25% of local SEO experts believe links are more important to local business search rankings than they were a year ago
Experts say the most effective strategies for getting local business backlinks: 1. sponsoring charities, 2. requesting existing links, 3. creating local resources
35% of local SEO experts think it'll become more difficult to acquire links for local businesses in 2018
Local SEO experts say the most valuable link sources for boosting local business search rankings: 1. community websites, 2. local news & content sites, 3. high domain authority sites
Email is the most effective outreach method for acquiring backlinks for local businesses, according to top local SEO experts - but social outreach is far less valued
Welcome to the Expert Local Business Link Building Survey
Over the last few years, we’ve seen lots of questions from businesses around local link building, and SEO professionals who wanted to prove to customers the importance of links in local rankings. We could never find a resource that we felt answered all of these questions – so we set out to make one!
We reached out to twenty of the biggest experts in the local search industry to uncover their experiences and opinions on the impact of local business link building and businesses’ search visibility.
Our expert panel shares their thoughts on topics including:
- The effectiveness of local link building in 2018
- What a successful local business link building strategy looks like
- The most powerful types of links
- Link building for single-location vs multi-location businesses
- Which outreach processes are most effective
The experts answered 13 survey questions which we have aggregated to provide collective answers and charts – combined with their insights on link building in the local SEO industry. The full list of contributors is available to see in the report.
A huge thank you to the twenty SEO experts for sharing their brilliant local link building insights. If you have any ideas and suggestions on link building for local businesses, please comment below.
Q1. Is link building a task you prioritize for your local business clients?
Q2. How effective is link building for boosting local businesses’ search rankings?
Q3. What is the biggest problem or misconception about the value of links to local SEO?
Q4. Are links more or less important now to local business search rankings than 12 months ago?
Q5. Will acquiring links become easier or more difficult this year?
Q6. How many local links should local businesses aim to acquire, as a minimum, each month?
Q7. Is link building for multi-location businesses easier or harder than for single-location businesses?
Q8. Which are the most valuable link sources for boosting search rankings for local businesses?
Q9. How valuable are the following link traits to boosting local businesses’ search rankings?
Q10. How valuable are the following in link anchor text?
Q11. How valuable are the following strategies when building new backlinks to local business sites?
Q12. Which link building outreach processes do you find most effective?
Q13. In your opinion and experience, what does a successful local business link building strategy look like?
Link building for local businesses remains critical for the SEO industry, with our panel of experts clearly prioritizing it as a key task for their clients. For 11%, link building is the most important task they perform. A further 72% told us that it’s a very important task.
None of our panel think that local link building is less important than other optimization tasks.
Seriously, go start building links. It makes a difference in not just local organic rankings but is also a major competitive differentiator in pack rankings. It’s hard, you’ll learn a lot, and in the end, you are going to be able to build a process that you can leverage for success.Dan Leibson , Local SEO Guide
Link building always needs to consider the unique situation of any given business. What links have they got currently? What links have competitors got? What do link opportunities look like in this business category? Only once armed with this information can you devise a sensible link building strategy.Marcus Miller , Bowler Hat
I think link building should be one of many strategies used for SEO. I consider a strategy successful if the link also provides traffic to the site or some type of additional branding for the business. I try to avoid building links if the page the link is on is one that a human being is never going to visit.Joy Hawkins , Sterling Sky
You don’t have to build links to all local business websites, only the ones you want to reliably rank well. Of course I am exaggerating somewhat. Local businesses with other “prominence” attributes (e.g. semantically relevant reviews) can do well, but those are also the types of businesses that attract links on their own.Andrew Shotland , Local SEO Guide
In the UK, go back a few years and for some businesses you could generate good results without link building. This is assuming that local was in a bad place but authority was solid. Now, as things are getting more competitive then links matter more than ever and are typically the competitive difference maker.Marcus Miller , Bowler Hat
In competitive SERPs, once you get table stakes right (i.e. citation consistency, etc), in my experience, topically and geographically relevant local links are the biggest difference-maker. One of our primary metrics is growing the number of linking root domains from topically and geographically relevant pages. In addition to improving search positions, these links are also great for branding, earning referral traffic, and qualified leads.Gyi Tsakalakis , AttorneySync
No link building campaign for a local business will be fully effective without education (consultant’s responsibility) and client’s direct involvement. Business owners need to understand what good link building is and do their part to build business visibility online.Max Minzer , ReEngage Consulting
Link building is a marathon, not a sprint. Staying focused on marathon type tasks are difficult enough for anybody, much less business owners with 100’s of other to-dos surrounding their business.Adam Dorfman , SIM Partners
Experts were asked to share their thoughts.
