Justilien Gaspard – Local Search Interview

For this interview we’re talking to Justilien Gaspard.

Justilien is a link building expert, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself for my readers who might not know you.

Thanks Michael for having me on. I got started with link development back in late 2001 with a housing website that I was trying to get traffic to. After I did on-page optimization I started purchasing advertising space and links for direct traffic. I must admit I was clueless to the power of links at that time. One day I was checking server logs and noticed a huge increase in traffic from Google. My hobby site went into the top 3 for a major metropolitan area. Like many I stumbled into this industry by chance.

My background up until 2004 was in traditional business management, I never realized there was a whole industry around getting websites ranked in the top 10. In 2004 I joined WeBuildPages and worked there for over a year and a half. Last spring I went solo which was intimidating but one of the most rewarding professional moves I’ve made.

Currently I actively link build, train others on link development and general SEO consulting. I work in such areas as education, travel, health, consumer goods and business-to-business. This past December I spoke on the Link Strategies session at Search Engine Strategies Conference. I filled in for Debra Mastaler of Alliance-Link. I am also working on some advanced training courses for SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization).

Let’s take off your link building hat for a minute, could you tell us what kind of local searches you find yourself doing most frequently?

I would have to say most of my frequent local searches tend to be when I want to buy something locally that I want to test first. This could be anything from a car to camera equipment. Actually right now I am planning to purchase a medium or large format film camera. Looks like I will have to make a trip to NYC or Boston for that. I am always searching for new restaurants.

Ok let’s talking about building links, what are some effective strategies for people who are looking to build relevant links for local business websites?

For local search I would recommend they start by geo targeting their link development. By this I mean if you want to rank for “Boston Attorney” go after getting links from pages about Boston. Search engines are getting much better at analyzing the specific page the link originates from. This also helps to place the site in the right neighborhoods to further help search engines determine relationships. Next I would recommend getting links from law related pages.

Another strategy is to publish expert articles on industry related sites. Hire a writer or editor if needed. By doing this the site gets a link or two and may pickup secondary links from others who read the article such as journalist and bloggers. These articles can help establish the site as an authority in the field and go a long ways into gaining more secondary links. Also, optimize the articles to rank to gain additional traffic and get more secondary links.

It is also a good idea to find out where your local audience spends there time online. It might be as simple as a community chat or discussion board site for your city. This is a good way to find links that will drive traffic, branding and link value. The site might not even be remotely related to your site. Yet, if you are a respectable business and it makes sense for traffic and branding, then it will make sense to search engines.

Another strategy is to get involved and give back to the community. Search engines will reward you with better rankings. Seriously find some local organization and non-profits in your city or region to sponsor. They may mention you in their monthly newsletter that is archived online or give you a full page on their site featuring your business. If you are helping them they will be more than happy to link to you. I did a post on giving back for links in 2005 with more ideas on this topic.

I imagine many times you come into an existing project, what are some common mistakes you see people making who aren’t as experienced in building links?

I would say a common mistake I see is people going after links with low-value. Coming from a business background everything relates back to time and money. It is important to focus on the things that will influence your rankings to the greatest degree. If someone spends 10 hours per month going after low-value links they are wasting time (money) in my opinion. By low-value I mean sites that have few backlinks to them or going after links pages made for SEO purposes. Low-value links will have minimal effect on rankings, especially for competitive fields. Instead spend those 10 hours finding highly-trusted and high-value links. Those links are generally from sites that rank well in Google and have many high-quality backlinks to them. By taking this approach you can see an increase in rankings much quicker – even for highly-competitive terms.

Related to low-quality links another common mistake is focusing on the number of links. When people are focused on numbers the quality will go down. Google has gotten very good at determining the quality of backlinks over the years and will only get better. Quality links from trusted sites will help rankings quicker and have more of a lasting influence. Finding 10 high-quality links will have much more influence in rankings than 500 low-quality links. Plus those high-quality links have a much less chance of being devalued in the future.

Another common mistake I see is people focusing on getting links just to their homepage. Instead go after links to your main product pages and get those specific pages ranked. This also helps your site to have a more natural link profile and increase conversion since visitors land on product specific pages. I know many are focus on getting links to the homepage because they are so focused on their PageRank (PR). If the web site is linked properly internally then link value will flow throughout the site.

By the way, I only use PageRank as a litmus test in link development to see if a site is in good standing in Google and even that is not accurate. More and more I am seeing old pages on establish sites ranking high with no PageRank. Yes if a page is ranking and has no PageRank it can still be a great link!

For the business who doesn’t have the budget for link building expert what’s a quick tip they can use to make the most out of their time?

Excellent question Michael. Many small businesses just do not have the budget to hire someone internally or to outsource. For someone on a limited budget a quick tip to get them started would be to find vertical and niche directories for their city or region. There are some real gems that can send link value and traffic. Then go after vertical directories such as industry groups, associations, chambers of commerce and industry resource directories.

For long-term strategies I would recommend they combine link development with their general marketing. If they asked themselves how they would get online traffic if search engines did not exist they will discover some of the best link opportunities out there.

Let’s shift out gaze into the future, where do you see local search going in the next few years, and what do you think will be a driving force in that space.

For local businesses in the coming years trying to get ranked high on the main sections of the major search engines will be extremely difficult. Most do not have the budgets to compete against the larger and older sites out there. That being said it does create some amazing business opportunities for companies that want to focus on local search.

I believe the largest driving force for local search will be the search engines themselves. Most people are still using the main engines for local search queries. I am guilty of that myself. Search engines need to start educating their users more. It would be interesting to see the data on how many people actually click on the local results link in Google and Yahoo to get more local listings. Search engines could speed-up the education of both consumers and local businesses to this feature rather simply. They need to automatically redirected users to their local search engine when someone performs a local search queries such as “Boston Daycare”.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today Justilien, to follow Justilien please be sure to visit his link building blog and subscribe to his feed, and he’s also available for link building training, consulting or direct link building services.

It was a pleasure contributing to your blog Michael. I am sure I will see you at SES NYC!


Tags: local+search, , Justilien+Gaspard

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