As a small business with a website, you have almost certainly had somebody talk to you about the value of getting your site linked to from other websites (often called “link building”). The intent with that idea is that search engine algorithms (especially the 900 pound gorilla, Google) pick up on incoming links to your website, and help establish the authority of your website’s domain. When this happens, pages on your site are more likely to rank higher in search results and increase clickthrough rate (CTR). This in turn leads to more qualified web traffic, higher conversion rates and your internet world inevitably becomes filled with sunshine and rainbows.
Before Google’s Penguin update in 2012 (among others since then), it was common for sites to artificially achieve search result rankings by using ‘black hat techniques’. There are still a lot of holdovers from these practices, and if you have a website which allows for user comments you can probably see at least a dozen examples in the last day or two. Thankfully, search engines (like Google) have increased their effectiveness in matching users with the actual, intended search results, and have even gone so far as to penalize websites known to not follow best practices with link building.
These updates have made the practice of link building very time-consuming since there are really no shortcuts (at least none that won’t be picked up on eventually). However, there is still value to be had by legitimately having links from web pages with high domain authority linking to a page on your site. It comes down to the principle which should dictate your entire internet strategy: Show users what you know, and why you are the experts in your field. It doesn’t matter what you sell, people want to buy from somebody who is the go-to in the industry.
A client I work with, Stortz & Son, lives up to this concept as well as any small business I have ever seen. They have been in business since the mid-19th century, selling specialty hand tools in “old town” Philadelphia, PA. Through the decades they have evolved, selling more modern tools to a very unique market of slate and metal roofers while still offering the classic hand tools which are critical for these specialized workers. They participate in their industry all over the world, engaging their users on social media, and provide great value not only selling the tools, but supporting customers with how-to tips/videos among many other things.
Because their market is such a niche industry, and they have an established reputation, they have naturally garnered links to their site from users who have found it helpful (this helps support the need for quality content marketing). There are also online forums for specialty roofers like the ones who buy from them, and it presents a great opportunity. Participating in online forums, or frequenting blogs of other industry relevant websites allows you to keep in touch with potential customers and establish your authority. At times there may be an opportunity while leaving comments or responses to link to a piece of content on your website which supports your point and adds value to the discussion. This is a perfectly acceptable way to gain more links to your site.
An important best practice when leaving a comment is to leave the ‘website’ field blank, since most spam comments have a website link included there. Almost all sites which accept comments require a moderator to approve them, and making your comment appear legitimately relevant is key to getting it approved. The link to your site should be included in the comment itself, and your comment should be thoughtful and offer insight relevant to the main topic of discussion. Also don’t forget that it doesn’t stop with putting up your link in a comment. Keep participating in the discussion after that, as other users may have questions, comments, etc. It is also polite that if somebody leaves a legitimate comment on your website content to respond in kind. Building relationships in your industry isn’t just limited to networking at trade shows. Public discussion online can be a powerful tool.
There are many other best practices which are currently relevant. Ultimately, know that if you want to create a link building strategy it is going to be tedious and time-consuming to do it the right way. The first thing is to create content on your website worth linking to, then going out and promoting it in a natural and effective manner. If you are interested in the concept of link building, there are numerous quality resources available and a good example is this article on Moz.com. Don’t forget that it is critical to measure and analyze the results of your efforts in Google Analytics (or whatever other analysis tool you may be using).