The biggest misconception is that link building is a one-hit wonder, in other words, once the job is done, the job is done. In reality, it is an ongoing, evolving process.Susan Hallam , Hallam Internet
That Google doesn’t give you any “credit” for no-followed links or links from low authority domains.Mary Bowling , Ignitor Digital
Biggest misconception: That all you need are local citations and you’re good to go. Biggest problem: The riskiest tactics have the biggest payoff and based on what we see, many businesses still don’t get it when they get slammed, and many SEO vendors are not transparent about the risky stuff they are doing for their clients.Andrew Shotland , Local SEO Guide
Too many local SEOs treat links as a side dish. Their main courses are excessive citation-building and dumb on-page optimization. Except in un-competitive markets, you need at least a trickle of relevant links coming in, or you’ll hit a wall.Phil Rozek , Local Visibility System
That they’re as important as or more important than reviews.David Mihm , Tidings
The biggest misconception is that a marketer should only be going citation building, but in reality, they should be integrating blogger or influencer outreach.Kevin Rowe , Rowe Digital
The biggest misconception is when people look at the domain rating or domain authority as the sole metric in links they’re acquiring. I can get 10, 90+ DA links today by filling out profiles, but are they really helping me? Probably not much because they’re not relevant to my business. Why value something everyone can get?Casey Meraz , Juris Digital
75% of our experts think links are equally as important to local search rankings as they were a year ago. The remaining 25% believe links are more important now. No one thinks they’re less important – and it’s no wonder.
Possum shook up local search rankings with a massive algorithm update in 2016 – making the physical location of the searcher even more important, and cutting out spam and duplicates. In comparison, 2017 was a relatively quiet year for local Google algorithm changes. Hawk had some impact in tackling some of Possum’s problems in filtering out similar businesses. Together, these updates opened the door for links to become more important to search rankings.
The so-called Fred update that was reported in March 2017 appeared to target low-quality spam links – meaning quality links could have a greater influence to local business rankings than before. The Local Search Ranking Factors Survey found that link signals grew in importance from 2016-2017 – with Google increasingly looking at businesses’ links to help decide rankings.
There’s not much hope among the experts on the ease of acquiring links – with 35% predicting link building will be harder this year. While the majority think it’ll be about the same level of difficulty, not one of the experts think it will become easier to get links in 2018.
It’s hard to build links at scale for the long-term. Earning links for local businesses is relatively easy in the beginning, as you can utilize existing business relationships and networks for easy wins.
But beyond this initial flush, technical link building takes time, resources, and experience to achieve ongoing results. This is where SEO professionals can really sell their specialist knowledge beyond what local businesses can do themselves. After all, while you might be able to fix a dripping faucet yourself, you’d need a real expert to replace a broken water main!
As a rule of thumb, after the easy wins have been leveraged, we typically have the most success with a content driven link building strategy. This would usually involve the creation of a linkable asset that we can then promote to safely build links beyond the standard industry type of links.Marcus Miller , Bowler Hat
Businesses (and many agencies and consultants) tend to have crippling old-school ideas about links. Others are afraid to do anything to gain more links due to a fear of penalties. It’s not hard to build decent local links, but you do need some budget for it. The more participation I get from a client, the more successful we can be in building their local brand.Mary Bowling , Ignitor Digital
People need to realize that all aspects of link building in any form carry risk and determine what level of risk you are comfortable with.Mike Ramsey , Nifty Marketing
We asked our panel of experts how many links a business needs each month – but of course, there is no simple answer.
While around 5-20 good quality and relevant links would be excellent each month, this is subjective based on the type of business, and what their competition is doing.
Acquiring links is an ongoing process that delivers over a sustained period of time. It isn’t as simple as ‘one and done’ in local link building.
It depends on location and competition. There is no universal right number of links to acquire.Will Scott , Search Influence
It’s important to always be researching potential link opportunities but don’t try to force a certain amount in a month or your standards will go down. It should vary from one business to the next so it’s hard to provide a set minimum.Tom Waddington , Wachae
There is so much hype about links that people think they need a large number to be successful. I have lots of clients that have gained a ton of new customers from Google in the last 6 months while only getting 1-5 new links during that time period. The amount and type of link building that works best also varies greatly depending on the industry.Joy Hawkins , Sterling Sky
There’s no definitive answer among our experts on what’s more difficult: link building for single locations or link building for multiple locations. 55% think it’s easier for multi-location, while 35% say it’s more difficult.
