If you know anything about search engines, you know that links pointing to your website can help your site appear higher in search engine results. Which leads many website owners to conclude that they simply need more links. Which in turn creates a market for folks who increase the number of links that point to their clients' websites.
What you may not know, is that links aren't weighted equally. In fact, some links may actually negatively impact your search engine positions.
Google is pretty clear about its position on links schemes:
Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:
Links intended to manipulate PageRank
Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging ("Link to me and I'll link to you.")
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page's visitors?
It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.
Now I know some of you who are "in the know" are participating in one form of link scheme or another. And if your site is performing well in search engines, you're probably thinking that this is a bunch of crap. And of course, it's your site and you choose to do what you want with it.
But have you considered the consequences? Think about how many potential client leads your site delivers to your firm in a month. What would your business look like if that was completely turned off over night? Or what if it was just cut in half?
If you know the potential risks of link schemes and decide to participate anyway, that's your choice. Unfortunately, for many attorneys, they don't even know they're participating in a program that is a house of cards waiting to topple.
If you've been in the web strategy business for long enough, you've seen the negative consequences that link schemes can have. To me, it's irresponsible for search agencies to sell these programs without fully informing their clients of the potential risks.
On the other hand, if you understand and accept the risks, godspeed. Just don't blame your agency when your internet house of cards crumbles.