Small Business Link Building In A Post-Panda / Post-Penguin World

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Brave New SEO World?

I’ve been reading lots of articles lately about the forever altered post-Panda and post-Penguin SEO landscape… a land where content is once again king… a land where trust and identity are key… a land where you might not want the kinds of links you used to want. Many of these articles state, quite rightly, that in a post-Panda and post-Penguin world where Google is increasingly scrutinizing potentially spammy link profiles, pursuing lots of links from smaller sites is no longer an SEO best practice. These days it makes sense to consider the referral value of links as much as, or maybe even more than, the SEO value of links. The idea is that if you pursue links based on anticipated referral value, you’ll pretty much never have to worry about building up a spammy link profile.

All of this is perfectly logical and I do not dispute any of it. What I would like to clarify in this article, though, is how this new link building advice might be perceived in a detrimental way by small businesses.

A Matter of Scale

How is this possible? It’s a matter of scale. These new link building articles are written for the most part by SEOs (and for SEOs) working with mid sized or large companies. These companies have established brands, established websites, established relationships, and the marketing resources to pursue links with high referral value (from newspapers and top blogs for example). Small businesses often have none of these things, and cannot possibly hope to pursue the same sorts of links (at least initially) that mid sized or large companies can.

This kind of “big business” SEO advice can leave small businesses afraid and confused. Consider the different stories of Betty Bigshot, the Fortune 500 SEO and Larry Little, the small business owner. For Betty Bigshot, a campaign to get links on a bunch of smaller sites is riskier than it used to be with much less potential reward. The advice to pursue links from higher profile sites (which also will send significant amounts of referral traffic) makes perfect sense. Betty leverages her relationships with major bloggers and also collaborates with her client’s PR firm to get press coverage for her client. This is all very expensive work, but the rewards are well worth it because Betty’s client will generate millions of dollars in revenue based on the current campaign.

Larry Little the small business owner, though, might read about the “new” best practices for link building and think to himself, “How am I supposed to get links from newspaper sites or any of these huge blogs? I just started my company, my website is brand new and my brand is in its infancy.” In this case the advice to not pursue links from smaller sites is dead wrong.

There are plenty of legitimate small sites out there… sites that Betty’s client might consider unworthy to be targeted in a link building campaign. For Larry, though, some of these same sites are exactly the ones that are perfect for him to work with as he begins to build links. Larry is not engaging in risky or blackhat SEO behavior by pursuing links from small (but legitimate) sites, he’s just working with other sites that are at or near the same level as his own, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Takeaways for Small Businesses

Despite all the recent SEO hand-wringing about link building, small business link building is not much different than it used to be, aside from an increased focus on avoiding links from spammy sites. You won’t be getting links from the Washington Post anytime soon. You’re going to have to grind it out at first, so seek out legitimate sites, regardless of how small, and look for opportunities to earn a link (or two, or three).

Here’s a quick refresher on five tried and true link building techniques for small businesses:

  • Guest posting is still one of the best bets if you’re just getting started. You’ve got expertise (we hope) and there are lots of legitimate sites out there looking for content from experts just like you. Put a short “about the author” section at the end of your guest articles with a link to your site. As long as you avoid content farms you’ll be building quality links.  Make sure when you’re writing these posts that you put up excellent content that your readers will love.
  • Writing reviews of products and services that you and/or your clients use to solve problems is another great way to get links. You’re creating valuable content for your site’s visitors (assuming the review is relevant to the problems your clients want to solve) and link-worthy content as well. Let the company whose product or service you’re going to review know that you’ll be writing a review beforehand and there’s a good chance they’ll promote it via social media.
  • Build up your credibility online as an expert.  This will help you and your business to become the leaders in the space.  Much like SEJ has become a leader in the search marketing space over time…you must do the same thing and establish your credibility online.
  • Interview an industry expert relevant to your business and publish the interview on your site. Once again you’ll be providing quality content to your site’s visitors, and as an added bonus the interviewee will very likely link to the interview.
  • Don’t ever buy links, trade links, or do anything that would resemble this.  Do honest work and you’ll be rewarded.


If you’re a small business owner or small business SEO, don’t ever forget that quality matters more than anything.  If you’re putting up crap, you will get crap.  Put up amazing posts and build quality backlinks to your site and Google will reward you for your efforts.  It’s all about user experience, if you’re putting up amazing; it will create a great user experience.

Here’s to link building in a post Panda, post Penguin World!


image credit: ShutterStock

Dan Vuksanovich

Dan Vuksanovich

Dan Vuksanovich is the Website Traffic Increaser Guy. He works exclusively with small businesses to increase revenue by attracting more targeted web traffic and increasing... Read Full Bio
Dan Vuksanovich

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  • Michael

    What does Panda have to do with link building?

