I never really thought of local link building as its own unique specialty until a comment on the 2012 Link Building With The Experts really made that sink in.
With the recent mass confusion over unnatural link warnings in Google's Webmaster Tools, I noticed that loads of small business owners were frantically asking questions about what they should do.
Let's say that the worst case scenario happens and you lose your search visibility in Google. Wouldn't it be great if that didn't completely cripple your business because you had such great local visibility? That's just one reason why local links are becoming more critical than ever.
Why Are Local Links Important?
Most importantly, local links can bring you relevant and converting traffic.
Additionally, local links are a critical part of a diverse profile. Links from good local sites like your Chamber of Commerce aren't likely to get devalued and the sites don't tend to change hands every year or become totally spammed up (only to then get devalued or deindexed.)
Local links can also help form in-person relationships that can lead to bigger things such as strategic business partnerships, grant opportunities, and networks for finding new employees or work.
Who Needs Local Links?
Honestly, anyone who has a business with an online presence could benefit from local links. However, the people who need them the most are people whose customer base is local to them.
If your goal is to bring in business from your surrounding area, whether you're running a pizza restaurant or selling life insurance policies, having links on respected local websites is a great way to do it.
What if I Don't Usually do Business Locally?
This one is one that I'm guilty of, as we don't tend to work with local clients.
I recently had a conversation with a Google local representative who said that she thought my business profile could be better optimized. Not seeing any real reason to do this, I pushed back a bit until she finally made me realize that if there was even a chance that someone was looking for us in order to come by and try to work with us (as a client or an employee), it would be better to give them the information he or she wanted right there in the profile. I realized then that I'd been ignoring some really easy local visibility platforms.
I don't currently do much local work but who's to say that I shouldn't, or that a local client wouldn't be a great opportunity? I realized that not taking advantage of something just because it was local and didn't benefit me at the time was the kind of shortsightedness that I'd fuss about if a client was guilty of it.
Types of Local Links
There are many different types of local links:
- Search engine local sites (Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local)
- Business organizations
- Charities in surrounding area
- Chamber of Commerce
- Local news publications, TV stations, alternative newspapers
- Radio stations
- Local business directories
- City websites
- Local bloggers
- Business partners
- Universities, colleges, trade schools: list internships, employment available
- Meetups and sponsored networking events
When conducting link queries for local, use a variety of qualifiers along with your keyword(s) of interest, to start off.
- ZIP code
- Country (if you're really small…tip: don't try this in the USA please.)
I'd also check add the names of any local colleges or universities, big trade schools, major local employers, etc. and even try things like "made in X city" to find more local search potential.
Then move on to adding more keywords like meetups, business associations, leadership, alliances, events, and anything else that pops into your head.
For example, in Greensboro it's big news that we have a Downtown Greenway. It's been in progress for ages and isn't yet complete but it's very local to my office and to my house, so it's something that I've been paying attention to.
Doing a search for it brings up sites where people are expressing their opinion of it and where the financial implications of it are being discussed. Big local news can lead you to amazing places for local links.
Guest Blogging for Local Links
I love guest blogging as a viable way to get good links. One easy way to start guest blogging locally is to simply research local business blogs and ask to write on a topic that interests them.
As much as I hate to say you can stretch relevance here, if you view a local business community as an entity that strives to help each other, maybe you can. Maybe you sell gardening supplies but you've found a great local blog that talks about finance. Write a post about how the local farmer's market can help bring down the cost of organic food. That's related to finance, right?
Interview Local Business People
I really like this one because many people who wouldn't ordinarily have time to write something or participate in an event will answer a few quick questions for you. People love to talk about themselves and give their opinions.
If you reach out for local guest posting and don't get a response, ask a member of that blog if you can interview him or her about something. Chances are, once you post the interview, you'll get a link back or, at the very least, get some social love (and local awareness) for your trouble.
Use Your Employees to Build Local Awareness
We started a local blog called Avant Greensboro. Our employees write for it and promote it. They also promote the heck out of our business in general, whether it's through tweeting links to our blog posts, asking for the company's opinion in a Facebook post, or just generally telling people about the office and helping recruit new staff.
You can't imagine how many people that I've met locally who have no idea of who I am but, when I tell them about the company I own, they immediately know who we are and start telling me which of my employees they know.
We also recently had an office pub crawl and got a few shoutouts from the bars we went to. While that may not be your thing, it was still good for building local awareness of who we are.
Create Content that Grabs Local Attention
This is the most fun. As mentioned above, we started a local events blog where we promote local bands and artists, showcase local fiction, discuss local politics, interview local people and businesses, etc. It's taken off in ways that I never expected.
We've had businesses reach out and ask if they could advertise with us and we've been asked to make a print version of the website. We now have a weekly radio show at a local university as well.
We created great local content and it's given us some amazing visibility (and it's been an incredible amount of fun.)
My employees work on the site alongside some contributors that I've never met in person but it's a 100 percent local effort and everyone who contributes to the site promotes it in various ways.
The social media links alone are amazing. We've had people read the site and ask to guest post or point us to interesting items to write about, so it's totally been a win-win.
Offline Methods that can Lead to Local Links
Meetups are a great way to build business awareness locally. If you don't know of any going on, start one!
Sponsoring a small networking dinner with other business owners is a great way to learn more about what people near you do for a living, and for them to learn about what you do.
You may not have a physical office in town but maybe the CEO of a company who lives half a mile from you has been looking for someone to do what you do, wants a local person, and had no idea you were around. Maybe he sends out a monthly email to 50,000 customers and slaps in a link to your site. The possibilities are endless here.
Keep Promoting What You do, Locally and Beyond
Don't forget that people need to know when you've done something new. Social media is great for this but you know what? So is an emailed newsletter. Combine that "hey, here's what's new!" email with some creative content that actually engages your audience.
Here's a real life example; a friend of mine is a local realtor. He just sent out his first monthly newsletter which was so creative and relevant that it really made me think how underutilized emails can be.
In this newsletter he doesn't try to sell you a house or even showcase his listings. He tells you about what his daughter has done this summer (nice plug for our local beaches in case you want to move to NC), talks about our upcoming sales tax holiday, and posts a few articles that have tips about moving and the so-called housing bust. There are also links to all of his social media accounts.
There's no big sell here, just an actually well done newsletter that would make me think "this is the realtor I want to work with" or recommend him to a friend.
If anyone in town wants a new house or if anyone in Utah wants to move here, this is the guy I'm sending them. He's building business contacts and great local visibility, even if it's not directly through a text link.
Local visibility can be important to every business, even if it's just to let people know who you are in case they need your services or know someone who does.
Local links can also build a great in-person networking system, which certainly never hurts.
It's more than just covering the basics and getting listed in the free local directories. It's about making sure that you aren't ignoring local in favor of global.