A Link Scheme Is Brewing With Addiction Treatment Centers

I hate these types of posts. They seem so clickbaity, don’t they?

Well, the intent of this post is to educate treatment centers on something I discovered doing a competitive analysis for a treatment center that we do SEO for.

I sincerely hope that if you’re reading this and follow the steps outlined that you are not caught up in this.

What’s going on?

When Google Ads decided to ban all rehab related keywords (now there’s a certification process), it was a pretty big blow to the entire industry, not just the shady call centers that are/were participating in body brokering. So what did treatment centers do? They started investing in SEO.

SEO can be great for treatment centers and is more of a long-term investment. Results don’t happen overnight, but usually, we start to see results head in the right direction within the first 90 days. The real benefits of SEO don’t come to fruition for 6-12 months.

If you’ve ever talked to an agency or SEO consultant and they promised to deliver results within 30-60 days, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is complete bullshit. For further reading, I recommend the article DIRECTLY from Google called Do you need an SEO? There’s a great video at the beginning, be sure to watch it!

Fundamental ranking factors for SEO

  1. Content – This is the content on your website and blog posts (we call them content assets)
  2. Links – Both internal and external links that point to pages on your website
  3. Rankbrain – This is Google’s machine learning algorithm

There’s way more to ranking for competitive keywords and each of the above could be talked about for days on end, this is just a broad overview.

Let’s focus on links

The best way to think about a link is a vote of confidence from one website to another. The linking website passes the authority of their website to yours. That being said, there are 2 different types of links:

  1. Dofollow – Dofollow links are the default way of linking. If you add a link in a blog post to a different website (citation source), credit would be given to the website and the authority of your domain and page would pass-through to your source.
  2. Nofollow – All social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc) incorporate a blanket nofollow tag on all external links. When a search engine bot like Googlebot crawls the link, they acknowledge the link is there but do not follow the link nor pass the authority from that site to yours.

Nofollow links aren’t going to dramatically increase your rankings for keywords, bummer. But if those links send relevant traffic that converts into admits then who cares?!

That leaves dofollow links…

If you can earn links from other topically or locally relevant websites to yours, your rankings will improve. Hoozah! Let’s get all the links!

Not so fast

The Google Webmaster guidelines are pretty strict about building links. If you pay for links in an attempt to help your rankings, or you participate in link schemes, Google can and will either;

  1. Suppress your rankings for those keywords
  2. Issue a manual action against your website and deindex your website

Neither of those is good.

These types of “link schemes” tend to work for a period of time then when Google catches it, kablam! Anyone involved with the link scheme gets the Google hammer.

Private Blog Networks/Reciprocal Link Schemes

This is where my research took me. I started seeing weird links from other treatment centers to other treatment centers, actual competitors linking to each other.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Reciprocal links, when MANUALLY added in a resource page can be helpful to users. A simple example would in a residential drug and alcohol treatment center that doesn’t offer treatment for eating disorders includes a link to a recommended eating disorder treatment center on their resources page. No harm there but what I found is a way different.

It wasn’t just treatment centers that are being linked to. I found dentists, urgent care centers, chiropractors, cosmetic surgeons, and others.

Basically, anything that would qualify as a health & medical category.

I kept digging and started seeing patterns.

All-in-all, I’ve personally found more than 40 treatment centers that are involved in this link scheme. The number is likely higher.

I had no idea what tool or provider was being used but did find out after some further digging.

I’m not here to call out the treatment centers, the “SEO” agencies (I’ve already identified 3 by name using this crap), or the third-party tool being used.

For treatment centers, I personally think that none of you have any idea of what’s going on nor the potential risks that are involved.

I think you’ve just hired a bad egg that has short-term thinking and money in mind, not ethical and sustainable SEO practices.

I have reached out to a few and the 2 that I’ve talked with had no idea this was going on.

How Does This Link Scheme Work?

Any website can sign up for this third-party service. You pay per keyword, per month, and let their “automated” tool do all of the work.

Once you sign up, you provide the keywords, local information like your phone number, address, and a business description. Then, you install their tool via a hidden WordPress plugin or script on your website if you’re site isn’t built on WordPress.

If you have a WordPress website, you download their plugin and install it. Well, the agency you hired pays the monthly fee and installs it without you knowing. The plugin is hidden from your WP Dashboard (super legit). The only way to see the tool is to look at the code on your website or FTP in and look inside your plugins folder to see if it’s there.

Don’t worry, there’s an easier way to find it than this I’ll share shortly.

If your website is built on HTML or PHP, you simply add a script to the source code.

From there, the tool goes to work.

What it does is “place” the information provided on pages of websites that are on this network. So, competitors start linking to each other, and you get a slew of links pointing to you from dentists, urgent cares, chiropractors, and other healthcare category businesses across the country.

The tool also creates pages of content on your website, as well as other “resource” pages that link out to your competitors across the country.

What Makes This A Link Scheme?

This is a pure pay-to-play automated service. The purpose is to create a closed-loop of websites that link to each other in an attempt to artificially rank each other for competitive search queries that YOU OR YOUR SEO VENDOR choose(s).

Furthermore, you can look up Link schemes on the Quality Guidelines by Google

Specifically, the 4th bullet from this image:

link schemes

How Do I Find Out If I’m Involved, Unknowingly? 2 Ways

1. Reach out and I can run a complimentary link audit

Look, I’m not trying to sell you anything. Running the audit takes me a whopping 2-3 minutes. I won’t try to sell you on our services. I’ll just tell you if you’re involved and if you are, I can provide recommendations. If you’re not, awesome! Either way, if you do wish to talk about our services, I would be happy to schedule a call at a different time so I provide you with a FULL complimentary audit, how you compare to your competition, and see we would be a fit.

2. Do it yourself

The simplest way to do it is to perform a link audit of your website. If you have a third-party tool that you use and pay for, great! If not, you can sign up for an ahrefs account for a week for $7. Log in and add your website to look at the referring domains. Start looking at the websites that are linking to you. If you start to see other treatment centers, dentists, cosmetic surgeons, or urgent care websites linking to you, look at some of the links to see where they come from. You’ll see that the pages linking to your website end in a series of numbers and a couple of letters. If you see this, you’re involved.


If you do find out you’re involved in something like this, you need to take action. Start by asking your SEO vendor what they are doing to obtain links to your website. If they omit these links from the report, then you have your answer. If the vendor does show these links, ask them if the links were manually placed on the websites. If they say they were, then you have your answer.

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Blake Denman

Blake has more than 14 years of local SEO and paid search marketing experience. He founded RicketyRoo in February 2009. Outside of running RicketyRoo, Blake enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and Goldendoodle, June, hiking throughout Central Oregon.
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