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Business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and enterprises alike have been working hard to dominate local markets, and they’ve been battling to do so since long before anything called “SEO” came around.

Before SEO, there was a much simpler route to the top – optimizing your business for the phone book.

You can see remnants of this strategy everywhere – long after the phone book has been replaced. The next time you call AAA Window Cleaning or A1 Plumbing, you’ll know that you’re contacting a business that used to “dominate” the phone book’s listings.

Changing your business name for a “phone book optimization” was the 1980’s and 90’s equivalent of local SEO and on-page optimization.

Just like phone book optimizations, on-page SEO will only get you so far.

Catch this:

Nowadays, authentic referrals and word-of-mouth endorsements are the highest quality lead that a business can get.

That’s been true since the days of the phone book. There’s no better vote of confidence than someone else transferring their trustworthiness to you.

Upkeep Media has written at length about the many great search engine optimization methods, and we all know that 2018 SEO tips are going to be focused on getting these “votes of confidence” from other organizations and websites.

How is trust transferred in SEO?

Through backlinks.

Nothing’s better than an in-person referral, and nothing matters more to SEO than quality backlinks.

Why not combine the effectiveness of the two?

It’s simple.

Leverage the authentic relationships you’ve made in-person or online for backlinks.

A backlink is simply a quick way for another site to say that it trusts yours.

By hyperlinking over to you, that site is telling everyone that they would trust you enough to serve as a reference. If you have relationships with people who would gladly refer you to anyone, wouldn’t it make sense to earn a backlink from them as well?

That being said, you shouldn’t go ahead and assume that backlinks are no big deal. There’s a reason we say that you have to earn backlinks.

To give anyone a reason to link back to your site from theirs, you have to give them something of value in return.

This is not like a birthday party. People don’t want to bring gifts for you without getting anything back. Instead, they want to feel as if they’ve entered an exchange. They want to get something back when they give.

So how can you leverage in-person relationships to get backlinks?  Here’s our three-step process.

1 – Evaluating Prospects: Create a List and Start Reaching Out


To start leveraging your relationships to create backlinks, it’s best to start the process by thinking about who you know and what they do.

Is there anyone who would happily and consistently refer clients to you already?

Do you know anyone within your niche or industry that would lend you their reputation?

Once you’ve determined who these people are, start browsing through the list you’ve created. See if there are any prospects that are obviously concerned with their web presence.

Creating a list of prospects for backlinks

Don’t forget:

If the people you’re finding aren’t viewed as trustworthy by search engines like Google, their backlinks are useless and could actually be harmful.

That’s not to say that you can’t make use of websites that are young or not highly trafficked. It’s simply a warning against getting your link on a spam-ridden website.

At the same time, you don’t want to waste your time (as well as the other person’s time) by calling someone who doesn’t update their website.

If they haven’t even made a recent change to their site, they probably won’t understand the concept of a backlink. These prospects will most likely be difficult to propose anything that would be of value to them.

Speaking of value, one word of warning:

We’re not encouraging you to take part in what’s called a Private Backlink Network (PBN). PBN’s are highly undesirable and counterproductive to your efforts.

Search engines are likely to punish your site if they get an inkling that you’re paying for backlinks. This is what’s called black hat SEO, and it should be avoided at all costs.

When we say value, we’re referring to something else entirely – not cold, hard cash.

2 – Proposing Value: Winning Relevant Backlinks

Getting backlinks sounds like an easy process…until you try it.

There’s a reason that backlinks are considered to be so valuable by search engines, and it’s because the most important ones are hard to get.


Because to earn a backlink, most site owners expect you to do something for them. And as you reach out to your friends, you should realize that they are right to expect the same!

Think of what you could provide to the websites you recently browsed through.

Assume for a moment that you’re working for a lawn mowing service. Does your friend in the snow removal business need fresh content for his blog? Could you write a personal testimony for the lawn care products that you use?

These are what Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even users consider to be genuinely valuable. By helping another site owner build their site, it’s fair to assume that you can earn a backlink from the deal.

Hear me out:

There are several different kinds of backlinks that can be generated from this kind of content. Two of the most common are backlinks in an author bio as well as contextual backlinks.

Going back to the lawn mowing service example, it’s possible that an article about snow removal could reference content that you have on your lawn mowing blog. At the same time, you could earn a link from the short author bio at the end of the post.

The key is not to overdo it. Contextual backlinks should only be added if they link over to something that could be considered as genuinely valuable to a reader.

To really discover what it is that you could do for another site owner, try asking!

Maybe you could present a few suggestions of how you could help out, but the site owner may also have an idea themselves.

The key is to work as partners throughout the process.

Remember, anyone who adds a backlink to their site that points to you is doing you a huge favor. You should expect to do a lot of the hard work on this.

3 – Sharing the Link Juice: Don’t Be a Hoarder

If you’re looking to keep up your reputation as someone who’s trustworthy enough to link out to, then try not be a link hoard.

Link hoarderLink hoards are happy to accept all of the backlinks that point to their site but are stingy when it comes to linking out to anyone else.

Is there anyone that you know you can trust?

Instead of immediately reaching out to them to ask for a link. See if you can provide any value to them by linking to their site.

Consider writing an article and including their insights so that you have an expert opinion – this will be viewed as a great opportunity by almost anyone. Even those who aren’t aware of the SEO benefits associated with this will appreciate the gesture.

After all, sharing a few thoughts is one of the simplest possible ways to earn a backlink, and everyone likes to be considered an expert.

On other occasions, it might even be appropriate to recommend a complementary product, service, or resource from your website.

If you can link to someone you know, do it!

Make sure that you tell this person or organization that you’re pleased with what you know about their offering and that you decided to share it on your site. You don’t have to go into any unnecessary detail about what a great thing you’re doing – just hint at the fact that you find the other site to be trustworthy and interesting enough to talk about.

You reap what you sow, and if you’re not planting seeds, you shouldn’t expect backlinks to come flying through the door.


If you find yourself in a great position to start reaching out to friends, family, colleagues, and other professionals, then we would encourage you to get started on building an effective backlink foundation. It can make all the difference for your website’s visibility and SEO performance.

If you’re not as sure where to start, try reaching out to local businesses in your area.


You can get in front of fellow website owners at networking events, industry meetups, and in a variety of other places. Bring up the topic of building an online web presence, and you’ll probably learn that most websites don’t appear in search results for the relevant queries they’re going after.

Bring up backlinks and how each of you can benefit each other, and you’ll probably learn quickly – people are willing to make some trades to improve upon the foundation they’ve laid. You might even find that some of these people are just as eager to build their web presence as you are.