Since Google rolled out the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, numerous sites have been impacted or penalized. Often, companies that incur penalties or experience a drop in rankings don’t have a clue as to what they’ve done wrong — especially small, local businesses. This leads me to a novel proposal: perhaps for local businesses, the best link building is absolutely none at all.
I’ve been approached by many small-to-medium businesses seeking help with various degrees of penalization as a result of these updates over the past year, and some of the commonalities to me are striking — primarily, the degree of ignorance about online marketing behaviors that can result in Google penalizing your website.
The chief “sin” among these behaviors often involves link building. It’s not surprising that this has happened, given the overwhelming number of articles out there advising businesses on how to increase their inlinks in order to improve their rankings in Google, Bing, and Yahoo! search results.
If you’re a newbie, you might not realize that Google’s original PageRank algorithm ranked pages based largely on how many other sites and pages linked to them, taking into account the relative importance of those linking pages. Fast forward to 2013: Google rankings continue to be influenced by links, but there are many additional factors or “signals” by which Google determines the relative popularity — and, therefore, rankings — of webpages.
Over the years, I’ve written articles and provided advice about link building, though I’ve always tried to lean heavily toward the conservative side of this practice, recommending methods that should play well with Google’s rules.
Forget Link Building
Even so, it’s become very clear to me that it may be highly counterproductive to try to teach small businesses how to conduct link building. They don’t understand the best practices necessary to perform the development while simultaneously staying on Google’s and Bing’s good side. They take shortcuts. They make novice mistakes. They attempt to blatantly manipulate Google through building a linking scheme of interlinked microsites, purchasing numerous keyword domain names, spamming links onto sites or forums or blog comments, or by purchasing links.
And, more frequently than not, they get into real trouble — resulting in their websites being penalized and their listing getting suppressed or removed from Place Search or Maps.
Frankly, the key problem for SMBs in link building is that Google and Bing don’t want you to do it at all!
The search engines are looking to see sites’ backlink profiles expand primarily via natural growth. For instance, if someone’s writing a blog post and mentions your site/business, that’s when they want a link to appear — as a sort of heartfelt, real endorsement of your site.
Google has become so sophisticated with link analysis that there’s not much point in attempting to “trick” or manipulate them through link development practices (at least for relative novices).
So, this leads me to a simple premise: small-to-medium businesses would be better off simply in focusing on quality and working on good content over time, rather than involving themselves in the arcane practice of “link building.”
Instead Of Link Building…
If you’re an SMB desiring to improve your search engine rankings and attract new customers, what should you be doing instead? I think you should really be ambitiously creating content and involving yourself in social media.
Some people have coined a trendy term for “creating content” — they’re calling it “content marketing,” and the name has been gaining steam over the last year or two. But, there’s nothing new about content marketing. Quite simply, ignore the potentially intimidating phrase and look toward areas where you can be frequently producing content in an ongoing basis, whether it be through writing, posting images, or posting videos.
Quite a few of us have pushed blogging for local businesses for years, as this results in unique and often shareable content that is search engine friendly. It also creates a great basis for Twitter postings and Facebook status updates, along with other social media sites. If your business lends itself to beautiful or interesting visuals, look towards posting stuff on image sharing sites like Flickr and Pinterest.
In terms of social media, simply posting your own stuff all the time really isn’t enough. You need to be working to increase your engagement and influence, since these sorts of nebulous factors are increasingly influential with the search engines as part of the overall ranking mix.
Local businesses still need to have first laid the groundwork for their online presence by getting their business listings to show up in all of the major online business directories (such as Internet Yellow Pages) and local search engines. That can easily be done by tapping a service like Universal Business Listing or Neustar LocalEze to distribute the information to many directories — or you can simply do it manually. (Disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board for Universal Business Listing.)
Either way, once the basic listing information has been distributed, the best source for local citations — i.e., “mentions” of your business online in places that search engines may notice — will be through social media work.
So, ditch the link building! Live stress-free! Work on developing interesting stuff and engaging with your customers and with the public. Do that, and the rest will follow… naturally.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.