More and more small businesses working in a “local” market are waking up to the realities and need for Search Engine Optimization. However, in talking with many of these owners, they are concerned with the importance and on-going nature of link building, and the lack of financial and human resources needed to carry out link building activities.

As link building can account for up to 75% of the success of a SEO program, it is imperative that these businesses find a way to collect links within their limited resource budgets.

Following are 4 creative strategies to help “local” businesses develop on-going link building programs with a minimum long term investment.

1. Blogging for those that don’t have time to blog

Okay – you’ve probably already heard the “content is king” refrain and maybe have already accepted blogging as the powerful link building tool that it is. You may even have come around to the idea that blogging can help a business in the                                   (concrete, pool installation, landscaping, plumbing, accounting, . . .) industry that you are in. However, it still comes down to resources – producing great content and managing a blog takes up valuable time!

The solution is to become a part-time blogger. Instead of running your own blog, work with others in your community that share a common clientele, but are not direct competitors to your business. For example, a plumber could work with an electrician, appliance retailer, interior designer, landscaper, carpenter, flooring retailer, and heating/cooling company to produce a “shared” blog about “Do it Yourself Home Projects”.  Together they could produce a blog that would probably appeal to a wider audience then a specialized industry blog could, and it would only require the plumber to produce one article every two months.

Another option would be to find related blogs both at the national and local level and submit content as a guest blogger. This is currently a very common link building strategy among bloggers, but there is no rule saying that you have to have your own blog to be a guest blogger.

2. Produce sharable content

Find a subject within your industry or community that would be of use to customers at multiple businesses. For example, our plumber may write (or hire someone to write) a “Guide to Re-designing your Bathroom” and offer it as a free download from his website. In addition, he can have an attractive button designed and offer it to local electricians, plumbing supply stores, flooring companies, paint stores, etc to put on their websites so that they can offer the guide to their customers.

Essentially, each button then becomes a link to his website – he has traded great content for a valuable link.

Rather than being an article or information, this could be an app or widget that they could use or offer on their website.

3. Send out a “local” press release

Whenever you have something of interest going on within your company – a big project, a new hire, the additions of a new product or service – send out a local press release.

Keep an email list for local online and paper newspapers, magazines, radio and T.V. stations, and any other businesses or groups it might interest. When something exciting is happening within your business, send an email out to this group to let them know. Include a link back to a website page that was created to provide details about the “exciting news”. This page could then be linked to in an article or blog from one of their sites.

4. Have a contest

Once a year, organize a contest. The goal of the contest will be to produce a list. Either a “top ten” type of list providing acknowledgment to the “top ten Seattle Plumbers”, or a “Best of  List” announcing the best plumber, electrician, etc in the area.

Try to promote the contest through your blogging efforts, a local press release, social media platforms, etc. Depending on the size of your area, you can either list everyone in the category, or require contest entrants to be nominated by the general public. Results can be determined by a vote or through selection by a panel of “experts”.

Create a button for winners to advertise the results of the contest. Announce the results through your media and social media platforms and provide the winners with the button that links back to your website.

Time and effort spent on link building can provide a strong payoff in search engine results pages. Hopefully these 4 strategies will allow you to develop links over a period of time for a minimal upfront investment of time and labor.

Please let me know how these strategies work for you. Do you have any other link building strategies that you have had success with?

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

4 Link Building Strategies for “Too Busy for Link Building” Local Businesses

As SEO’s and internet marketers, understanding and knowing the value of backlinks is one of the key aspects of our job. However, many articles I read and people that I talk to, really don’t understand it’s not just the links that matter.

