Earning links for a website is one of the most difficult things you have to do to grow organic traffic. While you can control your own site’s content, its technical SEO aspects including pagespeed and things like internal links, earning links from other websites is not an easy thing to accomplish. And it’s especially a difficult ask for small business websites.
Why Are Links Important?
This is an age-old topic that is disputed by many SEOs. Some people believe you just need to create good content and wait for Google to rank it. Some people think you don’t need great content, but you need a ton of links pointing to a site for Google to rank it. While these are the opinions of many and a lot of different professionals have tested them over the years, the reason for links is simple: increasing visibility.
A website exists to serve a purpose. That could be to provide information, sell a product, showcase a service or describe an event (among many other things). You create great content to go with the purpose of your website to be helpful to your visitors and wait for Google to rank that content.
But what if Google doesn’t have any links to your content and can’t see that it’s important?
You have to think of a link as a vote for your website’s content. If you have great content and no links, how popular is your website? Why should Google put it on the first page of results?
The Case of Link Building for Small Businesses
A big business with a known audience is going to earn links naturally.
For example, let’s say Vans introduces a new style of shoe to support an artist (they recently created Foo Fighters shoes as well as special edition Metallica shoe). People who follow and support Vans will naturally link to that content because it’s cool and people want to talk about it. However, a small business like an HVAC company does not have cool content that is naturally going to earn links. They might have great content describing their services, but they are not naturally going to receive links pointing to these pages.
This is where we SEO professionals have to earn links to a site in other ways.
The Best Ways to Build Links for a Small Business
1. Citations & Directory Listings
Most small businesses have a local presence as they serve a regional market. For this reason, any business that fits this category will want to create links from business directories and citation sources. These pages allow for the name of a business, its phone number, a description and of course, a link. As Google crawls these pages and sees they are locally relevant to your business, you have a much better chance of ranking for localized searches.
2. Resource & Where to Buy Pages
Many websites feature a “resources” section where they pay compliments to other websites they might work with or sell products to. Depending on your type of business, you could have a good opportunity to be listed on a resource page.
As an example, let’s take the example of a plumbing company. The plumbers likely use certain products and tools from a larger distributor or manufacturer of parts. When a customer is looking for a certain part from the larger distributor’s website, they will likely be directed to a ‘Where to Buy’ page where a local business’s website can be listed. Not only does this help the customer, but Google sees it as a very relevant link.
3. Local Partner Pages
Another excellent source for links for a small business is through partnership pages. For example, we have a client who administers HOA elections in California and the business works with several law firms throughout the state. As a resource for the law firms that can bring them more business, they want to link to the client’s site from their partnership pages. In turn, this bolsters the client’s backlink profile from highly relevant sources that Google will reward.
Be sure to explore this idea if you have any strategic partnerships in your business.
4. Submit Articles to Relevant Publications
Everyone loves content and bloggers especially love when someone can supply them with content that is relevant to their audience. While they receive a well-written article for their blog or website, you are in turn receiving a highly relevant link.
The important thing to remember here is that you want it to be contextual. For example, if you operate a bookkeeping firm in Sacramento, you wouldn’t want to pitch a sports blog based out of Wisconsin. Tying in the relevance is important to the readers and to Google.
5. Join Professional Associations
Although it costs money to join networking groups and professional associations (i.e., Avvo for law firms), you do receive a profile page in return. Within this profile page you get a link pointing back to your website (along with other important information). Like other citations and business directories, as soon as Google crawls this link and identifies the relevance to your website and business, you’ll see the ranking benefit.
What Not To Do
It’s easy to recommend what you should be doing to grow your organic traffic, but it’s even easier for business owners to get stuck in what not to do.
First and foremost, you will receive emails from link sellers in foreign countries. They will tell you that they can get you a link on a university website, on Buzzfeed, Forbes, etc. The fact is that these organizations are not giving away links to people who have no affiliation to them and no online persona whatsoever. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Most of these link sellers will take a quick PayPal transaction and you will never hear from them again. Try to avoid emails like this coming from “throwaway” email accounts like Gmail or Yahoo.
Second, avoid trying to build links that are largely ignored by Google. This could mean buying press release distribution (great for branding, not for SEO) or building links on platforms like Reddit. If anyone can do it and it requires minimal effort, Google is not going to reward it.
Lastly, be sure you do something. Your SEO can’t grow successfully without earning links in one way or another. If you don’t do anything to affect your organic traffic and online presence, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re not receiving any traffic. Start with something small like building citations on local websites (Bing Local, Yelp, Foursquare, etc.) and then start to explore link building methods that make the most sense for your business, budget and time.