Evergreen Link Building Strategies Your Business Can’t Thrive Without
The world of SEO moves so quickly that most articles you read about link building strategies will always have a remarkably short half-life.
If you read a guide about creating a link building strategy from just a year ago, some of the tips on there will today be ineffective.
And in some cases will even get you penalised and black listed by Google.
So when the SEO world is changing so quickly, how can small business owners be expected to keep up with the updates, whilst juggling the 100s of other responsibilities they have?
Here at Grow, we don’t want to write a guide about link building strategies which uses current tips and tricks which might get you into hot water with Google in a year’s time.
As well as that, we’re frankly too clever/lazy to worry about coming back to rewrite this post every three months to update it after the latest Google update.
Instead, we’re going to give you a really in-depth look into one of the most important aspects of SEO, and show you how to start and implement a link building strategy which will be as effective and ethical in 100 updates’ time as it is today.
What Are Links and Why Should I Care?
In 1998, Google revolutionised search-engines by introducing its “PageRank” system, which determined how authoritative a website was by measuring how many other pages linked to it.
Before then, search engines just returned results based on “on-page factors” such as how many keywords the site had in its copy.
This meant that scammers could easily exploit the system by stuffing their web-copy full of irrelevant keywords in order to rank highly on first generation search engines such as AltaVista, Yahoo! and Lycos.
In contrast, Google’s algorithm treated web-links like “votes” for how authoritative and relevant a site was.
The thinking behind this strategy being that high-quality sites would get linked to and shared by other sites, whilst “spammy” sites would not.
However, links also offered people a visible indicator of how their page might perform in Google.
This, once again, meant that scammers were able to game the system by buying links, setting up link schemes and all sorts of other “black-hat” SEO tactics, which we’ll cover in more detail later.
Until recently, it was fairly easy to build up hundreds or thousands of low-quality and questionable links to poor-quality sites and therefore perform quite well on search engines.
However, in 2011, Google introduced the “Panda” update which specifically penalised low-quality sites containing lots of poorly-written and duplicate content.
It targeted SEO scammers further in 2012 with the introduction of the Penguin update, which decreased the rankings of websites which used SEO techniques that contravened Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Penguin was hugely effective and very controversial, affecting 3.1% of all sites written in English.
In response, many SEO experts have set about trying to figure out how to game the system in ways which will not get them penalised by the current Google algorithms.
However, what Google is specifically penalising people for right now isn’t really what’s ultimately important.
In order to future-proof your SEO efforts, it’s much more important to understand what Google is trying to do.
By understanding that Google wants to rank quality sites, and knowing what Google expects of your website, you can understand what will and won’t get you penalised right now, as well as in the future.
Black Hat Link Building Strategies and Why You Should Avoid Them
Mention the early 2000s to any black-hat SEO expert and their eyes will glaze over as they day-dream about an easier time when they could get anything onto the front page of Google.
But how exactly did they do it, and why shouldn’t you do it today?
Before we continue, I feel it’s important that we strongly recommend you avoid these black hat link building techniques.
Yes, some of them still are very effective at quickly and easily building links and boosting SEO, but this success comes with a considerable risk, too.
If you use these sorts of techniques, you’re setting yourself up for a fall when Google eventually gets around to sussing you out and penalising you.
So you know what to avoid when developing your link building strategy, here are two of the most popular black-hat techniques scammers use.
A “Link Scheme” is any system that allows websites to generate loads of low quality links for no other reason than exploiting their SEO value.
For example, some webmasters will submit their site to hundreds of low quality on-line directories.
This used to be a safe, tried and tested method of easily generating lots of links, but the Penguin update penalised many of these bad directories and the sites associated with them.
However, don’t hesitate to submit your website to good quality local directories and places like DMOZ and the Yahoo Directory.
If a directory offers more value than just a backlink, and will genuinely refer customers to your business, it’s probably safe to submit to.
There are also social bookmarking sites, which allow you to submit articles and get more readers.
There are great sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon, which you should absolutely submit your high quality articles to, but you should avoid submitting articles to low quality bookmarking sites which only exist to generate links.
Many black-hatters used to submit sales copy and poorly written content to loads of social bookmarking sites, regardless of whether that site was relevant to what they were writing about.
As a result, you’d get loads of horrendously written articles about Viagra on bookmarking sites which were aimed at video gamers or some other niche.