It’s a variety of factors that make up your back link profile and how much of that “agrees” with other parts that is important. Here are some of those factors:

  • Where is the link on the page, is it in the template or content part of the page
  • Is the link on the home page, a deep page, a page with a lot of outbound links pointing to it (ie a link hub)
  • Does the page the link is on have a strong social profile, is it tweeted regularly, seen on Facebook, mentioned on Google+, or clicked on in Gmail
  • Does the page rank the link is on rank for competitive or high volume terms, and is it sending click through data or toolbar data to Google
  • Is the page the link is on crawled regularly (check the cache date)
  • Is the page the link is on updated regularly (is there a date in the SERP listing)
  • What about the anchor text, is there a natural distribution of phrases to the website/page or is it tightly focused around a few narrow terms so it looks manipulated
  • Are the incoming links distributed around the site with natural looking “clumps”, or is it focused only on commercial pages
  • What about link growth over time, is it slow and steady with a few spikes, or does it spike like someone bought links when a quarterly advertising budget got approved
  • How many of the links to the site are reciprocal
  • Are there links to the sites from older trusted directories, like Yahoo, BOTW, or
  • Are there links to the website mostly from trusted websites, or low quality splogs and article directories

I’ve been doing SEO for over a decade, and while I don’t know everything, I’ve been around the block long enough to know what a good backlink profile looks like compared to a bad one. When I’m at conference doing a site audit one of the things I look at is a site’s backlink profile using Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO.I can tell right away when something isn’t up to snuff. In this post I’ll show you some of the key things that should jump out at you right away when you look at your backlink profile.

Paid Links and Link Growth

Full disclosure: search engines consider buying links, with cash or cash in-kind exchanges (like buying someone a new iPad) is a violation of their policies. This violation may cause the link to get discounted on the low end of the penalty scale, or have the site completely removed from the index if Google thinks the violations are flagrant. I’m not going to claim that I’ve never paid for links or be naive and tell you that they don’t work. However I am going to say it’s high risk behavior. If you do it, you should be fully aware of what you are doing, and know the penalty if you get caught.

The problem is most people buy links in a stupid manner. They get a monthly/quarterly ad budget approved, run out to a high profile link broker, and buy a bunch of links, cross it off their to do list, and start playing angry birds.

Instead what you really should do is buy links slowly over a longer period time. Link buyers also put way to much focus on commercial keywords and destination URLs, without mixing them up and creating diversity. It’s incredibly easy to see, with tools available to you today.

Here’s what it looks like when you buy links in an obvious way:






…Now how do I know those links were bought, and not a social media success?

By looking at the anchor text concentration and destination URL.






I don’t have access to the data that Google does, but if those links were natural they would have SERP click through data and toolbar data that matches up with the link growth … and I bet they don’t.

Link Churn

As a link buyer you want to buy permanent links. As a link seller you want monthly income. Link buying is a seller’s market. While links do magically appear, change and disappear across the web, the more link buying you do the more things tend to appear/disappear. This link churn sticks out, and doesn’t help your overall link profile. In fact a significant amount of link churn may cause your website to fall off the map as far as Google is concerned.

Anchor Text and URL Focus

Even if you aren’t buying links, and you are building links “naturally” it’s still possible to have “too much of a good thing” as far as anchor text and destination URL focus is concerned. If your links do come from other people, who do give them to you with no action on your part, there will be a wide focus on inbound anchor text.

Link Sabotage and Poison Link Networks

Recently an article was published here on SEJ where the author claimed it was impossible for someone else to sabotage your website with links. I’m going to say that author is misinformed.

The ability to sabotage someone else is dependent on how strong their link profile is. Trusted websites like CNN, Ford, and Engadget have backlink profiles so strong you will never be able to damage them. But say, a mom and pop dog groomer, you probably could. If the guy is buying some links and not being to careful how he is doing it … depending how close he is to the edge, you might be able to push him off the cliff if you tried, knew the right people, and had access to right tools.

Now I’m not advocating this behavior, I think it’s pretty unethical, and I am a big believer in karma. However hypothetically speaking: with a decent budget, some flagrant link buys, in a short time period, with highly concentrated anchor text, focused at one or two pages, and you will be on the path to doing some real damage to their backlink profile.

I’m going to tell you it’s a dark path that is not easy, and could backfire if you don’t know what you are doing. These aren’t the only things you’ll need to do, but giving you any more information would be professionally irresponsible. So you’ll just have to trust me I have absolutely seen it done, it’s highly effective, and it’s not pretty.

