Without other websites linking to your business’s website, there’s no chance that it will rank highly for any of your chosen keywords. At a rough estimate though, most small businesses need 30-250 websites to link to their site in order to rank highly for 5-10 averagely competitive keywords. Whether you need 30 or 250 links, one principle is important – you need to give others a reason to link to you.
If there’s no reason for anyone to link to your website, then no-one will link to it, and you’ll be left with only lower quality backlinks that you can build yourself. Some links that you can build yourself, like social media profiles and reputable business listing profiles, are acceptable, however, there are probably only 20 or so of those that are worth building, and those links alone won’t be sufficient if you want your site to rank highly.
Getting others to link to your business’s website is rarely as easy as just asking them to do so. You can ask, but if that’s the extent of your strategy, you’ll rarely get. People who own websites largely know that there is value passed by linking to someone else’s site, and they’ve been inundated with such requests in the past, so just asking people, especially people you don’t know, to link to your site is often a waste of time. What you need to do is give them a reason to link to your site.
So, what are the reasons that someone will link to your website?
This is the ideal situation and how Google wants links to be built – someone naturally finds your website (maybe through a Google search, a social media mention or a link on another site), likes the content that you publish, and links to it to let visitors to their site know about it. For this approach to work at all, it’s essential that the content you publish is unique, interesting, engaging, etc. The content on your site has to be better than just ok – it has to be good at least, and ideally outstanding. If your site’s content isn’t at least as good as your competitors’ content, then there’s no reason for people to link to your site instead of theirs. What you can’t do, if your site is new and/or has little to no existing trust and authority, is just publish great content and do nothing else. If you do that, no-one will be able to find your content in the first place to link to it. Therefore, early on especially, you have to actively promote your content too, by letting other people know about it through email, forums, blogs, social media, etc. Once you start getting some links, social media mentions and rankings, this approach becomes much easier, as you then have a steady flow of people coming to your site, some of who will have websites themselves, and some of who will naturally link to your content.
You probably know other people (friends, colleagues, partners, suppliers, etc.) that own websites, and if you ask them to link to your site then some of them may do so. The best prospects for this are businesses that you regularly pay money to for a service (online or offline) and so who will be keen to keep you happy by doing you a favour that will take them just 5 minutes to complete and won’t cost them anything. You can also contact people that you don’t know and offer them some advice about their site (maybe they have a broken link or a spelling mistake on their site, or maybe their site doesn’t load properly in a certain browser or screen resolution). If you do them a favour first, then they’ll be more likely to respond positively when you ask them for one. These links, built through personal relationships, are good because they’re difficult for your competitors to replicate – though, of course, they may also build links through their own personal relationships that you’ll be unable to replicate. A relationship based link from any good quality site is an option, however, try not to fill any more than 10% of your site’s backlink profile with links from sites that have no relevance to yours in terms of topic or location.
Link exchanges used to be a common and widespread practice in SEO as they were a mutually beneficial way to improve each other’s rankings. As the practice got widely abused, Google devalued the trust and authority that passes between reciprocal links, however, don’t disregard them altogether as there’s still some value in them, and even if the value of these types of links has reduced, they can still send targeted traffic to your site. If someone says that they’ll only link to your site if you link to theirs, you need to be sure about two things. Firstly, that they have a good quality website, which isn’t involved in spam-like practices (either on-site or off-site). Secondly, that there’s some logical connection between your site and theirs, such as through topic and/or location. If, for example, you offer computer repairs in Manchester, and you’re linking to a florist in Bristol, then the link may look suspicious to Google, and is better off avoided. Also, when engaging in link exchanges, try to ensure that the link to your site isn’t on some kind of links/partners page that’s filled with 10+ links to other sites. Getting linked to from within a blog post on another site is much preferable.
If you have high quality content on your website, some people with sites covering similar topics, who aren’t competing with you (for example blogs, multi-topic sites, businesses in other countries, etc.), will be interested in re-publishing your content on their site. This is fine, so long as they link back to your site from the page that the content gets published on to credit you as the source of it. This is benefical for you, as you get a link back to your site and get exposure to a new audience, and also beneficial for them, as they get to publish good content on their site at no cost to them. Google has no problem with sites doing this, and, in fact, it’s quite a common approach, both online and offline, with newspapers, magazines and journals regularly syndicating content from one another. An alternative approach is to provide another site with fresh, unique content, which hasn’t been published anywhere else. This is typically in the format of a guest article or column – either a one-off or part of a series. This takes more time than simply re-publishing existing content from your site, however, it makes a positive response from the person you’re contacting more likely, and the link to your site, coming from a page of unique content, is more valuable than a link coming from a page of syndicated content. A good idea is to use existing content on your site as a basis for the new content – summarise it, present it in a different format, approach it from a different angle, or tailor it towards a new audience.
Money (or discounts, gifts, etc.) is a strong reason for people to do anything and it’s the one most likely to persuade someone to link to your business’s website. If you contact someone say “link to my website”, then you might be looking at a 2% positive response rate (and only then if you have high quality content and/or link to them in return), but if you change that to “link to my website and I’ve give you £100” then the positive reponse rate will probably increase ten-fold (and the quality of your content won’t matter and you won’t have to link to them in return). The problem with this is that buying backlinks contravenes Google’s guidelines, and the consequences of a penalty can be severe. However, lots of businesses do buy backlinks, and lots of them get good rankings from doing so. Under no circumstances should you consider paying for low quality links, but buying a handful of high quality ones can speed up results. The lowest risk paid backlinks are those created in a way that makes them look exactly like a normal link on a normal site. If the site selling the links sells only a few of them, only links to relevant sites, and only adds sold links within relevant articles (instead of in the sidebar or footer), then Google will probably never realise that the links have been paid for. These types of links are expensive though. You can expect to pay around £25 per month for each one. You should only do this if you’re prepared to accept, and your business can cope with, the risk of your website getting penalised and losing rankings for a long time, or even forever.