A Beginner’s Guide to Backlinks Without a Blog (Off-Page SEO)

Off-site SEO is everything that is not found on your website itself - all of the backlinks, citations and social media signals that the search engines use to tell them how good, important and/or genuine your site is.

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The importance of backlinks and social signals for SEO

If we consider these two pretend rival Suffolk Gizmo Service websites, it is pretty obvious that Site 1 will be seen as having more authority and social trust than Site 2 due to its superior backlinks and social signals. (Definitions of these are given at the bottom of this page.)

How to Get Backlinks and Social Signals?

In today’s world, content really is king and one of the key ways of getting these all-important links and social signals is to create a VERY useful/authoritative blog or resources section, to market each piece of dazzling content across the different social media sites and to hope that other webmasters find it so good that they want to (and do) link to it.  See further steps to promote your blog if you are interested.

This, obviously, entails a lot of work to get results and we recognise that not all small businesses have the time, inclination or skills to do this. So what’s left? The – relatively – simple steps below could save you from having to pay a SEO company a small fortune for doing the basics that most business owners can do themselves.

1 Google+

Google+ is Google’s version of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and forums all rolled into one. It is also closely integrated into the search results with Google Maps being displayed above other search terms for many queries. It is the single most important step you can take to help yourself. It consists of:

1 Your business’s Google My Business page (for local businesses whose customers go to their address to do business). For many local searches, the map with the pins that appears (above many organic listings) in Google’s results is dominated by websites with Google My Business pages. A Google My Business page is vital to businesses targeting the local market and it is something that anyone – even beginners – can create for themselves. If your business has more than one physical location, you can have more than one Google My Business page. See Google’s guidelines for creating multiple locations.


2 Your business’s Google Brand page – this is for businesses that will not appear on Google Maps for local searches. It can also be used for businesses that have more than one physical location – use your Brand page to inform customers about your business as a whole and your Google My Business pages to inform customers about local events and information.

3 You can also have a personal Google+ profile page.

Claim a Google Account. Then create  Google My Business page(s) and/or a Google Brand page for your business; you can also have a Personal Profile. See our Guide to Google+ for some important pointers on how to do this correctly.

Note: the more you interact on Google+ (head towards the communities by clicking the drop-down menu on the left), the more page rank (authority) your personal Profile page or My Business page or Brand page will build up and the more link juice they can pass to your website via the links to your site.

Note: for all searches (local and national), if someone follows you on Google+, their followers will see your website higher up in the Google search results than it would naturally be.

Note: one study suggested that having 100 active followers on Google+ (these are people who have circled you) can increase your website ranking; the same study also suggested that a lot of +1s can help, but there is no confirmation of this.

2 Yahoo Basic Listing and Bing Places

Whilst these are not (yet) interactive social media sites like Google+, they are definitely worth being listed with. See our guide to getting your business displayed in search engine maps for further information.

3 Directories

Local directories: help to reassure Google that you are who you say you and are based where you say you are. Search in Google for “directory town”, “directory county”, “business directories UK” etc to find what directories exist and get yourself listed in the decent ones. In practice, if a directory appears on page 1 (maybe page 2) for a search term, it is worth getting listed in.

Note: even if these directories don’t give you a backlink, just having your NAP (business name, address and telephone number) listed helps to confirm your address to the search engines. (This is often called a citation.)

UK directories: a few useful ones for UK customers are hotfrog.co.uk, botw.org.uk, yell.com, freeindex.co.uk, yelp.co.uk, scoot.co.uk, smilelocal.com, applegate.co.uk, citylocal.co.uk, thomsonlocal.com, uksmallbusinessdirectory.co.uk.

Niche directories: help to reassure the search engines that your business is a genuine, reputable one. Search for “niche directory” – for example, a plumber might search for “plumbing directory”, “bathrooms directory”, “heating directory” etc.

Respected human-edited directories: dmoz.org is a reputed directory; links carry authority.

