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Google's Guideline on Link Exchange
Is it unfair to webmasters who exchange links w/ editorial discretion?

 8:44 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

A webmaster guideline specifically mentioning link exchange has been published over at Google:


It states (in part):

Examples of link schemes can include:

Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes ("Link to me and I'll link to you.")

I will carefully presume this guideline is more targeted towards some webmasters who participate in full duplex (fully automated) link schemes where links are obtained in high volume with little to no editorial control.

However, I wonder how this will affect those webmasters who obtain links sometimes through relevant link exchange while maintaining editorial control?

Is this Google webmaster guideline over-reaching?

Will this guideline affect how you link with other sites?

Do you think this guideline is fair?

Is Google dictating how webmasters will obtain relevant traffic apart from search returns?



 8:50 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

i think it's unfair for this reason: google encourages you to link to good sites. because that good site will then get some 'kudos' for having a one-way link pointed at it.

but if that good site then happens to link back to you, google will take away the benefit
it is as if google suddenly decides that that site is no longer as good, simply because it thought you were good as well.

so if there are twenty-or-so top-quality sites in your niche, how are they supposed to link to each other?


 9:09 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

> but if that good site then happens to link back to you, google will take away the benefit

I may have misread the guideline but I couldn't find where this is stated. Doesn't it Google leave it open to the webmaster to exercise editorial discretion and exchange useful reciprocal links, which would be counted normally?


 4:36 am on Jul 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

There is no fair. There is just what works to help your site rank in Google and what doesn't work. Interesting and useful sites can get links without any reciprocal linking.


 10:08 pm on Jul 9, 2007 (gmt 0)


Londrum is not saying that this is explicitly stated in the guidelines but that it is implied by them.

I believe that Londrum is making the following point:-

1) If a good site links to you then Google spots the "one way link" you have a very good link pointing to your site and Google gives you a lot of credit for it.
2) If you then decide that the site linking to you is so good that you link back to it then Google will count these links as being a reciprocal link exchange and will not give either party a great amount of credit for the link.
3) The Google guidelines therefore imply that if you link back to a high quality site which has linked to you, this will result in you losing most of the linking credit you had gained from that site.

Does anybody know if this is the case? I have often wondered about this as it does seem to be a strong disincentive for using out-bound links.


 10:27 pm on Jul 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thank you.

I understood he was just implying it since it is not written anywhere, at least like it was posted. It was a polite way of saying that this is his interpretation only. Mine, is that exchanging links is not good only if there is no editorial discretion... when the question "would this link be good to my users" hasn't been asked or answered. And that may just be a return link that gives back.


 7:29 pm on Jul 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

i think google are trying to control what we do, because it makes to easier for them to rate sites.

a site with lots of one-way links is obviously going to be a good site. so google can factor that in. but how can google tell the difference between a geniune two-way link and a recipricol one? answer: they can't. it's very difficult for them. so they are trying to convince us not to use them so much.

but google isn't the be-all and end all of everythin, of course. recipricol links can still bring in some decent traffic by themselves, if you get the right ones.


 5:13 pm on Jul 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

> answer: they can't. it's very difficult for them.

They can.
Although it may be difficult.


 12:11 pm on Jul 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

It seems to me that there are meaningless 2 way links, and there are genuinely valid ones that benefit each site's visitors.

Google's challenge is to separate the good from the bad, as best as is reasonably possible. Can they do that? Well, they've got the brainpower and they've got the money, so I'd think it's not outside of their capabilities.

But if the interpretation suggested in this thread is accurate -- that ANY mutually agreed, carefully selected reciprocal link arrangement is being discouraged by Google -- then it's yet another example of one company using its considerable power to try to overturn, or at least diminish, long established and respected marketing principles (link exchange having been around since the very beginning).

And why would it do this? To make it "easier" for THEM to rank sites? Sorry, not a good answer. If it's true -- and I say IF -- here's my explanation: Because they have become overly locked in to PageRank, at the expense of ALL other factors.

