Link building for small businesses – Evergreen’s 2019 Guide
SEO and link building has changed significantly over the past two decades.
Quick fixes that once worked are not only likely to fail now, but may land you in trouble with Google as well. ‘Black hat SEO tactics’ have been publicly outed by Google and it’s certainly cleaned up the SEO industry.
One of the areas that’s remained important is links. Google uses over 200 factors to determine the results you see on Google and links are up there in the top three.
It makes a lot of sense to use links to determine the best results. Linking to another site is a ‘doth of the cap’, a recommendation, and a referral from one website to another.
It’s the perfect signal for Google to use to work out which sites are the authority in the areas of your search and which ones are likely to have the answer you’re looking for.
Links remain one of the biggest areas for success in SEO but also one of the most misunderstood areas. Link ‘building’ can really help your website and its content get found on Google but you need to apply some common sense and then a lot of strategy to get this right and to see good results from your efforts.
Our hope with this guide is to show you:
- What link building is
- Why it’s important, and
- How you can do it yourself. DIY link building if you like.
Here are the areas we’ll cover so you can jump right to them if you wish:
- What is link building and how does it work?
- Why is link building important?
- Any old link will do?
- Get as many backlinks as you can?
- Do I need permission to link to another website?
- Can I post links to articles on my website?
- How can you gain these all-important links yourself?
- How do I get links to my website?
- Broken link building
- Resource and link pages
- Building content to bait links
- Guest blogging
- Content amplifications ideal for gaining links
- Link building… the 2019 way!
Link building should be a part of your website’s strategy. Gaining links from other websites (more on which ones later) remains one of the best and most trusted ways to gain authority and get ranked on Google.
We prefer to call it link earning!
We aim to create content that earns a link to a site and adds value to the website and the web. Earning links can happen purely organically, but you can do a lot to help that growth to happen faster.
Link earning, as we call it, is the direct opposite of link begging. Link begging should be avoided at all costs
What is link begging?
Have you ever had one of those emails from an SEO company or website owner simply asking to be linked from your website? Sometimes they send you a link to their site or offer you an infographic. That’s link begging. It’s just a bit… “eew” and makes you look really desperate!
That type of practice is old hat but still very popular. The two simple reasons not to do it are:
- You look desperate and that harms your brand.
- It doesn’t work.
How many times have you linked to someone because they asked you to, if they haven’t offered any real value to you?
We’re the same. We do link to content though. It just has to be great content which adds value to our site and helps our readers.
Link building – the right type of link building – helps your website rank on Google
Your website needs links from other sites to help it rank. Great content and good brand awareness will only get you so far. We’ve come across some seriously huge companies who are a big authority in their field that have websites with zero traffic and virtually no ranking on Google. The simple reason for this is that they weren’t creating great content and no one was linking to them.
Link building is the process of marketing your website and its content to gain links from other websites online. The growth of ‘backlinks’ to your website helps Google to see you as a trusted authority and helps you to rank higher.
Links (good quality, niche, and relevant links) are one of Google’s top three ranking factors in deciding where your website is going to rank in the search results.
When you search Google, the algorithms at Google look at signals to help it give you the best results. Links are still seen by Google as a really solid signal that a site is worthy of ranking higher and thus served up to people looking for the content.
The type of links and how it views them has changed over the years (we’ll cover that next) but it remains an area that any SEO worth their weight should be focused on. It’s important because Google uses links as one of the top signals.
Simply put: Link building is the oxygen of your SEO.
In the early days, it didn’t really matter what the links were. You could get links from all manner of websites and just work on getting as many as you could. It was common practice to use private blogger networks or content created for robots, not humans, and set about creating and adding profiles all over the web just to create a link back to the owner’s website.
This has all changed now though. Google is now more interested in the quality of the ‘link profile’ rather than the size of it. The quality of the links and the relevancy of them are more important than anything and since Google’s Penguin update you need to be very careful doing anything other than natural and relevant linking.
Your links must be:
Your links should not be:
- Built from fake profiles.
- Created to trick the search engines.
Using common sense in SEO gets you a long way when you’re doing it yourself. If you’re in the business of gaining links from sites purely to gain links and you don’t care about the quality of them, or if they’ll ever send you any traffic, then you need to re-think your strategy.
