time, and it disgusts me.

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