I'm hoping that they'll expand upon their new guideline soon, to clear up any confusions -- we'll see.


Lord Majestic

 12:26 pm on Jul 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Reno: the problem for a search engine that many common keywords have hundreds of millions of matches but they can only show 10. If off-page factors like PageRank or any other algorithm based on links were not taken into account then it simply would not be possible to give even half decent Top 10 selection. Moreover - if on-page factors were the most important for these highly competitive categories then one can be sure that content theft will be much more widespread than it is now - this would in effect make on-page factors meaningless and the whole system will collapse.

There is simply no alternative but to take PageRank or anything similar into account when number of matches is high (I'd say anything over 1 mln).


 12:36 pm on Jul 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

G is the Porsche of the SEs, they insist on using a flawed design and rely on their engineers to make it work ;-)

The Contractor

 1:02 pm on Jul 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Well, for all those that complain about "paid" links...I guess you had this coming..hehe

Reciprocal links are a form of barter and are no different than paying, so reciprocal links have always been paid for imho.

Reciprocal links are easy to see for a search engine. I used some desktop software that would map out all reciprocal links by entering a URL. Wasn't there a SE online that showed this also (been a couple years)?

[edited by: The_Contractor at 1:08 pm (utc) on July 21, 2007]


 10:00 pm on Jul 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I thoroughly understand that PageRank is what sets Google apart from all the others, and is a primary reason for their meteoric rise. What concerns me is the appearance that PageRank is SO crucial to their architecture that they have now actively begun discouraging websites from engaging in reciprocal linkage, which as I said has been a fundamental traffic driving technique since the mass popularity of the WWW exploded in 1995 (BTW, well before Google's conception).

Here again is what they say at the link which cnvi referenced:
...(cross-linking) can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results

It would be perfectly fine for me to have Google say "crosslinking is considered to be PageRank neutral -- it will neither help you nor hurt you". So people could trade links without any expectation whatsoever of gaining PR.

But the notion that it can actually injure a siteowner by trading links? Well, that's a bit much, and to my eyes, an example of Google overstepping what is reasonable.


Robert Charlton

 7:15 am on Jul 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

3) The Google guidelines therefore imply that if you link back to a high quality site which has linked to you, this will result in you losing most of the linking credit you had gained from that site.

Does anybody know if this is the case? I have often wondered about this as it does seem to be a strong disincentive for using out-bound links.

<pure conjecture>

a) If there's clear evidence of quid pro quo, I think Google would reduce the credit conferred by the exchanged links. They may or may not be able to do this on a link-by-link basis.

They might instead do what they suggest they'll be doing to pages that sell links... nuke the outbound PageRank of the linking pages. This way they keep it that you're responsible for whom you link to... not who links to you.

b) If there's a predominant pattern of link exchange, Google might similarly penalize the exchange.

c) If there's an occasional possibly reciprocal link on an otherwise meritorious site that doesn't suggest link exchanges as a pattern, and the links are topical, my guess is that Google would just leave them alone.

</pure conjecture>

(Conjecture here based on some years of observing Google and noticing that Google is very much concerned with "intent" in the application of penalties. Though it may occasionaly seem otherwise, Google does, I feel, try to avoid collateral damage as much as possible.)


 12:21 pm on Jul 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

The problem that I and so many other people have with Google's current thinking is this whole notion of "penalty" -- they remind me of an old nun running around with an 18 inch wooden ruler, smacking students who in their mind are misbehaving.

It is unbecoming of a world class company to behave in such a primitive fashion. If an individual behaved like that, therapy would be a reasonable recommendation.

Memo to Google: Just IGNORE any linking that you don't like. There is no need to pull out your stupid ruler.

Here's a scenario:

One guy makes handmade tables; another guy makes chairs -- they have a similar customer base so they arrange for a link trade. Should they be penalized by the nun for this? Of course not.

Another person weaves table coverings, so now all three link to each other. Makes perfect sense.