Link building is not just about the number of links now, either.
The quality of the links is important, and you could argue more important than the volume of them.
The quality matters, thanks to Google’s Penguin update. Penguin was created to clean up the way Google uses signals like links to determine where a site ranked. In the four year roll out (and since) sites saw huge changes in the way they were ranked, and some big names even got penalties and were removed from the listings altogether. Look what Google did to Interflora for some risky link building back in 2013.
The number of quality links you have is now the number you need to focus on because that’s what Google is focused on. Don’t grow your link profile with any old site; go for the relevant links instead.
Linking out to other sites is still a great strategy too and although we’re focusing here on gaining links in to your site there’s still a big argument for linking out to great content that adds to your content and gives the reader more to go on, and help show Google you’ve researched what you’re writing about.
Linking out is important, but should you ask permission before you do it?
You don’t have to, but it makes sense to reach out and tell the website owner that you are going to and ask where the best place to link to is. Linking to great content (and content that is seeing good traffic) makes more sense for your links out and for the website owner too.
You’re also going to build a relationship with them and if a mutual link between both sites is relevant and adds value then this could be the beginning of that conversation.
When you’re creating content on your blog or newsfeed, you may well find times that linking to other content on your site adds value to your reader. Internal linking is a great strategy for your link profile, and it will help Googlebot crawl your site and organise your pages and content better.
Anything you can do to help Googlebot move around your site is a good thing. You can link to your main pages from your articles or from your articles to your main pages. Most of the time you’ll link to your pillar content on your site like your service or product pages from your article.
We’ll often link to our SEO Oxford page to give our readers more to read or simply as a call to action to take the next step if they’re ready to chat with us. You should definitely do this if you have a piece of content that ranks well and gains you a lot of traffic as this in turn can drive some more traffic to your main products and services.
Just make sure your links make sense. Don’t be tempted to link to your core pages for the sake of it. And don’t get all spammy with anchor text because you’ve heard that’s a good tactic. Keep it natural wherever you can. If you’re adding value to the content, then go for it.
So, here’s the big part of this guide – gaining the links.
Creating a linking strategy so will be a great move for your site and will be hands down the best thing you do for your online marketing.
A good flow of natural and relevant links to your site that are added constantly and consistently shows Google that your site is trusted and active and that’s what it needs to know.
So next we’re going to lay down some ideas to grow and gain natural and relevant links to your site and show you how we go about it for our clients.
First and foremost, you need great content on your site. We’ve shared tips on doing good keyword research and ideas for superb blog content on our blog already and for good reason – great content gains traffic and authority!
To gain links, you first need great content so get your strategy in place to do this. We’ve recently shared a wealth of content for doing SEO yourself on our site – it’s totally free! Take a look at this incredible SEO resource here – Learn SEO for free.
Get your head around what great content is, and what it looks like, and then build that content to help your site, your marketing, and your link building.
Ask for them and earn them. Your link building strategy needs to focus on the following:
- Building great content to gain links from.
- Reaching out to websites to ask for links to it.
- Aiming to add value to other sites, not just gaining links from them.
Below we’re going to go through some tired and tested white hat SEO techniques that work now and will most likely continue to do so. We only perform SEO that’s centred around great content and adding value as this is something Google as always wanted to index and serve up in the SERPS.
Create content that earns links from your industry influencers.
It’s unlikely that your customers will link to you. Think about it. People who buy from you are highly unlikely to link to you so creating content just for them isn’t going to gain you links.
It’s also then fair to say that even if your customers did link to you, the links would be from all different areas and niches or the internet, and that wouldn’t help you either.
Instead, aim to create content that your peers or industry bloggers will appreciate, as this will drive relevant and niche links which is exactly what Google likes to see.
Joe owns a garden centre and wants to grow his link profile. If Joe blogs about potting your plants, how to protect your shrubs from frost, or other areas that affect his customers then he’s going to have a great blog for them. But they won’t link to him. Mrs Smith from Denver Close doesn’t have a website and even if she did it’s unlikely to be high authority or any use to Joe.
Instead Joe needs to blog about industry-specific topics that people in his supply chain will link to. Joe could write a piece of content around compost that listed all the different types and go really deep on the science and specifics of them. He could then reach out to his suppliers and people who use compost in their business and gain links from them instead.
