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This article was originally published on June 16, 2016, and was updated on July 23, 2019 and May 3, 2021.
Why should you want to learn how to get backlinks to your small business website?
Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors of search engines like Google. The more, highly-relevant backlinks you get for your website, the more likely you are to show up when someone searches for something relevant to your business.
While you may not be able to compete against big brands with million-dollar online marketing budgets on media buying, you can take steps to increase your organic rankings through backlinks — which can be incredibly valuable for local SEO.
There is good news. You don’t need a massive marketing budget to improve your search engine rankings.
You don’t need fancy tricks or even a lot of in-depth knowledge of how the internet works (though it helps). A basic understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), including how to get backlinks, will go a long way toward improving your website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Sound good? Let’s go!
What is a backlink?
Like the name sounds, a backlink is simply a hyperlink on another website that links back to yours. A backlink is like an endorsement in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
Think of it like if you were to share an article link on your Facebook to your followers. You are, among other things, recommending anyone who cares about you to click that link. When a website shares a link to another website, they are doing the same.
Before we delve into how to get backlinks to your small business website, let’s cover a few SEO basics. From here, you should be able to develop a strategy that grows your backlinks, rankings, traffic and, of course, sales.
There are three pillars of SEO
Before you can start building backlinks, you need to understand how search engine optimization (SEO) works. This strong foundation can help you make smart decisions about your keywords, content and promotion throughout the backlink creation process. It can also help you guarantee that your website meets the minimum requirements to rank well — with or without backlinks.
The three pillars of SEO include structure, content and authority. Each of these pillars is equally important:
Search engine optimization (SEO) starts first with creating and maintaining a website that is technically sound. Before anything, you need to make sure your website is SEO-friendly — which means, among other steps, that you need to
- Make it crawlable: You can intentionally (or unintentionally) hide your website or pages from search engine bots. If you do this, your site may not be indexed (displayed) in search engines at all.
- Keep it secure: Users and search engines value privacy and security. Make sure you have registered your site with an SSL certificate and have ongoing measures to prevent hacks or malicious activity.
- Make if fast: A 1 second delay on your website reduces customer satisfaction by 16%. The speed of your website is an important measure for improving your customer experience and it also affects your performance in search engines.
Focus on mobile: Users and search engines are weighing the mobile experience of websites heavier than the desktop. In fact, 70% of web traffic now comes from smartphones. If you want to make your site technically sound, mobility is a huge part of that.
Onsite content plays a huge role in your SEO — both from a backlink perspective and your organic rankings. Search engines look at every page in your sitemap to determine the value and relevance of that page for different topics. Moreover, the culmination of content on your site helps search engines understand the purpose of your website which can have a trickle-down effect on all your subsequent pages.
Content is also important for backlinking because great content can earn links organically. For example, if you conducted your own research study on some topic within your industry, your peers may value the information and data that you found and could link back to it naturally on social or in their own articles.
Much like the Facebook example before, you share content with others if you find it valuable yourself.
Reaching new audiences and capturing the attention of large groups of people get your brand noticed. This leads to more sharing, more linking, and more buzz around your brand.
From an SEO perspective, the more authority your site has, the more frequent the search engines crawl it, the more weight your links have, and the higher up your site will rank in SERPs. There are several ways to build authority — but, they all usually revolve around branding.
With these three pillars, you can see how websites that continuously invest in all facets of SEO perform better than competitor websites that do not. You can also see how a company that only focuses on backlinks can watch its efforts fall short.
Bad backlink tactics
Before you can actively start building backlinks, it’s important to understand why you must build them ethically.
In April of 2012, Google announced an update to their search algorithm, named Penguin. Penguin penalized websites that were essentially building their own backlinks for the sole purpose of manipulating the search results.
The primary way to accomplish a large increase in backlinks was to purchase and pay other websites for those links. Thanks to the Penguin update, if you engage in buying links and are caught, Google can penalize you by removing your site from search results entirely.
Since the initial update in 2012, there have been several more additions to the Penguin algorithm to account for bad link-building.
Google is incredibly clear about what isn’t allowed in terms of building backlinks, so there is little risk that you will “accidentally” stumble into a bad link-building strategy.
The below list of tactics is directly pulled from Google and is explicit about what cannot be done:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. (This also includes sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.)
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking between multiple sites.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank.
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.
- Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
- Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.
- Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.
See the similarities between all the violations? All of these tactics are aimed at manipulating rankings through activities with the sole purpose of link building. Rather than taking organic steps rooted in providing value to the user, they are exclusively focused on attaining a backlink.