Please don’t write to me, tweet me, or drop me a private message asking for more info or how to do it. Even though I may “know a guy” like I said, I don’t advocate it, and I am not going to help you do it. Anyways the guys who do engage in this behavior have an omertà code, you have to earn your own way in, and like mob activity nobody likes a guy with a big mouth blabbing about who is doing what. Google doesn’t like it, and prefers not talking about it. But if you read their guidelines you see they left themselves an out with the word “almost”.

There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organises information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

So what should you take away from this post:

  • Looking at backlinks is a complicated, holistic process
  • You need to look at factors like placement, age, destination, anchor text, growth, link strength, social signals to name a few
  • When building links try not to focus too hard on any one keyword or page, try to look as natural as possible with lots of variation.
  • Avoid link buying as it violates Google’s guidelines
  • If you do violate the guidelines try to be smart about how you do it and be aware of the consequences of those actions
  • Check your backlink profile regularly. If it looks like someone is trying to sabotage you, let Google know ASAP.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Understanding Your Backlink Profile

The Loch Ness monster is a myth. Despite concerted and scientific efforts, the only signs of Nessie are a few grainy photographs…yet the myth continues. In the SEO community, we have a similar mythical monster lurking, and it’s called “inbound links from bad sites can earn your site a Google penalty.”

Let’s put this myth to bed once and for all.

Let’s assume that an evil webmaster – defined as someone who engages in all sorts of black hat behavior specifically designed to manipulate Google search results – comes along and links to our site. Because this person is evil, they will at some point earn a penalty from Google. So the question is, when the penalty comes, will it also affect our site?

The answer: Of course not, because we have no relationship with the linking party. We can’t control who links to us, so we can’t be penalized when someone who links to us does something evil.

This ought to be enough to put the myth to rest. Yet some junior SEO rangers are getting ready to unload in the comments section, saying that they’ve actually seen this happen to a site they manage or control. Baloney. What they’ve seen is a loss of ranking brought on by a loss of link value.

Evil webmasters, you see, are often times brilliant. They find methods of abusing Google’s system, and for a time these methods help their websites achieve powerful rankings. When an evil website links to you, it’s likely that their link will carry some weight and help your site.

Yet that also means that when Google penalizes the evil site, your website loses a valuable inbound link, which can impact rankings. But let’s not mistake that loss of rankings for a penalty.

Penalties can only occur when there is an obvious relationship – Google has to be 100% certain that you and your website were somehow involved with the evil party in order for you to be penalized. This relationship is demonstrated when you link to bad neighborhoods. See Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

“…some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”

The key word here is exchange. If evil doers link to your site, that’s one thing. But if you link back? Your odds of being penalized are much, much higher. Links are votes, so be careful who you link to. If you can’t vouch for the quality of a specific link (say a link provided in a comment signature), then use the rel=nofollow attribute.

If, despite my explanation, you still believe that a link from an evil webmaster could earn your site a penalty, consider this: If it was indeed possible to hurt a website by linking to it, what would stop a competitor from buying a bunch of links and pointing them your way?

This is precisely why inbound links can’t hurt your site, regardless of where they come from. Google and Bing know that if their algorithms penalized sites for poor quality inbound links, it wouldn’t be long before SEOs added sabotage to their list of services.

There are few certainties in SEO, but you can stamp this one in steel: An inbound link from an evil or spammy website cannot hurt you, unless you’re dumb enough to link back.

UPDATE: After careful consideration of disagreeing comments – some of which have come from SEO industry heavyweights – I’d like to adjust my conclusion. It appears that Google may automatically penalize sites that receive bad links without regard for relationship, However, no one can explain how or when this occurs with any sort of confidence, nor can they explain how long a penalty will last.
Furthermore, there are no concrete examples of this occurring being offered, and all of the practitioners of so-called “negative SEO” refuse to elaborate on the how or why of their service in all but the most general terms. Rishi Lakhani, who took the time to talk to me at length about his experience with bad links hurting sites, indicated that this type of situation is not common. I would agree with that assessment, perhaps even going as far as to say “extremely rare.” Yet, “not common” or “extremely rare” is proof that I am indeed wrong. 
Further proof that I am wrong can be found in Google’s form letter to webmasters suspected of link manipulation. In the closing paragraph, Google refers to the possibility that bad links were directed at your site without your knowledge. Therefore, I must humbly admit an error on my part. I shouldn’t have said bad links can’t hurt you – only that bad links can’t hurt you in all but rare occasions.
Personally, I’m not going to lose a minute of sleep over bad links pointing to my site, and I don’t think anyone else should either. I’d also like to say that this article should in no way be viewed as encouragement to go out and buy spammy links. Finally I’d also like to apologize for calling detractors “junior SEO rangers.” That was uncalled for.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Let’s Kill the “Bad Inbound Links Can Get Your Site Penalized” Myth

