Understanding Link Schemes and How to Avoid Them

Understanding Link Schemes isn’t easy. You know you need backlinks to rank content, but if you try to rank content aren’t all of the backlinks you build just part of a big link scheme?

understanding link schemes

First of all, I should clarify that what isn’t easy to understand about link schemes is all of the conversations that blur the distinction between link strategy and link scheming.

It’s no secret that backlinks (or lack there of) play a key role in where and how a website ranks. Websites with relevant backlinks from authoritative sources will rank higher in the search results than websites with few-to-no backlinks – it’s just that simple. But not all backlinks are created equal (I can’t believe I just said that again), and some of them may be viewed as a “link scheme” in the eyes of Google. So, what in the world is a link scheme and how do you avoid them?


Google defines link schemes as being “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results.” The search engine giant goes on to say that link schemes are a clear violation of its Webmaster Guidelines. You can read more about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by visiting https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769, but it basically boils down to whether or not the link was artificially created. Google views natural, organic links in a much higher regard than links created artificially.



But let’s take a step back to go over Google’s original definition of a link scheme. According to the search engine giant, any link that’s created with the purpose of “manipulating” PageRank or search rankings is a link scheme. That’s really somewhat of a blanket term, as an overwhelming number of links are created for this purpose.

For example; I want all of my content to rank well. I want as many people to read my content as physically possible and I’m going to do everything in my power to get my content in front of as many eyes as possible. Just like with this post, I’m going to share the Hell out of it and hope that my readers will find the content useful and share it with their followers. I’m also going to write some highly relevant guest posts for some industry leading websites with the intention of getting some links back here. I’m absolutely going to accumulate backlinks from this process… does that make it a link scheme?

Probably. Link schemes have been talked about so broadly that any online marketer is truly guilty of acquiring links to rank content, but that doesn’t make you guilty of the type of link schemes that are going to get your site penalized.


How do I define a naughty link scheme? I follow these guidelines:

  1. Did I put very little thought and effort into trying to build this link or these links?
  2. Did I offer to pay a website owner to place this link?


Yep, that’s it.

It’s going to make you feel a whole lot better if you just STOP trying to figure out Google. Instead figure out a strategy to share your content.

I believe the key to Google’s definition of GOOD links are “natural” and “earned”.

Guest posting and sharing your high quality content, like I talked about earlier in this post, are essential steps in earning high quality backlinks. You have to work hard to create content that others feel is worth sharing and linking to. If you’re NOT benefiting others by what you are contributing then you are most certainly not benefiting your goals for building backlinks and ranking your own content. Working hard to create content worth linking to takes planning and strategy; this is exactly what Google means by “earning” “natural” links.

Quality Content plus high quality backlinks = the one-two punch for ranking your content.

You can read my guide on how to build natural high quality links here.

If you’re in doubt about what might qualify your link building as a link scheme, Google provides some pretty clear examples of what it views are link schemes, such as the following.

Examples of link schemes:

  • Buying links
  • Selling links
  • Offering incentives – cash or otherwise – in exchange for links
  • Excessive link exchanges (keyword being “excessive”)
  • Using software or other automated programs to create links
  • Paid advertorials with links
  • Low-quality web directories
  • Low-quality bookmark sites
  • Press releases with keyword optimized anchor text
  • Anchor text side-wide footer links (often found in themes and templates
  • Hidden links
  • Forum comments with the optimized links in the user’s signature


What’s the common denominator with all of these types of links?
They take little to no effort on your part.


Funnily enough, within minutes of sharing this post, I received a great example of someone building a “naughty link” by commenting on my shared post in BizSugar.

spam commenting

So, how can you avoid link schemes such as the ones mentioned above?

Having more quality and relevant links pointing to your website is the goal to ranking your content. If you’re looking for specific techniques to help you maximize the number of quality links to your content, check out this post.

If you focus on building quality content, and good relationships with industry leaders, other websites will naturally link to your site. This eliminates the possibility of Google viewing your practices as a link scheme while laying the roots for a successful, long-lasting site. Google, as well as other search engines, place an emphasis on quality content, so this should be your primary goal when building a website.