A Legit SEO Strategy or Nah? 3-Way Link Exchanges Explained


Andy Cabasso

May 25th

People working on SEO.

Like it or not, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a big part of doing business these days, and it doesn’t really matter what your business is; SEO can help make it or break it. There are a ton of stats that bear this out, but we found this one especially eye-opening; SEO can reduce the cost of customer acquisition by 87.41% on average compared to digital advertising. 

That’s great, right? Small businesses don’t have massive advertising budgets, and SEO is free! If only it were that easy. There are a million and one SEO strategies on the naked internet, and not all of them are created equal. And while SEO is free, your time is not. So we’ll explore one SEO tactic, three-way link exchange. 

People working on SEO.

What is a 3-Way Link Exchange?

A 3-way link exchange or ABC link exchange is an SEO link-building tactic. A key factor Google uses (And let’s be real, when we’re talking about search engines and SEO, we’re talking about Google, which has a monopoly essentially.) when ranking web pages is the number and quality of backlinks that come back to your site. Another factor is the page rank of the sites linking back to yours and if they are in a similar niche to yours. 

A 3-way link exchange sees Site A link to Site B with Site C. Site B links to Site A in exchange for a link from Site C. Why is Site C involved? Why not just exchange links between Sites A and B? 3-way exchange links are meant to be a workaround. Google sees the links as one-way links and not as reciprocal links. We’ll get to the reason for this little bit of skullduggery soon. 

How does the 3-Way Link Exchange Differ From a Direct Link Exchange?

A direct link exchange is a link-building strategy where one hand washes the other. Site A asks Site B for a link. In exchange, Site A gives Site B a link. Think, “Like for Like” on Instagram. Google frowns on this practice.

Google is in the business of providing the best results when people use it to search for information on the internet. They have built all kinds of tools to help ensure this. Excessive link exchanges are gaming the system that Google has built and can skew a site’s ranking in search results. More relevant sites to a query are pushed further down the page giving the person performing the search inferior results. 

Link swapping is one thing, but some sites even pay for links, spending thousands of dollars! Kind of negates that whole “SEO is free” thing! This type of link exchange is especially a No-No in Google’s book because the person selling links is in it for the money only without concern for the domain authority or accuracy of the site paying for the link. Again, this kind of link scheme can result in a poorer quality search query for users. 

Direct link exchanges shouldn’t be confused with natural reciprocal links when two sites link to one another with no prior agreement or maybe even no prior contact between them. That is a legitimate link technique and doesn’t violate any guidelines. 

Person taking a look at Google's Guidelines.

What Do Google’s Guidelines Say About Link Exchanges?

A mouthful! Let’s hit the highlights, though. Straight from Google on the matter:

Any link intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. 

So both the site using the link and the site being linked to would end up on the Google Naughty Step. These are some things Google considers a “Link Scheme:”

  • Exchanging money, goods, or services for links
  • Excessive link exchange or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Requiring a link as a part of the Terms of Service without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying outbound links should they wish

What are the consequences of violating these Guidelines? Do you get thrown in Google Jail? Unless you’re being super brazen about it, writing a whole blog post and multiple social media posts with the express intent of doing a direct link swap, for example, the occasional link exchange, is acceptable. In fact, Google can’t differentiate between a deliberate link exchange and a natural link exchange. 

There can be consequences, though. Google punishes websites that have content that conflicts with its marketing practices. Penalties can come from an update to Google’s ranking algorithm or a manual review that finds a site has used “black hat SEO” tactics. More than 400,000 manual actions are taken by Google each month!  If you notice a sudden drop in traffic, you may have been penalized. 

We don’t have to tell you what can happen when your site starts to lose a ton of traffic. Well, we’ll tell you just in case. You lose money! A 3-way link exchange is a work-around to bypass Google’s disapproval; it essentially doesn’t leave a trail. As we explained above, Google sees these kinds of links as one-way and not reciprocal links. 

Are 3-Way Link Exchanges Safe?

As we wrote above, unless you’re being very visible about soliciting link exchanges from other content publishers, you’re unlikely to be busted.  And 3-way links don’t create a reciprocal link, so Google can’t pick up the exchange. 

But do you want to risk it? That’s a question we’ll leave up to you. If your answer is “Yes,” be sure you’re soliciting high-quality backlinks and are offering quality, relevant content. If you’re going to take the risk, you want the most reward! Postaga can help you find authority backlink opportunities with our Opportunity Finder tool

People wondering if 3-way Link Exchange Work.

Do 3-Way Link Exchanges Work?

3-way link exchanges can work. They give each site a page rank boost, increasing their online visibility and, in some cases, their domain rating. A vote of confidence from a high domain authority site can be a huge boon to your site. 

But there are ways to build backlink opportunities without the threat of Google jail looming over you! You can use these “white hat SEO” tactics rather than direct link swapping:

Guest Posts: Guest posting opportunities on relevant blogs can help build your rankings. 

Podcasts: Being interviewed on a podcast can get you and your business in front of new potential customers. And many podcasts publish show notes that will link to your site. 

Reviews: Being reviewed by high-authority sites can drive a lot of traffic and business to your site. 

To Wrap It All Up

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to build backlinks and grow your business! Postaga offers a suite of tools to help you do just that while automating much of the process. Because your time isn’t free! 

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