According to people who know more than I do, link building is the most important thing you can do to improve your search engine ranking, apart from avoiding stupid mistakes. Most link building advice falls into one of two categories:
- Quit your day job and try to become more like the person giving the advice, spending most of your waking hours trolling the web and relentlessly tinkering.
- Pay someone a lot of money. There are low-cost link-building services, but they generally result in low-value and sometimes even harmful links. The people I know who do link-building well charge thousands of dollars.
This checklist is aimed at small/medium business (SMB) owners and marketers who can’t afford to spend too much time or money, but don’t want to ignore this important aspect of search engine optimization (SEO).
We recommend that you pick a few tactics from this list, and try them out over the next month. And do the same the following month and so on. If you want immediate results, you’ll need to do a lot quickly, but a slow and steady approach will also pay off nicely over time.
Here are the tactics, with full descriptions below:
- Publicize events
- Do good
- Create some link bait
- Be social
- Write guest articles/guest posts
- Get reviews
- Get links from friends and partners
- List your business in online directories
Most of the items on this list will help market your business in other ways. We deliberately favored multi-purpose tactics, since SMB’s are always looking to maximize bang-for-buck. One tactic is not included on the list above, but applies to everything here and should be ingrained in your behavior: always include a link to your site in everything you do online: in signature lines, in comments, in profiles on social sites, in mentions of your business, etc. Always.
1. Publicize events
Promoting events is a great way to get links, since many sites maintain calendars of local or topical events. If you hold workshops, parties, demos/presentations or any other business-related events, make sure to publicize them on the web. Meetup.com is a great way to create awareness about your event, and includes tools that enable participants to share events with their friends. Also, look for local news and topical sites that post events – even if you think it’s a long shot that you will get attendees, it counts as a link!
There are thousands of websites that aggregate local and topical news, and news search engines such as Google News are on the lookout for news content. Anything you do of interest to your customers or community can be released as a press release and will get you links. More newsworthy content is, of course, more likely to get picked up by journalists, so it’s best to use this tactic when you have something really worth talking about. Traditionally, PR was mostly done by PR firms, but many businesses now work directly with online PR services such as PR Newswire and Marketwire. The latter are less expensive than working with a firm, but you get what you pay for. A local PR firm will have contacts with local media, so should be able to get you better exposure than a distribution service. A good PR firm will also help with PR strategy, articulating what is newsworthy about your business. But most of the online services will also help write press releases, and cost a few hundred dollars versus thousands for hiring a firm.
3. Do good
People like to sing the praises of individuals and companies that do good. For example, a search for pages in Google with the words “Avon” and “breast cancer” returns almost 3 million results. Pick a cause and promote it on your site and through ads, Facebook, newsletters, networking and any other channels you can use to get the word out. Getting people to link to your “about us” page is hard. Getting them to link to a video promoting a cause is relatively easy.
4. Create some link bait
This linking business is all well and good, but what are you linking to? A services page with more or less the same description as a thousand other businesses? The most cost effective way to get links in the long term is to make people want to link to your site. Content that encourages links is called link bait. Strategies for link baiting include:
- Free stuff – give away anything of value and people will start linking. Virtual goods with no incremental cost to you per download are the best way to do this, e.g. mp3’s, software/games, ebooks, etc.
- Shocking or funny content – do you know anyone who can do something remarkable? I have a friend who used to be able to play Stairway to Heaven with a piccolo recorder stuck in his nose. Today he would be a YouTube star. There are quite a few examples of methods businesses have used to create viral content, check them out.
- Authoritative lists – are you an expert in something? Don’t just talk about it, turn it in to a list. For whatever reason, lists tend to capture web users’ interests much more than narrative text.
- Research – conduct or sponsor research relevant to your business/industry. People love to quote statistics on the web and even niche research tends to get a lot of play.
5. Be social
Find blogs related to your business, follow them and make comments when you have something to say. Do the same with discussion forums, Facebook pages, articles and any other social content being published on the web. Most of the time, links in comments are not actually worth as much to search engines, but the author will often follow the link to see who you are, and may link to you directly now or later. And be cautious with criticism and generous with praise. Critical comments will rarely make you friends, while a little praise goes a long way. Someone who has taken the time to write a blog post is eager for affirmation, and will be positively disposed towards people who show it.
Here are some tools to help you find and monitor for topics of interest to your business: 5 Great Free Reputation Management Tools for Local Business
6. Write guest articles/guest posts
People who maintain industry news sites or blogs are often receptive to contributed content, particularly if your point of view complements theirs. If you know of a site where you might be able to contribute, send them a note and see if they might be interested. Make sure to praise their writing, and give a few examples of the articles you are thinking about writing.
7. Get reviews
We love reviews for a lot of reasons, one of them being that they can be a great source of links. If reviews are relevant to your business (and they are to most), they are also an important source of customer feedback. If your customers make appointments, send them a follow up email with a link to Yelp, Citysearch or other sites and ask them to give you a review. If they come in to your shop, do the same on a sign, or have your staff ask them in person.
8. Get links from friends and partners
One very basic way to get links is to ask for them. Some vendors will automatically link to their customers, but many won’t. Ask vendors and partners to link to you, and don’t be afraid to ask customers either. If you have loyal customers, there’s nothing wrong with letting them know that you appreciate links. One thing to keep in mind: reciprocated links are worth less than unreciprocated links. So while trading links with partners is an equitable approach, it will benefit you less with search engines.
One good way to get links through business relationships is to publish or participate in case studies. If you produce your own case studies, make sure to mention vendors and other business that contributed to your own success, and let them know that they were mentioned. They are likely to mention (and link to) the case study themselves. And if you think you would make a good case study for a vendor, let them know, and even consider offering to help write it.
9. List your business in online directories
This is one of the oldest tactics for link building, but it is still very effective, especially for local businesses. Here is a list of sites that provide free business listings, as well as a couple of services that syndicate listings to many other sites: Six Must-have Citations in 2016
Remember, you don’t have to do everything on this list! Hopefully, a few of these tactics strike you as a good fit for your business and it’s perfectly fine if others don’t. The goal is to find a sustainable approach to acquiring links that doesn’t take too much of your time.
A few helpful resources:
- 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity A much more extensive list of link building tactics. Also includes a list of tactics to avoid.
- What is Link Building? Strategies & Examples This article from SEOmoz does a great job of explaining why links are important.
Are there tactics you’ve used to get links? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!