Without a proper understanding of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, many business owners and SEO professionals build backlinks that are actually toxic to their domain. The unfortunate truth of SEO is that it is an industry ripe of scammers, fakes and frauds.

SEO metrics like DR and DA can be manipulated with a little technical finesse, so it’s important you know how to differentiate a link scheme from a legitimate website.

As a rule of thumb when building links, you should keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

In this blog, we’ll go over Go Top Shelf’s internal requirements for link building so that you, too, can safely sculpt your backlink profile.

Google defines a link scheme as “any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.”

The most common forms of link schemes are:

  • Excessive link exchanges: “I’ll link to your website if you link to mine”
  • Buying, selling and bartering for links that pass SEO value

You can read more about what Google considers to be a link scheme here.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between a link farm and a legitimate website if you’re unfamiliar with SEO, or even if you’re inexperienced with backlink building specifically.

In our experience, we have found several indicators that a website is churning out backlinks for a profit. These sites should be avoided at all costs, as backlinks from them put your website at risk of a manual penalty from Google. You don’t want your domain to be put at risk over a single guest blog, after all.

1. Broad Variety of Blog Categories

If the navigation has a broad variety of categories or topics that don’t align with each other, that’s usually a sign that the website is actually a link farm.

For example, if a site’s main categories are Tech, Health, Real Estate and Beauty, chances are it doesn’t cover any of those topics well. It’s a tell-tale sign that the site is set up solely to sell as many backlinks as possible.

If it’s obvious to us that it’s a link farm, it should be incredibly obvious to Google.

2. Irrelevant Blogs

If we see articles about loans, crypto, cannabis or other topics that are irrelevant to the overall site’s niche, that’s an indicator that the site will post about literally anything someone pays them to.

Blogs that are irrelevant to a website are an easy way to identify a link scheme.

3. 90%+ of The Site’s Traffic is From 1 Page

Look up the domain in ahrefs (or any other SEO tool) and take a look at the highest traffic pages. If the bulk of the website’s traffic goes to a single article or the traffic goes to an article that is irrelevant to the site’s niche, you’re only going to get very low quality backlinks from them.

Additionally, if their top keywords are irrelevant to the focus of the website, you should avoid working with them.

4. Technical and Visual Issues

Websites that have glaring flaws in their graphics or design are probably link farms. If the site doesn’t have a logo or the logo is just plain-text, it was likely set up to sell links to unsuspecting SEOs.

5. Missing Author Profiles

This rule doesn’t apply to all websites, but it does apply to most that you will encounter. If none of the articles on a blog have a real person listed as the author, it’s a sign they’re a link farm. Generic usernames like “[Website] Team” can sometimes be an indicator of a link farm, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes webmasters just don’t want to deal with setting up author pages for their staff, which is unfortunate but not sketchy.

Websites We Like Working With

Now that we’ve gotten all the red flags out of the way, let’s take a look at factors we like when looking for websites that accept guest posts.

1. Actual Businesses with Real Products and Services

We don’t have anything against content websites that make their money off advertising, but real businesses that happen to have blogs are some of our favourites to work with.

2. Highly Niche Relevant Websites

The more closely related a blog is to your website’s niche, the better. Backlinks from niche relevant websites are seen as trustworthy in the eyes of Google, so they’re definitely worth your time.

For example, when building backlinks for GoTopShelf.com, we favour sites that focus solely on web design or SEO. At the very least, we build backlinks from websites about marketing.

3. Websites That Publish Original Content Frequently

The less a website relies on guest posts to fill their publishing schedule, the better. We like working with websites that are well-designed, publish original content and provide real value to their industry.


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