Links have become increasingly important for local search since Google’s Pigeon algorithm update, but columnist Greg Gifford reminds us that local link building tactics differ from “traditional” ones in important ways.

At last month’s SMX West conference, it was clear that thePigeon Update has caused a huge shift in the local search world. There were hardly any questions about citations this year — most of the questions related to site content and links. This makes sense, because according to the 2014 Local Search Ranking Factor study by Moz, the two most important local ranking factors are on-site signals and links.

Content marketing is so prevalent nowadays, but it seems that many business owners are still confused when they actually try it. Remember: Creating content is not content marketing. The content is only the first step — you have to go market that content for it to be effective. While this should be clear from the name of the tactic, far too many businesses forget the second half of the equation.

So, what’s the secret sauce?

You’ve got to get links to your content. The entire purpose of content marketing is to get your content noticed. When this happens, your content gets links… which makes it more visible… which gets it more links… which makes it more visible… and so on.

We know that links are more important post-Pigeon, but if that’s the case, why are so many businesses using the same link building tactics they’ve been using for years?

The Missing Link (Building Tip)

Traditional link builders will tell you to target high authority sites. They’ll even go so far as to tell you to avoid any sites with low domain authority. Go after low authority sites for links, they say,and you’ll get a Penguin penalty.

That’s flat out wrong… if you’re doing local SEO.

If you’re trying to build local relevance, sometimes those low authority local sites can carry a ton of relevance. We love those crappy little church websites, or those local organization sites. A traditional link builder would avoid them like the plague, but they’re exactly the type of site that we local search optimization folks seek out.

Sure, they’re low authority. They’re probably kinda ugly and maybe even a bit difficult to navigate. BUT, because they’re laser-focused on the local area, a link to your site is incredibly powerful in proving your local relevance.

Even better, since most enterprise sites employ traditional link building tactics, they’re going to ignore these small local sites… so SMBs can absolutely dominate the search engine results pages in their cities by grabbing a few of these links.

Local links help you to future-proof your link profile, too. Local links help you avoid the trap of targeting the same sites that businesses in your niche all over the country are targeting. Instead, you’ve got unique links from other sites in your unique city — there’s a real reason for those sites to link to you. You’re not “building” links from those sites, you’re “earning” links because your business is a part of the local community, and you’ve got useful information.

Assuming you’ve already got great, locally optimized content on your site — including awesome local blog content — finding opportunities to earn links to that content is a simple three-step process:

1. Analyze Your Competitors

Let your competitors do the work for you! Pull your link profile, then pull your competitors’. Toss everything into Excel and look for patterns and opportunities. If they’re ranking higher than you are, check for any local sites that they might have links from. Don’t forget to check sites that you outrank as well — sometimes you can find some great opportunities from the smaller guys.

Check outside of your competitive area as well. If you’re in a big city, check other cities in your state, or even out of your state. If you’re in a small town, check other small towns. There might be a huge opportunity for a golden local link that no one in your area has taken advantage of yet.

2. Analyze Your Relationships

Take advantage of the work you’ve already done! If you’re involved in your community, you’ve already got opportunities for local links — you’re just not taking advantage of them yet.

Take some time to think about the relationships you’ve built with other local businesses over the years. Do you frequently use local services? Are you involved with your church or a local charity? Are you friends with other business owners?

Not only can you take advantage of those relationships to earn links to your site, if you’re creating useful content, your connections will often help share that content. Take advantage of your connections’ connections.

3. Earn Local Links

Now that you have a list of possibilities from steps 1 and 2, get out there and earn those links! Yes, it’s really that simple. Continue to create useful, relevant content, share it with your relationships and your target sites, and you’ll start to earn local links. Rinse, repeat, and watch your site claim a spot at the top of the local rankings.

Throughout the process, remember the missing link — those low-authority local sites are pure gold for local relevance.

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