Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Avoid 3-Way Link Schemes

Our clients are reporting increasing numbers of 3-way linking offers. We recommend avoiding them.

What Are 3-Way Links?

3-way links are an attempt to address the belief that reciprocal links (you link to me and I link to you) provide less benefit than 1-way inbound links to your web site. There may be some truth to that, but reciprocal linking done properly still provides effective link popularity credit. The 3-way approach typically takes this form:

Three way linking structure

What’s Wrong With 3-Way Links?

Google has this to say about link schemes (emphasis is ours):

The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. 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. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.

Search engine ranking algorithms are able to detect 3-way linking as an artificial means of boosting the popularity of both sites and may discount the value of these links. We think it’s unlikely to generate an actual penalty, but you may get no value from the incoming link. And based on Google’s statement above, an actual ranking penalty is certainly not out of the question

Some schemes host the sites involved in this approach on different web servers, thinking that will hide this scheme from the search engines, but once they’ve done a few 3-way links the search engines can detect the pattern, regardless of where the web sites are hosted.

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature … Or the Search Engines

Most people engaging in 3-way linking are doing it with the express intent to manipulate search results. At Rank Magic, our philosophy is that anything done to deceive the search engines is a bad idea that will eventually bite you in the tail. Once the search engines see that you’re playing games to artificially increase your link popularity, they’ll stop counting many of your links; perhaps even some very legitimate ones.

Our Position on 3-Way Links

We never engage in 3-way linking schemes for many reasons. For one, we think it’s unethical, akin to search engine spam. For another, they’re very difficult to control. And for another, they can hurt more than they help in the long run.

Reciprocal linking where two sites link with each other is perfectly acceptable and natural when both sites are relevant for the same topics and visitors. A plumber’s web site that links to a local electrician’s web site is a natural reciprocal link arrangement. A furniture web site that shares links with one of the furniture manufacturers they feature is a natural thing, and often helpful to visitors on both web sites. That’s much more acceptable than 3-way linking schemes and will never get you in trouble.

11 Comments
  1. I can never find anything good on this subject, appreciate it.

  2. Thanks, I was offered a 3 way link exchange last week. I hesitated and your article convinced me to skip that offer.

  3. Thanks, Herb. It’s nice to get feedback that our posts have been helpful.

  4. we want 3 way link exchange I have site PR3

    • Time to read the article again. 3-way link exchanges won’t help for long, if at all.

  5. I don’t agree with much of anything that is written on this page regarding 3 way link exchanges. Most opinions on the subject appear to be just that…..opinion without tested evidence.
    I have been using 3 way link exchanges very successfully for 6 years, with no Google penalties….none.

  6. Thanks for your point of view, Dan. I suppose there are a number of techniques that violate Google’s guidelines that aren’t caught quickly or for any other reason don’t generate a timely penalty. The Google position we linked to, though, does say this is an unapproved practice that may result in a penalty.

    Clearly, 3-way linking strategies are designed to fool the search engines into thinking the links are one-way inbound links. We choose not to expose our clients to the possibility Google will uncover the scheme and penalize them. But beyond that, managing them over time is more complex and time-consuming than it’s worth, in my opinion.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion.

  7. starhealthsciences,
    Thanks for your point of view, Dan. I suppose there are a number of techniques that violate Google’s guidelines that aren’t caught quickly or for any other reason don’t generate a timely penalty.

  8. I also must disagree with this article. I don’t see why 3 way link exchange can be wrong. And you say about manipulating search results. Isn’t it what we all want to do? After all, either by using link exchange of any kind, unique and useful content or other methods we ARE manipulating Google results.

  9. Cristi — the whole purpose of a 3-way link exchange is to fool Google into thinking that the incoming link is a one-way link, made in recognition of the value of your website and without regard to any benefit given in return.

    Google’s too smart for that and doesn’t take long to identify those links. As Google says in the material I quoted in the article, doing this “can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”

    I still maintain that this is a bad practice and that you shouldn’t do it.

  10. don’t agree with much of anything that is written on this page regarding 3 way link exchanges.
    but its look like is good .

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