A fourth person creates ceramic tableware and a fifth person offers handblown wine goblets, so they get into this mutual cross-linking arrangement, as they should, since all the customers going to each individual site MAY have an interest in the products of the group as a whole.

So where does Google get off threatening these people with a penalty because they are doing what they should be doing -- trading links?

Again I say, when it comes to cross linking: Don't give any PageRank, don't remove any PageRank -- simply see the link exchanges as what they are -- NONE OF GOOGLE'S BUSINESS.



 10:34 am on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

G has always warned about link schemes and now that we have the option of using the nofollow it's no great surprise reciprocal/exchange schemes have become targets.

As RC mentioned "intent" is the KW here and G usually gives us sufficient rope to dispel any doubts as to the intent behind a linkage pattern :-)


 1:13 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

now that we have the option of using the nofollow

I'm wondering if it would work equally well to block access to a "Links.html" page by using a disallow in robots.txt?

If so, would Google thereby see the siteowner's intention as being an attempt to be honest & helpful? (since it's implied here that G may take "intentions" into consideration)

ps. Let's all recall how the road to hell is supposedly paved.



 1:48 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm wondering if it would work equally well to block access to a "Links.html" page by using a disallow in robots.txt?

<meta name="robots" content="none">

The above will work better.


With a file name like that, you may not need to disallow or block anything. ;)

<pure conjecture>

  • If you have a links directory attached to your site, you may be a target for the algo.

  • If you have a form on your site that allows people to submit links to your directory, I'd say you are "definitely" a target for the algo.

  • If you are in a particular industry and are involved with the "ring" thing, you are a target for the algo.

</pure conjecture>

Don't believe me? That's okay. I'm sure there are many out there who can confirm the above. In fact, I know there are. :)

P.S. Link exchange directories are one surefire way for the algo to do its thing.

Is it unfair to webmasters who exchange links w/ editorial discretion?

Unfortunately the abuse has reached levels where those who are doing it with editorial discretion might find themselves caught up in collateral damage. That's why I think link exchange directories have outlived their usefulness. They are more of an anchor now than anything else.

Try this experiment. Remove your link exchange directory from your site, just 410 it! Take those links that you consider the creme of the crop and disperse those throughout your site where appropriate. Don't put them all in one area, that's a signal.


 2:58 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

<more conjecture>

and the links are topical

I think that will be the key to all of this. Relevance, relevance, relevance.

Before you panic about link exchanges, spend some time playing with the Adwords keyword suggestion tool to get a feel for Google's ability to identify things that are related.

Google has crunched enough data to know that tables are relevant to chairs and also to dishes. It knows that "tuxedo" can relate to cummerbunds or cats. It knows that bacon is relevant to eggs, and also to Kevin. And so on ... so if a site about tables linked to sites about chairs and dishes, the algo would see some logic in that.

If a widget manufacturer linked to the retailers who sell his products, and many of those retailers linked back to the manufacturer as a reference for their users, by any logical human standard that ought to be seen as evidence for the "widget relevancy" of those sites. So it likely is in the algo too.

On the other hand, it would make sense for the algo to look askance at a site with a pattern of trading links for no discernible reason of relevance.

If a human user would look at your links and wonder, "what's that got to do with anything?", the algo will probably wonder that too. As well it should.


My own approach to all of this will be to keep on trading links when it would be relevant, and Google can make of that what it wills.


 4:13 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thanks pageoneresults for your insight -- I've added the <meta name="robots" content="none"> to all the links-related pages on my site (and most other non-essential pages as well).

Reciprocal link exchanges and web rings etc have been around since at least the '94-'95 time period, which as I said earlier pre-dates the founding of Google and its rise to power. There was a time when both these techniques were recommended in writing by people with real authority and respect in this field. They've been embraced by millions of siteowners.

So I really question how good it is for a company like Google to intentionally bring an air of suspicion to these kind of long utilized traffic generating methods. Yes, they may not really penalize most sites and yes, they may in fact consider the relevancy of the cross-linking, but we all know that just by publishing phrases such as "can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results", they are going to create shock waves.

