Link building from a former online editor’s perspective

In my job as an SEO and Social Media national account manager, I find myself answering a lot of questions about how SEO works. Since Google’s latest big update, Penguin, I am fielding a lot of questions about link building in particular.

This might be review to some of you, but hopefully others will find it helpful.

A sales representative in our Ohio market was asked by one of her advertisers, how do you find the sites on which to build links? This advertiser was having trouble matching up her industry with blog sites and other related opportunities for link building.

I have to digress for a moment to point out that there are two camps in favor of white hat (honest) link building – those who are content purists, and those who are trying to help out local businesses every day. Matt Cutts, Google’s spam guru, recommends high-quality content as the key to building up your website’s authority and organic search traffic. The reality is that local business owners don’t have time to generate amazing content, so there is this huge divide between Matt’s advice and the daily reality that small business entrepreneurs face (think lean staff and low overhead). As a result, they come to us to help them show up better in search. Part of our program is link building, and as part of that we do write content on appropriately related topics. We also do some directory work, which helps a lot.

I’ve been a newspaper copy editor, a magazine editor, an online editor, an e-newsletter editor, and a web content manager. I believe in unique, high-quality content. However, the time it takes to do it right is often a barrier for local businesses – even if they pay someone else to do that work for them, they often can’t afford to pay what it would cost to have a professional produce the most optimal content and links.

It takes a lot of time to find decent sites where related topic links can be built. SEOs typically research that sort of thing on a daily basis and keep really good records of what types of sites they are, as well as rechecking them from time to time to make sure they are still suitable and authoritative.  SEO companies can provide link building services, but the business owner can go much further on their own, with some time and dedication. At the risk of  turning off busy website owners, I still think good content is worth the trouble and effort to create.

You want to look for websites that would be appropriate in topic to those topics on your own website. They don’t have to match exactly, but they shouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the connection. For example, one of our Local SEO clients is a wedding venue in NJ which has a few recommendations of wedding-related professionals on its website. They provide the venue and the catering, and have found that certain photographers, DJs, and invite designers are better to work with. They don’t go too far – only a few links are on the site to those related professionals – and it makes sense for them to provide this info to their brides, because they would want that info. Some of the professionals they recommend have a link pointing back to the wedding venue site. Because this is done sparingly and sincerely, it’s a good use of links. By contrast, trading links indiscriminately, or even buying links, is a very risky practice that can hurt your search rankings.

Directories can be surprisingly good places to build links. There are so many out there – spend your time on the best ones you can afford to get into. DMOZ is a very good, human-edited directory that can take a good 8 months to get into. But it’s seen as a very good sign when a company can get listed there. Some directories charge for submission. If you go that route, learn which ones are more authoritative so you don’t waste your money on those which aren’t.  When we do Local SEO for our clients, we submit their optimized business information to hundreds of directories, large and small. Some of the best are Google+ Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Maps, Localeze, and Yelp.

Pro tip: Size up the value of a site for link building using Majestic SEO’s tool at They rate the citation and trust flows of sites, based on the number and quality of links and mentions of those sites. It pays to become an expert on assessing the quality (relevance, authority) of a website.

The best way to build links is through content, and business owners have to put on their creative hats for this part of it. What info do they have in their head that might be interesting for a potential customer?

  • A sewing supply store might know of a good way to manage a large sewing kit so things are easier to find.
  • A car dealership can give advice on how to detail a car or change a tire.
  • A day care center can pass along tips for reducing the spread of colds in your household.
  • A wedding planner can offer a sample countdown schedule of tasks.

Then get even more creative. What are some awesome ways to share this information so that people find it appealing?

  • Can it be turned into an infographic which can sit on their website to attract viewers?
  • Can it be made into a free PDF ebook download available from the website after filling out a lead form?
  • Can it be added to an email newsletter and posted to a Facebook page?
  • What about making a short video for YouTube?

My chiropractor, Dr. DeFabio, speaks at local libraries and fitness centers – this builds up respect for him in the community and gives him a great excuse to send out an email and post to Facebook. He has back-saving tips in his email newsletters and even did a snow-shoveling video during the last snow storm. Once you create this interesting stuff, then you get to distribute it where people can find it.

Pro tip: Create a flow chart showing how you want to find your audience and get them back to your site. Put yourself in their shoes to plan effective strategies that are a mix of digital marketing methods like social media, SEO, and email marketing.

If the business owner is a member of a white-collar profession like an orthopedic surgeon, a web development company, or a water treatment engineer, they can find discussions on those topics and contribute by commenting and also offering to write a guest blog post. If you select a good site to offer your guest post to and you are sincere about regularly contributing good information and discussion on that site, the editors/owners of the site will take you seriously and trust your submissions. As a courtesy, they often allow you to include a link to your own website. In turn, you should also be courteous and only link to relevant information that pertains to what you are writing about. If your guest post is about improving recovery times from knee surgery, you should link to more information about the same topic on your website.

Pro tip: Create an editorial calendar to help guide you in topics to cover.

Once you have some good places on which to build links, make sure you keep it up – build links naturally and month after month rather than doing a big clump of them and then nothing. Links don’t hang around forever – the sites on which the links were built can go down, or pages can get deleted. In addition, your competition is probably building links and could overtake you if you stop. That’s why you have to stay after it and not quit.

Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts, even if someone tells you it worked and didn’t get them in trouble with Google.

  • Don’t create a fake garbage blog just to put links on it.
  • Don’t spam other people’s blog sites with thoughtless comments and links.
  • Don’t buy them, don’t get involved in link wheels or link farms, and don’t hide them.

As you can see, it can get extremely time-consuming to go about building links. This is why so many local businesses come to us for help with their search visibility.

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