    • Panda has an indirect effect on link building since it is designed to lower the rank of “thin” sites which provide little or no value to visitors. Links from these kinds of sites pre-Panda were worth more than they are post-Panda… so even if you’re not getting hit by Penguin for having a spammy link profile, you could still feel the effect of Panda for having links from sites that pass less pagerank than they used to because Google now sees them as “thin” sites.

      Ultimately it factors into the “pursue links from legitimate sites” part of the article.

      • Alan Bleiweiss

        wow. really. “THIN” refers to pages that don’t have enough unique content. The size of the site is irrelevant.

  • Hi Dan,

    This is such a very informative post. Thank you for sharing the true link building techniques for small businesses. I believe that in order for us to create traffic on our site, we must do guest posting. It is also a way to gain audiences from different blogs. Yes,
    guest posting is still your best bet if you’re just getting started. Another way to get links is to write reviews of products and services that you or maybe your clients use to solve problems.


  • Thanks for the post. So many SEO experts address SEO for big brands and companies, but 99.9% of my clients are either new businesses or at “new” to the internet. Getting an amazing link from a national website is nearly impossible. The focus on has to be on the smaller, quality links. Slow and steady…

  • Thank you both for commenting. This is my first post on SEJ. Glad you both like it.


  • Chris

    I think local links orlocal directories are often overlooked and thought as spammy links. They are not. Also industry wide directories are also good indicators . Plus surely, getting all your clients to post a review on your Maps/Local is a must. Google arent going to ignore loads of references from their own system.
    One quickfire way is a PR from high authority release sites but it may look a bit unnatural too many of these. They are editorial, sort of.

  • Ryan

    It’s nice to see someone talk about what smaller and newer websites should do for link building. Many of the recent articles I have been reading are written for larger websites and bigger brands.

  • Thanks for this article. Working as a SEO, i know the value of the backlinks for a website. When i was reading this article, some old lines stuck in my mind. Our senior always said to us- “Take backlinks from your upper websites, so that your website get well ranked”. But today after reading your lines- “Take links from near the same level as your own website has”. I feel great and this is a strong strategy for the small business..

  • Superb quality of content. I really appreciate the writers for giving such a vast information on Link Building.

    Thanks Dan for sharing 🙂

  • Chris Mayhew

    Great article Dan. I find that a lot of SEO articles out there seem to be written for businesses that have unlimited budgets and contacts but this is great small business advice. Just saying ‘go out and get powerful links from the best sites’ isn’t helping anyone. It’s not as simple as that and so if you don’t have the resources to do this then this advice is as good as any I’ve seen.

  • Ritugupta

    When i was reading this article, some old lines stuck in my mind. Our senior always said to us- “Take backlinks from your upper websites, so that your website get well ranked”. But today after reading your lines- “Take links from near the same level as your own website has”. I feel great and this is a strong strategy for the small business..

    • Rajni Sudera

      You cheater..

  • Nishujena

    guest posting is still your best bet if you’re just getting started. Another way to get links is to write reviews of products and services that you or maybe your clients use to solve problems.

  • Guest posting has become hot these days. People have building backlinks by posting on quality websites. I feel it is much better than building content farms that attract google penalty.

  • I’ve tried to get bigger newspaper and business journal links before, but they’re impossible to get. In real estate, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to compete against the big, national sites like Realtor, Trulia, and Zillow. Google especially seems to be giving these big brands more and more leeway. So thanks for gearing this article to small business owners!

  • Great article. However, for small blogs or websites, getting links from established websites within their niche is very difficult.

    Your tips are very helpful. However, getting backlinks from high PR websites is still the most effective way to get noticed by Google. Guest posts are highly effective, however it might need some convincing.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    This article is beyond epic in its fail. On so many levels.

    First of all, the size of the site is irrelevant to the concept of quality. Links from small sites are perfectly valid as long as those sites are of high quality.

    Also, there are many ways a small business owner can get written up in a large publication. It’s called gorilla marketing, or public relations for small business owners. Just one example is if a business owner does something truly noteworthy within their community, that could well garner being written up by a large publication.

    • Dan Vuksanovich

      Also… just took a closer look at the article and there were some changes made without my knowledge. None of the grammatical errors in this article are mine. There are also two bullet points in the last section that I didn’t write. Finally, pretty much the entire last paragraph was changed.

      I’m trying to get in touch with the editor right now.

  • Dan,

    With all due respect, this was not a good piece, and here’s why:

    1. Small business clients are usually time starved, budget starved – or more often than not, BOTH. To tell small businesses that “guest posting” is the best place to begin is almost laughable. Having worked with SME’s, they usually don’t have the time required to write up their expertise and then do outreach for the piece. Most small business owners I’ve worked with are not great writers either – so to execute on this tactic you’d need to hire someone with writing experience to produce the piece, then invest time into trying to get it placed. It can quickly become an expensive, convoluted proposition. Same goes for “interviewing an expert”.

