The age-old saying “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is an expression intended to bring people closer together and screams collaboration, but when it comes to SEO and link exchanges in industry digital content, watch your back.
If done well and organically, Google’s extensively intelligent algorithm will not flag the links, but if done purposefully with adversarial intent – the all-knowing algorithm detects that objective, and the site or platform sees the consequences. They even have a term for it – link scheme – violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Linking is a common practice to boost the number of leads to your site and is often highly encouraged. There is a right (and wrong) way to achieve your traffic goals, and reciprocal or 3-way link exchanges are not one of them.
If you’re looking to boost your SaaS marketing business, new passion project, money-making venture, or if you’re just a lover of SEO, you’re quite familiar with Link Exchanges, but for those who are new to the game, we’ll break it down.
What Are Link Exchanges?
Link exchanges are an agreement between two website owners aimed to pledge to link to each other’s site to create more domain authority and increase traffic. If you own a fairly successful SaaS website, you may have been hounded in the past by other marketers looking to capitalize on your success – and in return, you may benefit from theirs.
It is a common occurrence but frowned upon by the powers-that-be and may result in diminishing SERP rankings and/or a manual action penalty.
3-way link exchanges can be a bit complicated for those new to the practice but let’s break it down using a scenario.
Suppose John Smith is a new SaaS business owner and has developed two websites – one for his consulting service and one to sell his new software. He really admires Joan Brown’s website and wants to work with her and be announced into the industry through her popular site.
A 3-way link exchange could look something like this:
Step 1: JoanBrownWebsite.com (site A) embeds a link into a blog article on her site that links to SmithSoftware.com (site B)
Step 2: In exchange, John links to JoanBrownWebsite (site A) from SmithConsulting.com (site C) through a guest post from SmithSoftware.com (site B)
This can be a time-consuming and very intricate process that demands a vast network of connections within the industry to make the risk worth it for both parties involved. Many site owners make the decision to work with an expert to maximize the effort and the output.
Black Hat Vs. White Hat Link Building
There are two main categories of link exchanges, black hat and white hat. SaaS site owners may use both link building strategies, but there is only one that abides by search engine policies – and the other could provide unintended and devastating results to SaaS business growth. Let’s dive into each.
Black Hat Link Building
A bit of a shady SEO strategy, black hat link building attempts to enhance a SaaS site’s performance but fails to meet the guidelines and policies set by search engines. This technique often includes PBNs (Private Blog Networks), which are commonly expired domains still receiving tons of traffic. These networks offer to sell link availability on their popular site in exchange for monetary compensation.
The sale of links outside of a PBN and the addition of bot-created blog comments to indicate interaction are other methods used in black hat link building that can produce results at first, but generally, the success is temporary. Once search engine webspam teams identify the back-room approaches, rankings and traffic seem to vanish as quickly as they emerge.
White Hat Link Building
Just the opposite of black hat linking, white hat linking is a valid and ethical means of organically linking websites to one another. Authentic linking where appropriate and relevant to the site or specific article content helps sites rank higher, build authority in your industry and niche, and raise that coveted domain authority status with search engines.
A prime example of white hat linking includes guest bloggers linking back to their site after providing valuable and insightful content on yours. Linked assets are another great way to use links on your site that would be considered safe and legit in the eyes of search engine professionals.
Bonus: Gray Hat Link Building
Somewhere in between, Gray Hat Link Building isn’t quite approved but is also not considered in the white hat link club. Instead of jumping with both feet in the fire like black hat linking, dipping one toe in the fire or “finding loopholes” could be equated to gray hat linking. It’s easy to make a mistake and cross the line, but for those who are still new to mastering SEO strategies, it may not be worth an accidental slip-up.
The Dangers of DIY Link Exchanges
Search engines like Google often run updates to improve quality, but it has a two-fold result that also targets illegal linking practices. Once identified, a few different outcomes could happen – site owners see an instantaneous or almost-immediate drop in search rankings, site visitor metrics may plummet, and in some instances, manual intervention by search engine professionals may de-index your site.
Avoid linking other sites in your header or footer – which are considered “site-wide” links and appear on every page. Websites and pages riddled with links unrelated to the content or feel inorganically embedded can trigger search engines to take a closer look. Not only is there a significant risk in indexing low on result listings, but the website also gives off a sketchy vibe. Consumers are now much more cautious of shady sites with increased knowledge of malware and other scams on the world wide web.
Know who you’re getting into bed with regarding reciprocal link exchanges, and ask the tough questions to know whether they will hold up their end of the bargain. Instead of just “piggybacking” off someone else’s work, ensure that the partnership is a coordinated, even give-and-take.
However, before committing, understand that Google, the most popular search engine on the planet with over 70% of the internet search market share, does not promote or agree with reciprocal link exchanges.
How To Scale Your SaaS With Link Exchanges?
Although proper link building strategies may not see immediate results and may feel more like a marathon than a sprint. Over time these strategies pay off. Begin building links for your SaaS with a bit of patience and direct focus on creating the correct way for long-term, scalable success.
- Get specific with your linking to increase credibility. Don’t just link from homepage to homepage but use specific relevant page links instead. For example, if discussing a product price within a blog article, link to the product page that displays the updated price instead of linking to the product owner’s home page.
- Consider other methods of promoting another site. Podcast interviews and social sharing aren’t necessarily crawled by Google but can still boost traffic to the site and increase interaction on social media platforms.
- Avoid using Calls to Action or Keywords/Phrases in your Link’s Anchor text. It looks a bit scammy for a link to read “Check out this amazing thing” or “Look here to make more money,” but instead embed links in a way that feels authentic and organic.
- Choose to partner with domains that include relevant niches. SaaS companies new to link-building don’t benefit from approaching dog breeding website blog pages and articles to grow their digital reach.
- Narrow your outreach away from general blogs or domains. When the blog topic changes from one thing to another depending on the day. Popular “Life Hack” blogs or sites may discuss kitchen hacks, yard maintenance hacks, and marketing hacks all on the same site. Linking your company website doesn’t traditionally meet a majority of your ideal clients when posted on blogs with varied content.
While these are just a few linking tips, do your research on each site you consider linking to (and from) to stay on the up and up – and scale your SaaS business forward instead of taking 10 steps back.
Consider hiring a link building agency to research and embed those traffic-boosting, rank-rising links the right way. Don’t risk your extensive work to build an exceptional website to have it ruined by one mistake. Search engine teams are actively searching for “illegal” link schemes and if not performed using the proper methodology, your link-building strategy could be over before it even begins.
Over the last three years, we have built thousands of backlinks for SaaS businesses. Our link building services helped new SaaS products get traffic of thousands from zero, and well-established SaaS brands doubled and even tripled their traffic in just a few months. All that was done at a lesser cost than the average cost for building or expanding in-house teams for link building. – Vibhu Dhariwal, Co-founder, Digital Gratified
When new and veteran SaaS entrepreneurs devise a new marketing or linking strategy, they often decide that it may be easier (and safer) to have an expert link building agency take care of it. Look to outsourcing your link-building as an investment in the growth of your successful site, and don’t look back.