This article was originally published on June 16, 2016, and was updated on July 23, 2019.
Why do you need to learn how to get backlinks to your website? Well, everyone wants to rank higher in Google search results, but few understand how to make that happen. Many small business website owners, in particular, feel lost as they try to get noticed and compete against brands with million-dollar online marketing budgets.
There is good news. You don’t need a massive marketing budget to improve your search engine rankings.
You don’t need fancy tricks or even a lot of in-depth knowledge of how the internet works (though it helps). A basic understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), including how to get backlinks, will go a long way toward improving your website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs).
What is a backlink?
Like the name sounds, a backlink is simply a hyperlink on another website that links back to yours. A backlink is like an endorsement in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
Backlinks reflect the company you keep and the types of industries and blogs that recommend you to their visitors.
Before we delve into how to get backlinks to your small business website, let’s cover a few SEO basics. From here, you should be able to develop a strategy that grows your backlinks, rankings, traffic and, of course, sales.
Related: Beginner’s guide to search engine optimization for small business websites
There are three pillars of SEO
Before you can start building backlinks, you need to understand how search engine optimization (SEO) works. This strong foundation can help you make smart decisions about your keywords, content and promotion throughout the backlink creation process.
The three pillars of SEO include structure, content and authority. Each of these pillars is equally important:
If your website is not mobile-friendly and the on-page elements do not load well, then your content does not matter. Remember, 53% of mobile users will bounce if a website takes more than three seconds to load. They won’t read it if they can’t get to it.
If your content isn’t entertaining, informative or interesting, people are not going to share or link to it. Why would someone recommend something that they did not find useful or interesting?
Reaching new audiences and capturing the attention of large groups of people get your brand noticed. This leads to more sharing, more linking, and more buzz around your brand.
With these three pillars, you can see how websites that continuously invest in all facets of SEO perform better than competitor websites that do not. You can also see how a company that only focuses on backlinks can watch its efforts fall short.
Bad backlink tactics
Before you can actively start building backlinks, it’s important to understand why you must build them ethically.
In April of 2012, Google announced an update to their search algorithm, named Penguin. Penguin penalized websites that were essentially building their own backlinks for the sole purpose of manipulating the search results.
The primary way to accomplish a large increase in backlinks was to purchase and pay other websites for those links. Thanks to the Penguin update, if you engage in buying links and are caught, Google can penalize you by removing your site from search results entirely.
Since the initial update in 2012, there have been several more additions to the Penguin algorithm to account for bad link-building.
Google is incredibly clear about what isn’t allowed in terms of building backlinks, so there is little risk that you will “accidentally” stumble into a bad link-building strategy.
The below list of tactics is directly pulled from Google and is explicit about what cannot be done:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. (This also includes sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.)
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking between multiple sites.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank.
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.
- Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
- Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.
- Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.
See the similarities between all the violations? All of these tactics are meant exclusively to build backlink SEO. The content is not taken into consideration and neither is the user. Actively seeking backlinks in this manner can and should penalize your website.
Google wants to protect its rankings and will punish pages that try to game the system.
Google can easily discover if a website is using a strategy above because it knows what a natural backlink profile looks like compared to an unnatural one. They have your website’s backlink profile because they crawl and catalog every single link found on the internet.
If you gain 10,000 links this Tuesday and only two or three over the next few weeks, and then all of a sudden gain another 2,000 a month later, there is a good chance you are engaging in one of the tactics above.
How to get backlinks, then?
It is important to address all of the negative ways to get backlinks so you can avoid them and focus on growing your search presence ethically. As a small business website owner, you might be approached by companies that use these tactics and promise results.
The effects could be devastating if Google penalizes your brand because of shady practices.
One of the safest ways to produce backlinks involves establishing yourself or your company as a thought leader (or influencer) in your industry.
People out there are searching for your products or services, whether you are a neurosurgeon or a florist. You can position yourself or your brand as the best possible option to meet their needs. And this all starts with a blog.
Related: How to start a blog
5 steps to build backlinks on your website
You don’t have to be a web guru or SEO specialist to build backlinks for your website. Here’s a simple, five-step process that you can build into your marketing strategy to grow your rankings, traffic and backlink count:
- Analyze – Discover what terms people are searching for in your industry.
- Create – Create high-quality, engaging content that targets those search terms (keywords).
- Publish – Post the keyword-targeted content on your website and optimize the page based on the term you chose.
- Promote – Let the world know you published the content.
- Monitor – Track and analyze your activity, organic traffic and backlink profile.
We will review each of these in greater detail so you can apply them to your SEO process.
1. Analyze —Discover what people are searching for
The first step in learning how to get backlinks is to come up with a list of keywords that reflect what people are searching for to get to your website or competitors in your industry.
For example, if you manage an auto repair shop, then customers might reach your site through terms like “oil change near me,” or “mechanic in [city name].”
The good news is that you don’t have to guess what these keywords are to dial in SEO. With the right research tools, you can curate a list of words and phrases that are useful for your customers to find you and valuable to your brand as a whole.
Start with on-site search
If your website has a search bar feature, then your customers are already telling you what information they need. Google Analytics is able to capture these search terms and list them for you to review.
A third of your site visitors will conduct an on-site search, so you can quickly curate a list of relevant terms.
Look for patterns in the keywords and let them guide your content. For example, if people are searching wedding-related keywords, you might want to promote your space as a venue more. Your landing page with that content may need to be more prominent or you may need to create more content around those search terms.
Analyze your competitors
If you want to take a competitive stance in your SEO field, analyze the keywords of your competitors. Wordstream curated a list of eight useful tools for finding their top keywords and other keywords they may be missing out on. You can use this to guide your strategy.
