Backlink Strategy for Small Businesses, Startups & Law Firms

February 5, 2018
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Link building is crucial for SEO

Every marketer on the planet knows how crucial link building is for SEO but many small businesses, startups and law firms fail to realize the level of importance of a backlink strategy. There is no way to rank on the first page of a Google SERP without links. In fact, Google themselves confirmed that links are the #1 ranking factor along with content. Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, states in a Q&A with Google that

“It is content. And it’s the links pointing to your site”.

And like all other marketing campaigns, link building takes a lot of effort. When implemented correctly however, link building can reap massive, massive amounts of success. But if you’re not a marketing guru and don’t have the bandwidth to learn the who, what, where, when, why and how of link building, we compiled this definitive guide for your assistance. It’s pretty hearty so grab a coffee, make a snack and get ready for a comprehensive game changing model that will amplify your digital presence.

The most important thing to remember is, like all success, it does not happen overnight. But if you take the strategies we outline below, you can guarantee success in the long run.

Remember, digital dominance is a marathon, not a sprint.

Read (or skip) away to learn about:

Basic SEO Elements You Need to Cover First

Let’s get to the ugly: link building is costly and time-consuming. In order to get the most out of every backlink, you must have:

  • A technically optimized site
  • A strong site architecture
  • Exceptionally valuable content

Fix All Technical Errors

This should go without saying but technical errors hurt user experience. In turn, this hurts your brand and limits your organic traffic growth. Google favors those that provide exceptional user experience and punishes those that don’t. Common indicators Google uses to determine bad user experience is bounce rate – i.e. if a user lands on your site and immediately exits.

Here are some of the technical issues to look for:

  • Site loading speed – use Google’s PageSpeed Insights
  • Mobile friendliness – use Google’s Mobile Friendly check
  • Duplicate content – use Siteliner
  • 302 redirects – redirection is the process of forwarding one URL to a different URL. You might implement redirection if you are moving a web page or an entire website to a new location. An example of such is if you were changing domain names. A redirect causes the user’s browser to automatically forward from the old location to the new location. There are different types of redirects and although to a user they all seem to work the same way, they don’t appear that way to search engines. A 301 redirect means that the page has permanently moved to a new location. A 302 means the move is only temporary. If you set up the wrong type of redirect, search engines may become confused which results in loss of traffic. There aren’t many situations where a 302 is appropriate. More often than not, you should be implementing a 301 redirect but given the technical requirements in accomplishing this, many people mistakenly use 302 instead of 301.
  • Redirect chains – are multiple redirects between the initial URL and the destination URL. It occurs usually over time or a combination of HTTPS vs HTTP, www vs non-www and trailing slash vs non-trailing slash redirects site-wide. Redirects only pass about 85% of link equity so the more redirects you have, the less “link juice” you’ll have.
  • 404 errors – this is displayed when the web page a user is requesting is not found. It can also be displayed when Googlebot was forced to abandon the request because it couldn’t access your URL, the request timed out or your site was busy.
  • Canonical errors – the rel=canonical element is an HTML element that indicates which URL is the preferred version of a web page. It ensures duplicate content will not be indexed. A canonical issue occurs when 301 redirects are not properly in place. It means your website can be accessed from several different URLs, potentially leading to duplicate content indexed.
  • Duplicate META data – this should be avoided predominantly for the reason mentioned above. Google doesn’t like duplicate content.
  • Incorrect uses of directives (noindex, nofollow, etc)

Develop a Strong Site Architecture

A great site structure is important for a variety of reasons. Search engines love websites that makes it easy to identify content. Unorganized content makes it difficult to understand what the page is about – for both users and search engines. “Silo” your website by creating precise content groupings and link signals. This will easily clarify the message you are trying to tell the search engines.

