Local link building stumped us when we first began. The “local web” presents a shallow microcosm of the broader web. Topically speaking it’s an inch deep and a mile wide. It lacks the prospects required for our standard approach: “topical authority content” in which we intersect a known vertical of linkability (kids health, pet health, safety, etc) with a client’s theme and then promote. Our initially dismal results forced us to retool our strategy design process, which we present below.

1) Understand Local Link Motivations
We began our efforts believing that local linkers would all be similar to our “topical authority” linkers – that is, that they’d consist primarily of concerned librarians, helpful experts and webmasters otherwise committed to helping their audiences. They’re out there, but not at enough scale to make a difference. So now when we begin a local campaign we refresh ourselves on why local linkers add links.

>> Donated Money/Goods/Services
This one can scalably, reliably get you brand exposure at local events, links on non-profit sites, targeted advertising on local news blogs, etc… Remember, you’re looking for organizations that actually target your market here not just any old link. In fact, consider asking YOUR local customers who they donate their money to, what events they’re going to and where they volunteer their time. You might just discover some new customers along the way.

>> High-Utility to Local Audiences
We create “high-utility” content in our relentless pursuit of helpful, thorough, mission-based utilities. That is, content that either SHOULD exist but doesn’t, or content that hasn’t been done well yet.

For local we think about what’s difficult or time consuming to find especially if you’re new to an area (DMVs, public swimming pools, hiking/running trails, quality schools, local laws about remodeling and construction, most-accessible parks, events). We think about what factors impact purchase decisions and create local lists (businesses that offer senior/veteran/teacher/student discounts, allow dogs inside, kid friendly + good beer).

Here are a few national examples that you could potentially remake and improve upon at the local level:

High utility will more likely earn links from your libraries, schools, realtors, EDUs, Govs, etc who concern themselves with bettering the lives of their site visitors. Your job of course is to intersect your business as well as possible with the theme and target-audience for your high-utility content.

>> A Shared Mission
We’re big fans of “being on a mission” – it makes a HUGE difference in your outreach and can play a huge role in your organization’s linkability. No one’s going to link to another painting company… but what if your painting company donates painting services to homeless shelters around the city in the off season? This is a mission that can get you links from local news as well as the shelters themselves. If you enable others to volunteer on your projects you could get links from pages that list local volunteer opportunities. Don’t just make a mission to get links though – love it or don’t do it. Here’s our guide to mission driven marketing.

>> Local Superlatives: Pride in Zipcode, Neighborhood, City, etc…
What are the friendliest zipcodes in your city? What neighborhood best supports the arts? What areas have the fastest access to major roads? What streets are the safest to drive on (least likelihood of an accident). You can also rate individual cities, not just areas within cities. You see this sort of content all the time – “top 10 best cities for organic entrepreneurs,” “top 10 cities for the arts,” etc…

Superlatives encourage links from those who are included. They have been exhaulted by your criteria for list inclusion (so be sure you have a defensible, reasonable and feasible ranking algorithm).

2) Review Local Website Types
As mentioned above, we began our work in the local space without really understanding the “landscape.” We were used to working with “topical curators” who care passionately about a vertical and for whom “webmastering” and content upkeep is a core part of their job. At the local level your webmasters are not arranged in neat topical clusters and are quite often the organization’s actual leaders. Understanding these folks can be a huge help though in developing your content strategy.

>> Here’s our working list of local websites that often exist at scale:

  • public schools
  • colleges
  • houses of worship
  • realtor sites
  • topically local bloggers
  • hospitals
  • vets
  • medical professionals (pediatricians, dentists etc)
  • police stations
  • fire departments
  • professional associations
  • radio/print/tv/web news sites
  • local attractions (museums/parks/historical sites)
  • service/retail/restaurants
  • neighborhood and downtown associations
  • homeowner associations
  • non profit organizations
  • PTSAs and PTOs
  • events and event facilities
  • coupon and deal sites
  • local job listing pages
  • local attractions/things to do
  • relocation pages

>> And here are a few “types” of links pages that exist:

  • local attractions/things to do in
  • relocation-assistance
  • “how to get here”
  • “resources for” (parents|seniors|teachers|homeowners|students etc…)
  • job/volunteer listings

>> Find your own local opportunities with the following queries:

  • [city name, State Abbreviation] inurl:links
  • [city name, State Abbreviation] inurl:helpful
  • [city name, State Abbreviation] inurl:useful
  • [city name, State Abbreviation] “useful links”
  • [city name, State Abbreviation] “helpful resources”

You could also try the zipcode though that may narrow things too much. When prospecting remember to poke around and see if there are any commonalities to who you find linking and citing out there in the wild!

So now we’ve listed out some of the common websites and linking web pages that exist locally. Keep this list and the linking motivations in the section above as you move into stage 3 – listing available internal resources.

3) List Your Available Internal Resources
We often find that folks are sitting on top of useful, linkable resources but don’t realize it. Below you’ll find the sorts of resources we ask about when taking on new projects.

>> Customer Data
What can you quantify about your customers? Why do they buy from you? Do you have any surprising customer segments? What kinds of annecdotal information can you gather about them from your customer service team? Start asking these questions of the right people in your organization and you may well find the spark of an idea that could align with the linking motivations and website types mentioned above.

