I’ve been reading lots of articles lately about the forever altered post-Panda and post-Penguin SEO landscape… a land where content is once again king… a land where trust and identity are key… a land where you might not want the kinds of links you used to want. Many of these articles state, quite rightly, that in a post-Panda and post-Penguin world where Google is increasingly scrutinizing potentially spammy link profiles, pursuing lots of links from smaller sites is no longer an SEO best practice. These days it makes sense to consider the referral value of links as much as, or maybe even more than, the SEO value of links. The idea is that if you pursue links based on anticipated referral value, you’ll pretty much never have to worry about building up a spammy link profile.
All of this is perfectly logical and I do not dispute any of it. What I would like to clarify in this article, though, is how this new link building advice might be perceived in a detrimental way by small businesses.
A Matter of Scale
How is this possible? It’s a matter of scale. These new link building articles are written for the most part by SEOs (and for SEOs) working with mid sized or large companies. These companies have established brands, established websites, established relationships, and the marketing resources to pursue links with high referral value (from newspapers and top blogs for example). Small businesses often have none of these things, and cannot possibly hope to pursue the same sorts of links (at least initially) that mid sized or large companies can.
This kind of “big business” SEO advice can leave small businesses afraid and confused. Consider the different stories of Betty Bigshot, the Fortune 500 SEO and Larry Little, the small business owner. For Betty Bigshot, a campaign to get links on a bunch of smaller sites is riskier than it used to be with much less potential reward. The advice to pursue links from higher profile sites (which also will send significant amounts of referral traffic) makes perfect sense. Betty leverages her relationships with major bloggers and also collaborates with her client’s PR firm to get press coverage for her client. This is all very expensive work, but the rewards are well worth it because Betty’s client will generate millions of dollars in revenue based on the current campaign.
Larry Little the small business owner, though, might read about the “new” best practices for link building and think to himself, “How am I supposed to get links from newspaper sites or any of these huge blogs? I just started my company, my website is brand new and my brand is in its infancy.” In this case the advice to not pursue links from smaller sites is dead wrong.
There are plenty of legitimate small sites out there… sites that Betty’s client might consider unworthy to be targeted in a link building campaign. For Larry, though, some of these same sites are exactly the ones that are perfect for him to work with as he begins to build links. Larry is not engaging in risky or blackhat SEO behavior by pursuing links from small (but legitimate) sites, he’s just working with other sites that are at or near the same level as his own, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
Takeaways for Small Businesses
Despite all the recent SEO hand-wringing about link building, small business link building is not much different than it used to be, aside from an increased focus on avoiding links from spammy sites. You won’t be getting links from the Washington Post anytime soon. You’re going to have to grind it out at first, so seek out legitimate sites, regardless of how small, and look for opportunities to earn a link (or two, or three).
Here’s a quick refresher on five tried and true link building techniques for small businesses:
- Guest posting is still one of the best bets if you’re just getting started. You’ve got expertise (we hope) and there are lots of legitimate sites out there looking for content from experts just like you. Put a short “about the author” section at the end of your guest articles with a link to your site. As long as you avoid content farms you’ll be building quality links. Make sure when you’re writing these posts that you put up excellent content that your readers will love.
- Writing reviews of products and services that you and/or your clients use to solve problems is another great way to get links. You’re creating valuable content for your site’s visitors (assuming the review is relevant to the problems your clients want to solve) and link-worthy content as well. Let the company whose product or service you’re going to review know that you’ll be writing a review beforehand and there’s a good chance they’ll promote it via social media.
- Build up your credibility online as an expert. This will help you and your business to become the leaders in the space. Much like SEJ has become a leader in the search marketing space over time…you must do the same thing and establish your credibility online.
- Interview an industry expert relevant to your business and publish the interview on your site. Once again you’ll be providing quality content to your site’s visitors, and as an added bonus the interviewee will very likely link to the interview.
- Don’t ever buy links, trade links, or do anything that would resemble this. Do honest work and you’ll be rewarded.
If you’re a small business owner or small business SEO, don’t ever forget that quality matters more than anything. If you’re putting up crap, you will get crap. Put up amazing posts and build quality backlinks to your site and Google will reward you for your efforts. It’s all about user experience, if you’re putting up amazing; it will create a great user experience.
Here’s to link building in a post Panda, post Penguin World!