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In this case, what's the difference between exchanging links and a link circle? Would this be considered spam that all the sites link to eachother, passing along a plethora of page rank? For instance, I know it's considered spam when all the sites are owned by the same company, but when they are all individuals just trying to help eachother out, does that make it legit? Just curious.
Just to show that there are NO absolutes in this game:
I hope not, because my company represents a public/private partnership with local government organizations. I own the sites, but they ARE official sites for about 30 various public entities.
When it gets down to it, I believe the litmus test is whether assorted and sundry 3rd-party backlinks are in the mix, indicating that this is a true resource and not an artificial inflation of link pop.
These sites that are part of this 'network' are all rising to the top. None of these sites have anything else to do with eachother besides the fact that they are all run by women. So these women join a 'network', link to eachother, and "poof", they rank in the top SERP's.
If this is okay, then I'm just going to start a "Webmasters who will be eating ramen noodles and liking it because they can't even afford new laces for their childrens shoes" network and get myself ranked at the top. I'm sure I can find a lot of participants.
Where does the line get drawn when it comes to these types of link circles?