Do you know what link building is? If you’re a small business owner, the answer should probably be yes – especially today, when the pandemic has forced much of the world’s business to be conducted online. 

In short, link building refers to the process of acquiring links from other websites to your own. These links can provide a variety of advantages beyond simply directing traffic from another website. For instance, a link on another website could improve your SEO, or where you pop up on a search engine. While it does get even more complicated (most SEO specialists agree that link building is one of the hardest parts of their job), the difficulty can be a major advantage: If you can master it, you’ll be way ahead of the competition.

So how are small businesses approaching link building today? Are they mastering it and beating the competition? We recently spoke to 612 small business owners across the country, 133 of who had some type of link building strategy in place. They shared these strategies, their successes, and their knowledge gaps as well. Regardless of where you fall on the novice-to-master spectrum for link building, this study will have something to teach you and maybe even something to help your own small business. 

Most Common Marketing Strategies in Small Businesses

Our study begins with a look into the most common marketing strategies overall – not just those directly related to link building. We asked the business owners to select all the digital marketing strategies they’re currently employing and then tested some specific knowledge with regard to link building.

Social media was the top marketing strategy among small business owners. Considering it’s often free to access and easy to get started, this makes sense, although we were surprised to see 45.6% of small businesses forwent taking advantage of this tool. Many premier marketing firms would consider a total lack of social media to be “not an option.” Not only can social media increase brand awareness, but it can humanize the brand – something for which a small business is already poised for success.

Even though social media strategies could stand to be a little more ubiquitous among small businesses, link building was rarer still: Just 11.2% had link building as part of their digital strategies. That said, 52.5% of small businesses didn’t even know what link building meant. This becomes even more ironic when you consider that 62.7% understood just how important link building was. If you’re part of this crowd that understands the importance but needs to learn more, keep scrolling as we dissect the various link building strategies small businesses employ. 

Link Building Methods Among Small Businesses

Focusing specifically on link building as a part of digital marketing, we asked those business owners who were employing some type of link building what specific strategies they used. 

On-site content creation was the number one way small businesses built links. This refers to the process of creating content for their own site that has the potential to be shared and linked back to from other sites. This type of content doesn’t necessarily explicitly promote the brand, but contains shareable information, perhaps related to the brand. When it’s not exclusively about the brand or product, that content strategy is what’s referred to as “tangential content.” Sixty-eight percent of small business owners built tangential content, and 33.3% of owners did all of the content marketing themselves. 

More than a third also tried blog commenting to build links. Blog comments – particularly long-form and early comments – can greatly help with SEO, if you stay consistent. It’s also something small businesses can get started on right away, without any prior training or ad expenditure. This can also help with community site link building, where you ask others to link back to your site. Commenting regularly on blogs and showing support is a great way to get your foot in the door. 

How Well Link Building Works

Among those (few) small business owners who did employ some type of link building effort, would they agree these efforts were successful? And how would they define that success? The next part of our study digs into these questions. 

Link building had incredibly high success rates among businesses owners, especially considering that even those with a strategy weren’t necessarily knowledgeable in the field. Eighty-eight percent of small business owners considered their link building efforts a success. On average, they felt this success was evident after 4.9 months of link building efforts. 

But what did success mean exactly? For 60%, link building success was determined by the relevancy of links. This means that the hyperlinks they received to their website were hosted by a relevant website – perhaps one in the same or similar industry. For instance, a link to a painting blog would be considered highly relevant if it came from a home decor website, but perhaps irrelevant if linked to by a pet adoption site. Forty-six percent also considered the volume of links received to be an indicator of success. While the number of links does matter, business owners were right to value relevance more. As with many things in life – including link building – it’s quality over quantity that counts. 

2021 Link Building Plans

This study may have gotten small business owners thinking about what they could do to improve their current link building situation. We ended the questionnaire by asking these business owners what their plans were for link building come 2021. 

Many small business owners appeared eager to learn more about the complex but exciting world of link building. Forty-two percent said they would be interested in attending a virtual conference on the subject, which can not only increase knowledge of the topic but can also build a network that can later assist in building links as well. 

More than a quarter of small businesses also expressed a willingness to spend more money on link building in 2021. Nearly 30% said their budget for this area would increase next year, while 28% reported the same for their overall SEO budget. 

Link Building Well

Considering how much there is to know about link building (and how little the businesses we surveyed actually knew), small businesses need to be wary of exactly how they’re spending money to build links. The idea of putting emphasis on this is well-founded, it’s simply a matter of knowing how to do it correctly. 

If link building sounds overwhelming, that’s because it certainly can be. Especially if your strengths as a small business owner lie elsewhere, it’s advisable to call in the experts to do the link building for you. The team at BuzzStream does exactly that – we specialize in getting your business more links, more traffic, and more coverage. This way, you can specialize in what you do best simultaneously. If you’d like to get help with using link building to grow your business, head to BuzzStream today. 

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 612 small business owners in the U.S., including 133 with a link building strategy, about their digital marketing strategies. To help ensure respondents were paying attention and taking our survey seriously, an attention-check question was employed to identify and disqualify those who failed to fully read questions. The main limitation of this survey is these data rely on self-reporting. Potential issues with self-reported data include, but are not limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors on the part of respondents.

Fair Use Statement

Link building is no easy feat, but it’s certainly worth the effort. If you think the information in this article could help someone with their link building efforts, you are welcome to share it. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.

Stephen Panico

Stephen Panico

Stephen manages growth at BuzzStream and also ponders and writes about outreach strategies that he hopes are occasionally helpful. When he's not doing all of that you can find him trying to level up his home cooking or playing games of strategy and chance.

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