Posted May 30, 2008 2:00 pm by with 4 comments

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By Ben Fremer

This is my third marketing pilgrim search marketing scholarship entry. Previous small-business related Marketing Pilgrim Search Marketing Scholarship articles we have submitted in the prior two competitions include Dominating the long tail of local search with databases & The Ultimate Internet Marketing Article (overview of search marketing for small businesses. We have done dozens of SEO and link building campaigns for small businesses, and that is where these insights come from ( this isn’t just theorizing or speculation ).

Introduction to typical small business Link Building needs, and how they differ from other businesses

95% of businesses are small businesses and they usually have a few search terms they will need a small amount of link building ( 50 – 1,000 links ) to rank for. This contrasts with large businesses like Geico or Dell whose search terms are better attained through different link building tactics ( link bait, social media, great content or great service ) to amass tens of thousands of links. While content can be useful for consulting-type expertise driven sectors, most small businesses owners are very busy and are not publishers, and the mantra of “Generate good content” is not the most time or cost-effective method for most of them to rank on their search terms for what we have found, though content can pick up long-tail search terms and can help to establish expertise and credibility to convert customers better. Rather, more monotonous methods of link building have been more successful in our experience, and the amount of required to rank for a particular search term can actually be quantified, as we will proceed to demonstrate.

We have found that websites do not increase traffic by content alone. For instance, we helped with link building for a site with extremely good content and resources ( ). Just putting up the site did not suddenly turn a trickle of traffic into a booming phenomenon nor generate any noticed linking from visitors, though it did make it about 3x easier to complete the monotonous part of the link soliciting link building as people were more willing to link to it.
Additionally, our data shows 1 PR 6 link = to about 10 PR 3 links = 30 PR 0-1 links from different sites ( though these 0-1 PR links alone will leave you sandboxed / trustboxed). For most small businesses, about 80% of links are in the 0 – 2 PR range. What this means is that for small businesses, quantity of decent links required to rank for a search term links is roughly estimatable to within about 30% of the links needed, presuming the site is not in google’s sandbox / trustbox (Later, we will demonstrate proven methods we have found for getting a site out of the sandbox / trustbox )

Introduction to SEO toolbar for firefox

The hands-down best tool for quantifying how much link building work that will be needed to rank for a particular search term ( particularly for small businesses ) is the SEO toolbar for Firefox . This tool will allow you to see how many links your competitors have for a particular search term, and in a manner where you quickly estimate how many links you will need to rank for that search term. After installing the tool and doing a google search for a term, and setting the Yahoo backlink count to show up immediately (that will save you a lot of time), you will see the backlink count for each site. There are some other fields that show, but since Yahoo gives you the best backlink count, we have found that it suffices to focus on that field. Here is an example for car insurance:

As you can quickly see, all of the sites on the first page have tens of thousands of links, and you will also need somewhere in that range to rank for that search term. You will probably need to go with linkbaiting or other bigger-scale tactics to rank for those search terms. Conversely, you will need only a few hundred links to rank for “New Jersey Plumber”:

Nuances in assessing the amount of links needed to rank a small business for a search term

For competitive terms where you need link building, you just need to get more similar quality links than your competitors, and you will outrank them ( for noncompetitive terms, on-page optimization is enough to rank), though there are some nuances which explain why some sites with fewer links show up higher than sites with more link.

1) You can’t count sub-pages from mega-highly-linked-to sites very easily into your estimate. In the plumber example, ServiceMagic shows 696,000 links, yet sites with a few hundred often outrank them. This is like comparing apples to oranges, so we are only able to look at top-level-domains that show up to use for our estimating.

2) Impact of a good domain name — A domain with your keywords in it is the equivalent of about 100-200 links. Often a site with a good domain name will rank highly even though it has few links. This is why. Some people consider a dual domain name option with one for SEO and one for branding due to how helpful the domain name bonus can be for a small business. Sometimes even renaming the company you are about to launch can be worthwhile if all of your leads are expected to come through SEO.

3) There are diminishing returns on site-wide links. If you click on the word “Yahoo” in the SEO Toolbar, you can easily assess the link-count not including site-wide links. We have found that a site wide link on hundred or thousands of pages is only equivalent to about 5-20 comparable links from different sites.

4) Sometimes sites have lots of links but without good anchor text in those links (these are fairly worthless links for SEO purposes). For this reason, it is safest to use the lower link counts for assessing how many links are needed to rank for a particular search term.