Actively seeking backlinks in this manner can and should penalize your website.
Google can easily discover if a website is using a strategy above because it knows what a natural backlink profile looks like compared to an unnatural one. They have your website’s backlink profile because they crawl and catalog the pages constantly.
If you gain 10,000 links this Tuesday and only two or three over the next few weeks, and then all of a sudden gain another 2,000 a month later, there is a good chance you are engaging in one of the tactics above.
How to get backlinks, then?
It is important to address all of the negative ways to get backlinks so you can avoid them and focus on growing your search presence ethically. As a small business website owner, you might be approached by companies that use these tactics and promise results.
The effects could be devastating if Google penalizes your brand because of shady practices.
One of the safest ways to produce backlinks involves establishing yourself or your company as a thought leader (or influencer) in your industry.
People out there are searching for your products or services, whether you are a neurosurgeon or a florist. You can position yourself or your brand as the best possible option to meet their needs. And this all starts with a blog.
Related: How to start a blog
5 steps to build backlinks on your website
You don’t have to be a web guru or SEO specialist to build backlinks for your website. Here’s a simple, five-step process that you can build into your marketing strategy to grow your rankings, traffic and backlink count:
- Analyze – Discover what terms people are searching for in your industry.
- Create – Create high-quality, engaging content that targets those search terms (keywords).
- Publish – Post the keyword-targeted content on your website and optimize the page based on the term you chose.
- Promote – Let the world know you published the content.
- Monitor – Track and analyze your activity, organic traffic and backlink profile.
We will review each of these in greater detail so you can apply them to your SEO process.
1. Analyze —Discover what people are searching for
The first step in learning how to get backlinks is to come up with a list of keywords that reflect what people are searching for to get to your website or competitors in your industry.
For example, if you manage an auto repair shop, then customers might reach your site through terms like “oil change near me,” or “mechanic in [city name].”
The good news is that you don’t have to guess what these keywords are to dial in SEO. With the right research tools, you can curate a list of words and phrases that are useful for your customers to find you and valuable to your brand as a whole.
Start with on-site search
If your website has a search bar feature, then your customers are already telling you what information they need. Google Analytics is able to capture these search terms and list them for you to review.
A third of your site visitors will conduct an on-site search, so you can quickly curate a list of relevant terms.
Look for patterns in the keywords and let them guide your content. For example, if people are searching wedding-related keywords, you might want to promote your space as a venue more. Your landing page with that content may need to be more prominent or you may need to create more content around those search terms.
Analyze your competitors
If you want to take a competitive stance in your SEO field, analyze the keywords of your competitors. Wordstream curated a list of eight useful tools for finding their top keywords and other keywords they may be missing out on. You can use this to guide your strategy.
Try Google’s Keyword Planner tool
Even if you don’t use Google Ads, you can tap into the keyword planner to drum up possible ideas and synonyms. With the keyword planner tool, you can type in one idea and then Google will recommend other terms and keywords, while showing you the search popularity of each one. You can gain new ideas while determining which tools would be most effective.
As you can see from the example above, the keyword “Tinnitus cure,” is highly competitive, but the term “what is Tinnitus” only has 880 monthly searches. If you are an ear doctor, you could create a blog post with the later term, focusing on what Tinnitus is.
You can also look at your search terms in Google Ads. These are not the terms you are bidding on, but the terms people use to find your ads. You may discover some keywords that Google never thought of.
2. Create — Produce great content targeting those search terms
Once you have your list of keywords, it is time to assign content to each term.
You can create infographics, videos, eBooks, whitepapers and blog posts — to name a few. As a small business owner, you need to weigh your time and cost of production.
An infographic might be impressive, but it can also be expensive and time-consuming. The fastest way to produce content in an economical manner is by blogging. Blogging can be your gateway into the world of SEO content and can help you get a foundation of content on your site quickly and affordably.
For example, if you wanted to build backlinks and rank highly for the keyword “outdoor wedding,” you could write any of the following blog articles:
- What to look for in an outdoor wedding venue.
- Top favor ideas for an outdoor wedding.
- Advice from wedding planners for an outdoor wedding.
As you can see, each idea is unique, but all of the blog post ideas tie back to the target keyword. You could then create an internal service page for outdoor weddings that you link to throughout all those posts with calls-to-action for the readers to contact you to plan their outdoor wedding.
While content can be used for SEO, it should also be created to provide value. Keep in mind that your goal isn’t just to rank for “outdoor wedding,” it’s to turn those visitors into customers.
