As an entrepreneur, or the (likely exhausted) owner of a startup – you’ll be well aware of the importance SEO will play in the success or failure of your business.
During all the research on SEO, you’ll have noticed that a large proportion of the content on popular SEO blogs and websites has a strong focus on authoritative backlinks, and the best techniques for gaining them.
Link building is held up as one of, if not the best way to help a website increase rankings, and make your site more authoritative in the eyes of both Google and human users.
If you’re running a fledgling business, and you’re looking to take your first steps into SEO via link building, one of the big questions on your mind is likely to be “how do I get some of these coveted authoritative backlinks?”
In this guide, we’ll explain the relationship between backlinks, site authority, and SEO, and the essential first steps that startups can take to build up their authority.
Backlinks and authority: An overview
Before we get into actionable link building tips for startups, let’s look at a quick overview of what backlinks are, and their place in your SEO strategy.
A backlink is any link from an external site that points back to your site. For example, if you were to guest post on an industry blog, and got an author bio link that pointed to your site, this would count as a backlink. It doesn’t matter where on your site it points to – as long as it points to somewhere on your domain, and the link is on a different domain, then that’s a backlink.
Backlinks have always been an important factor in how Google determines where a site or page should rank for a given search term, but that’s not the whole story. In the early days of the internet, webmasters used to be able to create a page on a poor quality throwaway domain, fill it up with exact-match backlinks, and see their rankings skyrocket. Since then, Google’s ranking algorithm has become much more sophisticated, and modern SEOs now have to work much harder to see a return on the backlinks their websites have earned.
The authority of referring pages will dictate the authority that a given link will pass onto the target page(s), and in turn, how valuable those links are from an SEO perspective.
Google determines a link’s authority through a number of different variables tied to their referring domain, including:
Age and trust: Sites that have been active for a long time, building a strong track record for serving the needs of their target market, and earning a high organic rank.
Popularity: The overall popularity of a domain, measured by metrics such as the number of backlinks they have, the overall quality of those backlinks, and the variety of unique linking domains in the site’s backlink profile.
Topical relevance: Backlinks pointing from one site to another where those sites have a clear topical relationship tend to have a much greater effect on the rankings of the target website than otherwise.
Link building for startups: Focus on quality over quantity
With so many tips and tricks for gaining new backlinks floating around, it can be easy for startup marketing managers to slip into the trap of focussing on building new links regardless of their actual value. When you examine the way link building tactics affect rankings, authority link building always wins over quantitative link building.
One of the key reasons for this is that Google analyses the rate at which websites gain links when deciding how to rank them. A natural backlink profile will build up its links at a gradual, steady pace, with a few occasional spikes on occasions when they’re featured in the news, or when there’s a sudden surge of popularity due to a new product release, special offer, etc.
If you’re gaining around 25 links per month, suddenly have a month where you gain 200, then go back to 25, this could be seen as a red flag by search engine algorithms.
Obviously, the end goal is to have a backlink profile with lots of high quality links from countless domains, but slipping into a singular focus on quantity over quality can prove to be very risky.
It’s also important to note that Google has been on a steady trajectory towards a more and more quality-oriented algorithm for some time now, and SEO experts don’t expect this to change in the near future.
Now that search engine crawlers are programmed to analyse page relevance, searcher intent, and how natural or unnatural link building patterns are, they’re far more effective at separating high quality link building tactics from poor quality methods.
When link building for a startup, try to prioritise quality, natural backlinks to grow your backlink profile. This way, you’ll not only align your backlink profile with Google’s current emphasis on quality, but will also reduce your chances of losing rankings to future algorithm updates.
The power of local citations and social media
Local citations are online mentions of a business’s name, address, geographical location and contact information. These can be hosted on a business aggregator service, such as Google Business Profile, or on a directory site specifically set up to host business citations, such as Yell, TripAdvisor, or Foursquare.
Although local citations don’t get a lot of the limelight when it comes to SEO strategies, they’re a quick, easy, and hugely effective way for new businesses to build trust and authority in the eyes of search engines. People are less likely to buy from a company that exists ‘off-the-grid’ and appears reluctant to verify their authenticity through trusted online channels, and Google knows this.
Typically, setting up these citations only requires you to enter a few key details and go through a simple verification process, promising a simple method to gain an instant boost to your online authority, and a strong foundation for future SEO work.
Running along the same lines, having fully set-up social media profiles can also be an effective, accessible way for you to build trust and authority as a new business.
Aside from being a good source of traffic, most legitimate businesses have an active social media presence, and any brand that has poorly maintained or non-existent social profiles will be an instant red flag to consumers. Google knows this, and just like local citations, having a well maintained set of social profiles with accurate, up-to-date information can be a great way to fortify your authority, with very little investment or time required.
Google rewards quality – don’t forget your own site!
Most of this guide has been focussed on external factors; how link building for startups, referring pages, and local citations can help to improve a site’s authority.
Although these things are all important, it’s vital not to forget the thing that’s at the core of all your SEO work: your website!
Google has been able to build its huge monopoly over the search engine market by always putting the user first, and ensuring that every little change to its algorithm serves its end goal: to serve up results that meet the searcher’s needs better than any other tool.
With this in mind, it’s important to make sure your on-page SEO is getting just as much attention as your off-page work, and ensuring that when people follow those backlinks and citations, they’re greeted by content that gives them an all-around positive experience.
Simple changes to your site like breaking up content into digestible chunks, choosing lightweight image files, and making sure the whole site runs smoothly on mobile devices, can have a major, positive effect on your user’s experience, and the authority of your domain in the eyes of search engines.
When link building for startups, it’s also important to think about the user’s experience when creating new content. User engagement signals are a huge part of how the modern Google algorithm ranks sites. Ensuring that any content that’s linked to can meet the needs of someone who’d logically click on that link, you’ll not only help your topical relevancy, but also drive down the amount of negative user signals, like people arriving via a link then instantly bouncing off the page.
Google has been shown consistently to help and reward sites that have a strong focus on quality user experiences, and add a demonstrable value to the internet with their content. Make sure your on-site work reflects this as much as your off-site SEO, and you’ll make authority building so much easier in those early days of your business.
As you take your first steps towards strong organic rankings, we hope this guide in our link building hub has helped you gain a better understanding of authority in SEO, and how to build it for your startup.
If you’d like to learn more about link building for startups, and are interested in how Hive19 might be able to help please get in touch today.