A good site structure provides your site with site links, which is a huge SEO advantage. It can provide myriad benefits:

  • Increases the navigability of your site
  • Directs users to the most relevant information
  • Increases your brand’s reputation
  • Improves users trust
  • Helps dominate SERPs
  • Increase click through rate
  • And shorten the conversion funnel

Remember, Google rewards those that provide exceptional user experience. And one way they do so is awarding websites with site links. If you have a poor site structure, it’s highly unlikely you will ever receive site links.

Steps on Starting and Stabilizing a Stellar Site Structure

Step 1. Plan out a hierarchy before you build out your website.
Everything in life is hierarchical. From the way our brain operates to the way neural nets are created to the internet’s infrastructure to nature itself. A hierarchy is simply a way to organize your information. It will also become your navigation and your URL structure so it’s crucial. Generally, a site hierarchy looks like this:

Website Hierarchy

Step 2. Create a URL structure that follows your navigation hierarchy.
If you did Step 1, this should be pretty straightforward. For example, the top layers of Active World Journeys’s website, a travel company, looks like this:

Website URL Hierarchy

Make sure your URLs have targeted keywords!

Step 3. Create your site navigation in HTML and CSS.
Do not use Flash or Ajax as search engines can’t crawl pages built on these technologies.

Step 4. Keep your navigation structure shallow.
Your navigation should follow your site hierarchy and should not include more than 3 clicks to reach every page.

Step 5. Create an internal linking structure.
nternal linking allows users to navigate a website, establishes hierarchy for the website and helps spread link juice around websites.

Produce VALUABLE Content

We don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but content is king. Your content strategy will make or break your SEO campaign. More on this later.

Definitions to Understand

Before implementing any strategy, you first must understand what the strategy is comprised of. Let’s start with the most important question: what is link building? The concept is very simple: you, as a website owner, convinced another website to include a link on their site that points back to yours.

Website Link Building Strategy

Despite how simple the concept may be, the practice is actually fairly complex. When done properly, a website can reap massive SEO success and high ranking results. When done incorrectly however, a website can face extreme penalties. Think of link building as a highly competitive and digital game. Google looks at inbound links as “points” on your website’s scoreboard. The more links you have, the more points you have on the board.

WARNING: Not all links are created equally.

In fact, you’re better off focusing on obtaining fewer high quality links than an abundance of low quality links. For example, one link from a website such as Forbes or New York Times is far more valuable than 10 links from a low authority niche site.

Forbes: 89; Website no one visits: 2

Whenever you build a backlink, you will use an anchor text. For example, check out this awesome blog post about 2018 marketing trends and predictions. The words that are linked to the web page is known as anchor text. When you are creating a link building campaign, the anchor text ratios that you use matters.

Nofollow links are links that don’t count towards a page’s ranking, do not affect the anchor text ratios and don’t do anything to boost a website’s authority. Dofollow links, on the other hand, boosts your pages ranking and adds more scores to your scoreboard. These links are typically EARNED. More on that later.

Backlink Anchors and Categories

In order to create a strong anchor text profile that doesn’t get you penalized, you need to understand the different types of anchor texts. If you distribute your backlink anchor text recklessly you could suffer tremendously:

  1. Wrong anchor text distribution will inhibit your site from ranking
  2. Aggressive anchor text can land you a penalty

Keyword Related Anchors

These are anchors designed to help rank a piece of content related to a specific keyword. For instance, if you want to rank on the first page for “what should I do if I’ve been arrested for a DUI” you would use anchor text such as “arrested for a DUI”.

Two. Brand Related Anchors

This is a really important category as Google has become very brand centric (as well as user centric). You can even throw in a combination of brand and keyword related anchor such as “link building strategies with Sacramento Digital Media”.