There’s also something called “link wheels” where a site agrees to link to another site, and the other site in turn links to a 3rd site and so on and so forth.
Often these websites will have nothing to do with each other, and are only linking to each other to exploit the SEO value of those links. This practise can also get you in trouble with Google.
At any given moment your inbox is probably spilling over with spam emails from “SEO companies” which promise to get you on to page 1 of Google.
Often, what these emails are offering is a link buying service. Here is an example of the sort of emails which clog up our spam folders.
Disclaimer: We in no way dispute Mr Singh’s ability to get us to the “top in Goole”
These companies will generate literally thousands of low quality links on dodgy sites which they probably own themselves.
Bought links are obvious to spot as 9/10 they’ll come from an underdeveloped WordPress site which will contain a small number of totally random, poorly written articles linking to completely different things.
You can see a great (appalling) example of a link buying service’s website here.
Why You Should Avoid Them
These services can be really effective in getting you into a top position on Google, but the benefits are often short-lived.
It’s only a matter of time until you get rumbled by Google and penalised.
It’s also worth mentioning that anyone can easily use software look at your backlinks for free, which means that your competitors will be able to see if you’re using black-hat techniques and report you to Google.
The Importance of Being Trustworthy
Getting a good PageRank and a good ranking on search engines is ultimately about trust.
Being a trustworthy site is a great asset and in the long term will help your search engine rankings more than cheating will.
Before you try out a black-hat technique, remember that another Google update could be around the corner at any time.
Sure, whichever trick black-hatters are using right now might not be penalised, but what about in a year’s time?
Good SEO isn’t about dodging the specific techniques which are frowned upon right now; it’s about adopting the right attitude and building links the way Google intended- honestly and ethically.
How the Link Building Game Has Changed
Google is going to continue to update its algorithm and crack down on scammers until there are no longer any shortcuts to authority and trust.
But why are they doing this? Why are Google making it so much harder for small businesses to use cheap, easy and effective SEO techniques?
Google’s lifeblood comes from providing the best experience possible for its millions and millions of users.
In 2012 Google made a whopping $42.5 billion from advertising alone, and the only way they can continue to make that much money is by making sure that the search results they provide to users is as accurate and useful as possible, so that people continue to use their service.
What would happen if you Googled “buy Doc Martin boots” and Google spat out pages of spammy sites selling hair regrowth treatment and potentially lethal weight loss pills?
It wouldn’t take long for Google’s legions of users to abandon them in search of a competitor who isn’t as vulnerable to scammers.
If Google’s users left, why would any companies want to advertise with them anymore?
All of a sudden those billions of dollars’ worth of profits would plummet, and Google would go the way of so many older search engines that nobody uses anymore.
As a result, Google has to make sure that they weed out as many spammy, low-quality sites as possible.
This is bad news for black hatters, as Google is literally becoming The Terminator of the internet– an unstoppable juggernaut which isn’t going to stop until it’s made sure that no spammy sites are showing up in their search results.
The bottom line is: If you’re doing dodgy SEO, eventually, Google’s going to get you. Their survival depends on it.
Therefore the only real future-proofed way to build links is to get natural “editorial” links.
You want people linking to your site because your site offers something of value to their readers.
However, in today’s social media driven world, how does Google measure how popular and authoritative something is?
Some SEO experts speculate that social shares on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc matter for your site’s SEO. This chart demonstrates how important some experts think social media shares are for your SEO.
Other SEO experts reckon that it is correlation, not causation, which means that content which is widely shared gets a better ranking.
That is to say, the content that gets shared widely also generates lots of links due to its quality, therefore it naturally builds links independent of social media shares.
Other SEO experts argue that social media shares really don’t matter as all the links are “no-follow” links, which means that, to Google, they do not count as an inbound link.
However, even though “no-follow” links won’t build up your backlinks, they are still a great signal to Google of how quickly your site’s content is getting shared across the web, which is definitely a factor Google takes into account when ranking pages.
Ultimately, whether the social media/SEO link is correlation or causation is irrelevant, as all it really demonstrates is that great content leads to lots of natural links and therefore good SEO.
Future Proofed Link Building Strategies for Small Businesses
If you’re anything like most small business owners, you’re probably quite perplexed and frustrated right now.
