I have a confession to make: Penguin scared the daylights out of me. I hope those of you who have been around the industry for as many years as I have will join me in taking the first step to recovery: admitting our problem.
In 2012, Penguin made once-easy and inexpensive link-building tactics for small businesses worthless — and in some cases, harmful. For a small handful of long-time clients, we had to undo years of work that had once supported their achievement of position one organic rankings (and more importantly, their acquisition of many, many leads).
Sadly, getting scared wasn’t the only consequence of seeing businesses that had been fully compliant with SEO best practices (of the time) get burned overnight — because those best practices had suddenly changed.
It also made us overly cautious about link building for SEO, and that caution kept us from seeing what continues to be a reality: that backlink profiles are still key factors in organic search rankings, including for searches with local intent.
How to overcome Penguinitis
Mike Ramsey, my fellow Local University faculty member and owner of Nifty Marketing in Burley, Idaho, recently presented at MozCon Local 2016. His presentation and subsequent blog post featuring tons of local link-building ideas illustrated the gravity of my confessions above. (You can check out Ramsey’s presentation slides here.)
As Ramsey rightly asserts, the Google Maps algorithm for determining relevance of businesses in the maps pack is closely tied to the Google organic algorithm. Google’s Pigeon algorithm update sought to make locally relevant results more prominent in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and affected both Google Maps results and Google organic results.
This means that quantity, quality and diversity of backlinks are among the few SEO elements that, if done well, can support both types of ranking results.
So why have we been so hesitant to focus on link building for local businesses?
Penguinitis, that’s why. Plus, the new age of link building is tough. It requires time, effort and budget to achieve valuable links, which can be difficult to justify for the SMB with limited exposure to SEO and a relatively small investment to make.
To help my fellow SEOs still recovering from Penguin, I will highlight three of Ramsey’s most practical local link-building ideas, along with some of my team’s anecdotes and experiences, in the hopes they will get your creative link-building juices flowing again.
1. Alumni directory or association links
Especially if the business owners, partners or key executives attended a local or state university, alumni directories can garner highly authoritative, locally relevant links back to your website.
Not only is the .edu link strong, but alumni associations will sometimes share news and current events from alumni. If the business has participated in a recent charity or achieved a milestone as a business, get in touch with alumni associations to see about getting the good news published.
This type of link building is definitely worth investigating for practitioner businesses, including lawyers, doctors, dentists and realtors.
Ramsey offers a pro tip that is worth noting: Sometimes, schools will not allow links back to business sites. In this case, he recommends asking for a link to one of your high-profile social media pages.
2. Existing brand mentions
If you’re already being referenced in news or other highly relevant content, congratulations — because you’re doing something right by earning media online.
Unfortunately, local PR coverage like this often doesn’t include a backlink to the business site. One of the easiest ways to get links is to simply ask authors who have written about your brand online to include one. The best way to identify these opportunities is to keep a constant eye on tools like Google News alerts for brand mentions.
Ramsey cautions that when reaching out to journalists, keep in mind that they do not have to link to you, even if it’s a direct quote, if they’re providing attribution in the form of your business name. So be careful when using the word “attribution” in these cases.
Success story: A local hair salon who is a client of ours was mentioned on a national site publishing content about New Orleans salons here. Upon publishing, there were no links included at all. Our account manager sought out the publisher and was successful in getting a link added to the brand name.
3. Industry-specific local directories
Listings in industry-specific directories are great because of their high authority and how well they reinforce signals to Google regarding your business category, products and services. The more locally specific sites you can leverage, the clearer it will be to Google that your business is relevant to local searchers.
If you’re already a member of local business associations, check out each of their websites to see if there is a directory or if businesses have profiles that could be optimized to include a link.
Additionally, you can search for the town, county or region plus “business directory” to find others that you’re not already a part of. Specifically, search for any local directories that focus on your business niche to build even stronger signals.
Do you have a local link-building tip you would like to share? I’d love to hear it.