I mean, how far can one powerful company go with this sort of stuff? If they next say " keyword rich domain names can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results", will people flock to their registrars to change that too?

Senator J. William Fulbright once used the phrase "the arrogance of power" to describe what happens when a country becomes too powerful and starts making up its own rules whether or not the rest of the world likes it. Companies are capable of the same behavior -- I would imagine more than a few people on this forum have had similar thoughts about Microsoft.

I'm sorry to say that Google is coming awfully close to that when it starts targeting long held traditions that to date have done little or no harm, and in fact, are appreciated by many millions of users. They are on a slippery slope and would be wise to think long & hard about how far they will take their current penalty obsession -- it is getting real old, real fast.



 4:17 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'd say that we not read "too much" into this. Google is targeting specific groups of webmasters/websites. Reciprocal link exchange will continue as it has been. Those that have crossed the threshold are the ones that need be concerned. Now, determining that threshold is the key. But, why even bother finding out what that threshold is? Just link naturally and all "should" be fine. Sounds easy, huh?


 9:09 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Just within the last hour I came across a links page that I'm certain would be a red flag for the algo.

The site sells elegant handmade widgets, and their link exchange page said they'd like to trade links with other sites that feature handmade widgets or widget accessories. So far so good ... until you actually look at their links.

It appears as though they've just swapped links with anyone who came along, as only a few of the links had any connection with widgets. Their links page would be guaranteed to make a spider say, "Oh, good grief!"

I had checked out the site because I was looking for resources to list on my own page about handmade widgets, but I decided not to include that one. Linking to someone who can't say no to an irrelevant link creates too much risk of stumbling into a bad neighbourhood.

Link freely but not promiscuously!


 9:14 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Would it make sense if I said that I believe in linking freely but not promiscuously?

It's always wise to "Practice safe linking" -- otherwise, you never know what you might pick up ;)



 9:57 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Right now I'm in the process of getting links for a site I launched two months ago. I'm getting reciprocal and one way links from sites that are directly related to the topic of my site.

How else to get page rank? Just wait for it to magically appear?


 10:13 pm on Jul 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Keep doing what you're doing.

Organic links do sometimes appear magically, but that's most likely to happen AFTER you've done a bunch of work to promote your site.


 3:07 am on Jul 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

Buckworks, thanks for the reply.

I've done very well the last six or so years with the websites I've worked on. If a site was related to bicycles, for example, I'd only look at trading links or getting one-ways from sites related to bicycles.

But, unless I'm completely misunderstanding the posts above, folks are saying that link exchanges are being devalued.

If that's the case, then how can any webmaster get page rank by what Google says are the rules?

If I'm mistaken about the above posts, please accept my apologies.


 6:06 am on Jul 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

Do yourself a favor and read the complete page referenced in the opening post, don't just read people's reactions to out-of-context quotes. Make sure you read what Google itself says, not just what nervous people read into it.

You're right, some folks are saying that Google is devaluing reciprocal links, and it would indeed make good sense for Google to devalue some reciprocal links.

But not all reciprocal links, for heaven's sake, and I don't think that's what Google is saying. As several people have pointed out, there are both logical and historical reasons why that would be stupid.

Note this quote from the link mentioned in the opening post (emphasis mine):

"However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites."

To me that says the central problem is junk links, not reciprocity per se.

Note that the word "schemes' has some highly negative meanings (especially in North American English), implying trickery or intent to deceive. Simply trading links because the references would be useful or interesting for each site's respective users could hardly be called trickery.

I base my own web strategy on my own deductive logic, not panicky or fear-mongering comments I read on message boards. (Goodness knows, there's enough of those!) My logic is that if Google is to come anywhere near their mission to organize the world's information, they'll need to figure out ways to analyze the web in much the same way that a well-informed, sensible human would look at things.

If you develop and promote your sites in ways that would seem logical to that mythical human, it's Google's job to recognize your signals of quality. (Yikes, I sound like Mike Grehan!)