Sure, you understand that to rank well you need to create content which is:
- •widely linked to from relevant sites all over the internet
- •linked to from reputable sites with a high PageRank
- •widely shared on social media
But how is a small business meant to achieve this?
A lot of link building and SEO advice is theoretical and aimed squarely at SEO experts who work for massive companies with huge marketing budgets.
This is why so many other guides on link building warn people away from guest blogging and cultivating less valuable links from smaller sites and blogs.
After all, it makes no sense for big companies to get their hands dirty chasing smaller links when they can just bust out their big black books of high profile contacts and use their pricey PR companies to build links with real heft.
Getting “high value” links from newspaper websites and other important sites takes a lot of time, money and contacts, all of which may well be in short supply if you’re running a small business.
So, as a small business, how are you meant to compete?
Well the answer is; it’s very difficult to do things on the same level as massive companies with huge budgets.
Therefore, to build links for your small business, you need to do the exact opposite of what most of the SEO experts are telling you to do.
Although a lot of current SEO is getting steered away from cultivating links on smaller sites, these are exactly the links small businesses should be pursuing.
You should be building links with sites which are on your level.
So how exactly do you go about building natural editorial links with smaller blogs and websites which are on your level?
1. Promote Your Blog and/or Content Online
We’ve already covered how blogging helps generate links and improves SEO for small businesses, but how do you go about making sure that the content you create gets seen by the right people, and therefore linked to and shared?
Obviously, the first step is to write attention grabbing content, which you can find out more about here, but an equally important part of it is making sure that you promote your blog well.
One time-tested technique is to send out a newsletter to all of your email subscribers, telling them about your blogs.
This is a great strategy, as not only does it give you an excuse to get in touch with your subscribers, and therefore remind them of your company, but it puts your blog in front of a lot of people who are actively interested in what you’re writing about.
If your content is good enough, these people will share your content to their peers, increasing your content’s exposure and therefore the likelihood of getting linked to dramatically.
Another great strategy for promoting your blog is to use social bookmarking sites.
Social bookmarking sites are huge community based websites in which users share interesting links with one another.
We’ve already touched on bookmarking sites in the section about black-hat techniques, but just because these sites have been exploited by scammers in the past, it doesn’t mean that you can’t safely and legitimately use them to promote your own blogs.
After all, their sole purpose is to help users find and share great content!
By submitting to sites like digg.com, stumbleupon.com, reddit.com and delicious.com, you can potentially put your articles in front of millions of people each day.
There are also loads of niche bookmarking sites, which will allow you to reach a much more specific audience who are much more likely to engage with your content.
It’s also worth noting that some reputable bookmarking sites give you “do-follow” links, if your link gets a certain number of “likes” from the website’s users.
Therefore, by just submitting your article, you could already be generating links!
However, this is an added bonus, not the focus.
As well as this, there is a lot of debate in the SEO community as to how much value a link from a social bookmarking site really carries, so don’t start submitting your articles to random bookmarking sites just for the sake of easy links.
Do you really want to waste hours of your time manually submitting each of your blogs to every bookmarking site under the sun?
Didn’t think so.
Using these sites to build an engaged audience for your content will mean that links are going to be generated organically, without you ever having to lift a finger.
You should also be sharing your content on social media sites.
Start by making sure that you include social sharing buttons on your blog content, like the buttons at the top and bottom of this blog.
This makes it much easier for people to share or retweet it. If you haven’t already, open up a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your business and share your content on there.
Reward your followers by sharing other people’s great content too.
Remember, social media for small businesses is all about giving value to your followers, so make sure that you give them stuff to engage with.
Google+ is also extremely important for small businesses.
Although it has far fewer engaged users than Facebook and Twitter, a lot of SEO experts believe that having a company page set up helps your Google ranking.
There’s no concrete evidence that this is the case, and Google are certainly never going to come out and admit it, but it definitely won’t hurt to set up an account and share your content on there.
By doing all of this to promote your blog/content, you are going to put it in front of a much wider audience, who are in turn much more likely to link to it in their own blogs or websites.
If you don’t let people know about the awesome content you are creating, it’s never going to generate links!
2. Local SEO & Link Building
Using local SEO as a link-building strategy is also really important for small businesses.
It’s absolutely worth submitting your site to reputable, relevant local directories.
Once again, as we’ve mentioned already in the black-hat section, don’t go overboard with this and don’t exploit it for easy links.