URL Related Anchors

The majority of your anchor text should be branded or naked link anchors such as:

Generic Anchors

These are typically call-to-actions such as:

  • “click here”
  • “check this out”
  • “go here”

Backlink Categories

Foundational Backlinks

Foundational backlinks are what every website should start with. They are links that help improve your site’s TrustRank which performs better in search engines. These types of links are not generally powerful but they come from powerful domains. This means you’ll be using nothing but unoptimized, branded backlinks on these high authority sites. The first step is to secure all your social media properties and choose which platforms work best for your business:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google + (Personal & Business)
  • LinkedIn (Personal & Business)
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

Citations (Nofollow) and Directories (Dofollow)

Generally speaking, link building should be conducted on relevant websites. However, business listings and some directories get a pass for not being relevant. In fact, Google values business listings so much that it’s part of the local search algorithm. Be sure to add to Google My Business and optimize your content for voice search. Business citations are a perfect way to build a foundation of trust around your site. Google trusts these platforms and knows many businesses will be using them.

Although most directories are worthless, there are some good ones that offer both a relevant and DoFollow link, which are hard to come by. The best way to find niche directories is to run a Google search of the following:

  • NICHE + Directory (example: “real estate + directory”)
  • NICHE directories
  • NICHE + “submits site”

Geo-targeted directories is another type of directory that is a must have for local businesses. Over <80% of shoppers research companies online before making any purchase. And obviously, location plays a huge role. You won’t be finding an Italian shoe repair shop in Atlanta if you’re located in Manhattan. So it’s crucial every business is listed in Google My Business and other directories with consistent and accurate information. This is especially critical as voice search continues to make headway. To find geo-targeted directories, type this in Google:

  • City + directory
  • Directory + city
  • Submit my site + city
  • Niche + city + directory
  • City + directories

Organic Contextual Links (Dofollow)

Organic contextual links are naturally earned links that are the result of exceptional content and strategic marketing. They are the most desired but take a tremendous amount of effort which is why we dedicated a completely separate section on earning backlinks further down.

Manually Acquired Contextual Links (Dofollow)

These are links you manually acquire by convincing other bloggers to link to the kickass content you created. Think about your friends, relatives, colleagues, partners, clients and others within your network that have a blog or site. Reach out to them and ask for in-content links (as opposed to sidebar or footer links) but make sure their website is relevant to your niche. If the website is not relevant, it won’t have much of an impact and can actually be harmful.

Blog Comments (Usually Nofollow)

Since Google’s inception of “nofollow” tag, link building through blog comments have been dying out. However, there are still a number of authoritative websites that offer dofollow backlinks for commenters who are offering real value. Because website owners can decide whether or not to publish your comments, it’s especially important that the content is extremely valuable. Most blog platforms do not permit anchor texts so you’ll need to leave an actual link. Even if website moderators do not approve your comment, it’s a good tactic in building relationships. Join niche-related communities such as blogs, forums or social groups and start contributing with interesting and relevant comments and posts.

Profile Links (Usually Nofollow)

These types of links won’t rank your website exceptionally high on Google SERP but it will help you increase the number of referring domains pointing to your site.

Web 2.0s (Dofollow)

Using web 2.0s for backlinks is a grey hat tactic that comes with risk. Web 2.0s are free blogging platforms (wordpress, blogspot, weebly, etc) that allow you to change URLs, images, video and other properties. They are effective because they build page authority and they do it quickly. It’s important to remember that your first tier of links must be of high quality. Google will penalize you for spamming thousands of links to your site so take it slow.

Press Releases (Nofollow)

Another type of link you should tread lightly with. Google has slowly been penalizing sites with press release backlinks. However, a well placed press release delivered through a high quality service can help give a new website a little jump in terms of branding. The page to which you will want to link to depends largely on the nature of the release but usually it should be to your home page.

Avoid These Backlinks

Earning backlinks is the optimal goal of your content marketing strategy. If you choose to shortcut the process, you will be found, and you will be penalized.