VERY important tip: For all directories – as for anywhere else on the web – ensure that the business name, address and phone number is the same as that given on your website and Google+ page. Do NOT have lots of variations of your business name – eg  “Bloggs Plumbers” should NOT be listed as “Bloggs Plumbers Bury St Edmunds”, “Bloggsie Plumbers”, “Bloggs”, “Bloggs Bury St Edmunds” etc. A survey of SEOs found that having different NAP across the internet was a major negative ranking factor.

Related tip: if your business has moved address or has changed name or phone number, go back and correct all those old directory listings.

Related tip: if you created directory listings using the mix of company name and keywords that once used to get results, then again go back and correct those old directory listings so that your business name, address and phone number are consistent across the web.

Important tip: NEVER get listed in some of the spammy, non-human-edited xyz354.com type of directories, especially those in a different country and a different niche. Nowadays, this can get your site a penalty.

4 Customer Reviews

Getting your customers to review you across a range of different review sites is thought to account for about 10% of your overall ranking. Your Google+ page is an obvious biggie; yell.com, your Facebook business page, freeindex.co.uk and yelp.com are others. Then there are the industry-specific sites such as tripadvisor or checkatrade – or whatever is relevant to your industry. Aim to get a steady stream of reviews across a number of different review sites.

Note: Google may discount some Google+ reviews if they suspect that they are not genuine – for example, if the same text is used in multiple review sites or if customers do reviews from your business premises. They will also refuse to display reviews with links or telephone numbers and may not display reviews with poor grammar or spelling mistakes.

5 Professional Organisations and Associates

If you are a member of any professional organisations, see if they have a members’ page where you could be listed.

See if any other business associates would give you a link. For example, an alternative medicine practitioner working at different clinics might get a link from the clinics concerned; someone who supplies Kitchen-Make-X might get listed in their suppliers’ page; some councils might have a list of approved contractors. The local Chamber of Commerce sometimes has a directory of members.

6 Friends, Families and Charities

If any friends or family have a website, a blog or even a social media account (for example a Facebook page that does not block search engine crawling), see if it might be appropriate for them to link to you.

If your company supports a charity – or other local group – see if they would add a feature about your support on their website.

Tip: it would be most helpful to you if you are linked to in context – for example, a page about a sponsored tiddlywink race that you have done from one end of town to the other – rather than just as a list of Corporate Sponsors. Something original and newsworthy could also be picked up by local media – more great backlinks.

If you offer a discount to members of a local group or company, their website might feature this.  

7  Is Your Company Newsworthy?

If there is a newsworthy story about your company, see if national or local press would run an online feature about you. In addition, see if any industry-specific journals or magazines would feature you. If you don’t want to contact the media directly, then try an online press release.

As with directories, a link is best but even a citation (your business name together with the address and/or phone number) is thought to help.

8 Social Sharing – Getting People to Share Your Content on THEIR Social Media Accounts

Examples of social media accounts include, but are by no means limited to, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. It is unclear just how useful social sharing of your content currently is. Many SEO’s feel that it will become increasingly important in the future; in that case, the more links to your site that appear in different social media sites the better and family, friends and business associates could help you by clicking on the social sharing buttons on your site – or even running a feature of your site in a social media post.. Other SEOs, however, state that social signals do not currently influence rankings.

Note: Google+ shares and Pinterest pins create permanent backlinks that appear in your Google Webmaster Tools list of backlinks. For obvious reasons, Google+ shares (a permanent backlink) and maybe even Google+ +1’s (just an aggregated total) might be particularly useful.

Note: Many personal Facebook accounts have a privacy setting that prevents search engines indexing their posts – although Company Facebook accounts are usually visible to search engines. Facebook does offer search engines an aggregated count of likes (if they choose to use it).

Note: social sharing tools can add to the page loading time; therefore, unless you expect pages to be frequently liked/shared, it is best not to use them for all page. Generally, sites often avoid social sharing pages for the main sales pages and use them on blog posts (which should contain useful, shareable information).

9 YOUR Company Social Accounts

Google+: some studies have shown that significant interaction on Google+ can help your rankings by building up authority on a page that passes links to your site and (possibly) by having a large number of active followers.

