For a startup, the ultimate issue is not selling your product. (Because you probably don’t even have a product yet.) It’s how to get noticed – and pay as little as possible for it.
Backlinks are a great – and free! – way to spread awareness of your project.
In this post, you’ll learn why backlinking is one of the most powerful startup tools.
In the world of startups, most things you want are way too expensive for your budget. Google AdWords, press releases, influencer endorsements, even Facebook Ads … You can’t possibly afford them unless you get some angel investors on board. And they won’t talk to you if you have no media presence, community or product. It’s a real catch-22. Or is it?
Here’s a sound piece of advice for startup founders. Don’t think of how to pay for promotion. Think about how you can promote your project without paying.
Link building is a great case in point.
Link building is the art of getting links to your site published on the web. Any link on another website that leads to you–to your landing page, blog, interview, whatever–is called a backlink. Backlinks can drive visitors to your site, increase the visibility of your startup and make your site rank higher in Google.
The traffic you get from link building is organic; it brings you people who are already interested. Moreover, it’s sustainable in the long run and costs you nothing. In other words, you want as much organic traffic as possible. And that means more quality backlinks.
There are many ways to get backlinks:
Any backlink consists of two parts: the anchor and the code.
An anchor is the clickable text that leads to your site/blog. It should be relevant and interesting enough for people to want to click on it:
The code for this backlink looks like this:
By the way, see that “nofollow” after the link?
It means that … actually, you know what? Let’s dive into the benefits of link building for your startup marketing. I’ll soon explain no-follow links to you.
Here’s what most startup founders don’t realize: a great landing page won’t get you noticed. Unless it’s so great that it makes some list of best-designed landing pages. Even if you have a great domain name and good copy, people won’t find your site unless you give them the address.
Here’s an example: this startup, called Inmining, has a nice domain and name:
And yet, when you Google “inmining” …
It doesn’t appear in the results!
Not on the first page, not anywhere on the first 10 pages, either.
Because nobody looks for it. When Google ranks your page, it tries to understand how good it is. But since Google bots can’t understand what you wrote (yet!), they have to rely on the opinion of others.
When you do your link building right, Google thinks:
“Hey, a lot of high-quality pages link to this site. It must be good. I’ll place it higher on the results page.”
And if Google ranks you higher, more people visit your site. The following two screens illustrate this well. The first one shows how the number of backlinks to a certain site grew over the course of 10 months:
And here’s how its number of organic visitors grew over the same period:
Remarkable, isn’t it? Surely you’d like to see your organic traffic grow the same way.
Note that not all backlinks contribute to your rankings. People used to exploit link building techniques for SEO purposes all the time. But Google has since closed most loopholes.
Some “bad” types of backlinks can even hurt your rankings.
For example, if you try to pay for them. Or if you and some other site keep backlinking to each other. Don’t even try this – it won’t work.
There are three main methods when it comes to getting backlinks. The first method is when the owner of a site is impressed by something you did and links to your work, even though you didn’t ask for it. It’s the best that can happen. It’s free, it’s authentic, and the owner of the site will probably endorse you to their audience.
However, getting there is hard. You have to generate truly epic content, speak at high-profile events, be recognized as an expert – in short, get noticed. It’s something you should work toward, but don’t rely on it.
The second method is to contact the site owner directly. There are thousands of sites that accept guest posts. It’s free, but you have to adhere to their requirements. They won’t accept just any content – it has to be relevant, fresh, and interesting to read. Expect to spend several hours writing your piece, or paying upwards of $100 to a professional writer.
The third method is to post your own link where you can, for example, in a comment to a blog post. However, these are often nofollow links – that is, Google doesn’t consider them when it ranks your page.
If you want to improve your rankings, you’ll need dofollow links, not nofollow links. To a reader, they look the same. They both lead to your page. The difference is in their SEO value: nofollow links don’t add to your rankings.
Here’s what the code looks like:
Dofollow: <a href=”http://yourbacklink“>Your anchor</a>
Nofollow: <a href=”http://yourbacklink.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Your anchor</a>
All three methods are perfectly valid. They all fall under the umbrella of link building. Most successful startups use them all, and so should you.
It’s not all about rankings. Ultimately what you need is not a high rank – you need people to come to your site.
You want users to get excited about your project and join the newsletter or the whitelist. Those visitors who click on your backlinks in a blog or on a news site are already interested enough to see more of your content. They are ready to engage with your site, so your chances to pull them in are higher.
How do you make them click on your backlink? In four simple steps:
In this sense, it doesn’t matter if your backlinks are nofollow. Actually, most popular guest-blogging sites only use nofollow links. This is because a dofollow link is like a vote of confidence: the site vouchsafes for you. Which it can’t do, because it doesn’t know if you are good. John Mueller, a senior trends analyst at Google, suggests that it’s a sound policy for sites. It protects them from low-quality links that could hurt their own rankings.
Don’t backlink to your landing page, unless it’s 100% relevant to what you’re writing about.
Let’s say your guest article is about buying wine, and it just happens to be what you cover on your home page, then go for it.
However, most startups have landing pages with few specifics and no finished product.
In this case, link to your blog, interview, or a YouTube video you’ve made. If it’s good enough, then readers might also visit your home page afterward.
Another thing to remember: the site where you post the link has to be of high quality. So look through their articles before you submit yours. Does it look like a high-profile blog where users would look for reliable advice? Is it relevant for your business? Would you read it?
What’s the main asset of an idea-stage startup? Is it your idea? Or the prototype you are building?
No. Your key asset is you – the founders and the team. Your experience, intelligence, and expertise. The startup can pivot many times, and the idea might become unrecognizable. Investors know that, too. So if they do decide to give you money, it won’t be because the idea is good, but because they are impressed by you.
Backlinks are fantastic for establishing you as an expert. If you backlink to your blog full of really interesting articles, the reader will think, “These guys know what they’re talking about. Let’s check what their product is about. Maybe I should subscribe to the newsletter to get more of this content?”
All the content you link to must be good. More than that: every article you post on your startup blog should be high-quality. Follow these rules:
A good partnership is true gold for startups. A prominent partner who believes in you can get you everything:
Besides, once you have one or two partners, you’ll look more trustworthy and your network will grow.
Many startup founders complain that they don’t know anyone in the industry who could open doors for them. Well, partnerships don’t grow on trees – you have to build them. And a good backlink can be the first step.
Of course, you can’t just offer someone a collaboration out of the blue. First, you need to convince the person or project to give you an opportunity.
Note that your perfect partners shouldn’t be your potential competitors. Rather, they should have a connection to what you do. For example, if you have a travel startup that uses AI, you could try to work with AI developers, travel writers, or travel agency executives.
Link building is like a bazooka in the weaponry of a startup. If you know how to use it, backlinks can put you on top of your competition. They will drive tons of quality traffic to your page, both from Google search and from blogs and articles.
However, link building can hurt your site when done wrong. If you use unnatural link building techniques, you’ll only annoy readers. Google might even penalize your site! So before you start sending out requests to guest-blogging sites, do a lot–A LOT–of research.
Focus on creating great content first. It doesn’t have to be an article. You can design an infographic or shoot a YouTube tutorial. Once you post it in your channels, you’ll have something to backlink to.
Only then you can contact sites and discuss potential topics for a guest post.
How long will it take? Perhaps a week. Perhaps a month. What matters is quality.
A good backlink on a popular blog can get you more traffic than any AdWords ad will ever do. And it will be free!
Well, not exactly free – you’ll have spent many hours of your time, after all. But think about it this way: When you create content, you learn. Your expertise grows.
Perhaps that’s the key advantage of link building for startups: It forces you to learn.