This is the seventh installment of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending 10/09/15, David Mihm, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week. These deep dive segments, made available publicly, will typically be about seven minutes in length and be posted two weeks after being posted in the forum and don’t include the discussion of the week’s critical developments.
Mike: So with that, we’ll wrap up the Links in Local and move into our Deep Dive. So this week, Mary, I thought we would talk about link building in local and attitudes and approaches to link building. Why don’t you kick it off since you’ve just done a couple of talks on it?
Mary: Well, I think the one thing that a lot of small businesses and some agencies, especially the small, little agencies or one-person shops, haven’t quite put together the fact that — first with Venice, then with Pigeon and now with this new local pack, whatever we’re going to call it — that links have just become more and more and more important in local search.
I talk to some people who still think we’re operating on the old algorithm where only max rankings matter and they’re trying to sell that to some of their clients. And that’s just not gonna get anybody in the local packs anymore. What do you guys think about no-followed links? Do you think they have value in local search? I keep asking this question of just about everyone I respect in the local search space.
Mike: My attitude about links is that they’re hard to earn and you need to take what you can get. I mean, what difference does it make whether it’s no-followed or not? From my point of view, it doesn’t matter what Google is doing in that regard, and a link is a link. And if it’s on a site that could generate leads for you, it’s better than a fish.
David: Mike, my take is you want mentions, whether it’s a citation or a link on high-authority websites, right? And I personally think that the no-follow thing has been completely overblown. Google is particularly — I mean, we were talking about no-follow back in … I remember SES in 2007. It’s just been out there for eight years or something, and Google’s page-reading technology has gotten much, much better over that time. And so a lot of the reason that no-follow came out was for people that were stuffing links in footers and sidebars and comments and all of these places that Google now has mapped very, very well from a page-reading algorithm perspective. So I think the need for no-follow or the hit that you would take for a no-follow link I think has probably been superseded by the placement of that link on the page.
And so if you have a really good link within the content of an article on a local news site or whatever and that’s no-followed, well, who cares? If people are reading that article, I think Google’s giving you credit for it. If you’re cited as a resource on Wikipedia, those things are incredibly hard to get. As Mike said, they’re hard to earn. So who cares if that’s no-followed? That’s a mention on a very authoritative page, and I think it is likely to still play a role in your rankings.
Mike: In terms of focus, why worry about it? I think you have bigger fish to fry when you need to develop a strategy that’s going to earn you links. And so if you’ve got a good strategy, you’re going to get links. Some of those might be no-follow links. What are you gonna do, cry? I mean, what difference does it make? It just doesn’t have any impact on your life. It’s not worth worrying about. Screw Google. You’ve got a job to do, that’s market your business. And you’re gonna get some good links if you do a good job, and you’re not gonna get good links if you don’t do a good job.
Mary: I totally agree with both of you. I don’t even talk to my clients anymore about link building. We talk about brand building, and we try to get them references in places that are going to get their phone ringing, get people to come to their website, get people to walk in their doors.
And I think that Google’s algorithm has become sophisticated enough in trying to model the real world, that it’s rewarding you for doing those things that build your brand in your market area. That’s really what you need to be thinking about, trying to get links and citations even unstructured citations in places that have the potential but increase your business.
Mike: There are the occasional projects. For example, I just did this work for Moses & Ruth where I did surveys on how consumers found lawyers, and the results were of interest to law blogs and marketing people and lawyers in general. And so there was a situation where national links made sense, and national links were earned as a result. And so there are certain limited situations where that makes sense, but it was a brand-building exercise to start with.
And we’re still gonna go for local links with it. We’re gonna show the research to the local biz journals, those types of things, but I think for the most part you’re absolutely right that … link building is much like socializing. You have to work the relationships you have, and most businesses, the relationships are local. And that’s where you need to start, is the same place you start socializing and doing networking is looking for appropriate relationships to help you develop good branding across those folks that really appreciate what you do.
Mary: The other question I get quite frequently is about the scalability of links. Personally, I think that just about anything that’s truly scalable is probably not worth doing. You need to roll up your sleeves and do some hard work. Do either of you have any insight into that?
Mike: Well, the first thing is that in many industries, in many verticals, one or two links is all it takes. So that doesn’t scale because you don’t need to scale. And in terms of scaling, I think what you need to become good at is the processes of developing the content and getting the content out to the people who might link to it.
So going back to this survey, I have a large bevy of relationships in the legal marketing field that I thought would be interested in the survey. I showed them the survey. I took the time to discuss the results with them, and they found it interesting enough to write about it on law blogs.
I think that skill of relationship building is what’s scalable, not the link per se. You have to develop literally a Rolodex of contacts, so when you do develop something that’s worthwhile, you can easily and quickly call them and say, “Gee, this is interesting.” That’s the part that scales, is the efficiency of that process in my book, not the actual link building itself.
Mary: I also find that if you — not just specializing in a particular niche, but also if you specialize in a particular location — that you can work a lot of scalable things into your processes there.
Mike: Yes. By learning who the newspaper reporters are that are interested in different topics, for example, and by learning who has enough control over their website, they can actually give you a link in a local market. And who might be interested in needing a volunteer or a sponsor, those kinds of things.
David: I do think from a national perspective, I think you guys are nailing it, from the agency who works with many small businesses, that perspective of scale. From the national perspective, if you work at a brand, it’s not necessarily about link building, but it’s about thinking of content and thinking about content that will thread in many markets. And so how do you create that kind of content?
I think the examples that I always point to are Thumbtack partnering up to do a nationwide survey — or Manta does this, too — a nationwide survey of merchants. But instead of just putting out there, “Oh, this is the national results of this survey of a thousand business owners,” no, they “geographize” it or they segment it by geography. And then they have a story that they can pitch to hundreds of newspapers and radio stations and other media outlets in specific markets around the country. And so that’s how they’re able to get local links as national brands.
Mike: Think globally, act locally.
David: Right. Exactly.
Mike: It’s the same thing, I agree. You have to localize it, and it still requires the same skill set though. Coming up with a good content idea and then having the relationships to be able to push it into the regional and local markets, I agree. I think that’s a good point. Any other discussion on this, Mary? You wanna wrap it up?
Mary: I’m ready to wrap it up.
Mike: Well, with that, it’s been fun.
David: We’re ready for the weekend too, Mary.
Mike: It’s been a long week all the way around. Well, I’ll see you, Mary, in Dallas next week. David, I’m not sure exactly the next time I’ll see you. I guess, on this video call hopefully. With that, we’ll say goodbye. Thank you for watching the Deep Dive from Local U.