There are a lot of different things that businesses can do to optimize their website to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engine optimization, or SEO, contains a bunch of different practices and strategies—far too many to cover absolutely everything in one post.
So, today, let’s focus on a single SEO topic: how to develop a link-building SEO strategy.
Before We Begin…
Hopefully, everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say the word “link;” and no, I’m not talking about a popular video game character. I’m talking about web links, hyperlinks, etc.
These links are a piece of text that someone browsing a website or other piece of online content can click on to be taken to a different piece of online content. In most cases, links on your site will go to:
- Another one of your web pages;
- A download page/file for an offer; or
- A different web site with content you’re citing/quoting.
Links are useful for guiding website visitors to the content you want them to see. But, they can also be a powerful tool for improving website SEO—if done right. Do the wrong thing, like paying for meaningless links, and you could actually hurt your SEO rather than improve it.
Step 1: Create a Page for Your Website on Some Top-Ranked Directories
Two of the biggest things you need in any link-building campaign are back links to your website and citations of content on your site. Back links are when another website has a link to your website, citations are when another website mentions your business name, address, or piece of content you’ve written without linking to your site.
One of the easiest ways to build up some back links and citations for your business’ website is to set up a page for your business on the top local and national directories. For the intents and purposes of this post, a directory is a website like Yelp, Google+ Local, YellowPages.com, local chambers of commerce, etc. that lists different businesses for a given region or industry.
Many of these directories offer businesses the ability to create an account or page that lists their business name, address, phone number, and website link, along with a spot for customers to leave a review of that business.
This gives you a great chance to get not only a backlink to your website, but to also garner some citations for your business—passively helping your website’s SEO by building authority.
Of course, this can also be a pretty good way to direct some traffic to your website independently of your SERP ranking—especially if you’re on a popular directory site such as Yelp! and get plenty of positive reviews from locals.*
*Note: Many sites, such as Yelp!, strictly prohibit businesses from asking for reviews from customers. Some, like Angie’s list, take very strict measures to prevent anonymous reviews for or against a business.
Taking a few minutes or an hour to get your company on as many of these directories as possible is a great way to improve your link-building SEO strategy. Of course, you might want to make sure that there aren’t any duplicate pages for your company on any of these directories.
If you’re listed on a bunch of directories and/or have recently moved your business, consider using the Moz Local tool to help you make sure that all of your listings are using the right address.
Step 2: Don’t Forget the Local-Specific Directories
While getting on the big directories like Yelp! and Angie’s List is great, if you have a location-specific business, you’ll want to make sure that you’re on a few local-specific directories, such as:
Just to name a few directories that can sort visits/traffic and businesses by location. For a ton more useful directories to get listed on, check out HubSpot’s list of 50 Online Local Business Directories for Local Marketing!
As a corollary to getting on “local” directories, make sure that your business’ name & address are registered with the major map data aggregators. HubSpot recommends the following four in particular, since they “provide a large amount of the map data for Apple, Yelp, Bing, Google+ local, Trip Advisor, and more.”
Being listed accurately with these map data aggregators helps put your business’ address on commonly-used map/GPS apps such as Apple Maps and Google Maps—allowing people to easily find your business in real life.
Step 3: Schmooze People (i.e. Build Relationships) On Social Media
Never underestimate the power of having a strong presence on social media.
Being active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. can help you actively engage with your customers and turn them into fans who help you share and promote your content.
For example, say you share a link to one of your blogs on your Facebook page, and someone takes that Facebook post and shares it with their friends. Now, you have a back link to your site on Facebook AND a post getting shared with people on that fan’s friends list that might never have heard of your company otherwise.
Add to this the ability to interact with online groups to help you expand your reach, and you’ve got a powerful tool for improving your link-building strategy.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the social media sites that you engage with have a decent user base of people who need your particular products/services. Targeting social media networks where none of your ideal customers hang out can be a waste of time and effort.
Building up relationships with people online via social media and turning them into fans/promoters/evangelists is a great way to boost your business’ reach online.
Step 4: Create Content Worth Sharing
Okay, real talk here for a second: we all need to stop writing crap. Blogging consistently and frequently is one of the keys to building your website’s SEO, but what we write really needs to be something worth sharing.
Let me put it this way: if you could write one really great, well thought-out post that gives readers something worth reading, you’ll usually get a lot more back links and citations than you’d get with two or three cruddy, bare-minimum effort posts.
The problem is that writing content worth sharing does take a lot of time and effort.
A few tips for writing great content include:
- Research Authoritative Sites. Get to know the authorities in your industry and learn from them! If you don’t know who the authorities are in your industry, it’s high time to start some serious research. Take a look at your closest competitors and see who they most frequently cite/quote if you need to (HubSpot has a great tool that lets you see who’s linking to your competitors, just to help you with your research).