Forget the fearmongers and use your own common sense. Focus on creating the kind of site(s) and relationships that Google OUGHT to be favoring, and over the long term you'll be okay.


 6:47 am on Jul 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>I'm wondering if it would work equally well to block access to a "Links.html" page by using a disallow in robots.txt?

I'm not saying it's the cause, but I've just seen a site at the very end of 950+ doing just that. IMHO it's a big red flag that a site is manipulating links in a BIG way. I can't see the logic in Google rewarding people for having "one way links" who are cheating by saying they're exchanging links and then going back on their agreement.

I'd think that unnatural linking patterns of any kind would be far worse than relevant recips.

Forget the fearmongers and use your own common sense. Focus on creating the kind of site(s) and relationships that Google OUGHT to be favoring, and over the long term you'll be okay.

Exactly. Recips have been around since the early days of personal homepages exchanging links for their pet and cooking sites, they're natural and normal lnking. But they didn't link to or exchange with debt-consolidation-mortgage-refinance-cheap-airline-tickets-location-weddings-viagra.com

Incidentally, I believe they can also easily spot when "link sections" are moved off to another domain. I've seen such a case recently and having what happen to be on-topic, related links removed and the IBLs all become one-way didn't help one iota.

In fact, the site has dropped a bit from what it used to be, and who knows but that it might have a few "demerits" that are because of that kind of an unnatural pattern. The other site links back and forth with the original, it's really a no-brainer exercise in futility.

[edited by: Marcia at 6:58 am (utc) on July 24, 2007]


 12:58 pm on Jul 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

My problem is I take Google at their word, and their words are confusing. As was pointed out by buckworks, the word "scheme" is loaded and can mean everything from a "plan" to a "plot".

So when they say:

Examples of link schemes can include:

Links intended to manipulate PageRank
Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes ("Link to me and I'll link to you.")
Buying or selling links

I take that to mean what it says. I certainly agree with 1, 2, and 4, but the third one is nothing more than a simple reciprocal linkage request/invitation, which many millions of siteowners include on one (or more) of their pages.

Personally, I think Google needs to re-word #3 to specifically say something like
Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes ("Link to me and I'll link to you") where there is no discernable relevancy.

In the meantime, it says what it says, which is that any reciprocal linkage -- whether it's a "plan" or a "plot" -- is open to a possible negative impact. Any other interpretation is seeing what we hope they mean, not what we know they mean.

I did read their guideline when the thread started and do see that they try to further explain everything in other paragraphs, but still, by saying 2 different things at the same time, they only muddy the waters. Hopefully they'll re-visit this guideline to make it clearer in the very near future.



 3:12 pm on Jul 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes ("Link to me and I'll link to you") where there is no discernable relevancy.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is another factor concerning relevancy. You can overdo the process.

Again, if you have a directory style link exchange going on, you are most likely a target for an algorithmic solution to an ongoing problem that plagues Google's indices. It's the easiest environment for an automated process to detect and since the level of abuse has reached critical mass, those that are doing it truly as a service to their visitors are going to be susceptible to collateral damage.

My personal opinion on this? If you are participating in link exchanges on a scale that is sure to send signals, expect those pages to become null at some point if they haven't already.

If you have all of your recips concentrated in one particular area, you may be asking for trouble. Don't shoot the messenger but if you look at those linking environments that are falling prey to the algo, I'd check to make sure that yours is not similar. If it is, there is a good chance your next on the list. :(

Anything auto generated with a footprint is also susceptible. In fact, that's right up there at the top of the list. Most of the abuse comes from users of automation. Once that automation reaches levels that Google is not comfortable with, there will be blanket issues to contend with. We've seen it happen in the past and history has repeated itself many times over.

Its time to find a better way to do things. I can tell you that a small mom and pop website that has an "unusual" number of links is probably going to end up as collateral damage. Those that are really rubbing it in the face of the SEs are at high risk. But hey, that's where they like to operate. ;)

This 72 message thread spans 3 pages: 72 ( [1] 2 3 > >
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