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Experts agree: Social media is ineffective in local link building

As anyone who’s tried to develop links to a local business will know, the link building game for local SEO is a very different beast to standard link building.

For a start, Domain Authority isn’t as critical as local relevance. Then there’s the realization that nofollow links are actually fine and really do count towards brand awareness.

When working on local link building, you notice that the biggest successes can be achieved by establishing connections in the local community; something that has the added, knock-on effect of improving how the local business looks in the eyes of the community.

These are things that are tried and tested, but now also verified in BrightLocal’s latest survey of local SEO experts on link building. The company asked 20 leading lights in the local SEO industry which local link building tactics worked for them, along with a host of other questions designed to give the wider industry an insight into best practices.

Links in social profiles count for nothing, nada, zip, zilch

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

A lot of what was found reinforces reasonably common knowledge. For example, it was unanimously agreed that links from social profiles don’t count a jot towards search rankings (see above).

Here we can see that the most active and regularly updated community and news sites are seen as the most valuable by the panel of experts. High domain authority sites are obviously helpful but it’s clear that this element isn’t as important to rankings as local relevance.

Although links from citation sites weren’t seen as particularly important to rankings, it’s worth noting that accurate citations are very much a ‘table stakes’, foundational element of local SEO. The links might not count as much toward rankings as they used to, but for reach, awareness, visibility, and getting into the places people look for local businesses, they’re still critical.

Among the reinforcement of common knowledge, there were also several surprises in the survey results. For me, personally, the biggest shock came from seeing how little these experts valued social media in the outreach process.

Don’t share, care

Here’s where things get really interesting. As you can see above, 60% of the panel of 20 experts agreed that sharing on social media is ‘not very valuable’ when trying to build backlinks to local business sites.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, as social media is now one of the key ways that content creators and PR people can get their work into the hands of influencers in the local community, so I would imagine this would work as a tactic for local link building.

After seeing these results, though, I’ve reconsidered my position. This is again an area where local link building differs from standard link building, and it’s all down to the people you’re trying to get links from.

With non-local link building, you can generally assume that the people you’re trying to connect with will view social media as as relevant a communications channel as networking or email.

However, if you’re trying to build links to a local business, the sorts of places you’ll be trying to get links from (smaller, community websites, church groups, local charities) are more likely to be a bit ‘old-school’ and prefer a knock on the door, an in-person meeting, a phone call or an email over the more impersonal use of social media.

Instead, you can see above that that sponsoring charities and organizations is considered the number one strategy for local link building. So the takeaway is simple: don’t share, care.

Want to succeed with local link building outreach? Go old-school

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

The assumption that local community sites prefer non-social forms of contact is firmly backed up by what the local SEO experts said were the most effective forms of link building outreach. As you can see above, relatively few felt that Twitter and LinkedIn outreach was effective, and Facebook outreach was an absolute non-starter.

Instead, the survey found that short, personal emails (closely followed by more detailed, personal emails) were the most effective way to do outreach for local links. In the middle we have other, more traditional outreach tactics like slow-burn relationship building, relationships through events, and phone outreach.

It’s funny to think that what matters here is not so much the content of the outreach message, it’s the platform. You could feasibly write exactly the same short, personal message in an email as in a Twitter direct message or LinkedIn InMail, but these apparently won’t be as effective as writing it in an email.

Of course, the content plays a huge part, but when the experts agree that email is the way to go, it’s hard to conceive of a reason to use social media over email when embarking on an outreach campaign.

Quality trumps quantity

Finally, I’d just like to touch on link traits. A question many ask is whether quality or quantity of links is more important when it comes to link building. In the above chart, we can see that quality of links trumps quantity in a big way. In fact, 90% of respondents agreed that quality or authority of links are ‘highly valuable’ when local link building.

Of course, quality is a big factor when it comes to non-local SEO, too, but it’s interesting to see that diversity of link sources (root domains) isn’t seen as quite as important, while in non-local SEO the diversity of your linking root domains is a critical factor.

This is just another way that those experienced in non-local SEO need to adapt their strategy when tackling the more niche practice of local link building.

Conclusion

I’ve discussed some of the things I found most surprising in this research, but there are plenty of other areas covered that should give local SEOs pause. For example, all experts agreed that local link building will not get any easier in the coming year.

One thing to take away, for sure, is that local SEOs shouldn’t be putting too much focus on using social media to get backlinks to local business websites, and instead they should be focusing on developing real, personal relationships using the comparatively ‘old-school’ method of email.

It looks like it may well be a tricky year for local SEO, but hopefully, with the raft of updates Google is making to Google My Business, and the renewed focus the search engine has on local SEO, it could also be very interesting, too!

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