He needs to add a tonne of value and then work on that outreach, but the links would be relevant and from high authority sites; exactly what Google is looking for.
Types of content that work well for link building of this nature are:
- Evergreen content (that doesn’t date)
- Unique and topical research content
- Niche problem-solving content
Let’s look at these in more detail…
Evergreen content is content that will rank and be useful for a long time. Think about topics in your industry or niche that will always be relevant and always be useful to link to. It’s unlikely that people are going to want to link to content that will quickly go out of date. The above example of the compost types and the science behind them could well turn out to be a piece of evergreen content that more and more sites will link to over the years.
Evergreen content will also by its very nature attract more traffic to you over time, too. Creating content that answers the big question in your business or niche is a great tactic for your SEO and it works well for your link building too.
Unique and topical research content.
Research content is key for link building and gaining links. These pieces will take time, but the effort involved is worth it. Researching areas of your niche and then gathering up tonnes of value and aiming to create the guide for that search term or topic then gives you a really great piece to go to market with, and ask for links to.
When you’re researching topical content and creating an article, you’ll be pleasing Google as you’ll add a tonne of content for them to share to people looking for it. You’re way more likely to get links to your content too as the content is so useful.
At the moment in the accounting world a big change is coming with Making Tax Digital (MTD). If affects VAT registered businesses and it has a few factors that so many business owners will need to know.
The best type of content here wouldn’t be a simple guide to getting your business ready though. You’re better off creating content to help the accountants help their clients instead, as they’ll link to your content.
It’s all about reverse engineering it.
Niche problem-solving content.
Every industry has a core of problems that need solving and therefore they all have great areas for content. In your industry there are no doubt a handful of big topics that everyone talks about. These are perfect to blog about or create articles from…
… but everyone will be doing a similar thing, so the competition will be high.
What you could do is look at very niche problems that few people have gone into depth with, and create content to fix that instead.
If you’re in marketing, for example, you might want to list the best social media tools and give a huge guide on the best ones. But everyone’s done that – so niche it!
Instead, find a really niche problem like scheduling content to Instagram. Find every single tool that can do that task and then review it and turn the piece into a great (and niche) problem solving article.
This content will be primed then for links from blogs that talk about Instagram, scheduling, social media scheduling and more. You could even gain links from articles that have covered the topic but not in much depth and ask the content creator to link out to you for ‘more information’ on the topic.
This is natural and adds value to both sides which is a real ‘win, win’ with link building.
Adding value to the experience of a web page is the aim here. If you’ve read this far then you’ll be getting that vibe! With that in mind, broken link building is a really cool trick that you’ll be able to make the most of.
Many sites out there online have links that are broken – 404’s – and these are not only bad for the reader, but for the website owner too.
(You should certainly be keeping an eye on your 404’s in Google Console if you’re not already.)
We know that most business owners don’t do this. We also know that many of those broken links could be linked to new content that adds to the web page instead. If you have a piece of content that deserves a link then you could do this. It’s about looking for websites that are already linking to similar content, but the link is now ‘dead’. It’s a great strategy to build into your SEO.
The process is quite simple, if a little time-consuming:
- Find websites that you would like a relevant link from.
- Use the ‘Broken links Checker’ extension tool.
- And then find links that no longer work and match content from your site to offer as a replacement.
This tool is free but takes a little bit of time, so it makes sense to hit the gold mine content instead. Head for pieces of content that are likely to have a tonne of links out from the content – Resource content!
We’ll cover these in more detail below, but by the very nature of these posts you’re going to find more links.
An article listing the best days out in your local area, for example, is going to have a lot links out. If you’re a small business in that area that has something to do at the weekend for all the family and you find a broken link on that page for that, then there’s your chance for a simple link back to your content.
The main reason this strategy is so good is that you won’t need to convince the website owner to link to you that much as they’re already linking out to a piece of content. You’ve also helped them notice that the link is broken and offered a really simple solution right away.
This strategy takes time, but the rewards are usually really quick, and you’ll get a higher percentage of “Yes” replies with this approach as the website is already linking out.
