Intro to Link Building for Small Businesses

small business link buildingLinks power the internet. They are at the foundation of how websites and web pages work. They also play a large part in how websites are ranked in search engines. Therefore, building links for your small business website should always be a high priority in order to expand your web presence and grow your business online. Though it’s important to understand that ‘more links’ does not always mean ‘better rankings.’

Relevant links from highly regarded websites are the holy grail. These are the kinds of links can really boost your rankings–and they are not always easy to come by.  A relevant link is a link that exists on a web page that features content related to the page it links to. For example, a Wall Street Journal article about tech startups that also happens to link to your tech startup website would be a highly relevant and authoritative link. A single link like this might be thousands of times more powerful than a link from a less relevant and authoritative website (like a link from your cousin’s greeting card business website). But even a link from The Wall Street Journal wont do you a ton of good if it’s buried on some page that nobody ever visits.  In other words, a valuable link is one that is found in a relevant and prominent place where people will see it and click on it. The real world equivalent might be a Chevron ad on a billboard above the freeway. An ineffective link, is a link placed on an unrelated website with little or no traffic, kinda like a snowboard advertisement posted in the basement of a senior center.

Links and Social Media

It’s also important to consider that links, likes, and shares on popular social media sites also caries weight with search engines–especially on Google’s own social network, Google+. Influential social media personalities that share and link to your content will inevitably have a larger affect on rankings than a unknown user.

Link building vs. link schemes

On April 24, 2012 Google announced a significant change in how it’s search engine algorithm would rank websites. Code named “Penguin,” this algorithm update was designed to penalize sites that manipulated search results by using artificial or paid strategies to build links.  The Penguin algorithm is updated on a fairly regular basis and with each update it gets better and telling the difference between links that are gained naturally and those that are paid for, artificial, or spammy.

According to Google, the following activities are link scheming – not link building:

  • Buying (or selling) links for ranking purposes
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  • Linking to a site for the sole purpose of getting a link back
  • Building a link networking of websites that interlink
  • Large-scale guest posting (distributing hundreds or thousands of low quality articles that contain links back to your site)
  • Buying ads or articles that include links for ranking purposes

If a link benefits more than just rankings, if it actually helps people find exactly what they are looking for on the internet, then Google, thoretically, has no problem with it. Usually the only time you need to worry about getting penalized for links is if you pay for a link building service, or use software to create backlinks for you.

Anyone who promises you hundreds or thousands of links, is probably going to put your site in danger. One of the ways to ensure that the links you get always have value is to only pursue links that will also bring your website relevant traffic–this way even if the link doesn’t boost your rankings, you’re still going to get rewarded for your work. And, by in large, links that bring your site relevant traffic are not the kind of links that are going to be penalized by Google.

While Google’s Penguin updates have made it harder for some SEO’s to do their job, it’s actually simplified the playing field for small business. It’s become much harder for a competitor to outrank your site just because they paid for a bunch of dubious backlinks. This means you can spend more time improving your business and less time worrying about rankings.

In most cases your time will be best spent increasing the value of your business and content, and building relationships with businesses and influencers. Natural link creation is directly correlates to how your customers, clients, and partners actually feel about your business. All you have to do is give these people encouragement to build those links for you now and again.

The difference between link building and link earning

Traditional link building is often a repetitive and tedious process. Because of this many SEO companies employ “Black Hat” SEO techniques. Black Hat can be described as any SEO practice or technique that tries to trick Google into thinking that your website is more valuable than it actually is.. Over the years Link builders have devised all manner of automated tools to make link building easier, but this is specifically against Google’s web master guidelines. And Google has gotten very good at spotting these “link schemes.” Taking short cuts will most likely get you penalized by Google, if not now then somewhere down the line.

I believe traditional link-building is inherently flawed strategy. It’s backwards. Links need to be earned. Asking for links is like asking for applause. It won’t work unless you’ve earned it. If you create the value first, people will link to you. This is why I’d rather refer to “link building” as “link earning.”  Earning links means you have to improve your business, your website, your content, and your business strategy to get links.

No amount of link building will help a business that doesn’t offer value to the people who click those links. If you had a choice between spending a month doing old-school link building for a month or improving your customer service and your product, I’d say go for the latter. Improving your product or customer service can produce more valuable links then sending unsolicited link requests to webmasters.. Think about it. A customer that is pleased as punch about their experience with your company might just blog about it and link to you. A webmaster that gets a link request out of the blue, is just going to hit the delete button if they don’t find your offer compelling.

Links aren’t just for search engines

Valuable links will do much more than just improve your search engine rankings. They will actually bring you traffic. A well placed link on a popular website could bring your website hundreds or even thousands of visitors a day because visitors will actually click on the link. Links are roads. They are freeways that can drop potential customers right on your door step. When you work to improve your link profile, don’t focus just on the search engines, look for linking opportunities that will bring qualified traffic to your site. For example, is a link on a tech blog really going to bring relevant traffic to your baking site? Probably not. So don’t bother. Concentrate on earning links from websites where your potential customers might hang out. If the links you earn bring you qualified traffic, then better search rankings is simply icing on the cake.

Is getting links hard?

Yes and no. It’s hard if you force it. Easy if you concentrate on building relationships instead of links. Almost every activity that happens online involves links. When you post a picture or an article on Facebook, that’s a link. When you create a landing page, announce a concert, write a blog post, announce a contest–all these activities involve links. Try to find a page on the website that doesn’t have a link on it. You won’t. As we’ve already learned, creating these links ourselves–doesn’t do much good. We need to collaborate with other people and build relationships in order to foster link growth. Partner with another business on an offer, promotion, contest, etc. All these activities can result in beneficial links for both you and your associate. All you have to remember is to make sure that the links get posted and go to the right place.

Where should I point my links?

Always link to the most relevant page on your site. Sometimes that’s your homepage, sometimes it’s a deeper page. If you find yourself linking to your homepage every-time, that probably means you need some more quality pages on your site. If your business offers more than one service–make sure every service has a page. If you’re working on a promotion about men’s leather shoes, you’ll want a page on your website that covers just that subject. Then when you advertise on social media and your clients, and customers get the word out–they will link to that page. The more links you build to your “brown leather shoe” page–the better you’ll rank for the keyword “brown leather shoes” when someone types it in to Google.

Should I pay for link building services?

The internet is chock-full of people selling links. You can go on Fiverr and buy 10,000 dubious links for 5 dollars (not recommended) or you can pay a seasoned SEO pro $500-$1000 per-link to get some links that carry value. And there are many options in between. But the fact is, buying links is risky business. Google frowns on paying for links and will penalize your site for unnatural links. So make sure you’re informed before you hand over a wad of cash for link building services. It can do more harm than good. My recommendation, for all small businesses, is to learn the basics and apply linking strategies to everything you do. It doesn’t take that long to learn the ropes and once you know exactly what needs to be done to grow your link profile–you can teach your team to further the cause.

Part 2: Link building strategies.

Posted in Link Building, Offsite SEO

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