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Before diving into today’s post topic of basic link building for small businesses, I’d just like to take a quick second and introduce myself to the Muze readership as I’ll be contributing regularly here from now on. My name is Nathan B Weller, I’m a full time blogger who loves WordPress, specializes in blogging best practices, and who loves to help small businesses dominate the web.

I’ve been practicing and writing about this stuff for about three years now and while I realize no one ever really stops being a beginner in a field that develops as rapidly as marketing and the web, I’ve learned a ton over the last three years that I know for sure will help those just getting started. And as a bonus, I’m not so far removed from “noob status” that I can’t appreciate your perspective and frame my posts in a way that’s easy for beginners to understand.

So lets get into this!

Today I’ll be writing about a search engine optimization practice called link building; explaining what it is, why you need to know about it/do it and make sure you’re aware of the current best practices.

The Current Link Building Landscape

If you’re a small business owner attempting to build a powerful online presence, chances are you’ve come across one source or another that swears the key to online traffic and success is a practice called link building. While I would have agreed with that statement in years gone by the reality is that the current landscape of online marketing and particularly that of search engine optimization (SEO) has changed. Link building is no longer the central practice but rather just one part of what should be a holistic approach to SEO.

If that sounds like nonsense to you then let me quickly unpack it in plainer terms:

Search engine optimization or SEO is a process of affecting how search engines rank your content – whether that content be a website, web page, or specific post. The goal of course is to get on the first page (especially the number one spot) of a search engine’s results for specific terms or keywords associated with your business.

For example, if you’re a plumber in Kansas City then it would certainly help your business to be the top search result (or at least on the first page of search results) when someone Googles “kansas city plumbers” or “plumbers in kansas city”.

You could of course pay Google or Bing a lot of money to rank highly for those terms/keywords, but a smart and thorough approach to SEO can get you there for free. Which brings us to link building. Link building is an important part of SEO and is therefore important to understand (at least on a basic level) for anyone looking to promote their business online.

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So what is link building?

Well, to understand what link building is today we need to recall why it came to be in the first place. See back in the 90′s when search engines were still fairly new, their method for ranking the popularity and relevance of content online was to tally up how many links it had going back to it from other places around the web.

This of course led to online marketers blanketing the web with spammy links and causing search engines to refine their ranking methods so as to bring searchers only the most relevant and highest quality search results. In fact, this has become a constant struggle of sorts between search engines like Google or Bing and online marketers and search engine optimizers. On the one hand the search engines want to give their users the best possible search results and on the other hand marketers want to get eyeballs on their products/services and so they hope to “game the system” into giving them free traffic.

As of late 2012, it appears Google at least is finally winning this struggle by harshly penalizing spammy behavior. Such as aggressively linking back to yourself all across the web, particularly when your link is not relevant to the location it is being posted. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just take a few minutes and visit the comments section of just about any youtube video and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

This of course begs the question: if link building is so closely associated with spam, should I be doing it at all?

I would say yes. Some would say no. The fact of the matter is that while search engines are indeed cracking down on spammy practices, links back to your website are still a key metric by which they rank content. They’re just better than ever at knowing whether or not those links are suspicious or if they indicate true relevance. So if you want to play it safe you could avoid link building all together…but the smarter thing to do would simply be to NOT SPAM.

I’ll close this post with a tip or two on how to keep everything relevant and on the up and up, but for now lets take a look at the nuts and bolts of link building.

3 Types of Links

basic-link-building-for-small-businesses2Before setting out to execute a link building campaign (a specific action plan for acquiring new links) it’s important to take note of the types of links you’re looking to acquire.

Also, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to make sure your links are as varied as possible. This means concentrating on all three link types as opposed to just one or two.

Anything that looks “rigged” or forced runs the risk of being discounted by search engine algorithms as irrelevant spam. Which is literally the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish with a successful link building campaign. But we’ve already been over that.

The three link types are…

1. Natural Links – These are links that happen without intentional effort on your part to obtain or “plant” a link. These links are generated via blog posts, comment (by other people), resource page lists, etc. by people who value the content you’ve created and want to point others to it.

2. Outreach Links – These are links that you request, pay for, “trade”, or in any way acquire through some sort of transaction. Some examples might include convincing a popular site/blog to put a link to your product/site/service on their resources page. Or sending a free sample of your product to a blogger to review and link back to you.

3. Self-Created Links – As the name would suggest, these are links that you create in various places across the web. Whether that be in a comment, user profile, forum signature, or anything like that. This is probably the most common link type people abuse, so moderation is highly recommended.

5 Link Building Strategies

basic-link-building-for-small-businesses1Ok, so now that you know exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, lets look at some methods of obtaining those links.

1. Ask Customers to Link to You – How you accomplish this will depend on your business and the nature of your relationships with your customers. A few popular ways to do this are by offering an affiliate program and/or a loyalty badge or graphic that customers can put on their own sites to promote you.

2. Create a Company Blog – Zero in on information your customers find useful, interesting, and helpful. Create posts that they appreciate and they will show the love by linking back to your content.

3. Create Linkbait – Linkbait is any form of content that by its very nature inspires viral sharing. A common form of linkbait is a well designed and informative infographic.

4. Do Something Noteworthy – Get the attention of the press. Be unique, be creative, be extraordinary and people will write/talk about you in a positive light.

5. Get Listed – Find blogs or websites that list useful resources or regularly publish list posts and roundups. Reach out to them and ask to be included.

When Link Building Remember These Guidelines

So there you have it, the basics of link building for small businesses. The five strategies above are fairly easy to execute and I don’t think you should have any issues getting the job done.

As you do though, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Whatever you create, it must be useful. No, scratch that – INSANELY useful. It’s not enough to produce something so-so whether that be your product, service, blog post, free tool, ebook or whatever. You need to blow people away with value if you want your links to a) be widely shared and b) be seen as relevant by search engines.
  • Don’t spend so much time promoting yourself that you forget to be genuine and helpful.
  • Do not create links to yourself where the information is irrelevant. Such as a link to a web design company on a blog about knitting tutorials. Stay on topic and be a real part of a meaningful conversation – then drop your link.

If you still do not feel equipped to get started, I recommend checking out this very in-depth post over at SEOmoz called Link Building 101 – The Almost Complete Link Guide (Updated for Post-Penguin). Or this post – The Death of Link Building and the Rebirth of Link Earning – which discusses the issue I brought up at the beginning of the post about how the practice of link building right now is changing in a fundamental way.

Ok, now it’s your turn to give link building a shot. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below as well as any tips or questions you might have. Also, it would be really helpful if you commented with some suggestions on what topics you’d like me to explore in the future. Should I expand on SEO or are their other areas of blogging and online marketing for small businesses you’d like me to cover? I’m open to anything!

Feature image photo credit Matt Connor

About the author Nathan Weller

Hi! I'm Nathan B Weller: writer, book lover, and digital publisher. I use WordPress to launch blogs, products, businesses and portfolios for myself and my clients. If you'd like to see what I'm up to on a regular basis stop by my website at www.nathanbweller.com.