Half of the SEO professionals in our recent Local Search Industry Survey told us they did link building each week – but just 26% said they enjoyed it as a task. Link building requires a significant budget, and with no guaranteed results, this can get quickly eaten up with little to show at the end. It’s a time-intensive process, and SEOs need to be able to prove its impact if they are to target multi-location businesses with bigger budgets.
There are positives and negatives in link building for both single and multi-businesses – but with great budgets come great expectations.
Link building for multi-location businesses can be more difficult because the principle of “economies of scale” don’t apply when delivering creative, content-led campaigns. These creative campaigns can be a rich source of local links, but it can feel like hard work when scaling this up for multi-location businesses, coming up with variations or new campaigns.Susan Hallam , Hallam Internet
For us, working exclusively with car dealers, it’s much more difficult when we’re working with an auto group (multiple dealers under one umbrella). When an individual dealer does anything linkworthy, it clearly gets sent to their site. But when a group does anything linkworthy (sponsorships, community service, community events, etc.), it’s as the group entity, so it’s harder to translate into links for individual sites.Greg Gifford , DealerOn
A link-earning strategy that works in one local market tends to be applicable to the others, so one good idea x 10 locations may = 10 good links, rather than one.Phil Rozek , Local Visibility System
It’s always easier to receive links from larger brands because they already have awareness and tons of brand mentions that you just need to get turned into a hyperlink. No one ever got penalized for linking to Walmart.Matthew Hunt , Powered By Search
When a recognized brand contacts you, the email gets a much faster and better response than when you see something from Joe the Plumber.Mike Ramsey , Nifty Marketing
If you are running SEO for a multi-location business, my number one link building recommendation is to train the corporate location manager liaison in local link building so they can train individuals at unique locations to build links themselves.Adam Dorfman , SIM Partners
Respondents were able to choose three options.
1. Local community websites (75%)
2. Local news / content sites (70%)
3. High domain authority sites (60%)
4.= Industry news / content sites (45%)
4.= Websites of other local businesses (45%)
While there are a lot of valuable link sources out there, local relevance trumps everything else: including industry sites, authority, and citations.
Relevance is more granular at the industry and local level – and building links in these niches can be easier. Smaller industry influencers will receive fewer requests than the bigger players, so it’s far easier to build a real relationship.
Best links are gained through good relationships with neighbors that have influence. Building those relationships in the community should prove to build the highest quality links.Joel Headley , PatientPop
A successful local link building strategy needs to rely on truly localized and relevant links. Getting listed in a local directory that has a 75 domain authority with 1 million other businesses is likely not going to have as big of an impact as a link from a community website or organization that has a DA of 35 but only a few outgoing links.Casey Meraz , Juris Digital
The most successful link building strategy ends in a diverse link profile with varying anchor text and site DA, with high contextual relevance.Kevin Rowe , Rowe Digital
Local businesses should be focused on local opportunities. If you spend even just a little time brainstorming ideas with the business owner it’s amazing what you can come up with: helping clients identify opportunities for community involvement, identifying opportunities to improve anchor text, researching competitor links, or discovering hyper-local directories. The sky is really the limit.Colan Nielsen , Sterling Sky
[Links] don’t have to be high authority followed links. I’ll take a low authority link any day, and I could give a crap if it’s followed or not. All links matter in local, as long as they’re relevant.Greg Gifford , DealerOn
- Quality/authority of links is the most important trait in search rankings – with 90% calling this highly valuable, and the remaining experts as “valuable”
- 90% of experts believe the diversity of link sources is valuable – with half of these believing it to be highly valuable
- 90% also believe that diversity of link anchor text of value- but fewer of these believe it’s highly valuable (20%)
- Quantity of links was seen as the least valuable – with 65% naming it as valuable or highly valuable – and 5% saying this isn’t valuable at all
Links that would be considered low quality can still make a difference but too many people get addicted to them.Tom Waddington , Wachae
Whenever we decide how much link building to do for a client, we always look to see the effort vs the impact. Link building can be extremely time-consuming so we always want to make sure that time will actually result in an ROI for the business that we can justify.Joy Hawkins , Sterling Sky
Don’t go overboard with anchor text. Keep it natural and avoid penalization.Casey Meraz , Juris Digital
- Sponsoring local charities/organizations
- Requesting links from existing brand mentions
- Creating resources with a local focus
- Relationships with local businesses/influencers
- Creating research-based content
Least valued local link building strategies
- Commenting (blogs, Q&A websites, forums)
- Including links in social media profiles
- Creating infographics
- Holding webinars
- Sharing on social media
100% of experts believe sponsoring or donating to local charities, clubs or organizations is valuable – with 75% of these calling it highly valuable. 100% also rate creating resources with a local focus as valuable – with 70% calling this highly valuable.
