SEO Don't be part of link schemes

webpages connected by links

Link scheme - when you link somewhere or are linked to for perceived search or monetary benefits rather than usefulness to people.

For us to consider what a link scheme is it would be a good idea to consider what is not a link scheme....

The original purpose of a link was to recommend a website that you feel would be useful to your websites visitors. To determine if you are participating in a link scheme is very simple.

If you are making a link for any reason other than to recommend a website that is useful to your visitors, you are in some sort of link scheme.

How to determine if you are in a link scheme.

link schemes

This guideline tells us "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank"

In the above situations you are not creating a link because you are recommending a site, you are creating a link for other reasons (like increasing page rank or monetary gains). This is bad and very simple for Google to detect.

Good - Create a link to a website you recommend for you visitors
Bad - Create a link designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank.

This guidelines continues and tells us "In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links".

If you are linking to a site that is deemed to be spammy or you are in a link scheme with such sites your own ranking will go down, not up.

How can my site be adversely affected by who I link to and who links to me?

Whenever you link to someone you are telling Google what is important to your website. Google will judge your website not only by who you link to, but also by what other pages you link to are linking to. If this sounds confusing, I will explain it below in some detail.

To explain this fully we will explore some ways that Google judges your webpage. Your website is actually judged not only by who you link to, but also who links to you. If you link back to these sites, you are only making stronger the relationship. Use caution when linking, only link to things that are beneficial to your users.

Link Relationships

The websites that link to you affect you and your ranking. In fact to quote the Google help documentation on this...
" The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity."

How does that happen? Here is an example of link association...

You can see from the image to the right that who links to you is very important because the people who link to you also link to other websites. This is normal. Every site links to other sites and you do not have control of this, you only have control of who you link to.

One signal of quality is if the websites that link to you also link to other sites like yours...

Link Association

Let's continue with link relationships and how your website is "judged" by who links to you.

Here is an example. Let's say your website is about "monks". Your monk webpage has pages linking to it. In a natural situation, many sites that link to your monk site will also be linking to other monk sites.

In the image to the left you can see that who links to you helps define what your page is about. Hopefully you have great, high quality links coming to your webpage. If you do, and those links are also similar to your subject, you will enjoy a well visited site by people from those links and search engines will rank you higher for that subject.

This type of link situation will happen naturally as people who like to talk about a subject are often communicating with and linking to others in the same subject. This is called a natural link neighborhood, and they exist all across the web.

In fact, Google uses these neighborhoods to judge websites. If you are a great website in your subject then you are in a good place to rank better because you don't just need links to rank in Google, you need links from good neighborhoods of your subject matter.

But now let's look at what happens if websites start linking in an unnatural manner....

Bad Neighborhoods

To the right is an example of what happens when other sites linking to you start to link to other subjects that might seem "bad" or not natural.

Now your "monk" site seems to be a little about "bad things", because many sites who link to you also link to bad stuff.

If you link to these sites, the relationship becomes cemented and all the hints Google were taking from other sites are now confirmed

What you link to will affect your rankings particularly if you are linking to sites that do not seem very natural. Most link exchange programs are an example of this.

Never link to anyone if they say you have to link to them to get a link back! This is how bad neighborhoods start.

What is a "bad neighborhood"?

A bad neighborhood is a group of inter-linked websites that are, in general not following the Google webmaster guidelines.
Every webpage is part of a neighborhood, and the quickest way to see what the neighborhood of your webpage is to use a simple Google search...
Put the following in the search box of Google...

This will result in a list of websites that Google feels is related to your website (or, if your website is just a few months old, there will be no related results). Some of the "related" websites will seem obvious. For example, often you will find sites that you directly link to or sites that directly link to you in these results.
What you see in those results should make sense to you, if your webpage is about cats, you should see a whole bunch of other websites about cats in the results. If you see websites that aren't about cats, but are instead about poker, viagra, or other such sites, you are in a bad neighborhood.
Many people find themselves perplexed when they see that Google somehow knows that your website is related to another even though there are no links between your site and another. How does that happen?

The reason it happens is actually one of the key reasons that links schemes can be very destructive to your websites ranking in Google as described above.

Google has found many ways to determine what a website is about, the most well known reason is links. What does a site link to and what sites link to it.

If you are linking to websites as a "condition" of receiving a link, then you are negatively associating your website with a bad neighborhood and many other websites that have nothing to do with yours.

Key concepts

Patrick Sextonby Patrick Sexton

Don't participate in link schemes