Mastering the Small Business Link Building Basics

September 20, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Small Business Marketing

We were at SMX East last week to catch up with old friends, have dinner with Lady Gaga and liveblog the hell out of another search conference. And we did all of that and had a great time. One thing I noticed while I was chatting with new friends in NYC was that while some of us are looking for new ways to skin that cat and get a competitive edge, so many more folks are still trying to master the basics. They want to know where to start, how to get off the ground, and what they can do to see the biggest payoff now. And nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to small business owners who want to improve their link building strategies.

Or, you know, start their link building efforts.

A few weeks ago at SmallBizTrends I wrote about why SMBs shouldn’t fear link building and why, without even knowing it, SMBs have natural link building skills they can take advantage of. I thought today I’d go a little deeper and offer small business owners a place to start.

If you’re an SMB struggling to build links – start here. Below are the basics of small business link building.

1. Work your size

Okay, so you’re little. You need to stop thinking of this as a bad thing and embrace it. Being little means you’re more agile, have more freedom, and that you can experiment and do things that a cumbersome big business isn’t able to. Your small stature makes it easier you to seek out and take advantage of opportunity.
Because you’re small:

  • You can use Google Alerts or saved Twitter Searches to monitor industry conversation and jump into news angles and hot topics faster.
  • You can experiment with new tools, methods and ideas while they’re still hot because there are fewer hoops to jump through.
  • You don’t have to get permission to fail fast and rebound.
  • You can talk to customers without going through legal
  • You can play up your size to make people WANT to help you (and your content).

There are a lot of advantages to being small. Your size makes you a better link builder because it allows you to move faster. As a small business owner, you want to map out some ways to take advantage of these and integrate them into your link building plan. Trust me. The ideas should be plentiful.

2. Do relationship link building

One reason SMBs are such powerful link builders is because they GET relationships. Whereas others have to re-learn what it means to be human and how to make friends, small business owners are already doing this. They’re already friends with their customers, their vendors, and nearby businesses. Trying to acquire links? Use your offline relationships to create bridges (also referred to as “links”) online.

  • Ask your vendors and local, non-competing businesses that you work with to link to you when it makes sense.
  • Join the Better Business Bureau.
  • Join your Chamber of Commerce.
  • Join local professional organizations.
  • Support local charities.
  • Ask your customers to leave reviews for your business on local review sites.

These are all very simple ways to turn your offline contacts into online link buddies. As a small business owner, your business has long been based in the art of building relationships. Use it.

3. Become a source

A great way to build both links and buzz to your small business is to become a source for news. Create an old-fashioned Press List that allows you to keep track of all the local reporters/bloggers/media outlets in your area, as well as their niche, their most frequent angles, etc. Once you have your Press List completed, work off it and begin building relationships with these people. Start a rapport with them before you ever reach out to offer yourself up as a source for a news story. Make sure they know what you do for a living, who your business reaches, and the areas that you’re an expert in. Then, when there’s an opportunity to localize a national news story or when your business is doing something that’s worthy of coverage, reach out and pitch yourself. Not only is this incredible exposure for your brand, most times that news mention is going to come with a link. After a few mentions, you’ll notice that the press begins contacting YOU and not the other way around.

4. Become a publisher

Want to build links to your small business? Start a blog and become a publisher of unique and authoritative content. Here are 23 bloggable questions to get you started, but you’ll also want to create Resource Lists (industry- and local-specific), How To Guides and tutorials, comment on industry happenings, and produce evergreen content that your customers will be able to get value from year over year. There are many different content flavors, so don’t pick just one. We recommend creating an editorial calendar to help keep yourself on task and hold yourself to the burden that is creating awesome content on a consistent basis.

5. Get Social

Use Knowem to help you claim and secure your online usernames – and then actually use some of them. You don’t need to establish a presence on every social networking site ever created (I assume you’d like to have an actual life), but pick two or three sites to create satellite communities on and then engage with people there. It doesn’t matter if you’re being social on Twitter, using Facebook to promote contests, are on Quora answering tech-related questions – just get active. Don’t forget to link to your Web site from these social profiles.

6. Send out press releases

Sure, you’ll be going after links by using your Press List to hit up local- and industry-specific media, but don’t forget to submit your press releases to sites like PRWeb, as well. Not only with this get you a link back to your site from a pretty big authority, but you’ll get in front of their distribution lists, which may results in even more links and coverage. If other people do pick up your news, track that and add them to your Press List for future blasts.

7. Hold an IRL event, invite the media

Want to do some good in your community? Hold an event that gives back to a local charity or non-profit and invite the media to cover it. They get their good news angle, you get some coverage, and the charity gets some funds and increased awareness. Feel slimly about tying your charity work into your link building? Then don’t. Hold an event that celebrates your company’s birthday, a success milestone, or that simply gives back to the community for their support. While the event is going on, also set up a review station so that your customers can leave reviews for your business while they’re in mood or ask them if they’d be okay with you recording testimonials that you can use on your Web site. One stone, so many birds.

8. Hold an event online

Feeling a little social awkward or don’t want to wear your best party dress? Then hold your event online instead off.

  • Host a Twitter party.
  • Throw a contest.
  • Give lots of free stuff away.

Online events are a great vehicle to allow small business owners to create buzz around their business, while also getting some links in the process. Don’t forget to reach out to your Press List to get their help in promoting the event for you and ask your community to blog about what’s going on to share it with their own audiences.

9. Guest post

Write guests posts for other authoritative sites in your industry to help give back to the community, and promote your business at the same time. These posts should be tailored for the site that they’ll appear on, and should provide a value to that community. If you need some help on landing guest blogging spots, well, we got ya covered there, too.

10. Create a Referral program

Chances are good you’ve been doing this offline for years. You reward your customers who send more leads to your business through word-of-mouth recommendations and for telling their friends they should stop in and see you the next time they need a massage. So why not create an online referral program for customers who blog about you or who get their friends to sign up for your services through your Web site? Just because we’re talking about the Web doesn’t mean we have to reinvent the wheel. Just tweak what’s always worked before.

11. Offer Web-based coupons

Who isn’t obsessed with getting the absolute best deal in these tougher times? By offering Internet coupons on your Web site, you not only give customers an incentive to do business at your location, but you give your brand a link magnet that people will link to, blog about, repost, and go crazy over.

While link building is often an intimidating concept for small business owners, it doesn’t have to be. As an SMB, you’re already doing the relationship building part of earning links. Now you just need to ask for them.

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