Google Penalize Meme

One – avoid anything that’s irrelevant. It does you no good to get links to your site form irrelevant web pages.
Two – public networks. Google has gone out of its way to smash public networks and destroy every website using these networks. Don’t do it.
Three – Dofollow blog comments. Though these are some of the cheapest backlinks you can buy, they can also lead to a harsh penalty.
Four – Sidebar and footer backlinks. Because vendors who sell these high authority backlinks are selling to everyone, a majority of them will be irrelevant to yours. And because these links are almost always site-wide, it can destroy your site if you’re using keyword-rich anchor text.

Link Building Strategies

Now that we’ve gone over the various links and pros and cons of each, here’s a couple of strategies you can begin implementing.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is nearly free promotion and gives you the opportunity to brand yourself as an industry expert and thought leader. But it’s only useful if you guest post on high-quality, high-profile sites in your industry. Don’t waste your time guest blogging on sites with no authority. To get started, you need to search for sites that allow guest posting. Do a search in Google such as:

  • [[target site]] + guest post
  • [[target site]] + blogging guidelines

Finding websites within your industry that already allow guest blogging removes the need of a fancy email-outreach or conduct hours of prospecting. It’s fast and simple. Just fill out the form and get judged for submission. Ideal pieces should contain 1500-2500 words with actionable tips, tools and strategies backed by data and research.

Create Cornerstone Assets

Every piece of content you create is your business asset. But there are some assets that will naturally garner shares. In an industry where “content is king”, there is no content more valuable than current and unpublished industry insights. Original data and research can take substantial investment but it’s a proven link building method with a 70% rate of success. Begin by selecting a topic you know your audience will find valuable. Conduct independent research and compile your findings. Publish your research and create additional content in other forms:

  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Tweet-able stats
  • Others you can think of

Promote and share your findings across various platforms.

Publish Industry-Specific Interviews

Experts have found this effective 65% of the time. The key is to interview the right person and ask the right questions. Do your homework and discover which topics your audience finds valuable and which influencers have influence within your specific niche. Make sure to prepare your questions ahead of time but don’t sound like a robot. You’ll need to be flexible and adjust your questions accordingly. Publish your findings and promote across all platforms.

Mention Influencers in Your Posts

When you mention industry specific influencers in your blog posts, you have the chance of getting additional exposure through their shares. Of course, the article must be high-quality and top notch or else the influencer may not share. Mentioning influencers is a good way to get their attention, begin building relationships and possibly gaining links for yourself.

Use Infographics for Link Bait

In our highly digital world overloaded with information, people don’t have the patience or attention span to read through a 6,000 word blog post. Condensing and reforming your content in infographics is a great way for your audience to scan and get the most important pieces of information in just a few seconds or minutes. Infographics perform best because of the visual components. In fact, infographics are shared and liked 3X more than any other form of content.


Video growth has skyrocketed in 2017 and continues to do so in 2018. Video production may seem like a daunting task especially if you think you must be a video producer of sorts to create video content. In reality, technology has enabled the least tech savvy to create videos. Platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram, YouTube have ensured video creation is idiot-proof. Sure there are different levels of quality and graphics that distinguish an amateur from a professional but the reality is, as long as it’s valuable, the audience doesn’t care if it’s integrating high quality graphics or not. Make sure you share and promote self-hosted videos on social media as you would any other piece of content.

Also reclaim the links your videos have earned. Log in to YouTube Analytics, go to Traffic Sources and find sites that have embedded your video. Reach out to them and request they include a link to your website (if they have not done so already).

Prospect for Broken Links

By using a tool called Check My Links, you can search for any broken links on a particular web page. If you come across a broken link, you can send them an email and let them know their post has a broken link and offer some links as replacements (one being yours of course). Pointing out dead links is going to be in their best interest as well because it improves user experiences and SEO. But make sure the web page is a popular industry blog and relevant to you.

