Generally, link schemes are in place to try and manipulate and boost a page’s ranking in Google. However, participating in link schemes can sometimes hinder more than help you. Here, we explain what link schemes are, why they’re not the best way to get links, and how they could be negatively affecting your site’s ranking.

What is a link scheme?

Link schemes are any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.

The intended purpose of a link is to recommend a site that you feel would be useful to your visitors. However, a link scheme is a link made for perceived ranking or monetary gain instead of for any usefulness to a user. Consequently, link schemes are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

If you’re making a link for any other purpose than to recommend a useful site, you’re participating in a type of link scheme.

Examples of link schemes

To understand and avoid taking part in link schemes, it helps to have some examples of what constitutes as one.

  • Buying or selling links that pass Google’s PageRank algorithm. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges and trades made purely for the sake of cross-linking
  • Extensive article marketing or guest post campaigns heavy with keyword anchor text links
  • Using automated services to make links to your site
  • Linking to someone else because they will link your site back
  • Making multiple sites or pages to allow you to link to another page

Specifically, paid links are:

  • Text ads that pass PageRank
  • Links with optimised anchor text in articles or press releases on other sites. E.g – If you’re having a birthday party you’ll need to buy birthday cake and occasion balloons.
  • Low-quality directory/bookmark site links
  • Hidden, low-quality or keyword rich links embedded in widgets distributed across various sites. E.g Visitors to this page: 1,850
  • Links distributed in the footers/templates of numerous sites
  • Forum comments with optimised links in the post or signature

Generally, you’re in a link scheme if you’re not creating a link because you’re sincerely recommending it to your users. If a link serves the purpose of financial gain or boosted ranking then you’re putting links in place purely for Google to detect and are therefore deviating from a link’s intended purpose of links. This offers a negative user experience and Google picks up on this very easily.

How link schemes affect your ranking

One major factor that Google assesses your site on is who you link to and who links to you. Mutual links make the relationship between two sites stronger and your ranking is affected by this, so it’s very important that you only link to sites that are actually beneficial to your users. Sites that link to you and vice versa provide context about the content of your site and offer indications of site quality and popularity.

Link neighbourhoods

Who links to you helps to establish what your site is about and how useful users are finding it.

Natural (good) link neighbourhood

Links that occur naturally through people who enjoy a particular topic communicating and sharing pages around the subject. In natural neighbourhoods, sites that link to you will also be linking to other sites on a particular topic.

If you have high quality pages linking to your page then your site will benefit from the additional visits and search engines will attribute that particular subject to your site. You don’t just need links to rank in Google, you also need links from “good neighborhoods” like this.

If you’re not sure how to begin achieving valuable links, it’s worth taking a more analytical approach to finding ways that you can gain competitor backlinks for your site.

Unnatural (bad) link neighbourhood

If sites linking to your page also link to low-quality, poor content, this devalues the worth of the link to your page. If you also link back to these sites the relationship is strengthened and this suggests to Google that your page is also spammy or low-quality.

You should never buy your backlinks or link to anyone if they say you have to link to them in order to get a link back because this is how bad neighbourhoods start.

Using rel=nofollow

For paid links, ads and press releases consider using rel=nofollow. This will tell search engine crawlers not to follow a link, indicating that you do not endorse it and therefore removing any potential for negative association.

If you’re linking to a site for any other reason beside recommending a useful page to your visitors, you’re likely participating in a link scheme. Who you link offers context on your own site and has a huge impact on where you rank in Google. It’s therefore worth using rel=nofollow where necessary to ensure your site isn’t affected.

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