One of the most important local SEO factors for local business in 2017 is backlinks! This article will explain what backlinks are and help you formulate a link building strategy for 2017.
What are backlinks?
The easiest way to define what a backlink is would be to say:
A backlink is any link on another website that sends users to your website when clicked.
For example, this is a backlink to The North York News (a local newspaper here in North York, Ontario).
Backlinks do not have to be just text but they can also be images.
The image above is a link to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce website.
You probably already have backlinks to your website from websites like:
- Your company's accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
- Reviews of your company on Yelp or FourSquare.
- Your Google My Business listing.
- Newspaper articles about your company.
- Your business address in Google Maps, Apple Maps, Mapquest or even Bing.
- Your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau
- Directories listing businesses in your region, city or town
Why are backlinks important for a local company?
As mentioned above, backlinks are one of the 7 most important factors that Google (and other search engines) use to determine where to list your company when a user does a search. Having a process to the link building strategy is critical to your success.
In broad terms, the more backlinks you have the better, but not all backlinks are created equally.
Links from related websites are given more value. This may not appear logical at first but think about this example.
You are searching for a garage to fix that annoying noise you hear when you hit the brakes. Google has lots of choices to show you but they are looking to provide you with the best and most relevant results.
Would you prefer to see results that list your local automotive dealer who has received awards from the company for its service and been featured on Breakfast Television giving helpful automotive advice or Bob who does repairs in his backyard?
Google knows that the automotive dealership has links from the company head office, Breakfast Television and a couple of other sites in the area. Bob has one link from his brother on Facebook.
Google will then deliver to you what it feels is the most relevant website, which would be the local dealership.
What is link building?
In a nutshell, a link building strategy is a process of getting links from other sites to your site.
There are several methods of doing this which we will discuss in more detail.
Can I just buy backlinks?
The answer to this is yes you can and this used to work years ago.
Back in the day, Google just counted the number of links to a site and deemed that to be the best site for that particular search. It was a race to see which site could get the most backlinks. No attention was paid to the actual quality of the site being linked from, the quality of the site being linked to, or the amount of relevant content on each site for that search term.
This no longer the case. Google is very, very smart and they can tell when a site is using spammy techniques to gain links. One of the clues to this is what type of site is providing the link.
For example, if a pest control company was linking out to a dentist's website that would be suspicious. Also, if you have a brand new site and in a week you go from 0 links to 2,000 this would trigger alarm bells for Google.
Google will penalize any site that they deem is using spammy techniques to gain links. This penalty could be just a drop in rankings, basically making your site disappear from the results when users search, to an outright removal from Google.
Best Practices for Link Building in 2017
OK, so since you can't go out and buy a whole bunch of backlinks what is the best way to get backlinks?
The first thing you need to be aware of is that a link building strategy is building for the future. Link building takes time and effort but it is well worth it.
Relevant and Interesting Content
The best way is to create relevant and interesting content that answers your users questions. This allows you to build backlinks naturally and without a huge effort on your part.
Content that is interesting and informative is the best way to have your users share that content. Users are more likely to share content that answers questions that they may have since it will also answer questions that others have. This helps them by providing a source of knowledge and helps you in the form of backlinks and hopefully, more users coming to your site in search of those answers.
Social media shares are important but they do not have the weight to the search engines as links from a traditional website.
Review sites (Yelp, Google reviews, Angie's list etc) play a very important role in your quest to gain backlinks for your site. The benefit is double. You gain a backlink and the more reviews your company has the more people will visit your business.
People read reviews and if you are in a service type industry (hotels, dry cleaners, dentists, physiotherapy, carpenters etc) reviews have a huge impact on how the user will perceive your business. The more positive reviews you have the more people will be willing to try out your services.
Local businesses need to actively promote the leaving of reviews. There are plenty of ways to encourage clients to leave a review from having a sign posted at the checkout to mailing a postcard to a new client after their first visit. You could even offer a “prize” to a random reviewer once a month. The cost of the prize will be minimal in comparison to the benefit of positive reviews.
You need to respond to reviews as quickly as possible. If it is a positive review then thank the reviewer. If it is a negative review, thank the user for their input and then solve the issue and post how the issue was resolved in your reply. Never leave a negative review unanswered. It gives the appearance of a company that doesn't care about its customers.
With Google's Possum update, in Septemeber 2016, there came an added emphasis on links and local links specifically. Including links from other local businesses or organizations are now more important than ever in a link building strategy.
If you haven't already reached out to local organizations and asked for a link on their website, do so today. Local directories are an excellent source for this. They not only provide a backlink but they are locally relevant. A major plus in Google's eyes.
Talk to your suppliers. Some of them maintain a website that lists who sells their products in the local area. Ask for a listing or if you already have a listing ask them to link to your site.
Sponsor a local team. Today most if not all local sports organizations have websites to keep people informed of activities in their sport. Sponsor a local youth or adult team and get a link on their team page. A win for the community and a win for you in the terms of a backlink.
Talk with your customers. If you are in a service industry business, talk with your corporate customers. Ask them for a link on their website to yours. For example, maybe you are a carpet cleaning company and you steam clean the carpets for a local hotel. Ask them to link to you with a simple link saying “carpets professionally cleaned by XXX”. Offer a link on your website in your customer page. A win-win situation for both of you.
How DO I remove bad backlinks?
So we have discussed how to get good relevant links to your website but what happens if you have undesirable links pointing at your site? You know the kind. You did your boss a favour and hired his son as an intern for the summer and he had read that ‘the more links the better' and went out and built a lot of links on sites that are, in the light of day, questionable to say the least.
Not a problem. Google has tools that can help you in this situation and provided a way to audit your link profile.
There is a lot of discussion about the need to use Google's Disavow Links tool but it is there if you need it.
Neil Patel has an excellent in-depth article on how and when to use this tool.
Overwhelmed? We can help.
Feeling overwhelmed? No need to worry. The SEO experts at Panther Associates can help you build relevant links to your local business. We can also help you create relevant shareable content. Call us or use our contact form to see how we can assist with your digital marketing needs.