Top 6 Ways to EARN Backlinks

All of the articles I have written, whether it’s on our Sacramento Digital Marketing blog, my personal websites blog or other blogs I guest post on, there are two main components I ensure it’s built on:

  • Research – I do extensive amounts of research. After all, I don’t want to sound like I’m pulling this information out of the cloud.
  • Originality – Everyone is blogging. Everyone is a self-published author. Everyone is an industry expert. But in reality, everyone is full of crap. It’s crucial your content is different than what’s already out there.

You MUST be User-Centric

As a founder of a wearable startup, a lot of other startups and small businesses ask me what I think about their product, feature or startup idea. I think it’s great they value my input but I always respond with “it doesn’t matter what I think about it, it matters what your users (or potential users) think about it.” A startup was interviewing me the other day and asked how I determine what product to build next. My response:

“I don’t determine what product to build, my customers tell me what product to build”.

I work for my customers. They tell me what they need, I build it. Obviously it’s not that cut clear but the same is applied for your content.

Your business goals, values and principles must be consistent. Why should anybody care about YOUR business, product or service? What do you offer that deserves attention? What value do you bring to the marketplace? Think of backlinks as endorsements for your website. The only way to get endorsements is giving unparalleled value for the user.

And remember, there is always room to help more and give more.

In this day in age, bloggers are pumping out incredible pieces of content as fast as melting snow in hell. These pieces of content vary because no industry is the same and whats deemed valuable is subjective across industry, audience and topics. Although keywords are good indicators on what’s “trending” or highly searched, the most important goal your content should be aiming is to help others solve a problem or reach a goal. This could mean writing a piece of content with 10,000 words. Other times it could mean developing emotionally captivating videos. Creating a meme that makes someone laugh is solving a problem. Spending hundreds of hours researching and compiling data is helping someone solve a problem. Teaching someone how to tie a tie is solving a problem. Sharing your story on failures and mistakes you’ve made is helping someone avoid those mistakes or resonating with their past failures.

Be Original/Your Content Must Stand Out

In a world filled of mediocrity and copy cats, dare to stand out and do something different. You must be willing to do what others won’t. This means producing a lot of content and tremendous value to the marketplace. Great content marketing that ranks exceptionally well requires enormous amounts of effort. It’s not easy to sit down and write every single day. And it’s definitely not easy to think outside of the box. Creativity is a daily campaign. Fortunately, most people are too lazy. Leaving a gap for you to fill. So produce and produce constantly. You are not always going to get it right but the more you produce, the better chance you have at succeeding.

Being original means your content stands out. The business strategy of “study your competitors and copy what they do” only works to a certain extent. Truly successful businesses are innovative. What is innovation? Innovative means doing something different – not copying your competitors. They think of what they can do that’s different and unique. It’s creativity at its core. Begin by studying your competitors and see how you can be of additional value:

  • Outdated content – creating updated content is a fantastic way to add value and prove your better than your competition. The key is to create an updated piece of content that blows the competitor out of the ballpark. This is called skyscraping. Once you’ve created the new content, you need to reach out to the right people that have already linked to similar content and have them replace it with your updated content.
  • Lack of Depth – if you’re competitors are ranking high but with short amount of content, you’re positioned to provide incremental value. Again, the key is to create something so massively in depth that no one will even bother competiting against.

Other things to keep in mind when creating content:

Add personality

Seriously, don’t be boring. Nobody likes boring ppl. People don’t buy products or services, they buy people. Show your personality, company culture and branding messaging in all pieces of content you create. Humor is a fantastic way to resonate with people. If you’re not funny, find another tactic you can utilize but add some flare, glitter, sparkle, whatever it is that differentiates you from your competitors. If you don’t know what it is, spend some time figuring it out. And remember, it’s an evolving process.