5) Non-Optimized pages — Like a domain name, having a title tag with your keywords is also about the equivalent of 50 links.

Guaranteeably selling the link building project: Explaining it to a client.

Using this tool and these insights can be very helpful when pitching a link building project to a potential customer. The customer is quickly able to understand and believe why you are recommending what you are recommending, and how you are able to estimate the results when they understand how quantitatively outlinking their competitors will cause the client to rank higher than their competitors.

If that doesn’t convince them, you can even guarantee the results, though we don’t recommend that you it on a all-or nothing basis. I am confident that some readers are thing “Guaranteeable search engine rankings!?–that’s not possible”, and while it is slightly risky, the real factors outside of your control (algorithm changes, customer does something crazy to get banned) are rare enough that a guarantee is possible. It’s a pain to track guaranteed results, and you should charge more than if you were just doing the work of optimizing their site as best as you can. We have found that setting up a weighted guarantee using gradual system of perhaps 4-5 levels of payout depending on the rankings is best, and that weighting the keywords by search-volume to a points sytem of ranking the site for those search terms is a very fair and very safe way of making such SEO guarantees that many clients will insist upon.


For small businesses, you have the following primary link building options to generate links: Directory submissions, link soliciting / begging / trading, Article directory submissions, PR, linkbait, and others. We have found the most cost-effective methods to be directory submissions, followed by link soliciting to gain trust and un-sandbox/trustbox the site if that is needed.

1)Directory submissions alone are the easiest route if your site is already trusted ( has a PR of 3 or higher, with aged links of 6 months or more balanced from about 50 or more different sites). If your site fits that criteria, directory submissionis probably won’t leave you sandboxed/trustboxed. Presuming you are not sandboxed/trustboxed, we have found that you can submit to most any directory including those of moderate to low quality and will see very potent results. A good comprehensive list of such directories can be found at or You can submit them on your own or have a link building services company do it for you.

If you plan to do it on your own, there are some very important pointers that you should follow:

1) Get it right the first time – you only have about 2,000 directories to submit to, and once you run out, you can’t easily re-do your submissions, and you will then have to move on to more difficult methods of link building.

2) Balance your anchor text wisely — Combo up your keywords for best results in your anchor text, and be careful to combine in ways such that you don’t overuse any combination so that you are only increasing your top ranking for that term. We have found that 10(links) x (keyword1 + keyword2 + keyword3) = 7 (keyword1+keyword2) + 7 (keyword1+keyword3) + 7 (keyword2+keyword3) + 4 (keyword1) + 4 (keyword2) + 4 (keyword3) — the point is that if you have keywords that combine together, you will get better results if you combine them in your anchor text!

3) The reciprocal option on directory submissions works best, and will get you a better acceptance rate. We recommend making a directories we are listed in page. This is extremely important.

After directory submissions, if you still need more links or need to get site un-sandboxed/trustboxed, we have found that the next most cost-effective method is link soliciting/begging/trading. For doing this, we also have some pointers:

1) Start by contacting those who already rank well for your keyword, as links from them are particular important in Google’s ranking algorithm ( reference patent ).— doing this can also bypass the sandbox / trustbox sometimes even after just one or two links from sites that already rank well for your search term.

2) You can often trade links with people in complimentary industries, like a local photographer with a local wedding planner, for instance, and these are the types of link partners the search engines prefer you to make.

3) Software can help out significantly – we recommend using the Link Assistant, though there are other options as well.

4) If you are doing reciprocal links, don’t go crazy with it — anything over 200 total or with extremely unrelated links ( casinos, porn, etc) will probably start to raise suspicion and possibly cause a penalty– we have seen it happen once.


Well there are a lot of good tips for how to guaranteeably assess, sell and execute a small business link building campaign without getting sandboxed / trustboxed using the SEO Toolbar for Firefox. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Thanks. 🙂

This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.

  • Thank you for pointing out the relative unimportance of sitewide links. In the blogosphere I see a large push for blogrolling/sitewide links that could get confused for navigation. People have gotten so wrapped up in building those kinds of “relationship” links that they become comfortable in the numbers never realizing engines are not really crediting them for the entirety of that volume. I would love to see a post on the mechanics of an engine and how it knows to strip out navigation when indexing and how blogrolls/sitewide links can be stipped in this process as well.

  • Well done on an awSEOme post! Thanks for the tips and the SEO for Firefox plug in!

  • PS3

    Took a bit of reading but well worth it in the end. Maybe you could shorten the title though 🙂

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