    Do you have any case studies where a small business has achieved great visibility through guest posting? If you do, I’d honestly love to see them. Trying to guest post as a link building tactic to a scale that moves the needle is quite challenging as anyone who has done so can attest.

    2. Writing reviews will get you linked to!? I’m begging you to give me a real world example of a small business who wrote product reviews and got links. How are people finding their reviews? Where is their big link push coming from? Their existing visitors? The ones who don’t exist yet because they’re a brand new website? The FACT of the matter is that visitors are quite generally stingy with their linking and sharing. Your review better be one hell of an epic review, because the average number of links a blog post by a small business owner will get is a big fat ZERO.

    3. You keep saying “Small” websites. Links from “Small” websites are bad. That’s not useful information. That’s also not accurate. You go on to say “legitimate” small websites, as if that somehow means more to an SME than just “Small”.

    Size has nothing to do with it. Neither does notoriety. The kinds of links we should all be pushing for are links from relevant pages, whether enormous, tiny or the goldilocks “just right”. Getting links from “smaller” websites has nothing to do with panda or penguin. Check your verbiage.

    4. There are dozens of better ways for businesses to earn links than going with “guest posting” straight out of the gate. Like, how about small businesses…

    – Get links from any partners, organizations, associations, certifications, meetups, contractors or relationships they already have? Or maybe..
    – Do something newsworthy on a small, local scale? You don’t need to try and gun for the New York Times, what about getting in the Scranton Bugle?
    – What about local and niche directories?
    – What about relevant, controlled reciprocal linking with other complimentary businesses, services or media outlets?
    – How about citation-building to improve placement in local SERPs?

    All of these things would probably have a better impact on actual visibility and referrals than “go guest post some place”.

    This blog post felt like you just parroted some popular ideas and dressed them up in small business skin . I don’t intend that as a personal attack and I hope your next piece is much better.

    • excellent insights and suggestions Joel. Absolutely spot on across the board except maybe the “relevant, controlled reciprocal linking with other complimentary businesses, services or media outlets?” simply because small business owners can often get lost in the details of what that might mean and get carried away with outdated reciprocal linking. So personally I recommend they avoid that rabbit hole entirely.
      Otherwise yes, every suggestion you made is worth its weight in gold!

      • Hey Alan –

        Agreed, I tried to preface it with “relevant, controlled”, but I suppose on its face reciprocal linking has a pretty ugly history with spam. What I should have said instead was “cross-promotion” – working with other local businesses with complimentary services to create meaningful, customer-beneficial relationships (or even collaborated content).

        I definitely don’t want to mislead people down the old path of “HERP DERP IF U LINK 2 ME I LINK 2 U” thinking, so perhaps a bit more clarity is warranted.

    • I’ll agree to disagree with you on guest posting. I’ve found it to work really well, especially with service businesses that have literally no links. It’s not a silver bullet, but I like it a lot as a piece of the puzzle.

      I’ve gotten not only social media promotion from reviews, but links from the company whose product/service was reviewed. The key is to reach out to the company first and let them know you’re thinking about writing a review. The ones who are really excited about it will almost certainly promote via social media and also very often put a link to the article somewhere on their site. Obviously Samsung isn’t going to link to some SMB site reviewing the GS4, so finding the right size company is key. With one site we did a couple of niche software app reviews and got a link from each company’s site, plus social media promo of the review, within a couple of weeks.

      This article does not draw a direct line from Panda/Penguin to links from “smaller” sites. The whole point is that the SEO advice out there in the wake of Panda/Penguin can easily be interpreted to mean that there’s no room for small businesses to get anywhere with link building (because now only links from major sites are worthwhile), and that’s unfortunate.

      I also agree with the additional methods of building links for small businesses that you’ve provided, but again, this article was never meant to be an exhaustive list of how to build links, there are tons of those out there and I didn’t want to restate a bunch of stuff that’s already been said.

      What I did want to do… and maybe I wasn’t successful… was help small businesses and small business SEOs to understand that all the “link building will never be the same” articles out there don’t necessarily mean that there’s no room left for small businesses to be successful with SEO. It’s all a matter of scale… and by scale I don’t mean the size of the sites… I mean the scale implied by the advice being given. In other words, if you’re going to read an article with SEO advice meant for Fortune 500 companies, you need to scale that advice down to your own level before it will be applicable.

      Finally, any grammatical or referential errors in this article were not part of the originally submitted piece. There were also a few content changes that alter the overall message of the article.

  • I can summarize this article : High PR rank sites + Relevance = Makes Google Happy!