Small business SEO: How can I increase my authority with Google?
So, you’ve researched the keywords that your customers are using to find you. You’ve tweaked your website to make sure that it’s well organised, user-friendly and using appropriate keywords.
It’s time to understand the next piece of the SEO puzzle: backlink profiles.
Let’s say you and your competitor are both on top of your “on-page SEO” - ie. you know what customers are searching for, and you have both optimised your websites for these terms.
Who does Google rank first?
Answer: Google will rank the website with the best backlink profile first.
What is a backlink?
A backlink is simply a link from another website pointing back to your website.
What is a good backlink profile?
A good backlink profile contains lots of links from different high-quality websites.
Think of it like this: the most trusted sources of information use references to back up their arguments and prove that they’re not simply making things up. For instance, scientific research papers always reference all previous scientific papers related to the topic, that have been published in the past.
Google is using this same philosophy: if your website is referenced by a lot of other high-quality websites on similar topics, then it must be an important website. If your website has a greater amount of high-quality links pointing at it than your competitor’s website, then your website is (in theory) the more significant and trustworthy one.
For example, let’s look at the search term wedding photographers East Gippsland.
We can see that the top two photographers that come up are chrisppictures.com.au and lisahayman.com. Both of these websites are ranking extremely well, being in the top 4 results in the first page of Google.
To test our theory of who should rank higher, let’s have a look at the backlink profiles of these two websites:
Here we can see that chrisppictures.com.au does indeed have slightly more links than lisahayman.com .
Let’s have a look at the quality of these links:
Here we can see that chrisppicutres.com.au has slightly better quality links than lisahayman.com.
Although with two websites so closely matched, in this case other things could come into play like the age of the domain (Google likes older domains) and the fact that chrisppictures is a .com.au (Google will favour .com.au for searches that is deems local, such as searching for a service like a photographer).
What defines the quality of a backlink?
The quality of the above backlinks were measured using the tool Link Explorer from moz.com. You can perform a limited number of searches on this tool for free every month. If you want to do more searches you will have to upgrade to the paid tool.
In the above example, Moz is using a score called DA which stands for Domain Authority, to measure the quality of the backlink.
Domain Authority is a metric invented by Moz, which mimics Google’s alogrithm. Moz has invested a lot of time and money into approximately immitating Google’s alogrith. Moz scores a site on how well it will rank, based on:
1. on-page SEO factors such as keyword optimisation
2. off-page SEO factors such as backlink profiles and number of social media shares
You can read more about Domain Authortity here.
How can I get backlinks?
There are various ways to get backlinks, but before we get into those the important thing to note is that the majority of backlink strategies are centred around creating quality content.
What is quality content?
In this day and age, every man and his dog is creating content. We do not want to create content just for content’s sake, we want to create content that is:
1. Authoritative: what are you an expert on? What topics can your business give expert advice about?
2. How to: people love how to content. Write an in-depth guide explaining to people how to do something. If your customers then decide they don’t want to do it themselves, they are more likely to come back to you because you’ve proved yourself a trusted expert. This content lends itself well to video format too.
3. What is? Can you help your customers understand some industry jargon or step them through a complicated process?
4. Tell a story through data: are there some industry statistics you can share that highlight a problem or a solution? This one works particularly well for infographics.
5. Why?: can you help customers understand something that they might want to know?
6. Lists: people love lists. It is a really easy way to get ideas and ingest information quickly.
7. In-depth: no fluffy posts. Your content should be suitably detailed. Aim for posts that are roughly 1,600 words long. So long as you are still giving value and not just waffling on!
For example, here are some content ideas for a photographer:
How to organise a photoshoot: a guide for marketers
10 tips to make sure you get the perfect wedding photos
Questions to ask your wedding photographer
Once you have a good piece of content, you can leverage it using some of the below techniques. We will then step through techniques that do not require content.
How to generate backlinks from your content
1. Publish content on your blog and promote it via social media. Social media signals such as number of shares are correlated with ranking well on Google. If people find your content valuable, they are likely to share it with friends.
2. Look for opportunities to post your content on other people’s websites in return for a backlink. This is known as guest blogging.
