SEO

Link building for small businesses – it’s a popularity contest

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an increasingly complex affair; especially with everyone's default engine, Google constantly changing how it scans the web, seeks out information and stays one step ahead of websites trying to cheat the system. It can be frustrating for companies who simply want their sites to be noticed and found by potential clients.

But Google isn't playing a game to catch businesses out. Like all search engines, the aim is to give their billions of users access to the best, most up-to-date information and content. This means that the complex algorithms that run their search results are always being improved and adjusted to ensure that the best content gets the most exposure.

As you might know, sites like Google traditionally based their search results on the number and quality of links pointing to a site (as well as many other factors). This was and still is a vital part of how SEO works. However, the process has become increasingly complicated.

Google will now look at things like the quality and relevancy of the content on the page linking to you, the anchor text of the link, where on the page the link is placed, what other pages that site is linking to and how many of your links seem suspiciously similar. For example, if you have hundreds of links but they are all placed in the footer of a website or they all have the same anchor text, that’s a clear sign to Google that you’re trying to game the system.

With that said, there are ways to ensure you can get great links and improve your SEO. It's not a simple process but there is some good news - you already know the rules. Linking is just like high school - it's all about popularity.

Being in with the in crowd

Whether you nostalgically regard your high-school days as the best of your life, or simply remember them with horror, you have to admit that back then, everyone knew their place in the pecking order - from the handsome jocks and cheerleaders at the top to the Dungeons and Dragons player near the bottom.

As an insecure high-schooler you wanted to be noticed and liked by the cool kids. As a business owner, you want your online presence to be noticed and liked. And just like back in school, this means you have to work on being popular...i.e. get people to link to your site. And not just anyone. You need to catch the eye of the people that matter.

Cast your mind back to those painful (or perhaps amazing) high school years: a high-five in the hallway from the Chevy-driving quarterback did much more for your social standing than several years of friendship with the acne-scarred artisans of the IT club! It's a cruel fact of life but one worth remembering in your online existence. Sites are like people, some of them carry more influence than others. And nowhere is this more true than in SEO.

How to get quality links!

Authority - The bigger and more respected the sites that link to yours, the better for your site's rankings.

Let's say you have a new and revolutionary piece of software to talk about; a new training technique in your gym, or even news of an unusual event you held, if it is picked up and liked by a big news player like Time Magazine, Microsoft or Sports Illustrated, then you shoot up in popularity and get people talking. Links from friends and well meaning customers are more heartfelt, but they don't necessarily have the same impact.

It's not links from famous sites that get you good rankings. Remember the high school rules - it's all about respect. If your site is being linked from any .gov or .edu domains search engines will notice. Anyone being being referenced by government agencies or universities, basks in that aura of authority.

This quality counts when link building because individual links from minor sites and blogs won't make such a large impact on rankings. And even worse, if Google's algorithm decides that you have too many spammy links pointing at your site that provide no real value, then you could be penalized.

People need a reason to link after all, and good content is key. Publishing authoritative guides is a good way to build relevant links. If you are putting out expert advice and information about your industry or services, you should get an audience who'll pass on your site details.

A little bit of sucking up can help too. If you cite your inspirations and sources for the information, such as experts or prominent websites in your industry, they may well link to you on their own sites.

Relevance - The higher the relevance of links to your website, the more they're worth!

As your website is there to inform people about your business and what you do, it is important that the themes of a site linking to you are relevant to your own. If, for example, you are running an Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, a link from a site that talks about Tuscan cuisine, or a food blog is going to be much more relevant than one from a site that specializes in heavy machinery.

Relevant links also enable search engines to classify what type of services you are offering and where you are located, further improving your rankings. Let's say your restaurant is based in Des Moines, you'll want to rank highly on searches for "Italian food in Iowa” or “Best Pizza in Des Moines". If you can get any links from respected sites about Italian food, eating out or even good pizzas in the state of Iowa than all to the good.

Variety matters - Variety in links shows that you've evolved naturally as a site.

While being linked to by pages who find your content relevant and authoritative, it is still important that you are getting links from a wide variety of sites on the internet. This ensures that your link profile seems "natural" to search engines and doesn't appear faked.

Build up your reputation over time and get the online community talking about your site. Interact with bloggers or people seeking services on social media such as Facebook. You know your product is good so encourage reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Places. And get word out yourself by promoting your site in comments on blogs and news websites, or listings on website directories.

The key here is to participate in activities not just because you think they will help your SEO, but because they will help strengthen your overall web presence and help you reach a wider audience.

Staying popular is an ongoing process

As you'll recall, popularity at high school was always a game of one-upmanship. A hairstyle/brand/training shoe might be adored one day and mocked the next - so it is with SEO. You have got keep things updated. After all, the way search engines work is a constantly changing process.

You may have some great links to your site but after a while they're going to get a little stale and stop yielding the results you want. Of course some industries move more slowly than others - regular updates are not a big thing if you sell linen or clothes pegs, as opposed to a software company, but it is always worth giving people something new to read.

Finding effective and ongoing ways to building links to your site can be tricky. But there are tried and tested ways to get valuable links that ensure a natural and effective link profile.

Directories

The world of directories has been almost entirely overrun with spam, but the spammers haven’t taken over completely just yet. There are still important directories out there can pass value to your site - especially those that are specific to your industry or location like your local Chamber of Commerce.

Content

Creating content that is worthy of being shared and linked to remains one of the best ways to earn strong and natural links from authoritative sites in your industry. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but if you spend some time considering the audience you are trying to reach and think about what drives them to act, you can build a piece of content that resonates with them.

Press releases

Journalists can be a lazy lot and so adore press releases as half their work is done for them. An on-site press release gives good links and establishes you as an authority. It is important that press releases don't read too much like adverts for your business so always include a little useful information and background. Make sure the topic of your press release is actually newsworthy and not just something you’re throwing out there in hopes of getting links.

Guest posts

Blogs are always seeking good quality content, so if you're an expert in your field, or have good advice to pass on, become a guest poster and write articles for other sites. You establish yourself as an authority and readers should be able to link back to your own site. Again, make sure you’re not doing this just for the links but because it allows you to increase brand awareness by leveraging the audience of an authoritative site.

Social media

While direct links from Facebook or Twitter won’t have an impact on the strength of your link profile, they can be a great resource for link building. At it’s heart, social media is about connecting with people, and guess what, some of those people write for or run very important websites. Social media, particularly Twitter, can be a great way to connect with these influencers and get your awesome content in front of them.

High school may seem a long time ago now, and even if you didn't master algebra, you will have picked up a lot of knowledge about the popularity game. And if you need a refresher class, treat yourself to an evening watching classic high-school movies and see how the kids interact. The small sites can become popular and hang out with the cool kids. Just make sure you're acknowledged and respected (linked to) by the right people, build up your reputation (via social media and blogs) over time, and of course, always be yourself and stand out from the crowd.


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