The Fine Line between Link Earning and Link Schemes

Published Feb 24, 2014 by Mitchell Wright in SEO
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Ah, link building. It’s the quintessential trademark of SEO, especially recently, and while links are still important, how you obtain them has changed quite dramatically in the last year. Before, it was perfectly acceptable to create inbound links by including them as “authoritative sources” in guest blog posts, on other sites, or as part of blog comments. Now, however, natural and organic link earning is the name of the game.

So where does link earning turn into a link scheme? The line between the two is very fine, but staying on the right side of that line is crucial to your online reputation and success as a website and business owner. Below is a description and examples of link earning and link schemes, as well as best practices to help avoid falling on the wrong side of the line.

An Inbound Marketing Primer

First, you should be clear on the importance of inbound links, what inbound marketing is and does, and why you should care. Inbound links are links to pages on your site that are located in areas of the web that are not on your website. So, for instance, if someone blogs about the insurance industry and thinks your website article about protecting your home from a fire was outstanding, they’ll include a link to your article when they write about home insurance. This is an example of an inbound link and acts as inbound marketing for your website. In other words, you don’t have to do any active marketing to get the traffic, it simply flows into your site from other areas of the web.

These high quality links that you’ve earned by offering high value content on your website are exactly what you want. The links are included on sites by the site owner, not by you, and link back to your site or an article/page on your site as being an authoritative source. When people follow that link, you get traffic, and if you offer something they need or want, you’ll likely get business, as well.

Inbound marketing is extremely important to your business, but earning links is the key. Now that you know what link earning is, what inbound marketing is, and why it’s important, you should learn about the difference between link earning and link schemes and how to stay on the right side of that fine line.

Link Earning


Earning links is like earning money – if you do a good job and you provide something of value, you’ll earn links by default. The best ways to improve your chances of earning inbound links from others are below.

  • • Provide informative content.
  • • Offer content that is helpful and assists your readers in solving a problem.
  • • Include content on your site that is written authoritatively and confidently.
  • • Link to authoritative sources in your content to validate that what you are saying is true.
  • • Do not write “sales pitch” content; content marketing and link earning is about establishing authority and providing information, not hard selling.

You should add content to your site that is geared towards what you sell, but not written like a sales presentation. If you own a law firm, for instance, you could write an article about what to do in a certain legal situation. Obviously you and those at your firm can help with that, but the content is not directly geared towards selling.

How does this type of content help you earn links? Because just like you should add authoritative links to your web copy and content, other people need to do the same thing. If your site is well written, has high quality content, and provides valuable information, others will find it and link to it as they create their content. This is the natural, organic method of earning inbound links to your website. It’s content marketing and link earning combined into one simple admonition: create and publish the best quality content you can – and lots of it.

Link Schemes

The evil twin of link earning is link scheming. Link schemes are essentially a less than honest way of trying to increase the number of inbound links that exist for your site. If link earning is the farmer who plants a seed, waters it, cultivates it, and grows a harvest, then link scheming is taking already grown plants, putting them in the ground on a field, and saying you grew them. Both people have plants, but only one of them truly earned the harvest.

Essentially, link schemes are “marketing” plans that include adding links to a home page or other on-site page in as many places on the web as possible. If you’ve ever gone to a blog to see a few honest comments, and then one strange comment with a link in it, the comment with a link in it was likely part of a link scheme.

How-to-Avoid-Link-SchemingLink schemes appear in many different places and link scheming is done in many ways, but below are the most common link scheming tactics you’re likely to see.

  • • Adding links to a blog comment without contributing anything to the conversation.
  • • Guest posting on other blogs and including links to your own site as an authoritative link.
  • • Posting on YouTube videos, Facebook posts, etc. and linking to your site when it has nothing to do with the subject matter at hand.

If you have a link to your website in your signature and you are honestly contributing to a conversation on a blog that you’ve been a part of for awhile and have a genuine interest in, that’s completely different and is not link scheming. But many people will go from blog to blog posting a link to their site when they have no prior history with the blog or its community, the post adds nothing of value to the conversation, and they have no interest in the subject matter other than to obtain links for their site.

As with any unethical or less than honest practice, many people still get away with these forms of link “building”. But the search engine algorithms are a lot smarter than they once were, they know to look for these schemes, and they’re getting quite proficient at finding them. Case in point: be cautious, and earn your links naturally.

How to Avoid Link Scheming

Many people worry that they will inadvertently contribute to a link scheme without meaning to. However, “accidentally” link scheming is quite difficult to do. Most people know when they go and post a random link to their site on a YouTube video (particularly if it has nothing to do with the video) what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. But if you’re truly concerned, here are some best practices to follow.

  • • Don’t include a link to your site in a blog (or other) comment if it doesn’t have to do with the subject matter.
  • • Including a link to your site in your signature is fine, but only use that signature in online communities with which you are already affiliated and have a relationship.
  • • Unless it’s requested, don’t link to your site on other people’s social media pages.
  • • Do link to other areas of your site within articles and posts you create; this is called interlinking and is very helpful to SEO.
  • • Focus on improving the content of your site instead of promoting your site elsewhere by linking to it.

Following these best practices can help ensure you earn your links, engage in high quality on-site SEO, and grow your business organically.

Written by Mitchell Wright

Mitchell Wright

Mitchell loves all aspects of Internet marketing and have been involved with everything from ORM to SEO to video and affiliate marketing. He currently works with bloggers to increase their ad revenue.

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