Link Building Tips for Small Businesses

23 06 2011

Link building is a crucial aspect of Google’s organic ranking algorithm. Essentially, the more high quality links you receive from other websites, the more credible Google believes you to be. If you and a competitor are vying for the same keyword, with all things fairly equal in terms of on-site optimization (i.e. optimizing title/meta tags, headers, body copy, etc), it’s the off-site optimization, or inbound links, that will help you place higher in the search results.

All inbound links are not created equal, which makes link building that much more difficult. Google has a sort of ranking hierarchy when it comes to domain extensions. Any .gov, .edu or .org link is going to carry more weight than a .com or .net. The first domain extensions I mentioned are all informational in nature, generally providing resources, whereas, .com’s and .net’s are definitely more commercial. Sites that carry the .info and .biz domain extensions carry even less weight as these sites tend to be a bit more spammy (not always, but generally speaking).

So, as a small business, how do you go about link building in an effective way? There are a number of strategies you can take to obtain high quality links, however, I will warn you that it is time consuming. The strategies I’m going to outline are more manual in nature, versus link development tactics such as directory submissions or article marketing.

  1. If you reside in the same city as a university, consider working with the business/marketing department (or whatever) to get links. Ask if you can post potential job openings for internships. Most departments, and even professors will have a sub domain on the university’s website. This is an excellent .edu link.
  2. Do you provide a service to your city? If so, work with your city government to get listed on their site. Maybe you are hosting an event that would benefit the community, and they’d be willing to put a link on their site in the events section. We’ve worked with clients who have done this, pretty easy to do. These sites will all use the .gov domain extension too.
  3. Don’t overlook all of the hyper-local directories that are out there. Get yourself listed in the appropriate category.
  4. Utilize any PR experience you have to work with local newspapers to get links in stories. Always be thinking about how you can pitch a story to the local news channel.
  5. Working with local organizations, or charities, can be a great way to get a link. Whether you donate money or resources, ask them for a link in return, and most are more than happy to do so. Most of these organizations have a .org domain extension, which is a juicy one.
There you go, a few nice tips to get you thinking about how to obtain high quality links that can help increase your visibility and boost your organic rankings. One thing to keep in mind when obtaining these links, ideally the link you receive should contain optimized anchor text. This means the actual link to your site, called anchor text, should contain a targeted keyword (a keyword you’re trying to rank for). Don’t necessarily direct all of the links to your homepage either. Be strategic about it. If you are targeting keyword xyz on your services page, and you want to boost the rankings for this keyword, the anchor text from the inbound link should contain keyword xyz.
If you’ve got any other strategies that you want to share, please do so. Happy link building.

Lessons From JC Penney’s Black Hat Controversy

14 02 2011

The New York Times on Saturday published an in-depth investigative report about retail company J.C. Penney’s seemingly amazing organic search results. For a wide variety of product category keywords, JC Penney was appearing number 1 in the organic results area.  It was even besting some websites of product manufacturers.  And all of this was happening during the holiday season, which is one of the most important times for online retailers.

Unfortunately, not all was as it seemed.  With the help of a SEO firm, the Times discovered that the Penney website was benefiting from a black-hat paid link scheme.  Many of the links were coming from unrelated, “spammy” sites with just the perfect anchor text.   Penney is denying they had any knowledge and has since fired their SEO firm SearchDex, and some of the links appeared to have been created through a site called  The scheme is probably more complex than what the Times discovered, but it’s a great reminder for small business website owners to be more proactive and diligent in their online efforts:

  • If you’re completely new the concept of SEO, read through Google’s own beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization.  It contains all the basics including how to promote your site the right way.
  • Conduct white-hat link development methods including valuable content creation (so people will naturally want to link to it), niche directory submission, press release optimization, or article marketing.
  • Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools.  Use it to track how search engines are viewing your site and see inbound links pointing to your site.  Bing also offers a similar product, and both are essential in proactive site management.
  • If a SEO agency handles your optimization efforts or are looking for one, be sure that they are credible and transparent with their link building efforts.  If it’s true that JC Penney didn’t know SearchDex was participating in black-hat efforts, then they didn’t do their due diligence.

Another reason to stay pro-active in your site and monitoring inbound links, is that it’s plausible that your competitors could sign up for these spam link schemes and send the links directly to your site.  If your site is caught and penalized like JC Penney, your competitors come out on top.  According to the article, on Feb. 1 JC Penney has an average organic ranking of 1.3.  On February 8 it was down to average position 4, and just 2 days later it was 52 (6 pages deep in Google’s search results!).  Large, multi-national companies have other revenue streams that could make up for penalized search results for a while.  But for small businesses owners, oversights like that could lead to huge ramifications.

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