Link Building is probably one of the hardest things to do in SEO.
What types of links do you get?
How many links do you need?
Paid sponsorships, citations, public relations, guest posts, local links…the list goes on.
Today, we’re going to cover the importance of link building for local search.
Recent expert surveys convey the importance of link building to help increase rankings for local search.
Let’s start with the Local Search Ranking Factors survey.
It’s put out every two years, the 2020 version will be released very soon. When it’s published, I’ll update this post to reflect changes (if there are any).
For regular local organic results, link signals were the number one ranking factor.
What about Google Maps? Link signals were the number two ranking factor.
BrightLocal also released a link building survey from local experts on March 15th of 2019 (which I participated in).
- 89% of local SEO experts prioritize link building for their local business clients.
- 100% of local SEO experts think link building is effective for boosting businesses’ local search rankings.
- Experts say local news sites, community sites, and industry sites are the most valuable link sources for local businesses.
…but Google said I just need to publish really good content.
Let’s look at what Google My Business recommends to increase rankings.
The Google My Business Help support article called “Improve Your Local Ranking on Google” is broken down into three different categories – Relevance, Distance, and Prominence.
Prominence specifically talks about links. Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web including links, articles, and directories.
Do we need to say anything more? Link building is effective to increase rankings for both Google Maps and local organic results.
So, what types of links exist for small businesses?
Citations are either structured or unstructured.
The most common, structured citations, are your yellowpages.com, local.com, or yelp.com listings.
You just need to have an actual business in order to create a listing and they’re structured.
Unstructured citations are different. If you get coverage in a local paper about an event that you are hosting at your business and that article adds your business name, address, and phone number – that is an unstructured citation.
Citation building, whether it’s structured or unstructured, is not the same as regular link building.
Citation building over the years has dramatically decreased in its importance in local search. It’s a good idea to make sure you have your citations covered on major data aggregators and some tier one citation sources.
That’s about it.
There is absolutely no reason you should be paying a company monthly or yearly to manage your citations.
It’s a giant waste of money, stop.
Sponsorships can be really effective to build some good links to your business and to increase local visibility.
You can also increase your exposure to potential customers, especially if you have done your research into WHO your ideal customers are. Don’t worry if you haven’t, we’ll go over this a little later.
Sponsorships come in many forms, whether you pay an annual amount to be a sponsor of a local organization or you get involved with a local company that has a sponsors page in an advertisement. There are many different types of sponsorship options.
Memberships can either be local or industry-related.
A local membership example is your local Chamber of Commerce.
Now, if you decide to become a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, don’t just do it for the link. Actually get involved and become a part of the local Chamber of Commerce community. You have no idea who you’re going to meet or network with. You could find great referral partners and you will get a lot more out of a local membership like that if you actually get involved.
Industry sponsorships could be industry related associations. Of course, different industries have their different associations.
You don’t need to join every single industry association that exists for your business category. Yet being a member of some of the more respected ones can be a nice plus.
Whether they are topically relevant or locally relevant, they are still a tactic for increasing rankings.
Identifying opportunities for SMBs can be a little tough. Over the years, guest posts websites have started to request some form of payment.
Guest posting by itself can have some effect on rankings, yet it shouldn’t be the only link building tactic you’re utilizing for your business or your client’s business.
Editorial links are some of the hardest links to get, mainly because you have to build a relationship or have a really good pitch for a publisher.
There are different tactics and strategies to earn editorial links, yet they do take time.
BROKEN LINK BUILDING
Broken link building is probably one of the oldest and possibly one of the hardest tactics to implement for a local business.
There just aren’t too many opportunities locally.
If you are able to find opportunities, they’re probably going to be more topically focused which your results might be successful, yet there is a pretty big time investment needed.
RESOURCE LINK BUILDING
Resource link building can be really effective, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.
Yet it can still be effective even in a smaller city.
If you’ve done your buyer personas and you know who your ideal customers are, you might know what their interests are outside of looking for your product or service.
What are those potential customers searching for that is locally relevant to your business?
If your target audience loves dogs, is there a local resource available showing dog lovers all of the dog-friendly places to eat?
Sometimes, you may come across a local resource that is no longer available.
If you come across an opportunity like this, you can use archive.org to see what type of content was there, recreate it, and go after all the same links that were built to the now defunct resource.
PR was widely used years ago to help build a lot of editorial links quickly or when you had a new product, service, or an exciting new company announcement.
The impact on ranking for these types of marketing campaigns hasn’t been as good as it used to be.
If you started making a “new widget” that does not facilitate the need for a press release to be submitted and syndicated.
If you happen to be sponsoring a local non-profit and come up with a really cool campaign for them, that is very locally relevant. It’s not a bad idea to create a press release and distribute it to local editorial websites, at the very least.
LOCAL VENDOR TESTIMONIALS
This is a tactic that has been used for a number of years by local SEO. It has been built out with local vendors that their clients or that they themselves actually use in their local business.
Examples being a CPA, attorney, or commercial cleaning service.
