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The Risks of Quid Pro Quo Link Schemes

Search engines are in the business of finding users relevant and important websites for a given search query, and then selling ad space on the search engine results page (SERP). Of course, this means that search engines need to provide solid results for the queries they get, or else their users would decide that a different search engine is more reliable and make the switch.

One of the major indications that search engines use to determine the relevance and importance of a website is how many backlinks lead to it from elsewhere on the web, and where they come from.

So why not just call up other websites and ask to exchange links? Your law school buddy practices in your legal field, but he’s in another state so he wouldn’t be taking any business. Why not call him up and ask “if you link to my law firm’s website, I’ll link to yours?”

Because search engines realize that these reciprocal links are indications of neither relevance nor importance, and are likely to penalize your site.

Quid pro quo backlink schemes can penalize a law firm's website

Backlinks: Word-of-Mouth Advertising in the Digital World

We’ve talked about backlinks before. Here’s a refresher.

Backlinks are outbound links from one site to another, like this one from Myers Freelance to Google. Most of them can be seen and read by search engines (those with no-follow tags cannot). These search engines see backlinks basically as referrals from one site to another.

Just like with human referrals, though, backlinks are not all the same. When a reputable website sends a backlink to one site, search engines see it as more meaningful than when a site of ill-repute does it, or when a site that contains nothing but links does it. Additionally, the anchor text of the backlink can make a difference, as it is an indication of what the recipient web page is about.

Link Schemes Game the System

It was only a matter of time before two webmasters agreed to link to each other’s site to score some search engine optimization (SEO) points. In a matter of seconds, both of their sites had secured a backlink. However, this tactic promotes neither relevant nor important sites, and undermines the interests of the search engines and their business plan.

If done too much, your site can find itself penalized for the practice and buried in the SERPs.

A Little Space for Nuance, Though

The key term there, though, is “too much.” Search engine marketers have seen indications that Google and other search engines don’t penalize every site that trades links. Link swaps can happen accidentally, too. In fact, when they happen accidentally, it is a strong indication that the two sites deal with similar or even identical content, allowing search engines to decide if they are relevant to a given query.

This is probably why Google’s quality guidelines forbid “excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” (emphasis added).

The Holding: It’s a Risk That We Don’t Like to Take

In the end, the decision about whether to participate in a quid pro quo link exchange is up to a law firm’s marketing interests. There’s a significant risk, but also a considerable reward, as well: You might end up getting penalized, but if you don’t, then you benefit from the SEO points that those backlinks bring in. You can mitigate the risk by only soliciting and exchanging a few backlinks, but then the reward is diminished enough that it might not be worth it.

At Myers Freelance, though, our content is what attracts backlinks, not a pre-arranged agreement to swap links. With our legal blogging proficiency, you won’t need to exchange links to bring them in and build your law firm website’s prominence online.