Make it easy to read

Always remember who your audience is and cater to them as such. I see many lawyers using legal jargon in their blog posts and I’m just thinking “Hello!!!! They’re not lawyers! That’s why they’re hiring you!” Dumb it down for them. If you can’t teach something to a 10 year old, you’re not considered a master at the topic. Make sure you make it easy for your readers to understand. This means:

  • No unbearable big blogs of text
  • No headings
  • White font on black backgrounds
  • No images
  • Distracting designs
  • Use bullet points, lists, etc
  • Descriptive headings
  • Black font on a white background

Be consistent

Consistency varies for each business. Clearly small mom and pop shops with little staff can’t produce content on a daily or maybe even weekly basis. That’s okay. Scale it down by posting once a month. Then, when you’re able, increase it to twice a month. Then, once a week. So on so forth.

Give, give, give some more. Then give a little more. Then you shall receive

People expect things immediately without first adding something of value. The world doesn’t operate that way. NO industry operates that way.

You need to promote your content, yourself and your brand

If you are a startup especially, you need to learn self promotion. This includes a variety of promotional items, social media channels, networking and digital presence but you must have the ability to big yourself up and talk your business. If you don’t believe in your product, service, company, yourself, how the heck are others supposed to? Take the time on your branding and figure out what works. This will become crucial in nailing down client relations and mastering adaptability.

BONUS Strategies for 2018

The above guidelines are some of the best and most common practices but if you’re creative enough, there are a handful of other ways you can gain backlinks.

Google Docs

I’m a huge Google advocate. I love EVERYTHING Google. I’m actually writing this blog post on a Google doc and it’s one of the easiest way to gain backlinks. Google gives priority to its own product so it only makes sense to leverage their tools. By creating a Google Doc that contains links to your articles and website pages, you’ll be generating backlinks from a very high Domain Authority site. And because it’s a Google doc, you can put as little content as you want. Once you create the document, make sure it’s set to PUBLIC property and submit the document’s URL to Google.

Create a Chatbot

This requires a little bit more technical work but considering 47% of consumers are willing to buy items from a chatbot, all businesses, especially retailers, need to get on this trend. But it’s not limited to just retailers. I personally love chatbots. I’ve used them in variety of ways. The most recent and unique way I utilized chatbots was to conduct a survey for my startup. Because understanding your customer is of utmost importance for all type of businesses – early stage startups and large enterprises alike – I realized I couldn’t possibly interview as many individuals as I would have liked initially, so I built a chatbot with natural language processing:

Chat Bot

Chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of more than $8 billion annually by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. Because people prefer to communicate differently, every industry needs to implement a variety of communication channels. Chatbots can be utilized for every industry in a variety of ways:

  • Startups: to conduct surveys, gather feedback, improve features
  • Retailers: to answer frequently asked questions, to process returns and exchanges, to assist buyers in purchasing items
  • Lawyers: to capture leads, to answer inquiry questions, to answer legal related questions
  • Tour operators: to answer frequently asked questions, to help visitors book or purchase tickets, to gather testimonials and reviews
  • Local businesses: to answer frequently asked questions, to convert leads

Get Featured on HARO

If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner who needs media attention but can’t afford crazy PR fee’s, consider checking out Help A Reporter Out. Sign up for their free subscription and receive emails of reporters, journalists and bloggers looking for stories like yours to report.

Get Listed on Google News

Google’s search evolution included the creation of a news vertical. If your site is creating fantastic news content on a regular basis, considering getting into Google’s News search vertical to reach more users. For many businesses, especially lawyers, Google News is another way of making more out of current and future content. Over 60% of people trust Google News over the news originators so make sure you’re including this tactic if you’re a small law firm or solo practicing attorney.

All it requires is a few changes to how your articles are structured and following rules as mentioned in Google News Publisher Center

Every business needs a link building strategy

Although there are many tips and tactics you could explore, know that Google is smart and only getting smarter. This means you can’t short cut the strategy. The absolute best way to get backlinks naturally is creating exceptional pieces of content. As we mentioned, Google’s top two ranking factors is content and backlinks. If you focus heavily on content, backlinks will come naturally.