Related: How to find inspiration from your competitors (without stealing their ideas)
Try Google’s Keyword Planner tool
If you use Google Ads, tap into the keyword planner to drum up possible ideas and synonyms. With the keyword planner tool, you can type in one idea and then Google will recommend other terms and keywords, while showing you the search popularity of each one. You can gain new ideas while determining which tools would be most effective.
As you can see from the example above, the keyword “Tinnitus cure,” is highly competitive, but the term “what is Tinnitus” only has 880 monthly searches. If you are an ear doctor, you could create a blog post with the later term, focusing on what Tinnitus is.
You can also look at your search terms in Google Ads. These are not the terms you are bidding on, but the terms people use to find your ads. You may discover some keywords that Google never thought of.
Related: Editorial calendar — The content, keyword and SEO connection
2. Create — Produce great content targeting those search terms
Once you have your list of keywords, it is time to assign content to each term.
The world is your oyster in terms of content creation.
You can create infographics, videos, eBooks, whitepapers and blog posts — to name a few. As a small business owner, you need to weigh your time and cost of production.
An infographic might be impressive, but it can also be expensive and time-consuming. The fastest way to producing content in an economical manner is by blogging.
For example, if you wanted to build backlinks and rank highly for the keyword “outdoor wedding,” a few potential ideas that come up include:
- What to look for in an outdoor wedding venue.
- Top favor ideas for an outdoor wedding.
- Advice from wedding planners for an outdoor wedding.
As you can see, each idea is unique, but all of the blog post ideas tie back to the target keyword.
Pro tip: “Near me” searches grew 900% between 2015 and 2017. These are terms like “hair stylist near me” or “plumber in my neighborhood.” Not only are these terms popular, they are also effective. More than 75% of local mobile searches result in a same-day store visit and 26% of those visits turn into a purchase. Consider researching and building localized content targeting those popular search terms.
Related: How to plan your company blog editorial calendar
3. Publish — Post the SEO-friendly content on your website
One of the biggest mistakes you could make in learning how to get backlinks is creating multiple pieces of content around one keyword.
For example, the “outdoor wedding” keyword generated three ideas, but you should only use one per blog post.
If you keep creating content around the same keyword, you will end up competing against yourself and your content will be less effective.
Instead, take one keyword and research four or five similar terms that you can use. (This is where the Google Keyword Planner comes in handy.) You can take one keyword and find a dozen similar ones. If you use an SEO tool like Yoast, you will be alerted when you use a duplicate target keyword.
Develop cornerstone content
If you really want to rank for one keyword in particular, consider developing cornerstone content. As Instapage’s Stephanie Mialki notes:
“Cornerstone content is … the highest value, most foundational content pieces for increasing traffic and brand awareness.”
This is where strategic content investment comes in.
Many brands will invest in high-quality content, like an eBook or whitepaper, to target a specific keyword. This is the cornerstone content. Then, they will create a handful of supporting blog posts that link to the main piece and direct readers to the valuable information.
For example, if a cornerstone whitepaper is called “How to lose your baby weight in six months,” then the supplemental blog posts would cover topics and keywords like:
- How much weight do women gain during pregnancy?
- How long, on average, does it take to lose post-baby weight?
- When can women start exercising after they have a baby?
Each piece would have its own keywords (and would meet your blog’s quality standards) but would also link back to the cornerstone piece.
Related: Step-by-step guide to writing a search-friendly blog article
4. Promote — Let the world know you are creating great content
Along with taking as many steps possible to rank well for your content, you can also drive people to read and share your blog posts.
Remember, the more people who see your posts will link to it, growing your backlink count with the help of your social promotions.
One of the top questions people ask is whether social media shares account for SEO. Social media is not a direct SEO ranking factor. If it was, brands could just buy their way to high rankings by promoting their content across various social channels.
That being said, promoting your content on social media can generate traffic to your website and prompt others to link back to your content, which does affect your SEO.
The more people you reach on social media, the more people are likely to link to it. This builds your backlinks.
Plus, the traffic you drive to your content is captured in behavioral analytics. If your audiences spend a long time on your page, then Google will notice the audience behavior.
The search engine can see that the page has a low bounce rate and is mobile friendly, signaling that the content is valuable. You may notice higher rankings as your social engagement grows because people enjoy the content you share.
Naturally, these higher rankings help you build on your success and drive even more backlinks to your site.
Related: Time-saving social media tips for business owners
5. Monitor — Track and analyze your SEO activity and results
As you start to regularly publish content and share it on social media, set up a process to track your backlinks and other data points.
Once again, you don’t need to be a numbers wizard to monitor your insights. Google Analytics is free for website users and there are easy-to-digest tutorials that you can follow to learn about the tool.
You can check your analytics weekly, but once a month is just fine. With Google Analytics, you can review a host of different metrics that can provide value to your brand and content strategy. These include:
- Top pages and blog posts
- Top channels to drive traffic (Google, Facebook, etc.)
- Demographics and interests of your target audiences
- Sources of traffic (desktop vs. mobile, Chrome vs. Mozilla)
- Bounce rates, time on site, and other use behavior
To track your website backlinks, I suggest using Majestic, OpenSiteExplorer or Ahrefs. You will be able to get some data for free, but it is worth paying for these services if your goal is to build backlinks to your website.
Developing backlinks and improving your SEO is not an overnight project.
Most brands don’t see the results they want for at least 12 months. Even if you are ranking well, you don’t want to stop. Letting your content grow stale is a great way to fall in the rankings. You don’t want all of your hard work to be for naught.
Creating the best content you can will never get punished by search engines like Google. The search engines will appreciate you, your audience will engage with you, and your business will grow.
Now go forth and broadcast your knowledge — and reap the benefits of your labor.
This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by Garth O’Brien.