Founder of the well-loved catchphrase, “meh, links!”, Gyi Tsakalakis is — as you might expect — a known advocate for local link building. Here, he explains why local links still hold value in 2020, and shares some of the best tactics for building a healthy backlink profile.
If you’re marketing a local business online, earning quality local links isn’t just good for local SEO, it’s good for business.
The idea that building local links is good for business is certainly not novel. Will Scott has been preaching about the power of Barnacle SEO for decades.
Still, here in 2020, it seems to me that too many local businesses and their marketers don’t put enough emphasis on building links that have business value beyond SEO.
Building awareness is an often overlooked benefit of earning local links. When potential customers or clients begin the research and discovery phase of their journey, they are looking for answers, resources, education, data, opinions, and insights from sources they know, like, and/or trust. Earning links to your site/pages from these sources can be a remarkably effective way to get on their radar.
To me, the most obvious examples in this context are directories and review sites. Here’s an example for someone looking for the best place to buy meat in Chicago:
Acquiring local links from business directories and review sites is really ticket-to-entry local link building for awareness. In terms of deciding which sites to prioritize, start with the directories that appear most prominently for relevant awareness search queries. These are likely to include a combination of the major sites (i.e. Yelp), as well as vertical-specific sites (i.e. a legal directory like FindLaw).
In addition to directories, other ‘local links for awareness’ sites usually include:
- Local blogs (contributing and commenting)
- Local news
- Local community forums
Even if the searcher isn’t ready to make a purchase now, having links from these sites reinforces brand awareness and builds confidence and trust.
It’s also worth mentioning that, while I’ll be focusing on actual local hypertext links here, you certainly shouldn’t ignore linkless citations.
In addition to building awareness, building local links is also an effective way to drive qualified leads. Identifying local partners who share a target audience similar to yours is a great way to both generate links and leads.
Building local links for business is also about “getting out there” in your local community. It’s been said that the best links tend to grow from building great relationships.
Local sponsorships are still among my favorite examples here. Use links from a sponsorship page to drive leads for a specific offer that is highly relevant to the audience of the sponsored group, organization, or team. Think local sports shops sponsoring local youth sports teams and offering team-specific discounts.
Find popular existing local events. Where does your local community congregate? Where are these events published online? In many cases, local government sites get involved in promoting these events. These are fantastic opportunities to earn links that also generate leads. Look for event sites that have a track record of linking back to partners and contributors.
Scholarships also remain a really effective link building tactic. Now before you frantically rush to Twitter to “@” me about how scholarship link building has been abused, hear me out. I’m not talking about merely pledging some cash and hammering a list of .edu sites. Instead, consider offering local scholarships to students who might also be customers. Going back to the sports shop analogy, offer a scholarship to a local student-athlete who excels both on the field, as well as in the classroom. You might be surprised just how effective this can be for generating goodwill, building brand awareness, and yes, building local links.
Finally, hopefully, it’s obvious by now, local links generate customers and clients. In fact, if you’ve already acquired some of the links that we discussed here, my hunch is that they’ve already been earning you business. Oftentimes, attribution issues obfuscate the value that local links are contributing to the bottom line. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to persuade the powers that be to invest in local link building strategies. Be sure to mine referral data and configure goals to capture the business impact of your local links.
Some Dos and Don’ts of Local Link Building for SEO
As you know, most local SEO experts agree that link building is effective for boosting businesses’ local search rankings. But don’t take our word for it, even Google admits that links help improve your local ranking.
As we discussed during my Local Search Clinic, in my experience, excluding spam, links are the biggest competitive difference-maker in local rankings. So, all else being equal, meh, build links! But keep the following in mind:
- Don’t prospect local links based on proxy domain metrics (i.e. Domain Authority, Trust Flow, Toolbar PageRank, I couldn’t resist). Most of the really valuable, relevant, and local links won’t get high marks on these scales.
- Don’t ignore NoFollow link opportunities. Too many link builders dismiss sites entirely that have NoFollow policies. Guess who doesn’t care about NoFollow? Customers. Furthermore, Google is “counting” NoFollow links. Go ask them.
- Don’t ignore linkless citations and mentions. If you twist my arm, I’ll tell you to prefer links. However, that doesn’t mean to ignore sites that have “no linking” policies. Ignoring local news sites that won’t link back to you is myopic. Again, Google is keeping score. Go ask them.
- Don’t obsess over anchor text. Sure, earning some keyword-rich anchors can help point Google in the right direction. But most of the time, this gets abused and creates a pattern that is more of a liability than an asset. Further, if you’re prospecting for relevance, it’s likely that your link will be surrounded by relevant keywords.
- Do prospect local links for relevance. I often say that the best local link you can get is from your competitor down the street. Needless to say, that’s a tough link to get. But the point remains, your competitions’ websites are likely the most topically and geographically relevant sites you can find. Let this mantra guide your prospecting efforts. So, if you can’t get a link from a direct competitor, look for local sites that serve your target audience in a different way.
- Do go hyper-local. I like to start prospecting research with Google Maps. Begin with your business location and radiate outward. When we just search major city names for prospects, we miss out on more local opportunities (i.e. neighborhoods, blocks, and other hyper-local language).
- Do use crawlers (I like Screaming Frog) to identify link opportunities. Many local sites have a variety of issues that present great opportunities for local link building (i.e. broken links, linking to outdated content, etc). Crawlers can also make it much easier to identify the path of least resistance for earning a link (i.e. they already link to pages like mine, etc).
- Do use competition-informed prospecting. Yes, look for sites linking to your competitors but not to you. But don’t obsess over copying competitor link profiles. Most of the links you’ll find there probably aren’t helping much. You’ll wasted a lot of time and money trying to build links that won’t move the dial.
Hopefully this article helps you reframe local link building for both rankings and money. Have a great local link building tale to tell? Let’s share stories in the comments below!