Some things to note with this tactic: make sure that the website you choose to guest blog on is complimentary to yours. For example, if you were a wedding photographer, you might approach a wedding venue partner to see if they would be interested in posting your content on their blog. This way you are generating value for you and for them and you are staying relevant to your audience.
Make sure you don’t post the exact same content on your own blog if you are going to try this strategy. Google does not like duplicate content and you will provide more value to other businesses if the content you give them is unique, hence they are more likely to accept your collaboration proposal.
3. Read forums or Facebook groups where your customers hang out. Here, you can look for common questions that your customers ask and then you can write detailed blog posts giving answers.
Always provide value in the actual answer that you put on the forum and then direct people to your blog if they want more detail. Don’t just post a link to your blog with no explanation, that just looks like shameless self-promotion which is less trustworthy.
For example, here is a good place to find blog topic ideas for wedding photographers or those in the wedding industry: https://www.easyweddings.com.au/WeddingPhotography/advice/
You could also apply to EasyWeddings to become part of their panel of experts who reply to the questions.
Ideas for generating backlinks, that don’t rely on content
1. Get listed in your local council business directory (if they have one). Just be careful with directories as they can be spammy, as per the next section below.
2. Get listed in an industry directory, eg. a directory for wedding suppliers if you are a wedding photographer.
3. Get listed in a directory aimed at supporting similar businesses. Eg. The Creative Women's Circle.
4. Do reverse guest blogs. Invite a relevant blogger/influencer/complementary supplier to post an article of value on your blog. Depending on the arrangement, you could offer to pay them or repay the value by offering to write a quality piece of content for their blog in return.
Hopefully, the chosen influencer will mention on their website and social media that they have been featured on your blog and this will contribute to your links and social shares.
5. Sign up for Source Bottle. This is a free email newsletter of call-outs from journalists and other businesses looking to collaborate.
6. Get ideas off relevant competitors by looking at what links they have in link explorer.
7. Comment on relevant blogs. Although usually this does allow you to leave a backlink through your commenting profile, the real value here is becoming a participant in a like minded blogging community. If you regularly read and thoughtfully comment on other peoples' blogs, then they and their readership may start coming to your blog.
8. Participate in local events. If you are a wedding photographer, you can participate in a local wedding expo. As a participant, the wedding expo may give you a link on their website or a mention on their social media.
9. Sponsor a charity. If you sponsor a charity, they may give you a link on your website. Ideally this would be a charity that you are passionate about or one that is relevant to your service.
10. Create a scholarship/offer an internship/get mentioned in the school newsletter. Government links (.edu.au) are really valuable, Google rates these highly.
Eg. If you are a photographer, perhaps you can offer to take photos a school event. In return you may get a credit link on the school’s website.
Are all backlinks are created equal?
If you are genuinely trying to create value, by posting quality articles on relevant websites then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about.
You can check a partnering website’s domain authority with link explorer as mentioned previously, but if you’re just starting out, you don’t want to be too fussy. You can be happy with posting on websites that are perhaps a bit more established then yours, but you don’t necessarily have to aim for something that feels impossible, like The Age.
However, there are a couple of things to be aware of:
If you use Link Explorer, you will notice that Moz gives sites a spam score. You want to avoid spammy websites, Google sees these as bad and will penalise you.
Nofollow and do follow links
Technically there are nofollow and do follow links. A nofollow link is a link that is not technically referencing your site in the eyes of Google. This is a bit of a controversial area. So long as you are creating genuine content or collaborations of value don’t get too caught up in this if you are just starting out.
How can I tell if it’s working?
It can take a couple of months for Google to find these new links pointing to your site. Metrics of success are:
1. Increases in rankings when you search for yourself incognito.
2. Increases in the amounts of organic traffic coming to your website as measured in Google Analytics.
3. You can also look for an increase in your Domain Authority. Note that this is a relative, ever moving metric so the first two ways are slightly more appropriate.
We hope that has given you some understanding of how Google judges the authority of your website and some ideas for collaborations and quality content. What collaborations or pieces of content have you created that has helped create success for your business? We would love to hear about them.