SEO for Small Business: Backlinks

People looking at their smart phones

Following on from the SEO for Small Business overview, you now know what SEO stands for, and how Search Engine Optimisation can help your website to rank better in search engines. We also briefly discussed Google Analytics, a free tool provided by Google that you can sign up for and set up on your website to track how your website is performing.

Armed with these nuggets of information, it's time to think about another important part of your marketing strategy: Backlinks - One of the most significant factors when it comes to search engines determining just how relevant your website is for the phrases that your target audience are searching for.

Put simply, backlinks are links to your website from other websites.

"Inbound links" is another term you may hear used and these website links have a huge influence on how your web pages rank because while the concept is not difficult, achieving a large number of backlinks and doing it right takes time and effort.

The Concept

You've had your website built, it's now online and you want people to know that it's there. Let's say you make a thousand posters that all have your website address on it and you start putting them everywhere - and I mean everywhere. You put one on the side of your house, one on each house down the street and you take some to the local shopping centre. You leave some down at the pub, your local schools, the mechanics, the hair dressers and the newsagents, and the list goes on. Everyone who sees the poster now knows about your website and has the ability to go and visit it.

Given that everyone in town now knows about your website, it must be popular right? Well, not exactly. Sure everyone has seen it but it doesn't mean they are interested. They may visit your website and realise that it's not anything they need, never to return again. Perhaps your website sells car parts, is that relevant to everyone who has seen your posters?

Years ago the logic search engines used went along the lines of the more incoming links a website has, the more popular it must be. The more popular it is, the more relevant it must be.

People realised just how significant the impact on search engine rankings was and started to sell links. They would create thousands of websites, then charge people to place links on their websites. Going back to our example, they essentially charged people to create posters and go and put them on every building not just in town, but then surrounding towns, and their surrounding towns.

It was very clear that popularity online was not equal to relevance and over time the search engine rules have been updated to make it more fair for website owners, and more relevant for the people entering the search terms.

Popularity vs Relevance

Today it's all about relevance. The more relevant your website is, the more backlinks you will get and the more interested people will be. They will stay longer on your website and they will share the your website with other people. Search engines track what is called the "Bounce Rate", which is the percentage of people who leave your website without having interacted at all. If you open the door to a shop, look inside from the doorway and then leave, the shop clearly wasn't relevant to what you were looking for. Websites are treated the same.

The more relevant a website becomes, the higher quality it is considered to be - this is called the Domain Authority. Links to your website from high quality websites takes time and effort but are trusted more than links from low quality websites.

If there is one thing to remember from this article, it is this: Search engines reward websites with high quality backlinks and penalise websites with low quality backlinks.

This is why it is really important to put in the time and effort to build backlinks as part of your seo strategy and not just see paying for them as a shortcut to a successful website.

Going back to our example of a website selling car parts, we could say that the places with the highest relevance would be any mechanics or other vehicle related businesses because their customers are in your target market.

Places like shopping centres would have a significant level of authority because a lot of people find them relevant, but less authority than vehicle related businesses because only some of their customers are in your target market.

Are you seeing the link here between relevance and your website being successful? Find websites that lots of people in your target market visit, and try them to add a link to your website.

3 Ways to Build Links

  1. Ask. It's that simple. Once you have found a website that your target market visit, use their contact page to find out how to get in touch, then ask if they would be able to add a link to your website. You cant make someone add a link - which is where the time and effort come in - they have to agree that your website is relevant, and that linking to your website will not negatively impact their own website. They may be happy to do so immediately, there may be a small cost involved or they might even ask you to put a link back to their website on yours. Either way, asking can get you backlinks.
  2. Web Directories. There are a number of legitimate website directories such as Hot Frog, Local Search, Search Frog, Pure Local, and Yelp to name a few. These directories are relevant for people looking for local businesses and you can add your business details to most of them for no or low cost. No asking involved, it just takes your time to enter your business details into each and they may have a process to verify that you are a real business.
  3. Blog Posts. Writing content is hard, it's one of those things that everyone thinks they can do but then when you sit down to write, you realise that it takes a long time to get it right. Take this article for example, 5 minutes of your time to read it has taken almost an hour and a half to write. But... if you can write relevant articles - or even get someone to write guest posts, your readers will share them across social media and generating backlinks becomes exponential as friends of friends visit and share the link.

Where to from here?

One point I will be making in all these articles is that there is no substitute for a dedicated SEO company to handle your digital marketing strategy - because there really isn't. This will free you up to spend time on the things that you are passionate about, but an SEO service will of course cost as well.

As such, these articles are intended to provide you with information and tools to do the things you can to improve the health of your website and start ranking better. With that in mind, the first step really would be to visit the web directories mentioned above and start adding your business to them.

When you have got the web directories sorted, find some websites that you would consider to be industry leaders and get in touch with them. Ask them the question, the worst that can happen is that they say no.

Finally, write some articles or have some written. Post them on your website and then get sharing across social media. Share them to your friends of course but make sure you also share in groups that people in your target market use on a regular basis. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat - they are all free and enable you to reach your target market easily.

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Good luck with your link building campaign and if you have any questions along the way feel free to get in touch!