Make sure that the directories that you submit your site to are trustworthy and have a good PageRank.
A good indication of a directory’s quality is that the site owners “vet” businesses that get listed.
That is to say, they only allow quality, legitimate businesses to get listed on their site.
DMOZ is a great example of such a site.
Other really good quality directories include Yelp, Yell, Yahoo! and allinlondon.com.
As always, don’t try to game the system for links.
Use your better judgement and only submit your website to the kinds of directories you’d be happy to be associated with.
3. Make the Most of Being an Expert
If your small business caters for a niche, chances are you are a bona fide expert in that niche, and know everything there is to know about it!
This is the most powerful tool you have in your link building arsenal.
The vast majority of online content is merely rehashed, recycled versions of other peoples’ ideas.
The trouble is, if you’re just re-writing what everyone else has already said, without adding to it or approaching it from a different perspective, why should that build links?
Why should people link to that content, rather than the 100s of other sites which are saying the exact same thing?
You need to use your expert perspective on your industry to position yourself as a thought-leader.
Don’t be afraid to challenge, question and improve upon the established opinions in your field.
Be different, be unique and be yourself.
Genuine content which presents fresh new ideas is the kind of content that gets shared to and generates quality links from other sites.
Positioning yourself as an expert is a long term strategy.
However, It won’t happen overnight, and it might not even happen within a year.
However, if you regularly put out unique content, your reputation, and the number of links pointing at your site, will grow!
It’s also a good idea to help others with your expertise.
Journalists are always in need of experts who they can get opinions and quotes from, so open yourself up to reporters and press.
There are plenty of sites out there which connect you with media and press writers, but our favourite is Help A Reporter Out, or HARO.
Sign up for free and keep an eye out for relevant stories which you can contribute to and hopefully get links from.
It’s worth keeping in mind that links from news websites are very valuable and can give your rankings a noticeable boost, so this is definitely an avenue worth pursuing.
Another great way of using your insight to build links is to start writing reviews and user guides on products or services which you and your customers tend to use.
Not only are you creating valuable content which will get searched for and bring traffic to your website, but it also has a higher chance of getting linked to in other reviews/user guides.
Be sure to let the product/service you are writing about know too! Unless you’ve absolutely slated their product in their review, there’s a good chance they’ll promote it and link to it too.
4. Guest Post
Guest posting has long been a staple of many a small business’s link building strategy, and despite worries among the SEO community that Google are going to devalue links from guest posts, in practise, this will have very little impact upon small businesses who ethically guest post to highly relevant blogs.
Therefore, guest posting should absolutely be a part of your link building strategy.
You should be actively building and nurturing relationships with other important figures in your niche or industry, opening a dialogue with them about your industry.
By building these relationships with influential figures in your industry, you open up opportunities to be able to guest post on their blogs and websites.
A huge component of a successful guest posting strategy, however, is making sure that your content is fresh and unique, as we’ve already discussed above.
It’s important to remember to keep your guest posting highly focused and relevant to what you do.
The reason Google are starting to look so carefully at guest posting is because it is frequently abused by scammers.
In certain “neighbourhoods” of the internet, you’ll find blogs which contain hundreds of guest posts on completely disparate subjects, written by people who don’t care about the quality of their blog and are only concerned with getting a link.
We’ve always found abusing guest posting odd.
Unless you use article spinning software (not a good idea) guest posting is actually very effort intensive, when used solely as a link building strategy.
It’s important to think of a guest post as a great way to reach a new audience, build leads and gain your brand more exposure.
5. Reach Out To Your Peers
The beauty of the internet is that it has given enthusiasts of every kind a platform upon which they can discuss their interests and write about what matters to them.
This means that in any industry or niche, there’s bound to be a bustling community of sites dedicated to it.
By simply reaching out to the people who run these websites, and letting them know about your site, you’d be amazed how many natural links you can generate.
This is another reason why having a good content marketing strategy and a blog is very important.
If your website is full of great, valuable content directed at your industry or niche, it becomes so much more than just a sales website.
It becomes a resource.
People are much, much more likely to link to a great resource than they are to any old business website.
The first step to generating these kinds of links is to find sites in your niche which have “links” or “resources” pages.
