The power of SEO is not lost on local business owners. Ever since the advent of the Internet, customers have been moving away from the old-school ways of finding companies, such as the Yellow Pages. Nowadays the first thing most people do when needing to find a product or service is simple, they “Google it.” Thus, it is crucial for business owners to get in front of those customers when they go Googling.
The best way to do that is through SEO, but ranking organically can be hard. While SEO consists of the basic fundaments of links and content, breaking through the competition can prove a challenge for many.
Probably the hardest part of this process is the link building. It’s arguably the most important part of SEO, but can be very difficult to do correctly (which is one of the reasons Google rewards it so much). However, it doesn’t have to be hard, and today we will go over some tips that can help you secure authoritative and relevant links to your local business.
Tip #1 – Collaboration
This tip is one of my favorites because it harkens to a very old school technique, ye olde “link exchange.” Years back one of the main tactics for businesses was to exchange links to either other, usually on a dedicated “links page.”
This was a decent strategy, mutually beneficial to all involved. However, as SEOs tend to do, we ruined a good thing. It became extremely messy, links pages became long, keyword stuffed and spammy, and “reciprocal links” were rumored to be devalued.
However, when you take the underlying principle and build upon it, it’s not half bad. It comes down to collaboration and cross-promotion with other business owners (ideally not direct competitors).
This shouldn’t be done with some random link on a links page, but rather with a thought-out piece of promotional content, or strategic cooperation or partnership. Here are some examples:
- “Industry Roundups” are essentially very large link exchanges, except they add a layer of promotion (getting featured in an article, ego bait of a headshot and byline), and a layer of value (insights from industry experts). This can gain backlinks and rank. Try doing that with a links page.
- Reach out to local business owners in different cities. They don’t compete directly with you, but their websites are extremely relevant and would make a perfect source for a link.
- Offer to contribute or trade content with them. Reciprocal links be damned, if you can get cited in a quality article, go for it.
- Work out a referral partnership, as sometimes companies get calls from outside of their coverage area. Be sure to get listed on their site as a “Partner.”
You get the idea, work to build rapport with other business owners and eventually it will work out in your favor. I like to say, “there is a link hiding in every relationship.”
Tip #2 – Events
This is probably my favorite tactic for local businesses to use, largely because it gives them an excuse to do standard marketing and promotion, and has the side effect of generating links that will benefit your SEO in a long-term way.
First, I’ll let you in on a little secret. There is very little differentiating “white hat” link building from “getting press coverage.” Whether the press is the New York Times or local mom bloggers, getting naturally occurring mentions and citations in various publications is what link building is all about.
The trick comes down to doing something that is press-worthy. Unfortunately, there is no secret recipe for getting mentioned in the press. However, we do have the advantage that most journalists and bloggers are always on the lookout for something to write about.
That’s why local events are so great because they combine local relevance, an excuse for promotion, and a press-worthy happening, all in one. When doing this with SEO in mind, we take total advantage.
Here’s the process in a nutshell:
1. Pick an event you want to host/sponsor; it could be:
- Charity fundraiser
- Block party
- Industry seminar
- Community organizing
- Something specific to your niche
2. Prospect all the various outlets that would make mention of your event:
- Local newspapers
- Local blogs
- Niche blogs
- Vendors/Partner Websites
- Industry Associations
- Event Calendars
3. Set up a website for the event, a press release and a flyer:
- Host on your company’s website, or:
- Host on a dedicated microsite, but if you do this you’ll want to 301 redirect it to your companies site at some point to gain the SEO juice.
4. Set up a Facebook Page, along with a Facebook Ad Campaign to promote it.
5. Send out a promotional e-mail, phone calls, and start the ad campaign.
6. Make sure to ask nicely after the fact for links on all your blog posts/news mentions.
See what I mean? You are doing something worthwhile, and the side effect is links. This is the best way to go about link building, since people are hip to the link building gimmick at this point, and are looking for real value.
Tip #3 – Local Scholarships
This is another tactic that has a little bit of a jaded history. Scholarships have been used as a gimmick to attain backlinks from .EDU sites for many years now. Like I said above, when SEOs find something that works, we ruin it.
However just as with the link exchanges above, if we add on layers of real value, the underlying strategy is solid. Consider this:
- Scholarships are a way to give back to your community.
- They can help obtain talent for internships and employment in your niche.
- They can be niche or location specific (but probably not both, as its too slim a segment).
- They can be combined with other promotions/events.
- They are totally newsworthy, especially in niche and local publications (if you were a journalist in a small town, wouldn’t you cover a scholarship that’s specific to your county?)
They are also not very expensive when you consider it as a marketing expense. I prefer to go for a $1,000 scholarship (although many will cheap-out for $500). If you can obtain 30 press mentions or links from .EDUs, that’s $33 per link. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that any day of the week.
Here’s a quick summary of the process:
1. Decide if the scholarship will be niche specific (legal, vocational, technical, artistic), or location specific. As an example, Empire Maids has an NYC specific scholarship, which works for them because it’s their coverage area, while Lucid Chart has a design specific scholarship, as they are a visual design company.
2. Think of a unique take on it, to give it a spin that will appeal to bloggers and journalists. Should it be video submissions? A maker/builder contest? An essay submission? Have this be something you care about, so it’s not a bore going through all the submissions.
3. Put together a beautiful landing page. Doesn’t have to cost a ton, but should include all the relevant information and an area for students to submit. Make it pretty; people will be more likely to share and link to it.
4. Prospect, prospect, prospect. First, you want to get all high schools or universities that have an “External Scholarships” page. Here are some handy Google searches that will surface these for you:
- inurl:k12 “external scholarships”
- site:.edu “external scholarships”
Secondly, you want to prospect all the local or niche blogs/publications that might be interested in this. Go after every local newspaper, local blogger, and even University blogger you can track down.
5. Put together a well thought out, and descriptive e-mail about the Scholarship and what it means to you, your community and/or industry. Again, this is all about publicity, not about link building, so don’t mention links until after the fact (and only if necessary).
That’s it! You can get more or less aggressive (i.e., facebook ad campaigns), but that’s up to you.
Link building can be hard, and frustrating, but that’s part of what makes it so valuable. The competition will not take the extra step to find success, which leaves the door open for you and your company to dominate. These few tips can help you acquire some backlinks, but more importantly, if should motivate you to think outside the box when contemplating publicity for your business.
Michael Hayes is founder of Darby Hayes Consulting, a NYC based digital marketing agency. He can be reached at mike(at)darbyhayesconsulting.com.