Pinterest: If your website has beautiful photos (for example photos of new homes or attractive clothes or jewellery) then creating a company Pinterest account and interacting on this site might be worth looking into. This is because, even without a blog, you can attract pins of your visual content across Pinterest (and maybe even potential customers, depending on the nature of your business).

Other social media sites: unless you have a blog or other resources section on your website and wish to promote content via social media, there may not be too much SEO advantage in creating and maintaining social media sites for your company. There MAY, however, be a business advantage for some businesses – for example, many driving instructors find that they get business from Facebook as their target market (teenagers) are heavy Facebook users.

Etiquette for all social media sites:  be social: share other people’s good content, comment and interact, and THEN post occasional content from your own site. Do not just spam the site, and bore your followers, by a constant stream of your own work with no interest in that created by anyone else.

9 Articles for High-Quality Niche Blogs or Journals

If you want to write a useful HIGH-QUALITY article for a HIGH-QUALITY industry-specific blog or journal, then you might be able to link to your site and/or to your personal Google+ profile.

Note: the days of writing quick 3-500 word superficial articles for general article directories are over; too many of these articles could now trigger a penalty. Further, guest blogging in lots of low quality blogs (for example, those that are not niche-specific or those that accept anyone) could also trigger a penalty. The emphasis nowadays is very much on providing a USEFUL article that is quality, quality, quality …

10 Trade Fairs and Conferences

Some trade fairs have an on-line list of stall holders (with links to the sites). Some conferences might have a list of speakers and/or attendees.

11 Find What Backlinks Your Competitors Have

One of the most useful free tools out there is Moz Open Site Explorer. You can type in a competitor’s URl (or the URL of a website in the same niche as you who is doing well in a different area) and immediately see the most authoritative (that is the most useful and valuable) backlinks that that site has. We highly recommend this tool.

majestic.com also offers some free tools for checking the backlinks and authority of other sites.

There are also paid SEO tools. Moz offers additional features for its paid version of Open Site Explorer. ahrefs.com and

Spammy Emails

Whilst this is not an SEO issue, do NOT use your main email account for any of the above link-building. Many sites will send you daily/weekly/occasional emails that will clutter up your inbox. Create a special “SEO” email account – if your main email address is enquiries@mysite.com then consider a “SEO” email account of info@mysite.com.

Useful tip: At Unique Wesbites, we have one “spam” email account for important social media sites (for example Google+ and Pinterest) and another for all of the rest; that way, we can keep track of posts that need replying to/followers that might need following back whilst not having this interfere with out main business emails.

Some Useful Reference Pages

Local ranking factors – Moz’s 2013 survey of top SEOs as to what factors are thought to postivly and negatively affect local search rankings 

Top 20 local ranking factors – another excellent Moz article

2013 survey of ranking factors – a Moz survey of SEOs in 2013

An Overview of the Additional Steps Needed to Promote Your Blog Posts

Whilst this post is primarily about DIY SEO without a blog, it is worth noting that (if you do have a blog) then – in addition to the above methods of link building – you should also be looking at:

1 Building relationships with industry influencers by following, commenting on and sharing their work in social media sites and then, if you have a blog post worth promoting, asking them if they would assist. An alternative method is to interview an industry leader – they would then have an incentive for promoting your post.

2 Using your company social media sites to build up a band of – engaged – followers who will then re-tweet, like, pin or Google+ your wonderful blog posts. (This often means spending time sharing their posts rather than just expecting the world to share your own posts straight away – not many people want to connect with a company that only promotes its own work.)

Things to Be Wary Of When Doing Off-Page SEO: Penguins and Penalties are NOT to be Messed With

Beware of the Google Penguin

Beware of the Google Penguin: cute and cuddly is it not!

Many of you will have heard of Google’s Penguin algorithm.

This is an algorithmic penalty that Google announced on April 24th 2012. Since then, it has updated it at periodic intervals.

The Penguin algorithm looks at your backlink profile and, if it considers it to be “unnatural” or “manipulative”, it will inflict a crippling penalty on your site.

This penalty will not be lifted until the next Penguin run (and then only if you have cleaned up your link profile enough to escape the penalty).

In addition, Google staff can impose a manual penalty on your site if you violate their guidelines.