You can do this by using this search query in Google and changing the XXX to your keyword.
intitle:XXX inurl:”links” OR “resources”
This should give you pages and pages of sites which you can get in touch with and hopefully get a link from.
Once you’ve compiled a list of the sites which could link to you, repeat the process with other search queries such as “useful resources” or “recommended links” or “our favourite sites” and other permutations.
Actually “prospecting” these links is the easy part.
The hard part is getting in touch and asking for a link in a way that won’t annoy or alienate the webmasters.
Make sure that each email is personalised, and references the website you are writing to.
If you could find the time to actually read one of their posts, or comment in some way on something they’ve done, even better (but we know you’re busy, so don’t worry too much).
As with everything in marketing, you should mention THEM and how it will benefit THEM and their readers.
Make sure the email is a value proposition for how much their readers will appreciate your content, rather than just a blatant link request.
Here is a sample email which gives you an idea of what you should be saying.
Subject line: New Online (your industry/keyword) Resource
My name’s XXX and I work with (your own company), a brand new resource centre for (your industry/niche). We publish content focused on (doing whatever it is you do) which really focuses on helping people (benefits your content gives readers). We also do (what your business does).
We’ve only just launched, but every week we create informative, practical articles on (whatever you do). You can check us out here [home page]
Check out our articles here [blog page]
I’m writing to you as I’ve really enjoyed (reading/watching/whatever) your content. I thought your (article/video/whatever) on (whatever) was particularly good and (insert insightful comment here).
I think that the content we produce at (your own website) would really be of benefit to your readers at (the website in question), and I believe that they would find it useful and entertaining. As a result, we’d be absolutely delighted if you might consider including us in your resources list.
We want to raise the profile of what we do. In the upcoming weeks we are going to be (give an outline of any exciting things you have coming up), and we would really like to get the word out to everyone we can.
Please let me know if this is something you’d be interested in including.
Thanks, from XXX.
Keep track of everyone you’ve written to using an excel sheet or something similar.
Include their contact information, name (if you can find it) and the date you contacted them.
This is important, as it will enable you to keep track of who has responded and who you need to chase up.
Grow uses a great web browser extension called Signals, which shows you who has opened and read your emails, which makes the process of contacting and following up much easier.
6. Work with Others
It’s no surprise that the internet behaves a little like an enormous community, as that was how it was envisioned and designed by Tim Berners-Lee, the “creator” of the World Wide Web.
So therefore it only stands to reason that your online efforts should be collaborative too!
It’s a great idea to team up with other people in your industry to create content together, or put together operational guides for commonly asked questions within your industry.
Why not interview a leading industry expert and put the write up on your blog?
By working with others, your work gain links from whoever you’re working with, and you will also gain valuable exposure among their fan bases and followers.
7. Learn From Your Competitors
If you need some pointers on where you should be looking to get links from, there’s no better way to find out than by looking at where your competitors’ links are coming from.
Your close competitors are likely offering the same kind of services and creating the same kind of content as you, so by checking out their backlinks, you can usually get some idea of where you should be getting links from.
Open site explorer is a great free tool which allows you to look at exactly where your competitors’ backlinks are coming from, and in what volume.
Once you’ve found a relevant blog or site which has already linked to your competitor, reach out to the site owners and let them know about what you do and show them some of your work.
Being too aggressive or transparent about trying to get a link from them will likely alienate them, so you need to think about how you can solve problems they face – can you provide a news site with expert opinion on a story?
Maybe a blog is looking for quality, insightful guest posts? Perhaps someone needs an interview with an industry expert?
Look for ways in which you can help each other out, so you can get a link without having to beg, borrow or steal.
By using all 7 of these link building strategies in conjunction, you will have created a powerful link building campaign which will always remain on the good side of any Google update.
By understanding what it is Google are trying to achieve, you can better understand the “rules” of link building, and therefore will never have to worry about receiving a Google penalty or getting blacklisted.
Honest and ethical link building isn’t impossible for small businesses, as you’ll discover when you start employing the techniques above.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are a lot of techniques I left out because I feel they aren’t future-proofed.
As I’ve made clear time and time again, using cheap tricks may be effective right now, but they may prove to be ineffective or just plain dangerous in a year’s time.
As well as this, as a small business owner, I doubt you have the time to spend hours on end building links.
The 7 techniques above are the most effective strategies to build a fair amount of links without having to invest an unreasonable amount of time.
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