In the old days of SEO, the rule was clear: links were all good, the more you could get, the better. I can still remember conversations with lawyer friends who swore by their link building ninjas in India who were helping them get incredible rankings. “You can’t tell anyone about these guys, they’re amazing.”
More Links ≠ Better Rankings
Times have changed. Google is cracking down on links. More links ≠ better rankings. In fact, bad links can now lead to penalties. So, is link building as we know it over? How can site owners differentiate between “good” and “bad” links?
How Can Small Businesses Acquire Links Consistent With Search Engine Guidelines?
Traditional, spam based, link building is over. However, I believe it is still possible to acquire links in a way that supports, rather than harms, your business.
I can almost hear the SEO Moz crowd screaming: “You have to earn them! Earn your links!!”
I agree with the sentiment, but don’t necessarily see how a dentist or lawyer, with a limited marketing budget, is going to “earn” links to their home page. To me, the concept of earning links applies more to the start up community than it does to small business. Small businesses may not want to hire a “link builder” per se, but they still want to acquire links that will increase domain authority.
Below are my recommendations on the types of links you might want to consider acquiring in a post-Penguin world.
1. Links that really say something about you. In my opinion, good SEO is about creating a digital footprint that mirrors your everyday life. Are you active in your community? Do you support local charities? Are you a member of a prestigious trade organization? Links that provide digital evidence of this type of niche activity will always have value.
2. Links that drive traffic. This is the dream scenario right? You create something of value online that a big site links to. You get actual traffic and exposure from the link, as opposed to artificial page rank. Matt Cutts has gone as far as to say that this is the only reason to guest blog; to gain access to a larger audience who may enjoy what you have to say. If you’re getting even modest referral traffic from a link, it’s likely OK.
3. Links you don’t control. This category could fit within either of my first two, but it’s worth mentioning on its own due to the recent attention anchor text has received in the SEO community. Uniform, keyword targeted anchor text looks spammy, like you’re trying to game the system. By contrast, diversified and branded anchor text looks organic and natural, which is what Google claims to be looking for. If you don’t control how a link is built, the more likely it will be built with organic or branded anchor text and the better the chances it adds to the value of your link profile.
4. Links from companies that spend huge sums of money with Google. I’m not talking about the personal injury firm with a big Adwords budget. I’m talking about links from the web properties of institutional players, like Thomson Reuters. Companies like these spend so much money with Google, that the odds are low they’ll ever be smacked down.
5. Social links. Social could have gone first. Any SEO will tell you: the role of social in search is only going to increase. The search engines view social engagement as an organic metric closely tied with a positive user experience. If your content is shared, it is usually because it was valuable in some way. Social shares can have a positive influence on rankings and traffic. I would caution, however, that social alliances in which a number of businesses decide to constantly and indiscriminately share each others content is not likely to add much in the way of value.
6. Local Links. The primary goal of Google’s local search algorithm is to identify and display high quality businesses that locals care about. Of course, reviews demonstrate engagement, but so do mentions and links from popular local blogs and friendly businesses. Don’t underestimate the value of a local link in a competitive market.
Rather than as a way to game the system, start thinking of links as your businesses’ unique digital footprint. Stick to quality. With some hard work and a little patience, you’ll create a web presence you can be proud of that will keep you relevant for years to come.