Links are an important part of SEO, and sometimes the most confusing part for small business owners. Links were an important part of how Google differentiated itself as a search engine back when many search engines were more like the Yellow Pages with categories and alphabetizing. Often when I sit down with (or Zoom with these days) small business owners, this can be the toughest thing for them to wrap their heads around.
I wanted to give you a very quick and high-level overview here, with the option to click through to a much more in-depth update by Cyrus Shepard for Moz recently about the fundamentals of links. He has some great info in there for those that want to get to the nuts and bolts, but I just want to touch on the absolute basics before.
But First, a Warning About Links
In my 15+ years of working in SEO, one of the things you can most rely on is that if Google gives ranking value to something, entire industries will pop up to cheat at that or try to game the system. The warning here is that links need to be legitimate. There are all sorts of low-cost ways to get hundreds of links that give you no real value. If anything, you should learn from this, especially for small business SEO, it is more about the quality and relevancy of the link and not just the total count.
Links are Votes or Online Referrals
The easiest way to think about it is that if another website is willing to send its users to your website, that is viewed as a vote of credibility in your favor, or like a referral. It is the virtual version of your BNI or LeTip referral. Google views it the same way. To add even more depth, every link tells Google a story about your website. Links from strong and reputable sites to your sites add to your credibility and relevance. Links from garbage sites that have a bad reputation will hurt your credibility. This is why you want to be careful and avoid those link schemes of hundreds of links from who knows where. Links should be representative of true relationships with your business.
Every Link Tells A Story About Your Business
A link tells Google that the site (or specific URL) it is pointing to has value and should be prioritized. The content around a link to yourself gives Google an idea of the topic relevance of that page. The words used in the link, or anchor text, also helps Google understand the context and topic of the link. Links from actual content have more value than a link from a footer, as it is telling more of a story. Links higher in content or prioritized near the top of a linking article also show priority. In the small business world, you don’t typically have a lot of control over this aspect of your link. Though if you do, since it is a true relationship, this can prove helpful. I often even have clients ask me to help their referring business place a link because they aren’t quite sure how to do it. Google assumes a level of knowledge in this area that works great for big businesses but often needs a little technical assistance from small businesses. Sometimes you ask for a link and the business agrees, but then isn’t sure how to actually put it in place. It is important to be able to take that next step. All of these links have value.
External Links vs. Internal Links
Internal links still have value. Just not quite as much as external links. When I say internal links, I am referring to linking within your own website. If you write a blog post about a detailed facet of one of your core services, you should link back to that main service page. That tells Google that the main service page is a priority page to you and important on your website. Internal linking is often an overlooked part of small business websites. It is better for the user as well to have convenient paths via links back to the core service pages. Don’t forget about internal links but external links, because they require another business to find you have value, are more powerful to boosting your ranking strength.
Creating relationships and getting external websites to link to your important pages will really help drive your SEO growth. Each domain is a relationship, so getting more and more links from the same domain has diminishing returns. Google gives more value to more entities (domains) valuing your site and giving it credibility. For example, one link from your national industry association is likely stronger than having 100 links from a client where you put your link in their footer. Just try to think of all of your business relationships and if you can turn them into links.
Relevance and Strength
Every website and even page has different strengths and topic relevance. As mentioned above, each link tells a story. It is helpful to have both. A link from your local chamber of commerce may not be as strong as a link from the Wall Street Journal, but it gives Google much more information about your target market and makes you more relevant to working in that geography. You want a balance of both, but if you are marketing to a local market, those local charity sponsorships or little league sponsors can prove quite valuable at giving you local credibility. Every legitimate link you can pick up is useful, so I always teach you to bake it into your process and “Think Link” in your everyday interactions. It can make a big difference in your continued SEO growth. For much more detail on all of this, I again highly recommend Cyrus’s article.
Link building can often be the toughest part of SEO for small businesses. If you need help, we are here for you. We have affordable plans that really work, and even help some clients just with the link relationships because they have the other aspects figured out.