Pro tip: “Near me” searches grew 900% between 2015 and 2017. These are terms like “hair stylist near me” or “plumber in my neighborhood.” Not only are these terms popular, they are also effective. More than 50% of “near me” searches result in a physical store visit. Consider researching and building localized content targeting those popular search terms.
3. Publish — Post the SEO-friendly content on your website
One of the biggest mistakes you could make in learning how to get backlinks is creating multiple pieces of content around one keyword. Unless you’re using a hub-technique, you typically want to avoid targeting the same keyword with your onsite content.
For example, the “outdoor wedding” keyword generated three ideas, but you may not want to create three separate blog posts for the same targeted term. Instead, consider expanding that term beyond just outdoor wedding, targeting more niche topics like “outdoor weddings in july” or “budget-friendly outdoor weddings” which are similar themes but targeting long-tail queries.
If you create too many topics around the same keyword, you could end up competing against yourself and your content will be less effective.
Instead, take one keyword and research four or five similar terms that you can use. (This is where the Google Keyword Planner comes in handy.) You can take one keyword and find a dozen similar ones. If you use an SEO tool like Yoast, you will be alerted when you use a duplicate target keyword.
While you will inevitably create content around similar topics, make sure there is a specific term you want it to rank for most — and avoid creating too many posts or pages for that specific term.
Develop cornerstone content
If you really want to rank for one keyword in particular, consider developing cornerstone content. As Instapage’s Stephanie Mialki notes:
“Cornerstone content is … the highest value, most foundational content pieces for increasing traffic and brand awareness.”
This is where strategic content investment comes in.
Many brands will invest in high-quality content, like an eBook or whitepaper, to target a specific keyword. This is the cornerstone piece of content. Then, they will create a handful of supporting blog posts that link to the main piece and direct readers to the valuable information.
For example, if a cornerstone whitepaper is called “How to lose your baby weight in six months,” then the supplemental blog posts would cover topics and keywords like:
- How much weight do women gain during pregnancy?
- How long, on average, does it take to lose post-baby weight?
- When can women start exercising after they have a baby?
Each piece would have its own keywords (and would meet your blog’s quality standards) but would also link back to the cornerstone piece which is targeting the main term of “how to lose baby weight” or something similar. Because you’re running a business, that cornerstone page should also have CTAs to convert visitors.
4. Promote — Let the world know you are creating great content
Along with taking as many steps possible to rank well for your content, you can also drive people to read and share your blog posts.
Remember, the more people who see your posts will link to it, growing your backlink count with the help of your social promotions.
One of the top questions people ask is whether social media shares help SEO. Social media is not one of the most important SEO ranking factors. If it was, brands could just buy their way to high rankings by promoting their content across various social channels.
That being said, promoting your content on social media can generate traffic to your website and prompt others to link back to your content, which does affect your SEO heavily.
Plus, the traffic you drive to your content is captured in behavioral analytics. If your audiences spend a long time on your page, then Google will notice the audience behavior, and it will consider that page valuable to other similar users.
The search engine can see if a page has a low bounce rate or if it’s not mobile friendly, signaling to it’s algorithm whether or not to increase or decrease the value of your page. You may notice higher rankings as your social engagement grows because people enjoy the content you share and are spending more time on that page.
Naturally, these higher rankings help you build on your success and drive even more backlinks to your site.
5. Monitor — Track and analyze your SEO activity and results
As you start to regularly publish content and share it on social media, set up a process to track your user engagement and backlinks, among other data points.
Once again, you don’t need to be a numbers wizard to monitor your insights. Google Analytics is free for website users and there are easy-to-digest tutorials that you can follow to learn about the tool.
You can check your analytics weekly, but once a month is just fine. With Google Analytics, you can review a host of different metrics that can provide value to your brand and content strategy. These include:
- Top pages and blog posts
- Top channels to drive traffic (Google, Facebook, etc.)
- Demographics and interests of your target audiences
- Sources of traffic (desktop vs. mobile, Chrome vs. Mozilla)
- Bounce rates, time on site, and other use behavior
To track your website backlinks, you can try using Majestic, Moz, SEMRUSH, or Ahrefs. You will be able to get some data for free, but it may be worth paying for these services if your goal is to build backlinks to your website.
Most brands don’t see the results they want for at least 12 months. Even if you are ranking well, you don’t want to stop. Letting your content grow stale is a great way to fall in the rankings. You don’t want all of your hard work to be for naught.
Creating the best content you can will never get punished by search engines like Google. The search engines will appreciate you, your audience will engage with you, and your business will grow.
Now go forth and broadcast your knowledge — and reap the benefits of your labor.
This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by Garth O’Brien.