It's easy for the big guys.
They have big advertising budgets. They have brand awareness. Every time they twitch, some business journalist will be writing up a story.
But what if you operate a small business? You have a limited budget, you've got a pile of other things that need doing, and very little time to devote to any one aspect of your marketing strategy. How do you build links without breaking the bank?
Let's take a look at how the small business can generate quality links, and do so without a great deal of time and money.
1. Use Your Agility
The small business has one huge advantage over the big business when it comes to SEO: agility.
For a big business to change, it takes time. There is layer upon layer of sign offs. There are meetings. There are lawyers, managers and shareholders. This is a difficult environment in which to undertake SEO.
The small business, on the other hand, can move very quickly.
Chances are, there are only one or two people making decisions, so use this to your advantage. Are there aspects of your industry where speed is essential? Can you react to fast breaking news before the big guys can? Can you spot fast emerging consumer trends, and publish information on them before anyone else does? To help you monitor breaking news and trends in your area of interest, sign up to trend sites, such as Google Trends, and monitor news feeds using Google Alerts.
Big business finds it very difficult to be controversial, yet controversy can be a great marketing tool. The Sex Pistols built a career, not by copying the establishment, but by butting heads with it. Everyone knows about "Will it blend?". That viral campaign was edgy, risky and out-there. If Blendtech hadn't taken that risk, they wouldn't have been worth remarking on. A blender is not a new invention, and there are a lot of big competitors making blenders, but Blentech made their name by being a bit wild and crazy.
Are there opportunities for you to go against the grain and stand out? If you do, you'll be link worthy. Can you borrow controversial ideas form other market sectors and apply them to your own?
2. Publishing Strategy
It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to voluntarily link to purely commercial sites.
Consider adopting a publishing strategy that has a non-commercial angle. If need be, create a second site. It is much easier to get links for sites that have utility beyond selling a product or service. Create glossaries, unbiased buyer information, review sites, blogs, wikis, or industry news sites. Once the site has built up some link equity, and is ranking well, you can add your own advertising, or link it to your commercial site.
Try to create niche information sites that cover areas no one else is covering. Think small. If you're one of the few sources for a particular type of information, you stand to get more links than sites that compete in saturated areas. Try not to compete directly with the bigger operators. Redefine your niche until you can make your offering unique.
Take a step back from your site. Is it remarkable? Would you link to it? Be honest. Think about what it takes for you to link out. Why would someone link to you? Can you make the people linking to you look good? Consider writing favorable reviews about indirect competitors. Does your site provide genuine utility when compared to your competitors? Think about what problems you can solve for people that no-one else is solving. PlentyOfFish.com made millions by providing a free dating service when every other dating site was using a paid subscriber model. Provide information that solves a problem.
Links should follow.
3. Nail The Basics
Cover the basics of link building.
Get listed in relevant directories, local business organizations, and industry verticals. To find these sites, search on industry name + add url
Issue press releases whenever you have relevant information to share. Make a list of the top sites in your industry sector, and try to get a link from them. Can you offer to do something for them, like writing an article, in return for a link? Look at who links to your competitors. Use tools, such as Yahoo Site Explorer, to find these links
Make a list of those sites and see what your competitors did to get these links. Copy what they did. Put most of your efforts into getting quality links, rather than getting low quantity junk. It's surprising how few links you need in order to rank well, especially in niche areas.
4. Give Something Valuable Away
Web designers often give away templates. They create a template, and place their link in the footer.
Think about what you can create and give away. Compare the cost of developing these widgets and freebies with the cost of buying or chasing links. If you're providing something genuinely valuable for nothing, people are certain to remark on it, especially if your competitors charge for the same thing. You can also submit your offering to sites that feature freebies, such as TheFreeSite.com. While every other guy is "giving" the opportunity for a link trade - which isn't of much value - you're going one step further.
Offer coupons. Simply by offering coupons, you can get included in coupon and bargain hunting sites.
5. Local News Interest
Local newspapers and news sites are always on the lookout for local content. Unlike major newspapers, the barrier to entry is often low, but the link equity can be just as valuable.
Is there a local aspect to your business? Are there ways you can get involved in the community that would lead to reporters writing a story about you? Issue press releases with a local angle, and try and build up a relationship with local reporters. Offer to be a spokesperson for your topic of interest if they have future stories for which they need an expert opinion.
6. Sponsor Charities
Charity sites are often amenable to linking out to those who support them. The cost of the donation might be nothing compared to the value of a lifetime link from a well-placed charities.
Offer to do work of genuine value for the charity. Could you help them market their website? Design a new website for them? Can you write an article for them, or find a way of featuring in their news stories? These links are pure gold,and because it takes some effort, it is difficult for your lazy competitors to follow.
Search on terms such as donor, sponsors, and donations to find these sites.
7. Request A Link In All Communications
Whenever you mail someone, include a link request in the footer. The communication could be an order confirmation, an email newsletter, or an invoice. Here's an example on SEOmoz.
Highlight featured content in your email footer. Update the links in your email footer regularly, so people are more likely to look at them. Think of your communications as a call to action. How can you get people to engage further with you?
Start a Twitter account and post your articles. Do the same with Facebook and any other social media channels you use.
Go where your audience are.
It's not just about getting links that pass PR. It's about creating meaningful relationships. If your potential audience hangs out on forums, then post to those forums. Become a trusted member and advisor. People link to SEOBook.com not just because of the great information ;) but because of the quality of the relationship has been established in the past.
This approach will serve you well for the future. Google will be placing more and more emphasis on engagement metrics in order to determine rank. Why?
The problem Google was created to solve - finding relevant information - is morphing into a problem of locating quality information. There might be a lot of crawlable information on a given topic, so finding it isn't an issue any more. Finding the information people find most useful is the new challenge.
How people engage with your site is going to become increasingly important.Look to establish meaningful relationships, wherever possible.
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