I have a lot of faith in karma. I believe when you do good things, good things happen to you. I have such a strong faith in this philosophy that I practice it as much as I can in my business. So when it comes time to promote a site I look for ways that I can help others along the way. Here are 5 solid link-building tactics that not only build outstanding links, but they also help your community!

Community Cleanup

  • Cost: Less than $100
  • Link prospect: Potentially dozens from multiple domains
  • Materials needed: Trash bags, volunteers, lots of media attention

This strategy involves a bit more work, but it has the potential to attract many high-quality links.

Essentially, you want to organize a community activity that attracts local media attention. For example, a community cleanup. You could coordinate with other local businesses to clean a section of highway, a park or a neighborhood. Several weeks before the event, announce your plans and partners on your site or blog. Do what you can to get your business partners to link to the announcement. The more local businesses that get involved, the more coverage you’re likely to get. Then, pitch your announcement directly to local reporters.

Point reporters to your announcement page’s full URL in the hopes that they will publicize the address. Then, during or immediately after your event, announce online the time and place for your next cleanup. Make sure reporters and your partners get that full URL, too.

Pro Bono Services to Nonprofits

  • Cost: Less than $100
  • Link prospect: Potentially dozens from a single domain
  • Materials needed: Basic web design skills

If you run a web-design or Internet-marketing agency you can provide basic pro bono services to nonprofits in return for a back link. This tactic is becoming easier and easier as the WordPress community continues to grow.

With WordPress, you can easily start a site for under $100 that nonprofits can manage on their own. You can request a back link be put in the footer or in their About page. Either way, make sure you emphasize your donation. Stay away from words such as “sponsor” or ‘paid for by”. This keeps your link clear of conflicts of interest or any confusion about sponsored or paid links.

Guest Posting on Newbie Web Sites

  • Cost: Free
  • Link prospect: Usually 2 or 3 on the same page
  • Materials needed: Good ideas

Guest posting has become one of the most popular link-building tactics in SEO. However, most people focus on finding the venues that will yield the most visibility. This is the best move for people who want to build strong, authoritative links relatively.

However, there are advantages to posting on newer sites, which typically get very little traffic. For beginner webmeisters, this strategy can help develop a following and promote the author’s site. The trick here is to find a beginner blog that you want to help promote. After your guest post and link are published, you can further help that site and yourself by promoting your post through social media and beyond.

Content That Cares

  • Cost: Free
  • Link prospect: Depends on the content and how you promote it
  • Materials needed: Time for research and content promotion

This strategy is right on track with the “content is king” mantra. Basically, what we want to do here is build content that provides unique and helpful information to a community.

An example might be an infographic containing all local emergency numbers. Give a permalink to your fire and police departments, and encourage them to share it with others in the community. I live on the southeastern Atlantic Coast, so I might create an interactive map using Google Maps so that people can track hurricanes. The idea here is to provide an invaluable resource for the community that attracts links.

Sponsor a Club Or Organization

  • Cost: Depends, but usually over $500
  • Link prospect: Usually one link, but most of the time from either a .edu or longstanding .org
  • Materials needed: The ability to write a check and ask for a link

This tactic originally came from the fine folks at SEER Interactive. SEER advises that you sponsor a club or organization that might be willing to provide a back link. This can be an excellent opportunity to grab some links from a .edu or other nonprofit that has been around for a long time.

While you are thinking about the tactics above, be creative with the methods you use. Have fun. And make sure that your good deeds aren’t done half-hearted. You have to commit to following through and building solid trust along with your links.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

How to Build Links and Good Karma