Diagram of PageRank – Google’s method for analyzing links to create ranking scores.
We wrote previously in “Local SEO 101: What Are Local Citations?” that Google’s earliest algorithm was based upon automatically evaluating the links pointing to a webpage in order to calculate a score, upon which rankings could be based. While we further explained in that post how Local Citations are essentially the “Link” where local search rankings are concerned, links themselves actually remain very important.
While Google’s ranking algorithm is different for the purpose of ranking businesses associated with map locations, many of the classic search engine ranking signals continue to apply and are influential in determining who ranks higher than who in the search results.
In fact, there are many instances where you might be able to receive a link where you wouldn’t be as likely to receive a local citation. For instance, if an article on your business website contained information or details that someone wished to mention — they might link to that page from their own article or blog post. People may also link to pages on your site from their Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus accounts. The PageRank value that streams in on all these links can be passed around on your website via the navigation links you may have on every page.
For this reason, having blogs or interesting articles can be a very important component of your online marketing efforts — a value that many local businesses fail to recognize. For instance, a restaurant could post a recipe of one of their famous dishes on their site — many chefs and proprietors might be dubious, considering that if other do-it-yourselfers cooked the dish themselves, they’d have lower incentive to come to the restaurant and spend money. However, they should reconsider this premise — most people may not have the skill nor the inclination to cook a dish themselves, but such a recipe could get quite a few links pointing to it, and the added PageRank from this content might help get the business to rank higher in local searches, resulting in much more business.
This is one reason why publishing content on a frequent basis is highly advantageous.
Since links are so important in webpage rankings, quite a number of people over time have tried to rapidly generate their own, since it can be challenging to figure out how to persuade other webmasters to link to you. Some of these link-building methods included: creating dozens or hundreds of websites, just so that they’d all link back to your main site; proposing to other sites that you exchange links in order to help each other; buying links outright from other sites; using software bots to automatically add comments to hundreds or thousands of blogs, just so that links result; and, using software to submit links to many open directory sites that allow free link additions.
Don’t do these things!
Google and other search engines first used links because they were honest referrals by people — objective endorsements. The many exploits individuals have used over the years to artificially generate links and exploit the search engines has resulted in some erosion in the overall effectiveness of links. And, the search engines have developed many sophisticated ways of detecting such link development efforts. If a search engine detects that you’re involved in link exploits they will likely penalize you, causing your pages to be pushed far down in the search results where no one will ever see them, or they may even deindex you from appearing in search at all!
Links are important, but they ideally need to be accrued in good, sustainable, honest ways. So, publishing useful, interesting or amusing articles and other content is one way to build links. Obtaining good local citations will typically result in getting links as well — it doesn’t matter in those cases whether Google is more likely to use the local citation data versus the link — either way, it becomes a source of ranking benefit for you. Social media interaction may also result in good links, if done correctly (we provide social media optimization for this reason at Argent Media), and you may even hit the jackpot if content you create and promote socially goes viral!
So, don’t forget links when optimizing your online marketing efforts for local rankings. Incorporating links in a benign and strategic manner can help you with rankings quite a lot. But, keep in mind that Google and Bing are very sophisticated at detecting and penalizing tricky, illicit links, so it’s dangerous to mess around with this. Either familiarize yourself with all of Google’s rules on linking, and keep updated on their ongoing changes around link evaluations, or else hand off link development to a professional. The best link building strategies involve building content and doing things that draw in natural links like a magnet draws in iron filings!
If you do things right, you influence others to do the work for you.