Is Link Building Dead? Some Tips for Small Business SEO

by in Link Building

Link Building DeadIn the wake of Google’s Penguin and Panda updates, many websites have experienced penalties resulting from a poor link profile. Nothing makes a webmaster’s heart grow colder, faster, than a notification from Google stating “We’ve detected that some links pointing to your website are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster’s guidelines…”. Receiving that notice sends webmaster’s and SEOs scrambling to evaluate their sites, searching for bad links that scream to be removed. When in fact, you really should not wait for this notice from Google! You really need to know your link profile with the many tools out there, such as Majestic SEO, or better yet, Link Detox for their toxic and suspicious specifications.

Smaller businesses, and local businesses, have been particularly hard hit by Google’s latest updates. Not because of their size, but because many small business owners have either been given bad advice concerning link building, or never truly understood the nature of link building in the first place. So the question remains. Is link building dead for small businesses? The short answer is, “No.”. The longer answer is, “While the reports of the death of link building may be exaggerated, small businesses might want to give their link building strategies an extended rest”.

Link Building and Small Businesses

One of the main reasons small businesses, and novice webmaster’s, have gotten into trouble with their link building strategies is that they are often navigating the SEO waters without a well trained captain. Small business owners may be getting bad advice from black hat SEO firms that promise quick results, or they may be attempting to handle your site’s optimization personally with very little knowledge of web design or development. Either way, they tend to take shortcuts that ultimately cost you heavily in penalties and slipping page rankings. Over the long run, this strategy will cripple your site’s presence in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

The point is, link building shortcuts no longer work, and ongoing link building strategies take time and experience. Google is looking for naturally occurring links or editorial based links, and small businesses often do not have the time or resources to build links organically. Both require patience and building relationships in outreach. So what can the small business owner do to optimize their sites without resorting to unnatural link building techniques?

(Virtually) Link Free SEO for Small Businesses

Despite Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, much of the criteria determining search results continues to be drawn from a website’s link profile. That being said, there are ways small business owners and newbie webmaster’s can optimize their sites without directly concentrating on building links. These are techniques that inexperienced webmaster’s and SEOs can use to promote their websites, while avoiding the potential minefields of link directories, paid links, and reciprocal links.

  • Local Citations – Before small business owners can achieve any return on their optimization efforts, they must first get their business listings in order. Business owners need to be sure their company shows up in all of the major online business directories, and in local search engines. This can be done one listing at a time, or business owners can hire a service such as Whitespark to distribute their information throughout a number of local channels.
  • Social Media – The advent of social media platforms has allowed businesses to interact directly with their customer base. Social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram, are huge social signals and factors in the way Google assigns trust to a website. Small business owners should create accounts on a variety of social media platforms as a way to engage with customers and to offer them valuable information on a regular basis. But remember, the point is to engage with your social media followers regularly, and to encourage them to share your content with their followers. It is not enough to simply open an account on Facebook, you have to connect and build community.
  • Blogging – A blog is a way for local business to offer quality content to customers, and potential customers, and to build online content that is shareable and likely to be noticed by the search engines. Quality content invites and encourages people to share what they have found with others, either directly or through social media. Quality blog content may also be referenced, or shared, by other blog sites. And yes, those are the organic links that Google is looking for.

For the novice SEO, link building can prove to be a dangerous past-time. It is too easy to go for the quick result through paid links or directories, and wind up on the wrong side of Google’s Penguin. By approaching search engine optimization from a different angle, small businesses can improve their online visibility, gradually gather organic links naturally through “link earning”, and find the online success they desire without falling foul of Google’s updates.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share your comments, and I look forward to any discussion below.

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Discussion (6)

  • Darren Shaw

    Great post Dario. David Mihm has mentioned at numerous LocalU events that the typical small business owner only has 3 to 4 links (in less competitive markets of course). It makes sense. That’s a natural link profile for most small businesses. Link spam is just going to make the business stick out like a sore thumb.


    • Dario Zadro

      Thanks Darren! You make a great point to keep the link profile natural. Really appreciate your insight and comment.


  • Ayelet Golz

    Thanks for adding in our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities in your article! Building community is hard work, but it pays off tenfold down the road. If you have any additional feedback about the guide after you’ve read it, I’d love to hear it.


    • Dario Zadro

      For sure! I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Mack at SearchLove and have been following you guys ever since. Keep up the great work.


  • Fizz Web Design

    Novice or not, link building is pretty painful – so much advice on what not to do, but how does the small businessman actually achieve a couple of decent back links let alone enough to make SEO work?

    With regard to business directories, we are now being told that these too may be bad (or rather that some are bad), but there aren’t many ways of finding out which are good and which aren’t so good.

    Link Detox looks like a good tool, but again for the small businessman, pretty darn expensive to justify!


    • Dario Zadro

      Thanks for your comment. A major point of the article was that link building for small business is almost not worth it because of the time and resources required to do it correctly.

      Link Detox has a one-off plan that you can use to get your link profile cleaned up. It’s well worth it!

      And, definitely stay away from directories if you’re not sure which to use. Instead go for the 3 different areas I recommend and focus heavily on building great content through your blogging efforts.

      You could also take a look here for some additional tips.