Basically, be wary of anything that is an attempt to spam or manipulate search engines. In particular, be wary of:

Excessive Keywords in Anchor Text – getting backlinks with keywords in the anchor text was once an important way of telling Google that your site is about these keywords but – nowadays – overdoing this is thought to be a main cause of the Penguin penalty. As a guideline, it is now safest to just use your company name (or just a bare URL if your company name is full of keywords). ALWAYS use your company name for directory entries.  Occasional useful anchor text (especially from high-authority sites) will probably help you – but overdo this and you risk a penalty.

Note: Anchor Text is the visible text that overlies your link to tell search engines – and humans – what the page you are linking to is about. For example, if you click on Home Page, then this will take you to our website home page. Whilst words such as ‘Website Design Bury St Edmunds’ might be more useful to us, too many of these “useful anchor text links” can now trigger a big Penguin penalty.

Link Farms – a group of websites that all hyperlink to every other site in the group. Automated software can get your site to give and receive 1000s of backlinks but this is a form of spamming and could get a big penalty.

Buying or selling links for the purposes of manipulating search engines – this is against Google’s code of conduct and could get a B-I-I-I-G penalty if caught; some people get away with it but I personally would never risk it.

Links from spammy websites – sites which are full of adverts, with no real useful content and offer 100s or 1000s of backlinks. Posting to these sites serves no useful purpose other than a – misguided – attempt to manipulate search engines.

Links from spammy directories – good quality local and niche directories should help rather than destroy your SEO. Non-niche directories hosted in a different country are a red flag, however. Likewise, tacky directories that list hundreds of companies but offer the user no real means of searching for the right company are just link spam and should be avoided.

Spammy articles – do not use an article spinner to spin an article into dozens/hundreds of different articles. This clogs up Google’s indexes with spam and could trigger a penalty.

Blog Exchange Networks – these try to manipulate the search engines by creating a network of low quality blogs that provide links to members.

Automated Link Software – do not use automated software to create 100s of directory entries, articles or social bookmarking entries.

Excessive link exchanges – exchanging links with genuine friends and business acquaintances or putting links to useful sites is one thing; high numbers of link exchanges intended to manipulate search engines is a different matter – some people claim it works but search engines may see it as an attempt to manipulate them.

Links classed as advertising – if you have paid for an advert on a website or a press release (some say even if you are sponsoring a charity just to get a link) then this link MUST be marked with a rel=”nofollow” so that the search engines are instructed not to follow the link and not to pass any authority to the site being linked to.

What is a Backlink?

If you click on the words Home Page, this will take you to our home page – this is what is called a backlink (or a link) from this page to our Home Page.

Important Jargon Term: The words “Home Page” are called the “anchor text” which is the words that overlay the link and the words that the customers – and search engines – see as being associated with the backlink. Be wary of using keywords in your anchor text as this may incur a penalty.

The same principle holds when you click on words (or an image) in Website XYZ and this takes you to YOUR WEBSITE – that is a backlink from Website XYZ to YOUR WEBSITE. Generally, the more genuine (non-spammy) backlinks and social signals you get, the better.

What are Citations?

Citations are when your company (and the address and/or telephone number) is mentioned on the internet but there is no link back to your site. For example, some directories list your company name, address and telephone number but do not contain a link. Citations are thought to be important.

What are Social Signals?

Many people (not all) in the SEO world believe that search engines note how often your site is referenced in the different social media sites that people use to “socialise” online – sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and a whole host of other sites.

Note: some Facebook pages have privacy settings that prevent the search engines from crawling them; aggregated data is available but Google may (or may not) make much use of this.

Note: Search engines may well also take note of how frequently people access your site from these social sites.

Social signals also include how often your site gets (good) reviews in review sites such as Google+, TripAdvisor etc.

Social signals probably also include how often your site is searched for.

As covered in onpage: bounce rate, customers’ interactions with your site (whether they click on your description when it appears in the search engine listings, how long they stay on your site, how many pages they look at, whether they hop back into the search engine listings and go to the next site etc) all give the search engines an idea as to how useful people find your site.

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