Make sure in your outreach (like you should in all your outreach) that you explain the benefit of doing this and the benefits of your content to their site. We’re not link begging, remember?! Stay cool. 😉
We mentioned these types of pages above, but we wanted to go into a little more detail and explain why these are so powerful. Online, there are millions of pages of content that simply link out to lots of relevant content in a ‘round-up’ style that helps the website’s visitors find useful content.
A council’s website will do this, a local tourism office will do this, and there are no doubt listings in your industry that do this too. Gaining a link from these types of pages is usually really simple if your content is good value and quality. The web page is going to have a far easier job linking to you when you’re adding good value.
There are a few rules you should stick to here though. These are:
- The pages must be niche and focused
- Don’t add yourself to just any old page
- Check the links and other businesses on there
You’ll only need a handful of these to really gain some ground but make sure they’re relevant and that people are actually using them. This isn’t a numbers game.
The pages must be niche and focused
Just like with any link, where possible you want relevant links that are supporting to your content and industry. If you’re in the gardening game, then a link from a compost supplier showing their readers where to buy their compost from is useful.
Don’t add yourself to just any old page
Make sure that the page you’re asking for a link from is one that’s likely to be used and visited. Some simple checks like the number of social shares, links to and from it, or how active the rest of the site is, can give you a good idea.
Check the links and other businesses on there
And then perform a little audit of the pages by clicking through to the other sites linked from it.
- Do the links work?
- Are the websites good quality?
- Who are you about to be listed with?
- What do the other businesses do?
Years ago, this didn’t matter, any old link would do. But since the Penguin update it now matters a lot.
The good news is you don’t need many of these types of links to gain some good ground as they’re generally well ranked and visited a lot.
It’s not just about the link here. It’s the referring traffic from it. The traffic that page could send you from the link is the key here and the type of traffic it could send, too.
Choose well ranked pages by building yourself a set of Google search results that you monitor and search for them regularly.
Watch our video demonstration on building a spreadsheet of Google search results to monitor and use in your link building strategy:
Usually looking for terms like ‘useful resources’ or ‘favourite links’ is a great place to start.
Baiting links sounds very underhand and sneaky, but it is white hat SEO and it is a really good strategy to add to your growing list (sorry!) of SEO tasks to do each month.
Building content to bait links is the method of creating content that you know will be perfect for people (in your relevant niche) to link to.
These types of content are usually:
Let’s go into each one in a little more detail…
Guides are the perfect pieces of content for link building as they offer some real in-depth content that you’ll gain good and relevant links from. This post is one of our SEO Guides. Creating guides on really niche topics gives you the perfect opportunity to email content creators and website owners who have created content around the topic that you’ve covered but haven’t gone into it in much depth.
Last year there was a huge change in the UK around data and how it was managed. GDPR created a lot of conversation and of course content talking about it. Websites had articles and blogs on the topic of GDPR and the majority would have covered certain aspects of it.
The law had many implications and it depended on your business.
The best way to get link here would have been:
- List the six avenues of GDPR that you could go down.
- Make it really niche for a certain demographic or industry.
- Go deep on the content with tips, advice, and links to more resources
- And then find content that had only scratched the service of the topic or sites that mentioned areas of GDPR and email marketing and then ask for links from those with your specific ‘email marketing with GDPR’ content.
This is adding value to relevant and niche pages on the web. It’s a really good strategy to use.
Resources are much like guides in that they’re large pieces of content that cover a lot of ground and add large amount of value to the internet. Resources are trusted by Google and internet surfers alike and it’s no surprise that Wikipedia, newspapers, and online platforms that have a lot of in-depth information rank well. They’re also huge!
A really good strategy is finding the resources in your industry and then create or offer content that would be ideal to link out to. With our compost example from earlier on, this would be ideal to link to from sites that cover hanging baskets, window boxes, spring bulbs, and so on. They’ll all talk about compost and if they’re good quality with some good traffic you’ll gain some great kudos, some more traffic, and a great link whilst adding to their already great piece.
Round-up content is really popular online, and you’ll find a lot of posts rounding up relevant posts on the internet to share with their readers. With a simple Google search, you’ll find loads of roundup content for your industry that you could find reasons to ask for a link from.
