Backlinks: the missing link in hyperlocal SEO

Google recently publicly mentioned the top three ranking factors in their search engine. One of them, RankBrainis machine learning technology which experts will spend countless hours trying to figure out, but I guess Google will stay one (or 100) ahead of them. The other two ranking factors should come as no surprise – content and backlinks.

It is generally known that the best SEO practices are to create authoritative and original content, and to encourage others to link to this content. But this is the first time that Google has made it so clear that content and backlinks are heavily weighted in Google’s algorithm. With this new information, what should you do?

We work closely with hyperlocal digital publishers, and one of our common goals is to make their sites the more authoritative local site in their community. The good news is that these publishers consistently write great content, so they have a piece of the hyperlocal SEO pie understood quite well. But what about backlinks?

If you think about the most popular platforms today, one thing they do really well is make it easy for people to connect to them. How many sites have Facebook and Twitter icons? Yelp and TripAdvisor are currently the most popular review sites and they proactively encourage people to refer to their sites.

In fact, promising sites such as Thumbtack have been penalized by Google for being overzealous in their quest for backlinks.

Local publishers have a lot of content on their sites that other community members should link to, but do they? Here are some examples:

  1. A business directory listing page – A local business may have a link on its own website to its own page on its local publisher’s site. Bonus points if this page contains useful information such as opening hours, address, directions, promotions and special events.
  2. Landing pages – A weekend events calendar page. A list of the top 10 places to eat or shop. How to make pages. There’s a growing body of research that shows that with all the social sharing going on, more and more people are coming to a publisher’s site through a “the side door», not the homepage. Make sure these side doors are widely available and popular, not one-off items that will stop being clicked at the end of this news cycle.
  3. Hobbies – police blotter, school district information, maybe even a local community chat page. Unique information and certain demographics would benefit from highlighting it on their own sites. Then go to the groups and organizations in the city and offer them a logo and a link to these pages. While a simple hyperlink is fine, a visual cue is much more engaging!

We all know the saying “If you build it, they will come”. We also know that is generally not true. Simply writing great content is a great start and a benefit to online authority, but it’s not enough. Also, focus on backlinks and well-structured content to ensure your awesome content gets the audience and SEO recognition it deserves.

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