This post originally appeared on Small Businesses Do It Better
Have you got a website that isn’t ranking well in Google? Are you about to get a new website built but have spent all your budget on design and development? Are you afraid of hiring an SEO company because you’ve heard about unscrupulous black-hat activities that will get your site penalized?
These days, building a website without incorporating any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is pretty much pointless. Unless your business is so unique that it doesn’t have any competitors to worry about, you need to think about SEO.
Existing small business website owners can easily check their current website rank by typing the relevant search terms that a potential customer would use into Google. E.g: if you are a massage therapist in Woodstock, VT, you might try “massage therapy woodstock”. Do that and see where you rank in comparison to your competitors.
Two Main Types of SEO
There are two main types of SEO; Off Page and On Page. Today we’re going to focus on one (there are many) Off Page activity that is considered essential towards improving your website ranking. It’s called Manual Outreach Backlinking, you can do it yourself, and it doesn’t cost a dime. What it does cost, however, is your time.
What is Backlinking and Why Do I Need It?
A backlink (also known as an Inbound Link (IBL)) is simply a link to your website from somebody else’s website. You need it because search engines (like Google) consider the number of relevant and quality backlinks when ranking your site. Think of it like a vote…the more votes your site has, the higher you may rank.
Let me make this clear right now. Backlinking is only a small part of SEO. Just having more links than your competitor does not necessarily mean that you will rank higher than them in the search engines, but it does help. Your overarching goal in any SEO activity is to reach your target audience. Link building is one component of that.
Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal
There are ruthless companies out there who will take your money and promise you hundreds or thousands of backlinks in return. More often than not, this is a very bad idea. Search engines measure and like valuable links. The companies that offer link building programs are rarely taking the time to manually seek out valuable links. Typically, a software program shoves your link wherever it can to varying degrees of sophistication. During the early days when I didn’t know much about SEO, I deployed this very same strategy on my own site and secured lots of links, but have since been cringing because my website could easily be penalized by Google for doing so. Trust me – it’s not worth it, and Google et al will give you many more kudos for real, honest, links.
Ok. So what you want is inbound links from sites related to your niche/industry that are a good fit for your business. If the link is successful, you will be attracting customers who will want to read and share your content and, hopefully, your link. Don’t try to get your website linked to a site that does not appeal to your target audience.
Link Building Research
So, your first job is to conduct research and make a list of potential websites that you would like to be linked to based on the keywords that make sense for you to target. I’ll explain more about keyword research in another post but there’s plenty of info on the web about it if you don’t want to wait.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started on your search:
- Industry blogs
- Industry associations
- Online guest book signings
- Forum signatures
- Online industry directories
- Online local directories
- Companies that you partner with in any way
- Sites where you have published an article (in this case, you must insist that they link to your site!)
You can search for potential linking opportunities by typing your keywords “<massage therapy> submit a guest post” or “<massage therapy>local directories”, into Google (in this case, using the example of a massage therapist).
Try to avoid sites that have a “no follow” link policy because that won’t give you much juice. Having said that, if it’s a trusted site with authority, ignore what I just said about the “no follow” policy if it means gaining exposure to your key audience.
Link Building Research Tools
I’m going to tell you a little secret that will cut your research time in half. There are free tools on the web that will show you exactly what backlinks your competitor has! I personally like ahrefs which will give you enough of what you need for free. There’s also opensitexplorer which gives more information about domain authority and page authority of the linking sites – use this info to help prioritize the list of websites to approach.
Check out these tools and busy yourself with creating a prioritized list of websites to approach.
How Many Links Do I Need?
There’s no hard and fast rule to this. It would seem obvious to obtain more links than your competitor but remember that one link on a really authoritative website in your niche could take you far beyond 10 links from a variety of sites that don’t have much of a reputation.
How Much Time Do I Need To Put Into Building Backlinks?
Link building is an on-going activity and initially, it is very time consuming. Google doesn’t trust anything unnatural (who does?!), so gaining tons of links overnight is a bad strategy. After you’ve performed your research and written optimized content for guest posts, carve out a certain period of time each week to build links at a steady pace.
Worth noting: the more niche your business or offering is, and the more local your target market, the easier it’s going to be to rank well. I encourage new businesses to find a niche, and existing businesses to carve out a niche from their existing products and services. I’ll write more about this in another post.
You Have Your List of Websites to Approach…Now What?
Some of the websites on your list, mostly the directories, will allow you to add a link to your business without any hassle or further a-do. For many other sites (and the ones that will give you the most juice), you’ll need to create valuable content that will engage the audience and encourage the owner of the blog/website/etc. to include your post. In many cases, efforts to become part of a community and build relationships will be necessary and this is not a bad idea for your business anyway. When submitting a link to your site, please follow the anchor text instructions found here.
I highly recommend that you read this article about advanced guest blogging on the Moz site before you begin. Moz is an excellent resource for beginners and pros on all things SEO.
When Will I See Results?
Don’t expect results overnight. The benefits of SEO takes time and for new websites it can take more than nine months to see results. Soldier on, continue writing valuable content, and hone your SEO skills. You can do it!