Typically, in our industry, this will be content that links strategies on niche topics like SEO tools or strategies, or maybe a roundup of new software. We even publish an SEO Roundup on our blog each month too.
Creating content like the three examples above is an ideal way to ‘bait links’ and gain links to your site. Resources and guides more so. Find a really niche problem or create an amazing and helpful guide on your area of expertise and then go out to market with it.
If it deserves to rank, then you’ll soon start gaining some links for it.
Guest blogging is a great way to gain links – but once again there are a lot of people going about it the wrong way. Essentially guest blogging is the act of creating blogs for someone else’s website to give them some great value, advice, and content.
Naturally you’ll want a link from the content to your site and there lies the biggest problem with guest blogging…
It’s not about the link! Well… it is. But bear with us.
It’s more about the site, the content you create, and then the audience you reach by doing it. The relevance of the link, the authority of the site you’re creating content for, and then the quality of the content itself are all important.
Just like in the early days of link building, this isn’t just a case of blogging for anyone; you need to keep it niche, and choose well.
#1 reason to guest blog: You want your content to get eyes. It must add value and get engagement.
Most business owners, site owners, and many SEOs simply guest blog anywhere and don’t care what the site is or whether the link is going to be relevant or send any decent traffic.
When we guest post for clients we check in on the link and then the traffic for weeks afterwards to see the impact of that link and what traffic it drives.
If you’re going to spend time creating content then you really need to make sure that link and the content are going to give you the right exposure and the right link.
Comments and social shares are really important here. Purely because it shows you’ve added value and people have turned up to read it.
- Choose a site with a good social reach and an active blog.
- Choose a site that’s relevant to you and your site.
- Choose a site that makes sense to link from.
Some classic (and poor) guest blogging choices could be:
- Swapping guest blogs with a friends (unrelated) website and swapping links.
- Blogging for a local community or website where all types of businesses are linking from it.
- Guest blogging on a site and paying for the privilege. Be very careful with anyone who asks for money for your guest content. Paying for links isn’t a good strategy.
The aim of guest blogging is to add some great content to a relevant site. We might guest blog on an online marketers site or a Google Ads experts site. We’d choose a site that’s relatable… but also active, social, and updated constantly.
Don’t guest blog just for the link. That’s the same as grabbing links from anywhere… but it costs you more time to do it!
You can find out more about guest blogging strategies in our Learn SEO series.
All of the above ideas and strategies require you to contact website owners and ask for the link. Approach this tactic sensibly and with their best interests in mind and you’ll soon start to see some really great traction.
Just remember that on the same day you email them, some spammy poorly constructed outreach email asking for the very same thing may well have landed, so aim to add value and stand out. Show that you’re a human and not a robot in the way you speak to them. Be real and friendly.
It’s always about them and it’s never just to gain a link. What you should be aiming to do is add some extra content, context, information, or further reading to their already great content.
It’s not just for the link.
Some ideal content to search out and try to find or create content to link from would be:
- ‘Best of’ Guides
- Topic specific resource pages
Email the owner and suggest you can help them with your content. These content owners are primed and usually happy to have more links and more content to make their content greater.
Make sure you explain the benefit to them and make it look genuine and explain that you’re not just out to spam people.
As we suggested earlier (and below in the list of great SEO video resources) you’d be well advised to have a list of terms that you search for monthly. Make it a habit to reach out and ask for links from relative and high value content.
We’ve shared a list of terms to search for (and save) in the videos below and we’ve even shown you exactly how to create emails to send to website owners to help your amplification in Module 4.
We’ll finish as we started this guide with a warning about link building. It should be natural and it should always be to benefit both parties.
Don’t link for the sake of it, don’t go out and just try to get as many as you can, and please don’t risk the good name of your brand by spamming anyone and everyone with irrelevant emails and outreach.
SEO is all about adding value and deserving to rank. Link earning is a much better way to approach this very powerful SEO tactic.
Link building: what’s next?
Further reading and FREE video content to learn about link building and content creation for SEO can be found on Module 4 of our Learn SEO series. You’ll find the below videos are ideal watching after this content and you can access them right now for free without so much as an email data capture form.
Good luck and please feel free to comment and let us know what you think.
We do love hearing from people who read our content.
Of course… feel free to link to it too!