>> Your Customer Email List
If you have an email list, survey your customers (if you DON’T have an email list then stop reading now and set one up – seriously). Ken McGaffin discusses his approach to customer surveys for link building here. What questions do you ask? Well, you think about the linking motivations listed above and then you think about the audiences your local link targets serve. Lastly you align that in some way with what your company actually sells.

>> Internal Expertise
Who are the experts in your company? They’re the people who deeply understand your services or products, and understand how to deliver the value that your company provides. We typically think in terms of internal group interviews, or possibly placing guest interviews if there are supporting publishers. So now – how can you tap into their expertise in a way that incentivizes a link AND will appeal to your segment of targeted linkers?

>> Existing Local Relationships
Partners. Vendors. Biggest customers. How can you roll these folks into an initiative that will benefit them, the community and you? It could be group interviews or perhaps a new event? Who knows, but make a list of your favorite local allies and see if any ideas emerge.

>> Your Time/Money
What can you or your team afford to contribute? How much time/money could you justify if you adjust your goals to include more than links (new customers, press mentions, new relationships…)?

4) Brainstorm All Possible Campaign-Ready Intersections
Here comes the fun part. Be unrealistic. Be silly. Go HUGE. Here’s how:

First print out the 3 sections above (linking motivations, prospect types and internal resources) on 3 separate pieces of paper. Now set them side by side on a desk and just start randomly combining them, one by one. You’re looking for interesting intersections here, surprising intersections, compelling intersections. You should think in terms of content (how-to’s, resource lists etc), but don’t be scared to go way, way too big at this point.

Think apps. Think events. Think new start up. This may well be where you discover a mission – something that can align with your passions and connect you with the larger community. Keep all your ideas in a big list for now and just keep adding new ones. Ask your employees to jump in.

“Write drunk and edit sober,” or rather, “brainstorm drunk and establish campaign objectives sober.” The reason being you don’t want to START with your objectives as this will end up limiting your scope and limiting the overall impact of your campaign.

5) And Now, List Your Campaign Objectives
Sober up. Wait a day and come back cold. Once you cool off you’ll better be able to see which campaign ideas are actually workable, or how you could tweak the scope, scale or even target of a campaign so that it can really work well.

Your objectives list should certainly contain links, but now that you’ve brainstormed we hope it will have MORE than just links in it. And if you have more than just links in your list then convincing other departments to join in your project should be a bit easier.

Your objectives list may look something like:

  • get mentioned on the radio
  • get interviewed on the news
  • reach 500 new potential customers
  • donate services to 5 worthy causes
  • get links from vendors’ blogs
  • pitch content to 100 potential allies

And yes, of course you strive to build links – but NEVER stop there. Ever.

6) Local Prospecting
Your campaign should have some very specific targets, both in terms of the pages (resource pages, for example) and the type of site (pediatricians, say).

Before prospecting you’ve got to gather up your geographical qualifiers.

  • [city, state abbreviation]
  • [zip code]
  • [city] – (if a unique name)
  • [neighborhood] – (if a unique name)

Then you’ll combine these with “qualifiers” that will help you isolate one of two things.

The first could be the type of site you’re looking for. Pediatricians. Homeless shelters. Hospitals.

Your queries would look like:
[zipcode] HOA
[city, state abbreviation] HOA
[city] HOA
[zipcode] “home owners association”
[city, state abbreviation] “home owners association”
[city] “home owners association”
[zipcode] “neighborhood association”
(etc… with variations on your targeted type of organization or website)

Alternately you could be looking for page-type qualifiers. In this case, link and resource pages. We found it helpful overall to look mostly “on page” when searching for local links pages. Often they lack links page labeling in the title tags or URLs.

Here’s a sampling of what we like to use for finding local links pages:

  • “helpful resources”
  • “informative resources”
  • “informative websites”
  • “links for further”
  • “links for more”
  • “resource links”
  • “useful links”
  • “useful websites”
  • “websites for further”
  • “websites for more”
  • “helpful links”
  • “helpful websites”
  • “informative links”
  • “interesting links”
  • “list of links”
  • “list of websites”
  • “recommended links”
  • “recommended resources”
  • “recommended websites”
  • “suggested links”
  • “useful resources”
  • “the following links”
  • “the following websites”
  • inurl:helpful
  • inurl:useful
  • inurl:links

You’ll generate far more queries this way. We could not more highly recommend you use our link prospector to do this. Set up a custom report, add in your location-specific identifiers and then plug in the links page qualifiers above.

8) Limited Outreach as Campaign Validation
Before committing resources we recommend a very limited outreach campaign to test your concept. Get on the phone. Better yet get in person with some of your target linkers. Ask them if your concept is something they’d be willing to contribute to in some way (including linking to of course). Get feedback and adjust course as needed.

Don’t just make something and start pitching (we are practitioners of failing fast just not THAT fast) – your local prospects are a very very limited resource and you need to treat each one with the utmost respect and care. You have one, maybe two chances to make an impression before they start deleting your emails and ignoring your phone calls.

Once you have a good feeling that your most-important linkers will be interested in your project you can be reasonably assured of a decent overall campaign.

9) Above All: Serve Your Local Community
Remember – if what you’re doing benefits your local community in some way then at the very least you’re doing a small but decent thing, no matter the end result for your business.

Further Reading:

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