Blogging sits in the middle of the list, with 30% believing it to be not very valuable for local businesses. Building backlinks to blogs can be difficult and time-consuming – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The best local business blogs focus on providing local value. Promote these through local relationships to maximize the chances of receiving a backlink – but it has to be relevant to their audiences’ interests.
The task the experts were least sure of, in terms of value, was running competitions (15%).
Legitimate relationships and traditional PR techniques have to be at the center of a real link building strategy. The most effective local content focuses on comparisons/competitions of multiple markets, or neighborhoods within a market. You then have content that can be spread around multiple communities which increases the chances of acquiring a link.David Mihm , Tidings
[Link building is] a multi-faceted approach, looking at lots of different opportunities. The easiest approach is relationship-based links – looking at things the business already does and relationships that already exist. It’s a slow burn, looking for REAL local opportunities for links that competitors don’t have. In many cases, we’re talking really small scale, so in some cases, it doesn’t even take that many links to win.Greg Gifford , DealerOn
Don’t rely on one strategy. Most or all of your links should be from sites that are relevant to your industry, or to your local area, or both. Join a few industry organizations, a Chamber of Commerce, and sponsor a few local causes or do some pro bono work. Then throw in a couple of strategies that take more long-term effort, but that you can nibble on. Either ramp up the ‘community giving’, make a name for yourself as a blogger, or do HARO outreach religiously.Phil Rozek , Local Visibility System
Best local link building outreach processes
- Short personal email (65%)
- Detailed personal email (60%)
- Slow-burn relationship-building (55%)
- Building relationships through attending events (45%)
- Phone outreach (35%)
Email is the most effective link building tactic in local SEO, followed by relationship building. A personalized approach to local link building involves understanding what your target wants from a link, and what they might need from you to make this happen. Outreach should be focused on quality, not quantity.
Outreach on social media is far less important to our experts. Asking for links over social media can feel less personal and private – and put targets under pressure to respond in a public domain.
The best link building strategies reflect the real-world marketing activities, relationships, and spheres of influence a local business has earned. Having a detailed plan of action for creating a strong local reputation will, with careful execution, simultaneously deliver a successful local link building campaign.Susan Hallam , Hallam Internet
Short, snappy emails and phone outreach work best. Keep it real, remember we are dealing with real humans.Matthew Hunt , Powered By Search
The best link building strategies align with other things you are already doing. If you are engaged in organic or paid social, then you should see if you can layer in influencer outreach to get eyeballs and links.Dan Leibson , Local SEO Guide
A successful local business link building strategy would be one where the business bakes backlink acquisition into its everyday processes. A business that understands the importance of links shouldn’t need to use an SEO company to go out and get them. Of course that’s a total fantasy, but it’s the ideal.Andrew Shotland , Local SEO Guide
It looks a lot like PR. 1. You make a plan 2. You define targets 3. You execute your plan 4. [Results come in] over time.Will Scott , Search Influence
Consistent process of outreach and community building that leverages the natural relationships the local business already has in their community.Joel Headley , PatientPop
Glib answer: One that improves your visibility on Google and Bing when potential customers are searching for a product or service you offer. Real answer: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy as the lowest hanging fruit often varies from business to business.Adam Dorfman , SIM Partners
Link building should be thought of as digital PR. It’s very similar to traditional PR, but the digital PR person is a technical SEO/PR person who also understands how to get the hyperlink vs just the mention.Matthew Hunt , Powered By Search
It involves doing multiple tactics and strategies and not just focusing on one thing such as outreach.Colan Nielsen , Sterling Sky
It looks exactly like a local brand building campaign. Increase awareness of your brand within your own market area and continually strive to improve your reputation among the people who have the greatest potential to become your customers.Mary Bowling , Ignitor Digital
Link building remains a critical tool for local businesses in the battle for search prominence. While there is no simple formula for the number of links, it’s clear that local relevancy should be front-of-mind in any local link building strategy. For local businesses, building local and industry relationships is necessary for success.
Local SEO professionals should be the key to unlocking these relationships, identifying others that could benefit their clients, and conducting personal outreach to acquire a useful backlink.
Relevance and regularity = results.