What you would do is offer them a testimonial with the hopes that they would publish the testimonial somewhere on their website, as well as adding a link back to your business.
Local vendor testimonials still work but I have a different approach.
Instead of just offering them a short testimonial, why not offer them a long-form testimonial or case study?
In the first paragraph, you introduce who you are and what you do, giving yourself a branded link to your website. Then you move into how that local vendor has helped your business grow.
If you go with this approach, what do you think is going to happen if you reach out to a local vendor?
Chances are if you send them the entire rave post that you published, they’re going to post and publish it on their social media. They might even start linking to it in their email signatures.
There’s a lot of value in that, not only is it a local link but it will also potentially attract new customers. You’re that local vendor that is doing a lot of the promotion for you.
LOCAL REFERRAL PARTNERS
If you work in the home services industry, you likely have several local vendors that send you referrals. You likely send them a lot of business to them, too.
Often, these referral partners might have a local resource page on their website where they would actually list and link to you.
If they don’t, why not ask them to start one. You could do the same thing on your own website.
Hosting events can attract potential customers to your actual location, in turn creating unstructured citations and local links as well.
Given what’s been going on this year, hosting local events probably shouldn’t be in your arsenal right now.
BREAKING DOWN LINKS INTO TOPICAL OR LOCAL RELEVANCE
If we were to use the different types of link building strategies examples above, we would categorize them this way.
Citations are technically local links.
Sponsorships are also local links.
Memberships can be either local or topical. It depends on what membership you get in. Chamber of Commerce for example, that’s a local link. If you join an industry association and you get a link from them, that is a topical link.
The same thing applies to guest posts, does the website content look more locally relevant or is it more topically relevant across the entire website?
Editorial links are typically going to be topical but can also be local. They can really be local if you get mentioned and you get a URL link from a very local editorial resource for link building. This is going to depend on what type of resource you’re building, if it’s a local resource, then it’s going to be a local link. If it’s a topical resource, it’s going to be a topical link.
Public relations is primarily going to be local, but it can be topical too.
Local vendor testimonials, local referral partners, and hosting events are all local links.
Why are we breaking down links into topical or local?
Well, let’s talk about the concept of link benchmarking.
You understand that you need links to rank but what types of links do you actually need?
This is where a link benchmark will really help you out. Every industry and every location has its own unique benchmark.
What worked for one HVAC company in New York City is not going to help the same HVAC company in Atlanta.
In order to find out what your benchmark is, you need to identify your top ranking competitors. I’ve written about this before.
But let’s cover it again.
If you do searches for your primary keywords, hopefully utilizing a search tool that will allow you to change your location, who’s consistently ranking?
Not just in Google Maps, who’s also ranking well in local organic search?
Third-party directories don’t count.
What actual local companies do rank, you’re going to want to grab those 5 websites to use for your benchmarking.
Now, before we get started, go ahead and steal this cheat sheet that we made.
The process is pretty simple using the third party tool of your choice. In this example we’re going to use Ahrefs.
First, plug in the domain of your website or your client’s website.
Under referring domains, you want to simply export that into an Excel document.
You’re going to repeat the process for every ranking competitor.
Once you’ve finished all of your exports, you are then going to input all those referring domains into the sheet.
After all referring domains have been added, you will then need to categorize every single referring domain by what it is.
If you come across some referring domains that look pretty spammy, or it doesn’t pass the smell test, simply mark that as garbage. Examples of garbage links are going to be any sub domain of blogger.com.
Once you finish working through all of the referring domains for your business or your client’s business, along with the 3-5 ranking competitors, you will then have a benchmark you can look at.
The aggregate data of local competitors shows you the average amount of topical links, local links, and citations that they have across the board. You can compare that to your own data.
Let’s use an example. On the second sheet called example benchmarking spreadsheet, you’ll see that I put in one local link for each company. I then added in 5 competitors who rank very well across the board. After going through and categorizing each referring domain by what type of link it is, we then have a benchmark.
For this example, they have 1 topical link, 1 local link, 10 citations, and 1 other link. The average of the top 5 competitors are 7.8 topical links, 9.6 local links, 23.2 citations, and 1.6 others links.
If this was a real client, based on these findings, we would want to focus on building local, topical, and maybe even some citation building.
The great thing about link benchmarking is you’re comparing yourself to all of the competitors that are outranking you.
You can have a good understanding of what you need to do in order to help increase your rankings.
LINK BUILDING QUESTIONNAIRE
This section is going to help freelancers and agencies.
It can also be helpful to SMB owners, too, as it will help gauge what types of link building you may want to explore.
For agencies, when you onboard a new client and you know you’ll need to build some links, you should understand what your client is willing to do and if there might be some cool opportunities for you to explore right off the bat.
There’s different categories that prioritize link opportunities whether paying for sponsorships, donating time, or volunteering.
Pay for a group or organization memberships
Being creative to get mentions
There’s further questions that help serve community involvement for you or your client’s team.
It has helped us tremendously, you can grab a copy of it here.
After this chapter gets released, I’m going to start diving into actual tactics and strategies that you can employ for your business or for your client’s business.