If you’ve read up on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you’ll constantly see two major themes: Content and Backlinks. I talk a lot on this blog about all aspects of content marketing. But rarely about backlinks. That said, don’t be fooled into believing you can rank without backlinks.
Even with killer content, a fast-loading website, and a few enticing call-to-actions (CTAs), you’ll still need some backlinks to encourage Google and other search engines to display your website on the first page of the search results.
In this article, you’ll learn what a backlink is, why you need them, how many you need, and where to find them. Getting backlinks for your small business’s website shouldn’t be difficult, especially as you can’t rank without backlinks!
What is a backlink?
A backlink is when one website links to another unrelated website. We call adding a link from one page on your website to another an internal link. You should add both internal and external links to every page on your website.
With both types of links, we can use an image or text as the linking element. For example, if I send you to look at BBC news. You’ll automatically click on the underlined text that is the link. We call this text (or lack of it) the anchor.
External links to other websites should always open in a new window, encouraging the reader to stay on your website and finish the article. Internal links don’t need to open in a new window.
That’s really as complex as you need to go. Don’t be put off if you see lots of technical talk about dofollow, nofollow, sponsored, DA, DR, Trust Flow, etc. As a small business, you don’t need to worry too much about these.
Plus, if your website grows to a substantial size, you can hire an SEO firm to take care of your backlinks using some KPIs you’ll agree to before they start work.
Why do we need them?
Google uses over 200 different factors to access a website and where a page should appear in the search results. Bing and DuckDuckGo also use hundreds of data points to assess the quality of a website.
Over the years, other factors have grown in importance, such as loading speed and author authority, but backlinks have remained a major ranking factor.
Search engines see backlinks as votes. The more votes your website has, the more trustworthy it must be. It’s a basic popularity contest! Hence why you can’t rank without backlinks.
However, search engines have got smarter over the years and now look at the relevancy of links over quantity. For example, if you run a repair garage and you have loads of backlinks from shady-looking Russian websites, Google will ignore these or might even punish you.
Should your website have lots of backlinks from local businesses, local attractions, or the town’s newspaper, the search engines will trust your website as you’ve proved your worth as a well-established local business.
Are there any rules to follow?
If you’re confused at this point, don’t worry. We all are.
Here’s the issue. Back in the early days of SEO, around the year 2000, people figured out that Google was using backlinks to rank websites. So they went crazy and built as many backlinks as possible, including many from really shady websites. Hey, a backlink is a backlink!
The search engines quickly moved away from quantity to quality. By discouraging webmasters from building or asking for links, Google believes that they will focus on creating a better experience for every visitor to their website and so will earn backlinks.
In reality, as you can’t rank without backlinks, you do need to be proactive. Yes, this is against Google’s guidelines. However, many, me included, interpret the guidelines as don’t build a ton of spammy or low-quality links to your website.
If you focus on earning and creating relevant high-quality backlinks to your website, it will do well. That said, the majority of small businesses don’t need loads of backlinks to rank well in search.
How many do we need?
As a busy small business owner, you might already be writing a weekly blog article and have little time for anything else. Now I’m asking you to build some backlinks as well!
The main reason people don’t build backlinks is a lack of a solid process and a goal from the start. If you see building links as simple maths, you’re more likely to do the activity.
I’d advise you to ask for a backlink each day and aim to land a new one per week.
If you can get more backlinks each week, then great. But don’t lose perspective and focus only on getting more and more backlinks. Remember, you only need a handful of quality backlinks to move the needle.
Where can we get backlinks from?
As we can’t rank without backlinks but don’t need a ton, the aim is to ask for a backlink per day. So, we need a list of potential websites that might link back to you.
Here are 10 places to find backlinks for your small business:
- Local newspaper – many still have a small business directory.
- Press – talk to editors at local magazines and even offer to write for them.
- Schools – you could sponsor an event?
- Charity – donate an item they need or pay for a special treat.
- Networking event – can you join a networking group and get a link from their directory? (if they don’t have one, suggest it!)
- Cross-promote other local businesses – swap links with other local businesses.
- Contact local bloggers or influencers – ask for a link or sponsored post.
- Social media – create profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. Don’t forget to keep them up to date.
- Google My Business – build your profile and keep it up to date.
- Local photographers – hire a local photographer and ask for a link on their previous client page.
These should give you plenty of ideas to try and gain links to your website. Again, focus on asking for one link per day and treat it as a game.
Is there an easy way to check backlinks?
Without tracking your efforts, you’re wasting time. So, each month, you’ll want to check who is linking to you and what pages they link to. There are a few ways to check who is linking to your website, with free and paid options available.
In Google Search Console, there is a really basic backlink checker that displays a list of who links to you and what page. For most small businesses, this is enough. You could sign up for Ahrefs.com Webmaster tools as this will give you a more comprehensive report for free.
You could use a paid tool such as SEO SpyGlass by SEO Powersuite or Ahrefs.com. That said, you might feel that these are overkill as they are advanced tools designed for SEO professionals, not busy small business owners.
Can your website rank without backlinks?
No, you’re website can’t rank without backlinks. However, you don’t need loads of links, and after a while, you’ll find you start to pick up backlinks naturally without any work.
It’s best to ask for one link a day, aim to create a new backlink per week, and spend a couple of minutes per month tracking your links. There are hundreds of places you can build or earn a backlink from.
With this process in place, you’ll see your rankings improve. As your website is more visible in search, you’ll see a jump in traffic and revenue.
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