SEO Tips for Small Business: How to Get Good Links

by James A. Martin

If you want people to find your business online, it takes more than good keywords. It also requires reputable sites linking to your Web site. Our SEO expert shows you how to build solid links for better search results — and more customers.

The most important factor to improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) might surprise you. According to the 2009 SEOMoz.org survey of top SEO experts, keyword-rich links from other Web sites (that point back to your site) do more to bump your page rankings than any other element.

Unfortunately, getting those links can be difficult and time consuming. But with persistence, patience and some old-fashioned networking, you can acquire quality links to your site — and greatly improve your chances of ranking highly in relevant search engine results.

Why Links are Important for SEO

“Links are like doors,” says Thomas W. Petty, CEO of the Bay Area Search Engine Academy, which offers SEO workshops in Sacramento and San Francisco. “The more you have, the more likely someone is likely to walk through them.”

Links to your site, as well as within your site (from one page to another), can help search engine robots more efficiently find and then index your site’s content. Conversely, if your content isn’t included in a search engine’s index, people can’t find it when conducting keyword searches.

In addition, links to your Web pages on other sites help potential customers find you. They’re especially valuable if the link is part of an editorial endorsement of your product or service.

Search engines are also likely to interpret legitimate links to your Web pages from other sites as a vote of confidence from those sites. The more votes you get, the more likely search engines are to consider your pages important. And a page seen as important has a stronger chance of ranking high in relevant search queries than a page considered unimportant (or worse, seen as spam).

Consider Google, for instance, which has about 65 percent of the U.S. search traffic. Its search engine technology takes into account more than 200 factors when deciding how important a Web page is to a particular keyword search. Among those factors is PageRank, a patented algorithm that assigns a score of one through 10 to Web pages based on each page’s perceived importance.

A page’s PageRank score is influenced, in part, by the PageRank score of other Web pages that link to it. While some SEO experts debate the overall importance of PageRank to SEO, it still points to a larger truth about SEO.

“Good links to your site are far more important than how you use keywords,” says Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz.org, an Internet marketing and SEO consulting firm.

To see this principle in action, says Fishkin, type the words click here into a search engine. Most likely, the no. 1 result will be Adobe’s page for downloading the free Adobe Reader software (for viewing PDF documents). However, nowhere on this Adobe.com page or within the page’s HTML code is the keyword phrase click here used.

So why does that Adobe page rank number one for a keyword phrase it doesn’t contain? Because countless Web sites include a link to that page with the keyword phrase click here in the anchor text. (Anchor text is the text within a hyperlinked phrase. It’s an important place to put keywords for pages that you want to optimize.)

Keywords Are Still Key

The importance of links vs. keywords doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize your pages with relevant keywords, as described in SEO Tips: How to Increase Traffic With Keywords. Keywords are critical to helping a search engine determine the subject of a Web page, blog post, YouTube video or other content.

But keywords alone aren’t always enough to goose your ranking in a Google or other search-engine query. In fact, ranking high for competitive keywords is extremely difficult without a solid network of good-quality links pointing to a relevant page on your site, says Matt McGee, a Search Engine Land editor and search marketing consultant for small businesses.

How to Get Good Links

Not surprisingly, getting good-quality links to your site is more difficult than optimizing your content with keywords. Often, you can’t control if, how, or when another site links to yours. And it takes time. You can’t expect to get dozens of quality links overnight. You can buy links, but Google and other search engines frown upon such “black-hat” tactics. And in extreme cases, the practice can actually cause search engines to penalize your site.

Nonetheless, there are “white-hat” strategies to follow to get links to your pages. Here are some techniques to try.

Create link bait. Write informative, useful, provocative, newsworthy or otherwise “viral” Web content and get the word out about it (more on that topic in a minute). Once other people discover and appreciate your content, they’re likely to post links to it on their own sites.

But don’t make your content overly sales-y. “Eighty percent of searches are done by people looking for information, rather than looking to buy,” says McGee. “A really useful page offering recommendations about how to use an acne treatment will more likely get linked to than a page that simply sells the treatment,” he explains.

Include links to relevant pages on your social media updates. Once you’ve created that fabulous content, spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed or other social network and include a link to the content. Sites such as Ping.fm allow you to post to multiple social networks simultaneously and will automatically shorten URLs for you.

Write and distribute press releases. If you’ve got news to share about your company, write a puff-free press release and include a keyword-rich anchor text link to a relevant page on your site. You can submit your release to PR sites, such as PRLog and PRWeb, for free or a fee (depending upon the site).

The release will be posted to the PR site, so you’ll now have a link from that site to yours. News organizations, bloggers and others may post your news on their sites with the link or, even better, interview you for an online article.

Suggest the anchor text. If a blogger or someone in the media writes about your company, give them the URL of an appropriate landing page on your site as a link. Suggest the anchor text for the link too; use a keyword you want to rank highly for in search engine queries. They might ignore your request, but it never hurts to ask.

Link to others as you’d have them link to you. If you link to sites in a positive way, those sites are likely to return the favor. Contact people you know with Web sites and discuss how you might legitimately link to one another. In other words, be generous with links yourself and use old-fashioned networking skills to build links to your site.

Do competitive link-building. Do your competitors have more links than you? If so, it’s time to try some competitive link building, Fishkin suggests.

Here’s how: Perform a search in Google, Yahoo or other search engine using a keyword or phrase for which you’d like to rank highly. Examine the first page of search results. From among those results, copy a URL of a competitor’s Web page.

Next, go to Yahoo Site Explorer. Paste that URL into the blank search field at the top of the browser page and click the Explore URL button. Under Results, click the ‘Inlinks’ tab to get a list of external Web pages that link to the URL you pasted.

In effect, you’ll then have a road map of external pages that link to your competitor’s Web page. Armed with that information, you can contact the Webmasters of those pages. Tell them about your site, explaining why it may be of importance to their readers. Ask the Webmaster to add a link to your site, too. This can be time-consuming, so pick and choose the sites to pursue carefully. 

Submit your site to one or more directories. For free or a fee, you can get your site listed, with a link, in one or more online directories, such as DMOZ, Yahoo Directory, Business.com and Yellowpages.com. CitySearch and Yelp can also provide SEO-boosting links to your site. Consider submitting your site to your local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce directories, too. Look for directories particular to your business or industry as well. 

Organize and sponsor events. You’ll increase the chances that bloggers, Facebookers, tweeters and others reporting on those events will link to your site.

Leaving blog comments might — or might not — help. Many Web sites and blogs have dedicated areas where visitors can leave comments with embedded links. Some believe this is an effective way to get external links to their sites and, hence, boost their search result rankings.

The truth is, many spammers use this technique. The result: Most search engines place less trust in these links than in links contained within genuine editorial endorsements.

However, regularly leaving comments can be a great way to get on a blogger’s radar, says McGee. The blogger may end up writing about you — and include a link to a relevant page on your site.

It’s All About Attracting Customers

Ultimately, your goal should be to acquire lots of keyword-rich links to relevant pages on your site from sites that are trusted, popular and authoritative. It’s not easy, and it won’t happen quickly. But when combined with your keyword SEO efforts, you can boost your site’s ranking in search results. And that’s an important step toward attracting potential new customers online.

James A. Martin is an SEO content writer for businesses and the co-author of Getting Organized in the Google Era (Broadway Books).

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This article was originally published on Monday Dec 7th 2009
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