Sometimes, it seems like SEO comes down to a game of semantics. Today, a good “link building” strategy involves circulating high-quality content and getting people to link to your material because it’s worth citing, yet there may be no manual action of “building” a link. Similarly, “technical SEO” may require little to no actual technical expertise, and “keyword research” may be more about finding new content topics than trying to rank for specific phrases.
Because of this, it’s easy to make assumptions about how different strategies interact with each other, or whether one subset of a strategy can be distinguished from its parent. One of the most significant examples of this I’ve found is the primary focus of this article; you’ve probably heard someone make reference to the idea of “local link building” before, but is that any different from regular, nationally-focused link building?
How Local SEO Is Different
Before we get to the meat of this question, let’s take a moment to look at the ways local SEO, in general, differs from national SEO. There are a number of misconceptions about what local SEO is, and dispelling those is necessary to understand the difference between these types of link building (and if it is, indeed, a difference worth noting).
Local SEO actually functions as a distinct algorithm; that is to say, local search isn’t just a standard search that happens to include local keywords (like your city or state). When Google detects a local indicator (such as your inclusion of geographic keywords, location data provided by your mobile phone, or the common phrase “near me”), it calls upon this separate algorithm to produce three results deemed most relevant to your query.
Note the difference when I search for “pediatrician”:
Versus when I search for “pediatrician near me”:
Ignore the paid advertisement at the top and note the three organic entries that appear above the “standard” results. In local SEO, your goal is to be listed as one of these entries.
To do that, you need to achieve a handful of goals:
Achieve a high domain authority. You can do this by following standard SEO best practices—writing good content, attracting strong links, and optimizing your site for performance.
Get good reviews. Google taps into your business reviews on various third party sources to evaluate your business.
Feature yourself on local directories. The more accurate, consistent, and present this data is, the better your chances of ranking.
Associate yourself with your geographic area. Make sure your address is accurate, and establish relationships with other local sources and businesses.
At first glance, it would seem that regular link building—the kind you follow for a national campaign—is sufficient to improve your domain authority. Hold that thought.
The Tenets of Link Building
External links pass authority from the linking source to the destination source. For example, if you link from an average source (say a competitor of yours) that’s relevant to your industry, you might get an average amount of authority, and your recognition as a member of said industry will increase. If you link on a high-authority source irrelevant to your industry, you might get lots of authority, but only a modest increase in your recognition as an industry authority (assuming your content is related to your industry in some way). Ideally, you’ll find a balance between high-authority sources and sources relevant to your industry to get the “best of both worlds.”
Qualities of a “Local” Link
Now let’s think about what it would mean to have a “local link.” For this, it’s helpful to think of your geographic area as a type of industry of its own. Google looks at the strength of your reputation in a geographic area when it determines the top three results for a local query relevant to you; therefore, having more links pointing to your site from locally relevant authorities (with locally relevant content) can help you increase your local relevance. Examples of locally relevant authorities might include local news sites, neighborhood associations, or organizations exclusive to your area.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that local links are only beneficial to local companies. This isn’t the case. Any authoritative link can be valuable in boosting your domain authority, so a business in Houston could theoretically increase in rank thanks to an inbound link from a Detroit newspaper (provided it’s relevant); Google won’t confuse you for being a Detroit business, but you won’t gain any Houston-specific relevance.
(Side note: if you live in Houston, you’ve got plenty of choices for local links, so you won’t have to go wooing the folks in Detroit to earn some extra authority):
A Practical Introduction to “Local Link Building”
All this is to say that yes, local link building can be distinguished from traditional link building, if you only seek out local sources. However, because all inbound links will support your domain authority and increase both your national and local ranks, it’s unwise to limit yourself to only local sources.
Instead of thinking about local link building as yet another separate strategy you must pursue to get your business visible in search engines, think about it as a niche subset of your overall link building strategy; oftentimes, local sources are easy to persuade, and if you participate actively in local events, you’ll probably earn these links naturally (and that’s never a bad thing).
If you’re looking for a concise takeaway from this analysis, it’s this: know that locally relevant links can increase your reputation in a specific geographic area, but it’s neither essential nor wise to exclusively pursue local links. Keep them as a subsection of your overall link building strategy.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.