- Build a List of Industry Thought Leaders. As you do your research, you’ll probably come across a few names for people who regularly contribute to publications in your industry. Make a list of these thought leaders so you can look for their content more easily in the future when writing posts.
- Get Thought Leaders to Contribute to Your Content. While you might not always succeed at first, try to get some industry thought leaders to contribute to your content or give you back links. Some tips for doing this include:
- Creating a “Best of” List: Remember that list of thought leaders? Try making a list of your top 3-10 favorites, with a reason why they made your list for each one.
- Always Giving Credit to Sources or Authors: If you want someone to give you a back link or help contribute to your content, you need to make sure you’re doing right by them. Give credit where it’s due whenever you use another source, and you might earn some positive attention and reciprocation.
- Build a Relationship with Thought Leaders. Get to know the thought leaders in your industry and build a relationship with them. Ask them if they can do an interview and if they’re okay with you publishing it as a blog. Or, ask them if they’d like to guest blog on your website.
- Be Timely When Covering Big News. There’s a little practice we at the Bluleadz offices like to call “news jacking;” wherein we’ll write a post about some big event in the industry (data breaches for SaaS companies, major changes to financial regulations for financial services companies, etc.). However, with these posts, time is of the essence—the faster you can get something out there, the more likely you are to secure a few back links and citations when others start to talk about the same event. So, when doing the news, you want to be as close to being the first person to cover the event as possible.
- Use Images and Formatting to Create Something That Looks Nice. I’ve been guilty of creating the dreaded wall of text more than once. By breaking up post content so it’s easy to skim and visually interesting, you’re more likely to keep readers engaged with your content. We’ve even experimented with making video posts and audio narration for some posts so people can listen to a post rather than having to read it.
Step 5: Promote the Content You Have
To get a back link or citation for any piece of content you have, someone has to, of course, see that content in the first place. Promoting your content is a basic way to build up your link strategy by making sure people see your content and start sharing/linking it.
There are numerous ways to promote your content online, such as sharing it on social media, or creating Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns that link to big content pieces.
You can also get people to subscribe to your blog and generate emails or RSS feed notifications whenever you publish a new post. When your existing contacts take a look, there’s a chance they’ll share the new post with others, creating links to your site.
Step 6: Write a Guest Blog Post On Someone Else’s Site
In time, you might find that you’ve become regarded as an industry thought leader yourself, and have other people asking you to do a guest blog.
Embrace this opportunity when you can, but be sure to vet any sites asking for a guest post.
Cultivate relationships with these other websites and write a great guest blog, complete with links back to your own site as appropriate. You might even find that it’s advantageous to let the owner of the other site write a guest blog for your website—letting you both benefit.
Step 7: Identify and Disavow Bad Links
Google has spent years perfecting the art of making sure that their search engine users get the best possible content. In many cases, this means rewarding good honest effort and great content.
At other times, it means punishing some “black hat” SEO practices that try to game the search engine’s system—tricks like phony link building by paying for thousands of links to your site. Now, Google evaluates back link sources and, if you’ve got a lot of links from bad sources, your rank on SERPs will actually go down.
A while back, there was concern about SEO attacks using bad link strategies to try and trick Google into thinking you were buying links. Long story short, businesses were being sent threatening emails saying “pay me a few hundred bucks or I’ll tank your website’s rank on Google by creating thousands of bad links to it.”
This is why Google has the Disavow Links tool.
The Disavow Links tool lets you tell Google to not take specific bad links into account when ranking your website. However, you do need to be careful with this tool, as disavowing good links can harm your SEO just as surely as a bad link can.
Moz.com has a great article about how to use the Disavow Tool that you might want to read in full before you start using this tool.
Long Story Short, or TL;DR
Okay, I know I’ve written a horrendously long post, so here’s a quick checklist for improving your SEO strategy:
- Register with National and Local Business Directories
- Make sure directory listings are consistent
- Register Your Business Name and Address with Map Aggregates
- Build a Presence on Social Media
- Be responsive to followers
- Publish links to content from time to time on social media channels
- Research Authoritative Sources in Your Industry
- Make a list
- Check it twice
- Cultivate relationships with thought leaders when you can
- Make content with help/input from the top thought leaders
- Write Content Worth Sharing
- Use good research
- Be timely with big news posts
- Have someone else check your spelling and grammar
- Promote Your Content
- Use social media to share posts
- Weigh pros and cons of using PPC ad campaigns
- Get people to opt-in to new post notifications and send out email and RSS feed updates (create a “subscribe to our blog” button)
- Guest Blog On Reputable Sites for Others When Offered
- Disavow/Unpublish Bad Links
Well, I know this was a long read for an online post, but I hope you find it to be useful. Want more tips, tricks, and info? Check out some of our other resources!