When I think of building business for local merchants, I almost always like to think of the return on investment of the link itself.
Since Google gives SEO's just enough rope to hang us with, the return, at least in my opinion, should be the amount of referring traffic the back link sends. In other words, the measurement of success is the traffic you get from each referral, not where in the rankings you fall.
The best link building practices build networks that go beyond dumping exact anchor text URLs across the web. The best link building practices involve leveraging a businesses existing network for traffic referrals first because the return is the highest there.
Link Building Angles
Here is a list of link building angles I like to start with when dealing with local and regional businesses who are looking to expand their presence online. Maybe boring but they are tried and true and help build links that build the business with genuine traffic (in most cases) than rely on getting "there" eventually based on what we, as SEO's think the search engines want.
- Start with your own network for easily attainable links– The first step to finding links is to start with the links that are sitting right under nose. For instance, if you sell products, you can always begin with requesting links from the manufacturers you do business with. If you are selling a service, then look for local charter organizations within your market or niche. If you need to join to get listed, then look beyond the link in terms of ROI and see if by joining, you can grow your network larger. A chamber of commerce link may not get you a lot of traffic, but it can expand your network of people who may be able to help your business down the road. Expanding a local business' network is the area of return.
- Establish a relationship with 3rd party review websites– Review websites are great because they get you listed at places such as Yelp or Urban Spoon. These websites typically have a community built around them and are usually mavens in the community. The community will bring traffic as well as opinions as to how crazy cool the business is. Most businesses already have a small customer base of raging fans. Find some way to get those fans to want to give reviews on these websites as a starting point to pick up momentum within that community.
- Make interesting press releases that could be picked up by local, regional and national news outlets– Here's an example. Recently, a restaurant was burglarized. This, in and of itself wasn't news. But the business decided to make lemonade out of those lemons by building a back story and offering a reward for the capture of the crooks. They built signs that mimicked the old time western reward signs and placed them throughout the town. The reward? 100 free steaks and a grill to bar-b-que them on. The press release received local attention immediately and later was picked up by CNN. The lesson here: Interesting angles can get you free links and attention. The point here is the angle (the reward) made the story unique enough for others to find interesting and share.
- Spot opportunities with vertical markets– While competing businesses won't freely link up to your website, vertical markets may. One of the first things I do with a local business is to look at these verticals and brainstorm ideas in which links will be both beneficial to their business as well. Example: If you are an artist, there may be opportunities to grab links and referrals from local curators in your area. If you are a landscaper, then partnering up with a weed killing business may help you quickly build your business.
- Get involved with the community and ask for reciprocation– Business owners will tell you that they are solicited by charities and food drives monthly. These charities typically have a presence online. Many are considered trustworthy by the search engines. The next time someone asks for a gift certificate for their silent auction on a public broadcasting channel, it never hurts to ask them if there is a web page that is featuring the event. If that is the case, a local business can always ask what it would take to have them listed on the page. Some may be surprised that local businesses never think in terms of what a donation or food drive could do for them in terms of expanding online presence. Plus, in all likelihood, the business will have to talk to someone other than the salesperson who is asking for the donation, which, in turn, will expand their network further.