For the big business with a massive stream of revenue and an entire in-house marketing team, link building is a no-brainer strategy. But for the startup entrepreneur trying to stay cash flow positive, it may not seem like the best early-stage investment.
Is link building potentially cost efficient for new businesses to pursue, or is it best reserved as a mid- to late-stage strategy? Let’s evaluate.
Basics and Potential Return
First, let’s take a look at what link building actually is, and what return on investment you can hope to see from it. Link building is used primarily as a piece of an overall search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
When Google evaluates which sites to list in the highest rankings of its search results, it evaluates the relevance of queries (attempting to give users content that fulfills their desires), and the authority of those sites. Authority is calculated using several factors, but it most heavily relies on the quality and quantity of links pointing to the page and website in question.
In general, the higher the quality of the link (including the trustworthiness of its source, its context, and how it’s framed), the more authority it will pass.
However, link building actually carries many benefits, some of which are below:
· Higher rankings. First, inbound links will boost the domain authority of your site and the page authority of the specific page you’re optimizing. This will increase your rankings in search engines and send more traffic to your site.
· Referral traffic. Second, assuming you’re link building through guest blog posts and similar forms of external content, you’ll earn traffic from people clicking your links directly to learn more.
· Brand visibility. Each time you mention your brand name in a post, even if a reader never clicks your link, you’ll improve your brand visibility (and, most likely, your brand reputation).
· Recurring value. These links last indefinitely, so the value of these benefits increases over time.
The Long-Term Nature of Link Building
There are many benefits to be had with link building, but unfortunately, you won’t see them immediately. SEO is a long-term strategy, and the longer you pursue it, the higher your ROI will be. For example, if you’re building links manually, the first few links you build will likely be on low-authority sources, as your brand credibility won’t be much to speak of.
The return on these links will be next to nothing, but you’ll build the steps necessary to place higher-authority links in the months to come. By the time you’re several months to a few years into a campaign, the value of each link you build will be more than worth the effort it takes to post them.
For this reason alone, link building is a difficult yet important strategy for new businesses to develop; the longer you invest in it, the greater the benefits you’ll see, but you won’t see much value from your strategy early on.
The Time Investment
It’s entirely possible to start and manage your own link building campaign, whether you do the work yourself or have one of your employees do it. However, there’s a reason why so many marketers list link building as one of the hardest digital marketing strategies to pull off.
To build links, you need to produce excellent content under a well-developed personal brand, and get that content published on relevant external publications. Each of your links needs to have natural anchor text, multiple other links to relevant, authoritative sources, and most importantly, quality content that your target publisher’s audience is going to love.
Every link you acquire will require scouting, research, pitching, writing, editing, publication, and syndication, and that usually amounts to at least two or three hours of work; probably more at the early stages of your campaign’s development.
After that, you’ll need to work up to higher- and higher-authority publishers, who will demand more and more from your work. At that point, you’ll see more favorable returns. Until then, you’ll be required to invest several hours of time every week to build a foundation — and results will unfold very slowly.
The Monetary Investment
If you’re concerned about building links ethically, or you don’t have the time or inclination to do the work yourself, you can always enlist the help of a link building agency to build your authority. There are several advantages to this:
· Instant authority. You won’t have to go through the early stages of building a reputation, because your link building agency will already have one. You may even be able to earn links on high-authority publishers right away.
· Time savings. Obviously, you’ll spare yourself the hours of work that would be necessary to build a network of inbound links.
· Accountability. If something goes wrong in your link building strategy, you can hold your agency accountable for correcting it.
The downside is the cost. Most link building programs cost at least several thousand dollars a month — often too much for a startup.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of link building are impossible to ignore, and at higher levels of development, link building is one of the most effective online marketing strategies you can pursue. However, it’s difficult to see those benefits immediately as a new business — you’ll need significant capital, a significant time investment, or a significant amount of patience to make the strategy work.
Your approach should dictate your strategy, because even the freshest startups can at least get some value from starting a link building initiative.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!