You’ve worked hard to make your site SEO friendly. Your site is now optimised for target keywords (that you spent days researching), you’ve submitted an XML sitemap and used clear and well-structured URLs. You’ve even crafted beautifully persuasive meta descriptions that are guaranteed a high click-through-rate (CTR), but you’re still struggling to rank highly. Sound familiar?
Those of you acquainted with SEO will know that there are hundreds of elements that need to be addressed for a web page to rank well in search engines. One of the most important elements is backlinks, or external links pointing to your site.
Why does linking matter so much?
Search engines use backlinks to determine how important, trusted and relevant your site’s content is. The operators of search engines want to provide an exceptional user experience – displaying pages/sites with the highest relevance and quality first – and they measure quality by the number of referrals a site has. Links are essentially referrals, so the more you have, the better your ranking.
Links transfer value, also known as ‘link juice’, between pages. A site regarded as reliable, trusted and well-established by Google will have a high domain or page authority. If this site were to link to yours without the ‘nofollow’ attribute (see below for explanation) a portion of this link juice is passed to your site, adding value.
Some experts within the SEO community dismiss the importance of backlinks, but I believe they are incorrect. In my company (Yabber Marketing), one of our core services is website health checks. I regularly discover sites that have zero H1 tags, a missing XML sitemap, and no robots.txt file yet still score highly on the SEO front. What’s their secret? Lots of backlinks!
What does this mean for you?
I’m sure you’ve all heard it said that ‘content is king’. To some extent this is true, but great content doesn’t necessarily result in lots of backlinks. Getting people to link to your content is a hard, long, manual process that requires time, graft and dedication.
I know what you’re thinking: as a small business owner you simply don’t have the time. I get it; I find it hard enough to promote my own business. As a marketing professional selling digital marketing services, the pressure to be highly visible can be a little overwhelming. To reduce the stress, I have created a unique guide to building links for the time poor.
What type of links are there?
- Internal links: This is simply linking one of your webpages to another to help with your link juice and page authority. For example, your home page may have a ‘Contact us’ message that links to your contact page.
TIP: Review your site and identify where you could include extra internal links. If you have a page of particular importance, try and link to this as much as possible. Don’t over-do it – links should be a way of taking your customer on a natural journey through your site, so always think about the user experience.
- External Links (‘nofollow’): When an external site links to yours, the site owner may make the link ‘nofollow’ – this tells search engines not to pass any site authority (link juice) onto yours.
TIP: Typically, well-established sites with a lot of authority will apply a ‘nofollow’ attribute to links. These links are still important to obtain because they will help to drive traffic to your site, and many argue that Google use ‘nofollow’ links as a ranking factor.
- External Links: When external sites link to yours without the ‘nofollow’ attribute applied, your site will benefit from the authority that the site has. These are the creme de la creme of links and you ultimately want to get more of these.
Building links when time is limited
The following steps will explain how to obtain backlinks without having to create content (articles, blogs, infographics, etc.).
- Business listings/citations
Register your business on business listings sites such as:
- Google My Business
- Bing UK
There are also industry specific directories, so do a search and make a list of all the places you can register your business. Most of these are free, and while many apply the no-follow attribute to links, some have the option of a premium (paid-for) listing.
If you run a local business or service, then remember to look for local listing sites too. For example, a local karate club can register with local sporting, fitness and wellbeing organisations that list both local and countywide clubs.
TIP: Use your judgement about these sites. Do they look professional? Are they well moderated? Is their copyright up-to-date? Steer clear of directories that contain a lot of ill-placed, flashing adverts and only register with well-known, trusted sites as Google may penalise you for being linked to sites of poor quality.
- Find your audience
Where does your audience go online? Identify the forums and discussion groups in which your audience may be asking questions about your products. Try looking on:
- Google+ groups
- LinkedIn (B2B)
- Facebook groups
There is a forum for just about anything, so there will definitely be forums specific to your niche. Find them by doing a Google search for ‘industry name + forum’ and you’ll be surprised at the amount of results. For example, if you sell products aimed at children, sites like Netmums provide the perfect opportunity to engage with your audience.
- Find Influencers
When searching in forums, it is a good idea to make a note of people that are the most active or have greatest appeal and influence. Are there any notable people answering questions, making comments and linking to useful content? These are the people you need to start building a relationship with. Follow them, ‘like’ them, respond to their comments and offer alternative opinions and advice to them (politely of course).
- Finding Mentions
When you’ve been active on the sites/forums appropriate to your business for a while you will start to get mentioned by other people. Use a tool like Google Alerts or Mention to track who is talking about you, your products or industry. If people mention you, contact them and ask them to include a link to your site. (Tell them that providing a link will add value to the user experience, so everyone’s a winner!)
Using alerts is also a great way of identifying new forums and other places where your audience may be. Add these newly discovered places to your list and get active on these sites too
- Supplier/partner relationships
There are plenty of people connected to your business that support your operations, such as the landlord you rent from, suppliers and the partners that help you deliver a contract on time. Utilise your wider network and ask them if they could include a partner link or a review for your site. You could offer to link to their site in return.
Tip: Use reciprocal linking with caution. Don’t overdo it, and make sure that reciprocal links are natural i.e. linking to genuine partners, customers and affiliates.
There are no quick wins with link building. You will need to approach the above steps with discipline and determination. Set aside a portion of time each day/week to do this – especially if your site is new – to help you focus. Once it becomes a habit you should develop a good, manageable rhythm. Set yourself achievable daily tasks such as:
- Register on four directories
- Find four influencers in my niche
- Add useful comments on six relevant blogs
- Find and follow your influencers on social media
Building links through great content
Shareable, likeable, authoritative content is a great way to encourage others to link to your site – and writing good content is easier than you think.
Step 1. Create something amazing
- Write about topics your customers ask about or need help with. If you don’t have any customers yet, look at the frequently asked questions across the forums that you should now be following.
- Write in plain, simple English. Steer away from complicated language and sentence structures. Audiences on the web tend to skim read.
- Language should be authoritative, conversational but professional. Write your article as if you were explaining the topic to a friend.
- Write about something you fully understand. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can rattle off some good ideas which can be turned into an article when it’s on a topic you know well.
- Include an introduction, main body and conclusion. Use headers, bullet points and numbered items – this structure helps with readability and adds to the user experience.
Step 2. Share it
Share your blog or article on the most appropriate and active forums and across your social networks.
Step 3. Respond to comments
Respond to any comments quickly and you’ll be well on your way to establishing yourself as a key player within your field of expertise.
There are some great resources on blogging on The UK Domain’s Blog to help get you started.
Link building is probably one of the most important aspects of achieving website visibility. It may be hard work, time-consuming and (sometimes) relentless, but the rewards definitely outweigh the efforts.
While this is by no means an extensive guide to link building, you should now have some understanding of the area and a foundation on which to start building your backlink campaign. The key to success is not speed, and there are no short cuts: you simply have to be dedicated and consistent. I highly recommend allocating a portion of each day/week to getting on forums, registering your business and creating awesome content that fills the information gaps on the internet. Be disciplined.
If you use the monitoring tools I’ve mentioned above, you’ll soon see results from your hard work, proving that even the busiest of business owners can take control of their own online destiny.
Sarah Miles, owner of Yabbermarketing.com, is dedicated to helping small businesses improve their online presence. With over ten years of practical marketing experience Sarah provides crucial digital marketing services to her clients, including SEO and digital marketing communications.Read full profile