What’s Link Building?
“Link building” is a term that gets used frequently within the digital marketing and SEO world and might be confusing to non-practitioners. At its simplest, it “is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own,” according to industry resource Moz.
As my fellow Roller and VP of Business Development Sean Mulcahy once explained to a client, engaging in backlink building is the “talent section” of a bigger popularity contest that all businesses are joining in online. Particularly for small and local entities, this activity can help you in the following ways:
- Helps your business gain external validation and authority in the eyes of a search engine = improved rankings in the SERPs
- Helps your business become more visible online and stand out from the competition (increase brand recognition)
- This could translate to more customers
- Lays the foundation for new relationships with media outlets, industry influencers, and other potential advocates
An accurate account of a search engine when it encounters a website with no backlinks.
Let me be clear, though: link building is hard and requires sustained effort. To get you started on the right path, the following strategies allow you as a busy business owner to start doing it immediately.
1) Leverage Industry and Locally-Focused Directories
Local and industry-specific directories are low-hanging fruit for business owners trying to grow their backlinks. Most are easy to fill-out in a short amount of time as long as you’ve got your contact details and a short description on-hand. Particularly for businesses with a limited geographic reach, leveraging locally-centered sites for free listings helps get you in front of new customers. Common examples of these listings include:
Additionally, if your business blogs, here’s a list of 131+ free blog directories you can submit your site to.
2) Get Social Media Accounts Set-Up and Share
This might seem like an obvious suggestion, but having social media profiles that periodically share content helps generate referral traffic. It also helps people find up-to-date information that may lead to action elsewhere, such as:
- Business hours
- Company culture
- Contact details
- Blog posts
3) Get Involved in Your Community
Community groups and other organizations are perpetually seeking sponsors for their events, which presents an opportunity for gaining backlinks. In many instances, different sponsorship packages will include some form of digital recognition like logo placement on the event page or a social media mention. Ideally, you can get all of the above with a link back to your business’ website, but this may entail contributing more. Like any other form of backlink building, you’ll want to evaluate the relevancy of this patronage to your focus and customers’ interests and the organization’s website authority using a tool like the free MozBar.
Here is a sample list of what a business can do to build links via community support:
- Develop a scholarship program for students (in or out of niche)
- Be a sponsor for an event or Meetup group
- Host an event at their space like an educational “boot camp” one of our clients ran last year
- Donate to a charity or non-profit
- Host interns from nearby universities
4) Build Relationships with Local and Industry-Specific Influencers
While the word “influencer” has gotten a bad rap lately, authentic relationship building with influential people or outlets in your area and industry can be a great source for links over time. A few ways you can begin building these relationships are:
- Follow their accounts and naturally engage with their content, e.g. leaving on-topic comments/feedback, replying to a story in a direct message offering your thoughts
- Pitch them with content that might be valuable to them and their audiences, e.g. tips, data, infographics
- Invite them to a special event you’re hosting
Not convinced this can work? Let me give you an example from one of my clients who wished to establish better relationships with local media and industry pros. Being a boat dealer, the client was able to offer something unique at no cost: an outing on one of his boats. The point in sharing this anecdote is to get you thinking creatively about approaching influencers who are inundated with requests for collaboration. Present something memorable to them and watch a relationship blossom.
5) Sign Up for the Free HARO Listserv
HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a free listserv that arrives in your inbox three times a day during the workweek and presents opportunities for business owners to contribute to articles on national or international sites. Each email, which might remind you of the early days of the Internet with its simple formatting, lists requests for expert perspectives on topics ranging from healthcare to home decor to business management. It’s important to note that replying to a HARO query doesn’t guarantee a backlink; that’s up to the journalists’ discretion.
Informed by over a year of use and personal research, below are some best practices to help your responses make it into the final article and win you a backlink:
- Proofread your response: Seems simple, yet many journalists complain about receiving poorly written replies that can’t be used.
- Provide a thorough reply that matches the journalist’s requirements: Again, invest a little extra time in your writing and reap the benefits.
- Compose your replies with a personal touch, i.e. write more than just your answer.
- Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel every time: The more you use HARO, the greater the likelihood you’ll see requests that are similar to older ones. Save yourself some time by adapting old replies or your website copy to serve as a foundation for your writing.
6) Develop Share-Worthy Content for Your Site
The Internet loves “snackable” content, like local guides, best-of lists, and other information-rich content – just look at the success of sites like Buzzfeed or Forbes. Developing useful content on your website will provide you with something that you can pitch to media and bigger niche sites as a resource. Additionally, such materials also lend themselves to potentially going viral and being shared far and wide by people on social and other sites.
7) Search for Unlinked Mentions
Using free tools like Google Alerts, identify media outlets or blogs that mention your business but have not linked to your site. In my experience, this is done unintentionally so there’s a good chance when you reach out to ask for a link, you’ll get one.
8) Offer a Testimonial or Case Study to People You’ve Worked With
Begin by identifying the recent services or products you’ve used. Once you have this list, reach out to these companies telling them about your positive experience with them and offer a testimonial/case study in exchange for a linked mention. Except for the biggest sites, an entity is likely to be eager in showcasing your review as it helps them attract customers – a win-win!